What if, just as humans have a right to life, the earth – as a living, breathing entity – had a right to life as well? And what if just like genocide there was international law in place against the large-scale massacre of ecosystems? That is what UK lawyer and environmental activist Polly Higgins has been trying to bring to the table, dedicating her career to fighting for the addition of ‘ecocide’ to the four established Crimes Against Peace, punishable in the International Criminal Court (ICC) and recognized by the United Nations and the international community.
Although originally coined in the 1970s, the term ecocide was largely under the radar when, in Copenhagen, Higgins had been giving a talk on her proposal to the UN about a Universal Declaration of Earth Rights. She was questioned about creating a new language to deal with the massive, systematic destruction that humanity has committed against certain ecosystems. Right then and there, she said it was like a ‘light-bulb moment’ when she contemplated how this was “like genocide, except that it was to ecosystems” and should be considered an international crime with legislation in place prohibiting it.