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The late Scottish lawyer and activist Polly Higgins led the charge to get “ecocide” recognized as a “crime against peace” by the International Criminal Court.

Dear EarthTalk: I’ve heard of suicide, homicide and genocide, but what is ecocide? — Leslie P., Carrboro, North Carolina

While the concept of “ecocide” may be new to many of us, the practice of willfully destroying large areas of the natural environment has been around about as long as humans — although we got a lot better at it using the machinery we developed during the industrial revolution. Bioethicist Arthur Galston first started batting the term around in the 1970s to describe intentional widespread ecological destruction, especially as it pertained to ruining inhabited environments so people couldn’t live there anymore.

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