To prosecute and imprison political leaders and corporate executives would require a parsing of legal boundaries and a recalibration of criminal accountability.

At many moments in history, humanity’s propensity for wanton destruction has demanded legal and moral restraint. One of those times, seared into modern consciousness, came at the close of World War II, when Soviet and Allied forces liberated the Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz and Dachau. Photographs and newsreels shocked the conscience of the world. Never had so many witnessed evidence of a crime so heinous, and so without precedent, that a new word—genocide—was needed to describe it, and in short order, a new framework of international justice was erected to outlaw it.

Another crime of similar magnitude is now at large in the world. It is not as conspicuous and repugnant as a death camp, but its power of mass destruction, if left unchecked, would strike the lives of hundreds of millions of people. A movement to outlaw it, too, is gaining momentum. That crime is called ecocide.

Martha Kasafi, a refugee from Democratic Republic of Congo, collects water for their vegetable crops at a water pan in Kalobeyei settlement for refugees in Turkana County, Kenya on October 2, 2019. Kalobeyei is a settlement located just outside Kakuma Refugee Camp to enable refugees to become more self-reliant in the long term. The water pan collects water from a seasonal stream and it is used to water the surrounding crops as a way to provide a source of food and livelihood to the refugees while combating the challenging climate conditions in the area. AFP PHOTO / LUIS TATO (Photo by Luis TATO / AFP) (Photo by LUIS TATO/AFP via Getty Images)

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