One year after the death of Glasgow-born lawyer Polly Higgins, her campaign continues to gather steam.
Polly’s latest book, Dare to be Great, has just been published, with contributions from some of the green movement’s leading campaigners.
“Polly Higgins gave up her job and sold her house in order to found a campaign on behalf of all of us,” writes George Monbiot, journalist and environmentalist.
“She drafted model laws to show what the crime of ecocide would look like, published books on the subject and, often against furious opposition, presented her proposals at international meetings.
“I believe establishing such a law would change everything.”
He added: “It would radically shift the balance of power, forcing anyone contemplating large-scale vandalism to ask themselves: ‘Will I end up in the international criminal court for this?’ It could make the difference between a habitable and an uninhabitable planet.”
Polly grew up in Glasgow, where she attended St Aloysius’ College. She studied law at Glasgow University and moved to London, where she worked with Baroness (Patricia) Scotland, the first black woman ever named Queen’s Counsel. In 2002, she married Ian Lawrie, later to become a judge.
It was in 2010, as she became increasingly passionate about saving the planet, that she launched her campaign to see what she called ecocide considered an international crime against humanity, on the same level as genocide or other war crimes.
Ecocide is defined as “loss or damage to, or destruction of ecosystem(s) of a given territory(ies) such that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants has been or will be severely diminished.”
Polly believed that anyone responsible for destroying the environment, whether politicians or big business, should face prosecution by the International Criminal Court in the Hague.
“There are millions who care so much and feel so powerless about the future, and I would love to see them begin to understand the power of this one, simple law to protect the Earth – to realise it’s possible, even straightforward,” she once said.
“I wish I could live to see a million Earth protectors standing for it – because I believe they will.”
Polly sold her house in England and gave up a high-paying job to continue her fight.
“What is required is an expansion of our collective duty of care to protect the natural living world and all life,” she said. “International ecocide crime is a law to protect the Earth.”
Polly was named one of the World’s Top 10 Visionary Thinkers and was celebrated as The Planet’s Lawyer by the 2010 Change Awards. Her first book, Eradicating Ecocide, won the People’s Book Prize in 2011 and she won a number of awards, too many to mention, for her work
Polly was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer in 2019, and passed away on April 21 last year, aged 50. She was passionate that her life’s work would be continued by the incredible team she had built around her: ‘My legal team will continue undeterred,’ she said.
Her advocacy work is continued by Ecological Defence Integrity (EDI), the NGO she co-founded.
The book includes quotes from Caroline Lucas, former Green Party England and Wales leader, and Dr Gail Bradbrook, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion.
Dr Bradbook said Polly had seen “the potential of law to provoke fundamental societal change, both by shining a light on where it fell short and by directly pushing the envelope.”
She added: “In her last months she jokingly acknowledged how XR had helped her own work on ecocide become more visible, saying, ‘I love Extinction Rebellion! They make us look moderate.’
“And if we have brought the possibility of criminalising ecocide closer, we are doing our job.”
Caroline Lucas MP said: “Establishing the Law of Ecocide would signal a major breakthrough in the way we deal with crimes against the natural world.
“Polly Higgins’ groundbreaking proposal to list ecocide as the fifth global crime against peace would go a long way towards deterring and holding to account CEOs, companies and nations.
“Whether it’s oil drilling in the Arctic, deforestation in the Amazon, or over-fishing in the Atlantic, activities which impact severely on global ecosystems would be brought under far closer scrutiny.
“It could also play a significant role in encouraging companies to drop the dirty, polluting industries of old, and invest in the clean technologies and renewable energy solutions of the future.”
Dare to be Great, which includes Polly’s advice interspersed with her personal journey, is available now, published by Flint Books.