The sudden illness, then death of Polly Higgins (1968 – 2019) is a sad and monumental loss to all humanity. As a champion of the concept of ‘ecocide’, she was taking on the whole world. I believe she would have won. The affinity between her work and mine was captured in Earth Emotions in this section:
“Ecocide and Tierracide
“Ecocide” or the killing of ecosystems, has been a term in use since it was created by Arthur Galston the 1970s. It was provoked by the extensive use of herbicides such as Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. Such was the scale of damage inflicted on the forest cover of Indochina, Galston correctly thought that the world needed a new concept for such large-scale anthropogenic desolation of the Earth’s ecosystems. The term has had considerable longevity, with people such as Polly Higgins taking the idea into international law and governance contexts. I tend to think about ecocide and the death of ecosystems as existing at a scale smaller than that of the whole Earth. Polly Higgins, in her Eradicating Ecocide campaign, has joined the concepts of ecocide and solastalgia in her recent work. She maintains:
“Ecocide adversely impacts on many levels, there can be harm both ecological and cultural. Our emotions and our senses are affected; we feel and see the adverse impact of ecocide. Communities most harmed by ecocide suffer what is known as solastalgia. At a collective level communities feel a profound sense of isolation and intense desolation. This is compounded by the community’s lack of power in the face of State and corporate might, the pain of being unable to console in times of great distress and the loss of homeland.”
The unthinkable conclusion of the Anthropocene with its terraphthoran tendencies, is the extinction of all complex life on Earth: “tierracide”. This is the deliberate desolation of the whole biosphere, such that it can no longer sustain life-supporting processes. Once we get to ecocide (regional) and tierracide (planetary) as possibilities within the Anthropocene, we need revolutionary thinking to get us out of such a fate. The next chapter aims to provide just such a revolutionary platform. After all, to avoid ecocide and tierracide, we need to change everything.”
Extinction Rebellion is at this moment … trying to change everything! It is a fitting monument to Polly Higgins and her life’s work.
There is another woman whose work in connection to ecocide should be acknowledged. Rosemary Radford Ruether (1936- ) wrote her wonderful book ‘New Woman New Earth’ in 1975. In it she argued:
Ruling class males preserve and extend a hunter and warrior mystique of maleness into the civilized era, when it should have become obsolete, biasing all the development of culture in the direction of competitive aggressiveness rather than social cooperation. It is perhaps not too much to say that the Achilles’ heal of human civilization, which today has reached global genocidal and ecocidal proportions, resides in this false development of maleness through repression of the female. (Ruether 1975:11).
There is a politics, especially a sexual politics, to ecocide as well its cultural and emotional dimensions.