This essay seeks to extend the already controversial debate about humanitarian intervention by exploring the morality, legality, and legitimacy of ecological intervention and its corollary, ecological defense. If the legacy of the Holocaust was acceptance of a new category of "crimes against humanity" and an emerging norm of humanitarian intervention, then should the willful or reckless perpetration of mass extinctions and massive ecosystem destruction be regarded as "crimes against nature" or "ecocide" such as to ground a new norm of ecological intervention or ecological defense?
The essay shows that the minimalist argument for ecological intervention—multilateral intervention to deal with environmental emergencies with major transboundary spillover effects—is the strongest and may be defended as ecological self-defense. However, "eco-humanitarian intervention" to prevent ecocide involving serious human rights violations has the same precarious status as humanitarian intervention and is unlikely to garner the support of developing countries. The most challenging case of all—the military rescue of nonhuman species—finds moral support in environmental philosophy but conflicts with deeply entrenched international legal and political norms concerning state territorial rights.
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In addition, read the exclusive online symposium, with responses to Eckersley's article from Mathew Humphrey, Simon Dalby, Clare Palmer, and Mark Woods.