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Saleem Ali - University of Delaware. Newark, DE, US

Saleem Ali

Professor of Energy and the Environment Geography and Spatial Sciences; Biden School of Public Policy and Administration | University of Delaware


Prof. Ali's research examines the causes and consequences of environmental conflicts.



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Saleem H. Ali was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts (USA) but grew up in Lahore, Pakistan until his college years, receiving his Bachelor's degree in Chemistry from Tufts University, and his Masters and Ph.D. degrees in environmental policy and planning at Yale and MIT, respectively. He is Chair of the Department of Geography and Spatial Sciences and the Blue & Gold Distinguished Professor of Energy and the Environment at the University of Delaware (USA). He is also a member of the United Nations International Resource Panel. Before embarking on an academic career, Prof. Ali worked as an environmental health and safety professional at General Electric Corporation. His laurels include being a National Geographic Explorer, with field experience in more than 160 countries and all continents; being selected as a “Young Global Leader” by the World Economic Forum and serving on the boards of notable non-profit charitable organizations including RESOLVE, Adventure Scientists and Mediators Beyond Borders International. His books include Earthly Order: How Natural Laws Define Human Life (Oxford Univ. Press) and Treasures of the Earth: Need, Greed and a Sustainable Future (Yale Univ. Press). Dr. Ali is a citizen of the United States of America by birth; Pakistan by parental lineage; and Australian by naturalization.

Industry Expertise (2)

Environmental Services


Areas of Expertise (4)

Environmental Health

Environmental Policy

Environmental Planning

Health and Safety

Media Appearances (8)

Sahel Conflicts a Growing Threat to Africa’s Sustainability Path

Forbes  online


Saleem Ali, environmental systems scientist at UD, wrote a piece on the serious conflicts in the Sahel region of Africa.

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Texas congressmen angling to have deep-sea mined minerals refined on Gulf Coast

The Houston Chronicle  online


Article quotes Saleem Ali, professor of energy and the environment and member of the UN's International Resource Panel.

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Arctic Science Diplomacy With Russia

Forbes  online


A year has passed since the Biden Administration announced that they were appointing a new "Arctic Ambassador," due to growing security concerns highlighted by NATO in this region. It took a further six months to choose the envoy and in February of this year, distinguished Alaskan geographer and Director of the U.S Arctic Research Commission, Mike Sfraga, was nominated to this post.

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Researchers suggest the climate crisis requires international minerals agreement

Phys Org  online


The lead author for the paper was Saleem Ali, the Blue and Gold Distinguished Professor of Energy and the Environment at the University of Delaware and chair of the Department of Geography and Spatial Sciences, who also holds a secondary appointment in the Joseph R. Biden, Jr. School of Public Policy and Administration. Julie Klinger, assistant professor in the Department of Geography and Spatial Sciences, was a co-author on the paper. In 2017, she published a book on the global geography of rare earth prospecting and mining called "Rare Earth Frontiers."

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Earthly Order: ‘mercurial professor’ with urgent ideas on climate change

The Guardian  online


Ali believes his own, anecdote-filled book is far more accessible. Earthly Order: How Natural Laws Define Human Life is an ambitious effort to bridge the gap between politics and science, drawing on his experience as a National Geographic field explorer who has worked in more than 150 countries.

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Why the Periodic Table of Elements Is More Important Than Ever

Bloomberg  online


Matter still matters. And on the 150th anniversary of the periodic table’s formulation by the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev, it’s more important than it’s ever been.

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Beyond the Hype of Lab-Grown Diamonds

Gizmodo  online


Saleem Ali, an environmental researcher at the University of Delaware who serves on the board of the Diamonds and Development Initiative, agrees. He says the mining industry has, on the whole, worked hard to turn itself around since the height of the diamond wars and that governance is “much better today” than it used to be.

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Radioactive waste standoff could slash high tech's supply of rare earth elements

Science  online


Saleem Ali, an expert in energy and the environment at University of Delaware in Newark who visited the LAMP in 2014, says the anti-Lynas fervor in Malaysia is "unfortunately a classic case of the not-in-my-backyard syndrome." He says recycling is a commendable option but worries activists are now "stigmatizing the waste." Given the importance of REOs for green technology, "The industry needs to make the case more effectively that [it] benefits not just the local, but also the global community," Ali says.

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Articles (5)

Tradition or Modernization? The Dilemma of Chinese Indigenous Communities

International Journal of Heritage Studies

2023 In the indigenous communities in China’s Guizhou Province, people are struggling to balance tradition with modernisation. As fires have long plagued these villages, post-disaster reconstruction has intensified the tradition/modernity tension and left people with a complex dilemma: should traditional wooden houses be restored, or should one, instead, pursue a safer and modern dwelling in concrete houses? Through the lens of housing reconstruction, this paper aims to address this contradiction between the social benefits of heritage preservation and the indigenous rights for development in the context of disaster risk and modernisation in Guizhou Province. Analysing 134 surveys and 29 interviews collected via ethnographic fieldwork, this study’s findings reveal two core themes. First, the presence of a prevailing preference among indigenous Chinese for modernity, which also challenged the conventional wisdom that everyone endorses heritage preservation.

