Green Crime

These cards are notes made from college textbook: A2 Sociology.

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What is Green Crime?

Green/environmental crime can be defined as crime against the environment. Much green crime can be linked to globalisation and the increasing interconnectedness of societies. Regardless of the division of the world into separate nation-states, the planet is a single eco-system, and threats to the eco-system are increasingly global rather than merely local in nature.

An accident in the nuclear industry (Chernobyl in Ukraine ‘86) can spread radioactive material over thousands of miles, showing how a problem cause in locality can have worldwide effects


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'Global risk society' and the environent

Unlike natural dangers of the past, the major risks we face today are of our own making. Beck (’92) argues that today’s late modern society can now provide adequate resources for all (at least in developed countries). However, the massive increase in productivity and the technology that sustains it have created new, ‘manufactured risks’. Many of these involve harm to the environment and its consequences for humanity, such as global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions from industry.


Beck = late modern society is ‘global risk society’

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Green Criminology - Traditional Criminology

T.C has not been concerned with such behaviour, since its subject matter is defined by the criminal law, and no law has been broken. The starting point is the national and international laws and regulations concerning the environment.


Situ and Emmons (2000) define environment crime as ‘an unauthorised act or omission that violates the law’.


The advantage of this approach is that it has clearly been defined subject matter. However, it is criticised for accepting official definitions of environmental problems and crimes, which are often shaped by powerful groups such as big business to serve their own interest

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Green Criminology - Green Criminology

G.C takes a more radical approach. It starts from the notion of harm rather than criminal law.

White (’08) argues that the proper subject of criminology is any action that harms the physical environment and/or the human and non-human animals within it, even if no law has been broken.

Many of the worst environmental harms aren’t illegal, & so the subject matter of green criminology is much wider.  G.C is a form of Transgressive criminology – it oversteps the boundaries of T.C for new issues.

Different countries have different laws, so that the same hurtful action may be a crime in one country but not in another. Legal definitions can’t provide a consistent standard of harm, since they are the product of individual nation-states and their political processes.G.C can develop a global perspective on environmental harm.This approach is like the Marxist view of ‘crimes of the powerful’. M argue capitalist class shape the law and define crime, so that their own exploitative activities aren’t criminalised or, to ensure enforcement is weak. Similarly, G.C argue powerful interests, especially nation-states & transnational corporations, able to define their own interests in what counts as unacceptable environmental harm.

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Types of Green Crime - Primary Crimes

Crimes of air pollution – Burning fossil fuels from industry and transport adds 3 billion tons of carbon to the atmosphere every year and carbon emissions are growing at around 2% per annum, contributing to global warming.


Crimes of deforestation – Between ’60 and ’90, 1/5 of the world’s tropical rainforest was destroyed. In the Amazon, forest has been cleared to rear beef cattle for export. In the Andes, the ‘war on drugs’ has led to pesticide spraying to kill coca and marijuana plants, but this has created a new green crime, destroying food crops, contaminating drinking water and causing illness.


Crimes of species decline and animal rights – 50 species a day are becoming extinct, and 46% of mammal and 11% of bird species are at risk. 70-95% of earth’s species live in the rainforest. There is trafficking in animals and animal parts. Meanwhile, old crimes such as dog-fights and badger-baiting are on the increase.

Crimes of water pollution – Half a billion lack access to clean water and 25 million die annually from drinking contaminated water. Marine pollution threatens 58% of world’s ocean reefs and 34% of fish.

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Types of Green Crime - Secondary Crimes

State violence against oppositional groups – States condemn terrorism but have prepared to result to same methods.

Day (91) ‘in every case where a government has committed itself to nuclear weapons or nuclear power, all those who oppose this policy are treated in some degree as enemies of the state’.


Hazardous waste and organised crime – Disposal of toxic waste is highly profitable. Much is dumped illegally at sea.

Walters (07) ‘the ocean floor has been a radioactive rubbish dump for decades’.

28,500 rusting barrels of radioactive waste lie on the seabed off the Channel Islands, reportedly dumped by UK authorities and corporations in the 1950’s.

Bridgland (06) – hundreds of barrels of radioactive waste, illegally dumped by European companies, washed up on the shores of Somalia.

Illegal waste disposal illustrates the problems of law enforcement in a globalised world. The very existence of laws to regulate waste disposal in developed countries pushes up the cost to business and creates an incentive to dump illegally in Third World countries.

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Evaluation of Green Ciminology

Both strengths and weaknesses of green criminology arise from its focus on global importance of environmental issues and the need to address the harms and risks of environmental damage.


However, by focusing on the much broader concept of harms rather than simply on legally defined crimes, it is hard to define boundaries of its field of study clearly. Defining the boundaries involves making moral or political statements about which actions ought to be regarded as wrong. Critics argue that this is matter of values and cannot be established objectively.

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