Blogs >> We need to continue the legacy left by Polly Higgins says Jonathan Dawson

We need to continue the legacy left by Polly Higgins says Jonathan Dawson

Polly Higgins

Jonathan Dawson, reflects on the achievements of Polly Higgins, who died shortly before she was due to address the Climate Change and Consciousness conference at Findhorn, in his final blog from the event.

Among the icons of the sustainability and global justice movement, few are more loved and revered than Polly Higgins.  A criminal lawyer who left her courtroom career to devote herself to enshrining ecocide as an internationally recognised crime, she was due to join us as a keynote speaker on Thursday, but was taken from us on Easter Sunday at the cruelly young age of just 50.

The tributes rolled in as the tears flowed.  Perhaps more than any other comparable figure, Polly represented a response to injustice that was at once gracious, humorous and ruthlessly determined. 

In the words of one of those close to her speaking from the conference floor:

"Polly stood in a place that has no name……that place where crimes and abuse are condoned’, declaring “I shall not move until this injustice is undone.” 

This took real guts.  Among those in the direct firing line of the approach that she championed are the CEOs of major fossil fuel companies.  At the time of her death, her team was preparing a case for submission to the International Criminal Court to test whether their behaviour could be declared criminal under existing legislation.  This is speaking truth to power with an astonishing depth of courage.

And there she suddenly was, larger than life on the screen before us, in an interview, the conference facilitators had recorded just three months ago, showing no sign of the illness that took her life so suddenly.  All mischievous smiles and new schemes hatching. 

Her courage and resolution are a reminder and inspiration to us all.  The baton is passed, her final weeks were spent ensuring that the team is in place to carry on the campaign, her irrepressible energy and good humour a mirror to all of what we are capable of – and what is required of us in these extraordinary times.

To continue her legacy and to join an international family of almost 10,000 Earth Protectors, visit here

I am left with several abiding insights from the Climate Change and Consciousness conference here in Findhorn. 

The first is a further deepening of the understanding that the journey that lies before us as a global civilisation goes way beyond effecting an energy transition; that climate change is a manifestation – one among many – of a much deeper imbalance and dysfunction in our relationship to the other-than-human world; a journey that limits itself to technological innovation, bypassing a re-examination of the sacred and of our place in the family of species that populate this beautiful Earth, will not be anywhere near enough.

A second and related insight concerns the role of indigenous traditions in providing guidance and wisdom on this journey of reconnection.  The indigenous leaders (pictured left) that have been with us through the week – from Greenland, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand and Namibia – have brought a distinctive depth, an extra dimension of quiet wisdom to the event. 

And, as we discovered at this conference……once again………, much healing remains to be done in this relationship – much deep, humble and patient listening. 

My final take-away emerges from the insight that it is famously difficult for those who live through pivotal moments in history to recognise them as such – these tend to become apparent only in hindsight. 

Could it be useful, I find myself asking, to work now on the assumption that we are living through such a transitional moment?  That Extinction Rebellion, the school strikes and the rising tide of official declarations of climate emergency are indications that socio-cultural tipping points are now finally kicking in. 

That an irresistible momentum for transformation in public consciousness and policy is building.  That yesterday’s inconceivable are being transformed before our eyes into tomorrow’s inevitables.  This, it seems to me, is a potentially powerful story to inhabit just now.

The last word is for Polly, who has modelled such a way of seeing and behaving so powerfully. One of her friends who spoke words of appreciation from the conference floor brought with her a stone-carved owl, a Celtic totem animal with which Polly identified, representing energies of patience, wisdom and mystery. 

This put me in mind of Mary Oliver’s ‘White Owl Flies Into And Out Of The Field’, which ends: 

‘…..maybe death isn’t darkness, after all,
but so much light wrapping itself around us—
as soft as feathers—
that we are instantly weary of looking, and looking,
and shut our eyes, not without amazement,
and let ourselves be carried,
as through the translucence of mica,
to the river that is without the least dapple or shadow,
that is nothing but light—scalding, aortal light—
in which we are washed and washed
out of our bones.’

Thanks, Polly.

Jonathan Dawson is a senior lecturer on the MA Economics for Transition programme.

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