As we face the urgent crises of climate and extinction, we need every tool available — including the law — to fight for life on Earth. By identifying “ecocide” as a prosecutable crime, as a panel of 12 lawyers recently proposed to the International Criminal Court, we can set up a practical framework for tackling these emergencies.
The legal panel defined ecocide as “unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment.” It’s launching a global campaign to list ecocide as an international crime. Currently, the court can prosecute four crimes: war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and the crime of aggression. Ecocide would be the fifth.
The term “ecocide” was coined by bioethicist Arthur Galston in the 1970s to refer to intentional destruction of a specific environment. It was inspired by the U.S. use of the toxic herbicide Agent Orange in the Vietnam War and is now used more broadly to refer to a wide range of environmentally destructive behaviors.