Lawyer and visionary thinker Polly Higgins, who campaigned for ecocide to be internationally recognized as a crime on par with genocide and war crimes, died Sunday at the age of 50.
She had been diagnosed with an aggressive cancer last month and given just weeks to live.
"There's a growing recognition that a lot of campaigning is not getting us where we need to go, and just saying fossil fuel extraction should stop is not enough. It has to be criminalized," Higgins said to DeSmogBlog last month.
Climate mobilization 350.org mourned her passing, writing, "Her legacy lives on in all those who continue the fight for #ClimateJustice."
Saddened to hear that we’ve lost tireless #Ecocide campaigner Polly Higgins to cancer today. She pushed for crimes against the planet to be recognised globally like war crimes. Her legacy lives on in all those who continue the fight for #ClimateJustice. https://t.co/hAdJYyJzyA
— 350 dot org (@350) April 22, 2019
Author and climate activist Naomi Klein praised Higgins's work as well.
"She devoted her life to changing broken laws that have failed so miserably to protect the natural systems upon which we all depend. Her work will live on," Klein wrote.
So sad to hear of the loss of Polly Higgins. She devoted her life to changing broken laws that have failed so miserably to protect the natural systems upon which we all depend. Her work will live on. https://t.co/TNekj7B5z9
— Naomi Klein (@NaomiAKlein) April 22, 2019
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Such accolades wouldn't be pouring in if not for the pivotal moment when Higgins chose to her leave her legal practice to focus on a singular client: planet Earth.
"I was standing in court one day,” she told the Scotsman in 2012. "It was three years on in a long case, the last day in the Court of Appeal, and we were waiting for the judges to come back. I'd been giving voice to my client, who had been injured and harmed in the workplace, and I looked out the window and thought, 'The Earth is being injured and harmed as well and nothing is being done about it.'"
"I actually thought, 'The Earth is in need of a good lawyer.' That thought would not leave me alone. It changed my life," said Higgins.
Guardian columnist George Monbiot paid tribute to her work last month, and outlined some of her achievements:
Until 1996, drafts of the Rome statute, which lists international crimes against humanity, included the crime of ecocide. But it was dropped at a late stage at the behest of three states: the UK, France and the Netherlands. Ecocide looked like a lost cause until Higgins took it up 10 years ago.
She gave up her job and sold her house to finance this campaign on behalf of all of us. She has drafted model laws to show what the crime of ecocide would look like, published two books on the subject and, often against furious opposition, presented her proposals at international meetings. The Earth Protectors group she founded seeks to crowdfund the campaign. Recently she has been working with the Republic of Vanuatu with a view to tabling an amendment to the Rome statute, introducing the missing law.
Higgins's visionary work to make ecocide a crime, Monbiot wrote, "could, with our support, do for all life on Earth what the criminalization of genocide has done for vulnerable minorities: provide protection where none existed before. Let it become her legacy."
To hear Higgins in her own words, watch her TEDxExeter talk from 2012, "Ecocide, the 5th Crime Against Peace."