We are devastated to have lost International Earth lawyer, friend and colleague Polly Higgins who died on Easter Sunday 2019 after a short illness.
Polly’s death came at a poignant moment in the midst of the biggest civil disobedience campaign in modern British history. Extinction Rebellion demands urgent action on climate change and has seen over 1,000 arrests so far. Tributes to Polly and her work were made from the platform of the gathering in London on Sunday evening as her death was announced.
Meanwhile there have been escalating young people's school strikes across the globe, with tens of thousands taking to the streets in major cities to demand action to stop global warming and environmental destruction. All have been inspired by Greta Thunberg whose solo climate protest by striking from school in Sweden began in August 2018. Greta’s UK visit last week included speaking from the platform on the 7th day of Extinction Rebellion’s Marble Arch camp
Polly herself was due to speak last Thursday at Findhorn’s Conference on Climate Change and Consciousness. Her colleagues from the Stop Ecocide campaign were joined by Gail Bradbrook co founder of Extinction Rebellion in a powerful and uplifting presentation in her place, at Hawkwood College in her home town of Stroud, filmed for playback at the Findhorn Conference the same day. Jojo Mehta read from Polly’s ‘Earth Diaries’ which are soon to be published.
Polly began her campaign to make ecocide the 5th UN crime against peace by proposing Ecocide law into the United Nations in 2010.
“A law against ecocide would criminalize human activities that cause extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of ecosystems of a given territory; and which diminish the health and well-being of species within these ecosystems including humans.” Since that time Polly has tirelessly given her time to speak and teach internationally on earth jurisprudence. It was eco-theologian Thomas Berry who first called for the law to recognise the rights of nature, a very important part of the challenge to our human- centredness, arguably at the core of ecological destruction. Polly published three books: the Award winning Eradicating Ecocide (2010) Earth is our Business (2012) and I Dare you to be Great (2014).
Polly's legal team are fully briefed and can continue the process she began - preliminary independent investigations into Dutch Shell's CEO will determine whether there is sufficient evidence to establish Ecocide as a crime in International Law.
For CPA, it is a moment to recall our event in March 2013: “Psyche, Law and Justice – joining up human responses to ecocide.” This took place, fittingly, at the Refugee Therapy Centre in North London’s Tollington Park. Polly was our keynote speaker with a talk titled ‘The Earth Needs a Good Lawyer’. Polly, as well as giving a typically charismatic talk, was fulsome in her appreciation of the psycho-social, ethical and spiritual connections drawn out by the respondents and in later discussion. This weaving of perspectives was and remains a key strand in CPA’s work. Responses were given by Sally Weintrobe and Sandra White. Sally commented
“Polly Higgins, in framing ecocide as a war crime, bursts the gargantuan bubble of complacency that allows us to maintain the fiction that we are living in a time of peace….. Thinking of the environmental war as ecocide helps us to take in emotionally the enormity of the violence towards the body of Mother Earth…..Polly has made a profoundly important contribution. A law of ecocide could hugely help ordinary people manage their guilt about environmental damage. It would do this by introducing proportionality about who is primarily to blame. By helping us to heal our fractured injured minds, it would improve mental health as well as repair the environment, as mental health depends on a healthy environment.”
What made Polly so effective as a campaigner was her incredible networking ability. Literally thousands of people across the world would consider her a friend, her reach was far and wide and she could connect with people across the spectrum. We both remember when she came to speak at the ecopsychology gathering in 2013. As the ‘important’ keynote speaker, she attended the whole event and characteristically flung herself in 100%, offering workshops and engaging in conversation at all hours.
She was someone who inspired and empowered others to act. She spoke about ‘daring to be great’, the need for all of us to step out and offer our gifts to the world. Here she is, barefoot, giving a TED lecture. Polly combined the qualities of a sharp legal mind with compassion and wisdom. In this she remains one of the outstanding women of our time, inspiring women around the world and joining the ranks of new women leaders, such as NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Aherne and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democratic party politician recently elected to the House of Representatives.
Polly was also a fun lover, and her ability to create ‘gatherings’ was renowned - people flocked to her ‘wildly decadent’ parties where she would invite us to dress in extravagant outfits and celebrate the latest successes. She has left instructions for the ‘Mad Hatter’s’ party to go ahead in celebration of her birthday this Summer – she never wasted an opportunity to spread the word.
Polly died peacefully with a smile on her face. Death was another challenge to be embraced as fully as she embraced life, she had no fear and no regrets, and no doubt that all was as it was meant to be. She handed her work on to her close colleagues, with a clear intention to continue the work from wherever she was.
Polly will be remembered as a force of nature and for nature, fearless as well as loving. She touched the hearts of thousands of people and will be sadly missed as a huge source of inspiration, both in her local community and around the world. Her early departure is a great loss for the earth and for our movement as it struggles to move forward to protect life.
Tree Staunton & Mary-Jayne Rust
Tree Staunton, a body psychotherapist, is Director of Bath Centre for Psychotherapy and Counselling. She has a special interest in the links between psychotherapy and the current global crises we face and has been a long-time member of CPA.
Mary-Jayne Rust is an art therapist and Jungian Analyst in North London. She lectures and offers courses in the field of ecopsychology. She is also a visual artist and wild about swimming
Other news in brief
April has seen a cascade of climate news, which we can only indicate here (some reflection on these next month). At the front of climate science news, we have the deeply worrying finding that the latest climate models predict more warming than previous models – a surge (for a summary). Because of the unprecedented success (in the UK at any rate) of a combination of XR protest and Greta Thunberg’s high profile visit to Parliament, unlikely sources, from business to politicians and banks to the BBC, are paying attention. Mark Carney at the Bank of England said that companies that don’t adjust to the reality of global warming will simply cease to exist. Legal and General, who manages £1trillion of UK pension fund investments, is taking tougher stances on companies who are ignoring the climate catastrophe https://www.businessgreen.com/bg/news/3074232/we-are-facing-a-climate-catastrophe-legal-general-bills-climate-change-top-priority .The BBC eventually allowed David Attenborough to make the programme on climate change that he’d been asking to make – so it is said – for over a decade. At this political tipping point, we need to be thinking fast. One bit of news seems to sum up the paradoxical situation: the UK’s “fracking czar”, Natascha Engel has just quit her job because of the success of environmental activism to stop fracking. Good news there. This former Labour MP is frustrated at how the economic potential of this ‘developing technology’ has been stifled. She is obviously blind to what Greta Thunberg told Parliament, ‘the only thing that we need to look at is the emission curve. And I’m sorry, but it’s still rising. That curve is the only thing we should look at’. Bad news that politicians, with their sights on the short term, still want to believe there is more time than there is. What would a future Labour government do in detail with their intention to declare a climate emergency?
Next month we intend to develop the focus on a law against ecocide and consider the ways in which law can be used to protect against climate change'.