Earth Justice

Helen Moore’s award-winning poem records the mock ecocide trial held at London’s Supreme Court in 2011. The project was initiated by Polly Higgins, an environmental lawyer, barrister and author, as part of the Eradicating Ecocide campaign to make ecocide the fifth international Crime against Peace.

“I don’t want to frighten you, but not a stitch can be taken
On your quilt unless you study. The geese will tell you –
A lot of crying goes on before dawn comes.” – Robert Bly

For Polly Higgins


What reason might I have to fly
with unknown Waterbirds to Canada?
(Reason which is not derived

from corrosive profit
or the scientific abstract.)
Oil, synthetic crude

which brokers world warming, hunger, war,
and ecocide, the international crime;
ecocide, destruction of life.

…] At the Supreme Court, London, September 30th, 2011,
Michael Mansfield for the prosecution, unwigged
and in black European silks, resembles a learned Silverback:

the reason that I’m mentioning this
is that it’s the first time an offence
has been tried under the act …

In the dock stand the CEOs of Global Petroleum
and Glamis Corporation –
Clerk of the court: Mr Bannerman, Mr Tench,

you are here today on the following indictment:
as a consequence of extracting Tar Sands
in Canada, the peaceful enjoyment

by the inhabitants of that territory
has been severely diminished,
thereby putting birds at risk of injury and death,

contrary to sections 1 and 2 of the Ecocide Act 2010.
Mr Bannerman and Mr Tench, how do you plead?
The defendants: Not guilty.

To their left Mansfield QC represents the absent victims –
Canvasback; Goldeneye; Canada Goose; Lesser Scaup; Mallard
killed by toxic sludge:

a mix of bitumen, polycyclic hydrocarbons, acids, sand, clay
which coats feet, legs, feathers, makes tarred anchors
of these sitting Fowl – drags them down with lazy bubbles

to bite the dregs of our addiction.
Oil, that ancient sunlight. That liquid gold
which fuels our fast-lane rage,

commuter lifestyles,
convenience meals….
“O, for a cut-price bottle of Californian red!”

(Middle Britain’s choice,
TV pig-out.)

…] There are agreed facts in this case,
but ‘extensive’ is clearly
a term of art, not science…

Which bulletin showed exactly how their wings were glued?
One Spring, so many boomerangs of birds
migrating up the Mississippi flyway,

pursuing the great river system –
those long syringes of light,
shafts, filaments

carrying them North… North to Athabasca, from where
they’d never return. It takes so many kilojoules of energy
to lift-off when burdened…

…] the principle of strict liability,
mens rea does not apply here –
as they said at the Nuremberg trials,

individual responsibility is important,
you can’t hide
behind a fiction.

Having travelled thousands of miles
each Bird was primed for Summer on the marshes,
the deep teal lakes fringed by Spruce, Jack Pine and Tamarack –

those light, buoyant months to court, or pre-paired, to mate….
Along the way there’d been breaks, bills scooping up clear water,
preening, wing-shaking, delicious spray on plumage,

a dabble down for something
succulent – at each dive
the ripples spreading wide.

Then on hollow wing-bones, a first eye-view, a fragment
of Boreal forest – yet more hectares gone –
and vast gouges in the ground,

a gigantic bite, teeth-marks as long as streets,
the ‘overburden’ dug away to leave a gangrened mouth,
open pits the size of Boston, D.C., Chicago,

…] Bearing in mind the Boreal forest
has taken since the Ice Age
to get to the state it’s now in… 10,000 years, 5,000 years…

You’d have thought the successive skeins of Canvasback, Goldeneye,
Canada Goose, Lesser Scaup, Mallard
might have noticed the strange brown water, the rainbow slicks?

How long for tired Ducks to learn new tricks?
…] This ‘processed water,’
hypoxic zone,

which swallowed them like men dressed in lead.
And o, how the bitumen burned
their throats, their internal organs –

…] we’re dealing with vast areas here,
These are lakes,
Not ponds.

2. Pondlife

… recall your worst case of heartburn, and multiply
by ten thousand. This is caustic soda passing through your gut. Excretion
is impossible. One hour later, you’re dead.

…] Mr Tench: These things are unavoidable
if we are to continue the essential
employ of oil to the Western world.”


petroleum you’re ubiquitous I do not love you stink
petroleum I rinse you from my follicles my scalp
petroleum you’re inside my mouth get out
petroleum you press against my thighs do not
petroleum inside my cunt your manufactured lubricant
petroleum fuck you stop pushing yourself on me
petroleum doesn’t hear is just dead animals plants
petroleum a second skin I wish I could go naked
petroleum slips down my oesophagus lurks in my rectum
petroleum slides in through my anus watch how I explode
petroleum sick bastard I’m drowning in all your useless tat
petroleum I’ve had enough you leave me no choice goodbye
petroleum is that you still following me
petroleum you may be silent but I see your dirty prints


Question: what is most costly
and yet impossible to cost,
and so to some seems worthless?

…] Mr. Mansfield: An ecosystem is termed
as a biological community of interdependent living organisms
and their physical environment

Echo palace of the hyperboreal
formed through random acts and synchrony –
a mutual call and response that lifts sap-filled columns,

spires, vaulted ceilings, halls with fleeting mirrored floors
etched with branches, and in fine weather, frescoed clouds, sky –
this place that holds open windows,

restores draperies in every shade of green;
makes wind-sculpted pulpits for Herons,
brackish sacristies for Insects, Amphibians;

is an ancient tapestry, which changes daily,
and though exquisitely conserved,
supports the Dene to hunt and fish;

is an ephemeral gallery,
where webs are hung with moonstones,
and trawling white hulls, Swans court their own reflections….

…] Mr Tench: We were and are licensed
by the government,
as in every other country where we operate,

Here symmetries are made, and broken,
become patterns of form – concentric circles
where Ducks dive – patterns of sound –

…] there’s a pattern we weren’t able
to predict –
the birds arrived prematurely

a Mallard scorning its wake;
and each day, the improvised arrangements
of this Boreal orchestra:

Aspens trembling with the rasps of Shrike
and Warblers’ high incisions;
reedy whistles of White-throated Sparrows

in the tops of Birch,
while from a wind-ruffled lake, the Loons’ mournful wailing
all make each moment

a concerted movement,
each sound unfurling
from its niche…

Answer: these desolate wastes
pitied by the Christian mission;
these godless crusts awaiting our consumption.


…] Mr Bannerman: there’s nothing
that can be humanly done
to prevent a bird landing in a lake or pond.

…] Christopher Parker QC: this case of Robin
Bannerman, scapegoat extraordinaire.


Ah, and what justice for beloved ones
who sing and speak in other tongues?


…] Judge Norman: Members of the jury,
you are the sovereign judges
of the agreed facts in this case

…] causing injury to 2086 birds,
causing death to 2303…

…] When you determine whether ecocide is established
you have regard to tests of size,
duration and impact

…] Canada is a highly industrialised nation,
a member of the Commonwealth…
the fourth richest economy in the world.

…] It is not a defence to say
operations were licensed according to national rules
and were operated in accordance with the terms

…] has the question of leakage from the ponds
into the ground water, the Athabasca River
ever come up at board level?

…] Members of the jury,
it’s now time for you to consider.


…] Judge Norman: I think we have a verdict.
Shall we call them in?

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