Saturday, 29 January 2011

Book Review

'Eradicating Ecocide' by Polly Higgins, pub. Shepheard-Walwyn, 2010 (ISBN-13: 978-85683-275-8), 202pp, £17.95

In last Sunday’s ‘Independent on Sunday’ newspaper (23.01.2011) it was reported that a group of Swiss environmentalists are planning to give a ‘Public Eye Award’ to “the most evil corporation of the year” - that is the company that has committed “the worst corporate offences against human rights and the environment” . According to the article there are six candidates for the award including British Petroleum (of recent Gulf of Mexico infamy).

Another candidate, AngloGold Ashanti, is alleged to have contaminated lands with poison and to have tortured people in its company buildings in Ghana (now that’s really evil!). Nevertheless, AngloGold Ashanti has defended itself as follows: “The company seeks always to operate in a socially and environmentally sensitive manner befitting a responsible corporate citizen.” I bet their PR department spent hours coming up with that! But wait ... what do they mean by the phrase, “responsible corporate citizen”? What it actually means is that if AngloGold Ashanti is found to be guilty, in a court of law, of the crimes that it is alleged to have committed, it is the company that will be fined, not the CEO or the Board of Directors. This is because, in law, a corporation is a ‘fictional person’ and it is that ersatz person who is punished – not the real people who run the company! Most big corporations merely absorb any fines and move on. BP, for example, having trashed the Gulf of Mexico, will now move on to the Russian Arctic and will probably pay the fines it has incurred in the Gulf out of the enormous profits that it makes there (God help the Russian Arctic!).

In this book Polly Higgins explains how this curious and often catastrophic situation came about. Ms Higgins is a barrister who has devoted herself to the study of environmental law; in her own words:

“Law can be employed creatively and constructively, effecting overnight change. Innovation can be nudged to suddenly flow in a very different direction, sometimes in unexpected areas. Law can close one door and open another. Law can inadvertently create a positive discrimination. Law can change our values and understanding. The inverse can also be true. Sometimes laws are put in place that directly or inadvertently cause damage and destruction. These are the laws that need to be rooted out and transformed.”

In this authoritative, compelling and very readable book she shows, in meticulous detail, how governments have connived with big corporations to create damaging laws and a legal framework within which the corporations can operate with few restraints; as a result, “... BP have the ‘right to kill’ the ocean with impunity.”
After exposing the truth behind the compromise laws and inadequate voluntary codes favoured by big corporations to protect their ‘right’ to rape and despoil the planet as they please, Polly Higgins advocates the creation of a new ‘Crime Against Peace’: Ecocide.
At the moment there are four International Crimes Against Peace: Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity, War Crimes and Crimes of Aggression. Ms Higgins suggests that Ecocide should be the fifth and that for the purpose of international law it should defined as:

The extensive destruction, damage to or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment of that territory has been severely diminished.

Those found guilty of International Crimes Against Peace can be tried before the International Criminal Court which operates according to principles established at Nuremburg, that is:

Crimes against international law are committed by men, not by abstract entities, and only by punishing individuals who commit crimes can the provisions of international law be enforced.

If that principle were to apply there would be no more hiding behind ‘fictional persons’ and it would be CEOs and Boards of Directors in the dock and under the threat of going to jail if they were to be found guilty of Ecocide.
This is a powerful idea and Polly Higgins portrays such an international law as nothing less than a bridge between a wrecked and eventually uninhabitable planet and one in which all life (including human life) is respected and valued.

This is undoubtedly the most important book that I read in 2010 – I urge you to read it too. You can buy a copy and learn more about Polly Higgins’s ideas through her website: www.thisisecocide.com.

What are you waiting for? Stop reading this and access the website now!

Dave Bishop, January 2011

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Newsletter About Floodplain Meadows

One of the reasons why some of us formed the Friends of Chorlton Meadows in the first place was because we wanted the 'Meadows' put back into 'Chorlton Meadows'. Note that the word 'Ees' in 'Chorlton Ees', 'Stretford Ees', 'Sale Ees' etc. is/was the local dialect word for flood meadow. Nevertheless, when the local authorities started the Mersey Valley project, back in the 1970s, they ignored all of that and proceeded as though the area was a blank space for arbitrarily planting arbitrary trees on - even though they should have known (or someone who did know should have told them) that 'unimproved' grassland is a much rarer habitat in Britain now than a few pointless tree plantations.

So that I could learn more about flood meadows I signed up for an organisation called, 'The Floodplain Meadows Partnership' who publish regular newsletters via the Internet.

The latest one: Issue No. 6, January 2011, is fascinating and contains information on flood meadows in Cambridgeshire, Oxforshire and South Yorkshire as well as an article about when to cut a meadow. You can read this newsletter at:


We're planning to look more closely at our remaining scraps of meadow (heavily damaged though they are) this year; details to follow.

Dave Bishop, January 2011