Treasures of the Earth: Need, Greed, and a Sustainable Future


Would the world be a better place if human societies were somehow able to curb their desires for material goods? TREASURES OF THE EARTH: Need, Greed, and a Sustainable Future links human wants and needs by providing a natural history of consumption and materialism with scientific detail and humanistic nuance. It argues that simply disavowing consumption of materials is not likely to help in planning for a resource-scarce future, given global inequality, development imperatives, and our goals for a democratic global society. Rather than suppress the creativity and desire to discover that is often embedded in the exploration and production of material goods—which he calls “the treasure impulse”—Ali proposes a new environmental paradigm, one that accepts our need to consume “treasure” for cultural and developmental reasons, but warns of our concomitant need to conserve. In evaluating the impact of treasure consumption on resource-rich countries, he argues that there is a way to consume responsibly and alleviate global poverty. 



North American publisher: Yale University Press

Foreign rights: Yale University Press, Anne Bihan (

Film rights: Gillian MacKenzie (  


Read reviews of Treasures of the Earth:

"Environmental scholar Saleem Ali launches into a magnificent synthesis that goes beyond linear explanations of the links between human consumption, well-being, and the environment."—Seed Magazine


"What makes this book so interesting is the course it sets between doomsters and cornucopians, showing not just what might be possible, but what is being done in the real world—not on utopian communes, but in real-life industrial settings, and in approaches to management which understand that wealth creation through technological expansion must be tempered—and rewarded—by managing the risks that accompany it." — Ian Smillie, Co-founder of the Kimberley Process for the Diamonds and Development Initiative

"This book provides a welcome linkage between environmental behavior and poverty alleviation. Ali's call for harnessing the earth's resources efficiently and equitably deserves to be heeded by all sectors of society and used as a means of spurring innovations towards sustainable development."—Muhammad Yunus; Founder, Grameen Bank; Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, 2006

"This book deals with equity and ethical dimensions of production and consumption across the planet—issues that are likely to become a growing source of tension between different countries. Hence, knowledge about how treasures of the earth should be utilized equitably would help in framing appropriate policies for the future."—R. K. Pachauri, Director General, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), and Chairman, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Along with former Vice President Al Gore, the IPCC under Dr. Pachauri's Chairmanship was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the year 2007


"The history of human relationships with Earth's resources is an important story and Ali tells it from an extraordinarily wide perspective. The interaction of our fascination with these materials and the implications of consumption behavior for the environment deserves the attention that Ali gives it in this quest to understand the psychology of treasure-seeking."-Thomas Graedel, Yale University


“This compelling narrative about the social, economic, and environmental effects of the quest for mineral wealth shows the human impulse of ‘acquisitiveness.’ Ali distinguishes between ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ to develop the links between consumption, environmental degradation, and human well-being.”—John Gowdy, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute