Categories: Conservation

In memory of ecocide law expert Polly Higgins

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Polly Higgins is the sort of person I would have liked to have met. She was passionate about protecting the environment and therefore protecting the animals that lived in it. She left her job as a barrister and sold her home to campaign for an entirely different approach to protecting the environment.

Polly Higgins. Photo: her Facebook account.

She wanted business leaders to be held accountable in the International Criminal Court in the Hague if when running their company they damaged the environment such as the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill by BP.

She strongly felt that there was no point in punishing companies. You have to punish the people who run them in order to achieve the desired effect which is a change in culture and attitude by big business towards environment. I don’t know who first coined the word but she used the word ‘ecocide’ in her campaigning. It refers to the damage or destruction of ecosystems of a given territory. The Gulf of Mexico oil spill is a classic example.

She started her campaign with a donation of £1.5 million. She set up an office and hired a team of 12. She struggled to make an impact because, and this is hardly surprising, big business is not really interested in the environment. They are beholden to shareholders and shareholders demand dividends and when you’re concerned with the environment business leaders believe that you make less profit therefore there is less money in it for the shareholders.

She canvassed support for her project from developing nations because it is these countries who often bear the brunt of the effects of damaging the environment. She managed to convince the Foreign Minister of Vanuatu, a Pacific island threatened by rising sea levels. Ralph Regenvanu decided that he would petition his government to submit the ecocide amendment to the Hague. The idea was to change the terms and conditions under which people could be brought to the Hague for trial.

Polly Higgins, I think, was a brave woman. She was determined and passionate and was working against the stream. She was admired by the people of Extinction Rebellion who she advised. The protesters sprayed the words “For Polly” on the Shell building in the early days of their process. She was very pleased by that. She heard the news two days before her death.

Polly died quite soon after being diagnosed with aggressive lung cancer. This was a fortnight before Extinction Rebellion began to occupy Oxford Circus in London.

She received the Shackleton Medal from the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. She was a bloody-minded woman, and you have to be, to do what she did and achieved. She married a judge, Ian Lawrie when they were both tenant barristers at Bridewell Chambers. Rest in peace Polly Higgins. You contributed to the world in a very positive way. It’s a legacy that many of us would be proud of if we’d had the courage, intelligence and the commitment that you had.

P.S. She was a very attractive women too 🙂

“Human-made ecocide includes the loss of the Amazon, mining, the Athabasca tar sands in Canada and a nuclear war.”

The Guardian newspaper
MikeB

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