“Ecocide is the missing 5th Crime against Peace”
- an interview with author and Earth’s Lawyer Polly Higgins by Femke Wijdekop, ABC’s former Consciousness buyer. She interviewed Polly for AmsterdamFM, and we are very happy to be allowed to share it here with you.
Polly Higgins is an environmental activist, an international lawyer and the award-winning author of Eradicating Ecocide (eBook available here) and Earth is Our Business. In April 2010 she proposed to the United Nations to make Ecocide – the extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of ecosystems in a given territory – the 5th Crime Against Peace. Since that moment, she has been traveling around the world non-stop as “Earth’s Lawyer”, speaking at the International Criminal Court, the European Parliament, World Climate Summits and many other venues. On June 30th she visited Amsterdam to give an Earth Guardian Training organized by Rishis. Polly has also inspired the launch of the European Citizen’s Initiative to End Ecocide, which proposes to make Ecocide a crime in Europe and which needs 1 million signatures before 2014 in order to be tabled by the European Commission.
Polly and I talked on Skype and had a most inspiring conversation about the biggest challenge of our time, Ecocide, her own journey to become a spokeswoman for the rights of the Earth, and how each and everyone of us can be a ‘trim-tab’: a catalyst in the creation of a better world.
You can listen to the entire interview on our SoundCloud account, or via the player at the bottom of the interview.
Seven years ago something happened when you were representing a case at the Royal Courts of Justice in London that completely changed your life. What happened there?
Yes. Well occasionally in our lives we end up at a moment where we come to a junction. I didn’t actually realize that at the time, but I see now looking back, that I had reached one of those junctions in my life. And the challenge was, “which direction was I going to go”. What happened was I found myself at the very end of a three-year long case. And we were literally waiting for judgement – it was judgement day, we were waiting for the judges to return. This was at the Royal Courts of Justice in the center of London at the Court of Appeal, and there was a delay. I found myself looking out of the window, waiting for the judges to come in, thinking about how I had been, for the last three years, the voice on behalf of my client, who had been very badly injured and harmed in the workplace. And I looked out of the window and I thought “you know it’s not just my client that has been badly injured and harmed, so is the Earth. Something needs to be done about that.” And I found myself thinking after that, “The Earth is in need of a good lawyer” (laughs).
It was one of those thoughts that just wouldn’t leave me alone, it stayed with me. And as a barrister, as a court advocate, I was looking for the tools that I could use, the laws, quite literally, that could be used to stop this mass damage and destruction. And it really bothered me, that actually they didn’t exist. The existing environmental laws, as far as I could see, were not fit for purpose. You just have to look at the Amazon, and what’s happening there, to know that. And so I looked around to see what lawyers were creating, the international laws, to stop damage and destruction. I couldn’t find them. It actually came back to me and I realized then that maybe I need to put my head to this. Which is precisely what I did (laughs).
The most important thing that came out of your research into ways to defend the rights of the Earth, was the concept of Ecocide. What is Ecocide?
Ecocide is a word that has been around since the 1970s. I didn’t actually know that at that time – I subsequently found that out. What I have done is, I’ve given a legal definition to it. So I basically created a legislative framework in which we can prosecute those who have caused mass damage and destruction to a lot of ecosystems. But there’s more than that. It’s about creating a legal duty of care, and that’s very important here. Because it’s not just human-caused ecocide, largely corporate ecocide, but it’s also about creating a legal duty of care on those who are in positions of what is known in international criminal law as a position of superior responsibility. So those who made the decisions at the very top end, that can have an adverse impact on many millions of people – and not just people, but other inhabitants of ecosystems, too. We are widening our ambit of concern here. It’s not just human engagement, but also non-human engagement. We are imposing a legal duty of care on those who must make decisions that do not cause mass damage and destruction. We have to draw a line somewhere, and say ‘no longer can we do this’, because the often unintended consequences of such business decisions have huge adverse impacts, way into the future.
In Eradicating Ecocide you say that Law has caused the problem of the massive environmental damage and destruction we’re seeing. How has Law caused the problem, and how can a Law of Ecocide now be the solution to the problem?
The irony is that we have created laws over time without looking to the consequences. It is the law for a CEO and directors to put the interest of their shareholders first. Which means maximizing profits for big transnational corporations. This has become a real problem. It is fine when you start out small, but when your operations become so large that they have huge unintended consequences, and those companies are hidebound by those laws that insist that profits are put first, then we have really a huge problem on our hands, where you externalize or actually just ignore the consequences. When profit is the number one driver, it means that communities aren’t actually looked after.
So the Law of Ecocide is legislation that will actually assist corporations – this is really about making the problem into the solution! Corporations actually work very well with international legislative frameworks because they have very sure indicators of what you can and cannot do, and it also means that they can finance their change in policy and gain subsidies from government to create the innovation in the other direction. So this is very much about creating the green economy, but also about creating resilient long term economies as well. And creating jobs, and preventing resource-wars. So you could say it’s just a win-win all round. The environment benefits, humanity benefits and business benefits.
You say that Laws can be “Consciousness Shaping Tools” because Laws can trigger a change in mindset and change the ruling paradigm. Can you give a historical example of a Law that has done just that?