Dictionary.com defines ecocide as an Americanism dating back to 1965–70:

the destruction of large areas of the natural environment by such activity as nuclear warfare, overexploitation of resources, or dumping of harmful chemicals.

Other sources suggest that its earliest usages date to 1969 M-W or 1970 Wikipedia for instance.

While Google Books offers a few earlier usage instances such as:

from Official Records of the ... Session of the General Assembly5 (1947):

One delegation said that while disturbance of ecosystems could be tolerated to some extent, beyond a certain limit it could lead to ecocide. The need for redeployment of industry in the interests of more efficient and less waste- producing ...

When and where was the term ecocide coined? Has its meaning changed through the decades given the greater and greater attention ecological issues have attracted in recent years?

  • 1
    Are you sure that the report is from 1947? While that is the original publication date for Official Records, Issues 24-26 may be 24-26 years after this (assuming annual publication), putting it at 1971-1973. I ask this because I thought I'd found an earlier publication through Google Books, and was fooled by the same thing - in my case, The Progressive started in 1929, but the excerpt was from an issue in the early 1970s. Google Books is notoriously tricky with indexing periodicals properly. Commented Aug 25, 2019 at 23:59
  • Are you asking when It was first commited? Or when the word was coined? It may very well have been done long before there was a name for It.
    – Jim
    Commented Aug 26, 2019 at 0:52
  • Uh, Noah's flood?
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Aug 26, 2019 at 1:08
  • 1
    More likely from the 1973 document: books.google.com/… than 1947
    – Kris
    Commented Aug 28, 2019 at 12:06
  • 2
    @Kris The prefix eco- has been around for longer than 1969. Even in your link, ecosystem and ecosphere are respectively from 1935 and 1953. The OED posits that specialist usages were around early in the 20th century, with more general usage in the 1960s with the environmental movement. Finally, dictionaries may represent early instances of usage found by a specific team of lexicographers, but it's often possible to use corpuses and archives to find even earlier usages. So I would seldom declare that, just because "Etymonline" or the "OED" say a date, the word didn't appear earlier. Commented Aug 28, 2019 at 14:24

1 Answer 1


Ecocide is one of several words formed from the prefix eco-, which generated words in English after ecology came into wider usage. According to the OED, many of these words were formed in the early 20th century, and ecocide has usage cited from 1969 (Oxford English Dictionary, eco-, comb. form):

1969 Encycl. Sci. Suppl. (Grolier) 159 Discarded automobiles, old newspapers and telephone books, tin cans, nonreturnable bottles—all add to the growing problems of solid-waste disposal... Ecocide—the murder of the environment—is everybody's business.

This date corresponds to the Merriam-Webster date. To see if I can find anything further, I'm using two databases. Indications from these results is that (a) ecocide referred to a pesticide in the 1960s, and (b) gained its more general environmental usage by 1970.

JSTOR - Egler, Frank E. Ecology, vol. 47, no. 6, 1966, pp. 1077–1084. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1935663.

Further sound thoughts on this general subject are voiced by Roland C. Clement in a talk on "Mosquito control and wildlife," April 20, 1966, to the Northeastern Conference on Mosquito Suppression and Wildlife Management, at Newton, Mass. In the equally problematic field of vertebrate pest control, Alfred G. Etter's "Testimony of an ex-federal trapper" (De- fenders of Wildlife, July, 1965) reveals one of the most vigorous one-strand specialists in our society, the Sheep- man, together with the branches of our government that he has intimidated, as the subject relates to the ecocide 1080.

"Ecocide 1080"? I thought it was a numbering error at first, but according to Norbert Finzsch (2018) this is one name for a pesticide used in the early 1960s:

A substance with the scientific name sodium fluoracetate, that was used as rodent killer in the US and as 'dingo bait' in Australia, was called 'ecocide 1080.'

Finzsch cites 1080 as the origin of ecocide; the chemical is well-documented (Wikipedia). JSTOR turns up one more citation before 1970, also authored by Frank Egler, where he again refers to "ecocide 1080 (sodium fluoracetate)" : Egler, Frank E. American Scientist, vol. 56, no. 4, 1968, pp. 484A–486A. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27828398.

New York Times archive - "And a Plea to Ban 'Ecocide'." New York Times (1923-Current file), Feb 26, 1970, pp. 38.

Taking his cue from the Convention on Genocide, a Yale biologist has proposed a new international agreement to ban "Ecocide" - the willful destruction of the environment. Prof. Arthur Galston, director of the Division of Biological Sciences at Yale, made the suggestion last week at a conference in Washington on War and National Responsibility. In doing so, he pointed with alarm to United States defoliation and crop-destroying practices in South Vietnam, where he said there is evidence of "irreversible damage" to plant life.

This is the most commonly cited origin of the term in academic articles I've found. Even in 1970, the New York Times treats this as a new usage (using quotes reserved for nonce words and new words), indicating that they may have been unaware of the academic use to refer to the pesticide 1080 in the previous decade. On the other hand, given that Galston was a biologist and seemed to work in ecology, it seems likely he was aware of Frank Egler or other ecologists using ecocide to refer to pesticides. Galston's addition was to use the term more generally to refer to ecological destruction, rather than to the mere destruction of a single species by a product.

Note: One open question is how, according to the OED, an Encyclopedia Science Supplement from 1969 could have a definition that Galston uses in 1970. If anyone has access to a vintage book collection, maybe they could confirm the citation and actual publication date.

  • See my comment at OP.
    – Kris
    Commented Aug 28, 2019 at 12:16

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.