The G Blog #RadDonors

Polly Higgins, the Earth’s Lawyer

Amisha Ghadiali , Feb 2023

Many people in life have those moments when they get some kind of message that guides them to their life purpose – that place where the skills they have and what the world needs fits together. So very few completely change their lives and actually do it, especially if it means giving up some privilege. Polly Higgins is one of the rare people I have met who did just that. Imagine this scene, a successful barrier is in court in London, when she looks out of the window and realises – the earth is in need of a good lawyer. 

Polly Higgins in a park, for the video “Polly Higgins – Seed Freedom” by You and I Films. CC licence.

What she did next was radical, leaving her salaried career and moving out of London – in order to take this on – wielding the system of the law to set a new precedent for the earth and our future. She realised that there were not enough laws in place that actually protected the commons, with the environmental legislation we have being mostly administrative and certainly not criminal – which is what gives us our legal moral code in society. She gave herself the task of making ecocide an international crime. 

Ecocide is the mass damage and destruction of ecosystems, which harm nature in a long term and widespread way. This includes oil spills, plastic pollution, industrial livestock farming, fracking, contaminating the waters and air pollution. Many of these acts are perpetrated by unregulated commercial ventures. There is a glaringly obvious gap on who is responsible to stop such behaviours and no climate justice – even though these acts impact our global collective future. 

Climate protest “Make Ecocide Law”, Melbourne, Australia. CC licence

In order to change something, we must imagine that another world is possible. There are many shifts that we have seen in the world that seemed impossible until they happened – from The Berlin Wall coming down, to women getting the vote, to same sex marriage becoming legal in many states. Change is possible. 

“The rules of our world are laws, and they can be changed. Laws can restrict or they can enable. What matters is what they serve. Many of the laws in our world serve property – they are based on ownership. But imagine a law that has a higher moral authority… a law that puts people and planet first. Imagine a law that starts from first do no harm, that stops this dangerous game and takes us to a place of safety….” Polly Higgins, 2015  

Throughout the last ten years of her life, Polly was devoted to making ecocide an international crime. The pathway has been long and complex – yet has gained a lot of support and traction.

This campaign reveals the issues of the world we live in. Although many can see that this makes sense and is necessary – the law sets to cut into corporate profits and special interests and so the progress of this has not been as straightforward as it might seem.

There is something incredibly courageous about making the case for this kind of legislation and all the feathers it ruffles. Yet Polly had this way about her, where her heart would shine through inspiring thousands to become earth protectors. 

Polly Higgins delivering the talk “Leadership and A Law of Ecocide” at TEDxTallinn, 2013.

Polly for me embodies so many qualities we need more of in this world. She really showed what being a leader based in feminine principles is, and how we can move forward and create a beautiful future. 

“It’s about how we harness our own life energy. Do we decide to remain complicit in a world that is destructive or decide that we will stand up collectively and align with a greater force? It’s a higher force, a higher energy that will protect the lives of millions in the future.” ~ Polly Higgins

Polly’s legacy lives on through her work at Stop Ecocide, now led by her close collaborator Jojo Mehta.

Polly’s spirit lives in everyone who knows that serious harm to the Earth must be named – and prevented.

You can listen to me speak with Polly, in what was quite possibly her last podcast before her death here. This was recorded in her office in Stroud in late 2018, she died in April 2019. In this conversation on the all that we are podcast entitled “Tipping Points Of Radical Change”, we explore the themes of Ecocide, Climate Breakdown and Purposeful Living as we speak to the question – How do we harness our life force to protect the Earth?