Bellagio Library/

Earthly Order: How Natural Laws Define Human Life

by Saleem H. Ali

(Photo: Maria S. Ali)

Image is of the book cover for Earthly Order: How Natural Laws Define Human Life.Saleem H. Ali participated in the Bellagio residency program in 2021. During this residency he worked on Earthly Order: How Natural Laws Define Human Life. He is the Blue and Gold Distinguished Professor of Energy and the Environment at the University of Delaware, where he also directs the Minerals, Materials and Society program.

 A few words with Saleem

“When I arrived at the Bellagio Center, I was finalizing the manuscript. The one month of reflection time and the quiet space to do final revisions enhanced the quality of the final product for sure.

“The conversations with fellow residents, including a few self-organized workshops to discuss specific aspects of the book, were instrumental in shaping the final manuscript. In particular, I got ideas for new visuals and presentations, and these conversations provided nuance in the book’s coverage of social justice topics.

“This book is a labor of love to promote a systems view of environmental problem-solving. All royalties are being donated to environmental literacy programs in developing countries.”


Published by Oxford University Press, Earthly Order sets out to synthesize the divergences that exist between the “world order” in political discourse and the “natural order” present in our environment. Instead of attempting to conquer or capitulate the natural order, Ali argues that humanity needs to understand the latent structures and patterns that permeate all systems, and in so doing, develop an “earthly order” that is both socially functional and sustainable.

To demonstrate this, Ali weaves together personal narratives of field experience as a National Geographic explorer – he’s visited over 150 countries, witnessing environmental challenges first-hand – with a culturally nuanced interpretation of systems science and its application. Earthly Order is an accessible guide to how we can achieve sustainable development and shows how science can inform responses to planetary crises.

Explore More

To find out more about Saleem’s work, listen to him discuss the geopolitics of climate change on an episode of the Contours podcast.

You can read a profile of Earthly Order in The Guardian.

Or you can simply follow him on Twitter or Instagram.