Celebrating the Life and Work of Ecocide Lawyer Polly Higgins
by Emma Palmer
Polly Higgins was working as a corporate and employment law barrister in 2005, when she was representing someone who had suffered a serious workplace injury. Towards the end of the case, during a moment’s silence waiting for the judges, Polly looked out of the window, thinking: ‘The Earth has been badly injured and harmed too, and something needs to be done about that.’ She reports that her next thought was life-changing: ‘The Earth needs a good lawyer, too.’
When Polly looked around for the tools that she could use to defend the Earth in court, she realized that they didn’t exist. It started her thinking – what if the Earth had rights, as we humans do? As international laws that criminalize genocide were accepted, why couldn’t we criminalize ecocide?
Earth as Her Only Client
Polly left her successful court work in order to defend the Earth as her one and only client. She began examining existing law to determine how to best advance a legal precept to protect the Earth. In 2010 she presented to the United Nations her proposal for ecocide to become an international crime, to protect the Earth from ecological and climate ecocide – defined as ecosystem loss or damage caused by corporate and/or State senior officials. Her not-for-profit organization, Ecological Defence Integrity collaborates with a number of international lawyers, experts, and judges giving their expertise and time on a pro-bono basis. Ecocide is a missing atrocity crime of corporate and State responsibility – a missing international crime against peace.
I had the good fortune to meet and hear Polly talk on ecocide six years ago at Ecopsychology UK’s annual ‘Edge of the Wild’ gathering. Polly’s qualities that spring to mind include her intelligence, focus, passion for the work, and humour. Unlike other keynote speakers, Polly stayed for the whole weekend, finding out about our work. She was a true collaborator.
The Childfree Choice
Polly and I had more than a few things in common: both with no children, both deeply care about the earth, both writers, and both like getting things done. A couple of years after the Edge of the Wild event, I wrote Polly asking if she would endorse my second book Other than Mother: Choosing Childlessness with Life in Mind. She got straight back to me, delighted to be asked. Her review of Other than Mother: “What a truly beautiful book. Touching on issues close to the heart – stewardship, legacy and interconnectedness – Kamalamani [as I was then known] talks of birthing of another kind. Having children can be a choice. Or more specifically, choosing not to have children – often a far less spoken about subject. Kamalamani faces this shadow and explores it deeply, compassionately and lovingly.”
Polly understood that the childfree choice can be about care of another sort, and about channelling that care into action, rather than it being about lack, or about selfishness, as is still so often mistakenly reported with the prevailing of pronatalist stereotypes.
Dare to be Great
Tragically, Polly died this past Easter Sunday after a very short illness. Her life, her legacy – which lives on – is an inspiration to tens of thousands of us across the world. She continues to inspire me, particularly her invitation and title of one of her books: I Dare You to be Great. If you’d like to dare to be great today, please sign up to be an Earth protector, and help make ecocide a crime. May we all keep daring to be great for ourselves, each other and this precious planet.
Emma Palmer is the 2018 Childfree Person of the Year.