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Land and deep-sea mining: the challenges of comparing biodiversity impacts

Biodiversity and Conservation

2023 The term ‘biodiversity,’ while casually used in practice, is a complicated subject to measure, interpret, contextualize, and compare. Yet the possible advent of deep-sea mining in the mid-2020’s compels us to compare potential impacts of biodiversity loss across ecologically distant realms, a formidable task. Supplying the world’s green infrastructure is expected to lead to shortages of nickel, cobalt and other metals; meanwhile polymetallic nodules sitting atop the abyssal plains of the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ) of the Pacific Ocean contain billions of tons of nickel, cobalt, copper and manganese, enough to solve the supply issues. Implicit in society’s decision of whether to exploit this resource is a tradeoff of harm to biodiversity in the CCZ’s abyssal seafloor and its overlying water column, versus intensification of harm to rainforests and other terrestrial mining habitats.

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Natural resources modulate the nexus between environmental shocks and human mobility

Nature Communications

2023 In the context of natural resource degradation, migration can act as means of adaptation both for those leaving and those supported by remittances. Migration can also result from an inability to adapt in-situ, with people forced to move, sometimes to situations of worse or of the same exposure to environmental threats. The deleterious impacts of resource degradation have been proposed in some situations to limit the ability to move. In this contribution, we use remote sensed information coupled with population density data for continental Africa to assess quantitatively the prevalence of migration and immobility in the context of one cause of resource degradation: drought. We find that the effect of drought on mobility is amplified with the frequency at which droughts are experienced and that higher income households appear more resilient to climatic shocks and are less likely to resort to mobility as an adaptation response.

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Carbon-adjusted efficiency and technology gaps in gold mining

Resources Policy

2023 Gold mining presents a conundrum for economic development practitioners because of its immense environmental impact and profound importance for livelihoods and government revenues in many developing countries. The metal is highly recyclable due to its lack of reactivity. Most of the gold extracted on earth over the past six thousand years is in accessible forms with investors or jewellery. From a purely ecological perspective, gold mining is thus highly problematic. The metal is relatively rare in its geological concentration, so intense chemical interventions are needed for its extraction. Cyanidation has been the transformative process of extracting gold in large quantities and remains the dominant extraction technology with massive chemical and water needs and immense rock waste generation. Data compiled by Lawson and quoted by Ali et al. (2017) suggests that the metal-to-waste ratio of gold is 0.00033% compared to 0.91% for copper, 2.5% for lead, 19% for aluminium, and up to 40% for iron.

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Transnational agricultural land acquisitions threaten biodiversity in the Global South

Environmental Research Letters

2023 Agricultural large-scale land acquisitions have been linked with enhanced deforestation and land use change. Yet the extent to which transnational agricultural large-scale land acquisitions (TALSLAs) contribute to—or merely correlate with—deforestation, and the expected biodiversity impacts of the intended land use changes across ecosystems, remains unclear. We examine 178 georeferenced TALSLA locations in 40 countries to address this gap. While forest cover within TALSLAs decreased by 17% between 2000 and 2018 and became more fragmented, the spatio-temporal patterns of deforestation varied substantially across regions. While deforestation rates within initially forested TALSLAs were 1.5 (Asia) to 2 times (Africa) higher than immediately surrounding areas, we detected no such difference in Europe and Latin America.

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Research Grants (5)

Developing a program on Minerals, Materials and Society

Unidel Foundation Grant $390,000


Creation of a Knowledge Hub on Colored Gemstones and Sustainability

Tiffany & Co. Foundation $350,000


Development of a navigator for the support of economic diversification in resource-rich countries

German Development Agency (GIZ) €35,000


Myanmar’s Extractive Industries Transparency – A Benchmarking Study

Natural Resources Governance Institute (NRGI), supported by Norwegian Development Agency $65,000


Evidence Synthesis on the impact of extractives on political settlements and conflict in East Africa

UK Department for International Development £100,000


Education (3)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology: PhD, Environmental Planning 2000

Yale University: MS, Environmental Studies 1996

Tufts University: BS, Chemistry and Environmental Studies 1994

Affiliations (5)

  • United Nations International Resource Panel : Member
  • Institute for Sustainable Mining : Board Member
  • LEAD-Pakistan : Member of the Board of Governors
  • International Peace Park Expeditions : Board of Advisors
  • Society for Conservation Biology : Member

Languages (3)

  • English
  • Urdu
  • Punjabi

Event Appearances (5)

Featured Speaker

(2018) Nature Geoscience and Nature Materials Conference on Minerals and Materials for a Sustainable Future  Trondheim, Norway

Convener of Two Sessions

(2018) Resourcing Future Generations (IUGS International Conference)  Vancouver, BC

Invited Funded Speaker

(2018) Gordon Research Conference on Industrial Ecology (sponsored by NSF)  ETH, Switzerland

Hennebach Lecture, “Beyond Resource Nationalism”

(2018) Colorado School of Mines  Golden, CO

Invited Seminar

(2018) United States Geological Survey  Reston, VA