A guide to a green criminology

Authored by: Nigel South , Avi Brisman , Piers Beirne

Routledge International Handbook of Green Criminology

Print publication date:  December  2012
Online publication date:  August  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415678827
eBook ISBN: 9780203093658
Adobe ISBN: 9781317809005


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Regardless of regional differences, national borders and international conflicts, planet Earth constitutes a single ecosystem with both simple and complex interactions among all living organisms and the environments that host them. In recent years, there has been a general increase in awareness regarding threats to Earth’s ecosystem, to nature, and to the health and well-being of humans and all other species. These threats have arisen from the over-exploitation of natural resources and from the combined impacts of pollution, ozone depletion and certain forms of unregulated trade and production associated with the “successes” of industrial development, commercial innovation, agribusiness and international trade. Earth’s inhabitants are interconnected and inter-dependent as never before, yet we wish to take seriously only the rewards of this state of affairs and deny or dispute the costs and obligations that follow. As Pretty (2011: 50) observes:

Our human power to invent and create brings a new paradox. Even as we acknowledge … that it is indeed humans who have caused climate change, biodiversity extinction, pollution and cultural loss, so we have reinforced an image of us as the most potent force on the planet. We thus come to believe [a] myth – that we can invent ourselves out of any problem. We may not have that power. It may be too late.

Criminology has much to contribute to debates about the numerous harms resulting from climate change, natural resource depletion, loss of biodiversity, pollution, and the like. But only very recently has it begun to address these harms in any substantial way. This is so not least because environmental harms can be difficult to capture in a traditional criminological framework, as conceptions of “harm” and definitions of “crime” frequently do not correspond or overlap. Furthermore, the actual definitions of crime and offending are often directly created by the powerful who occupy positions of power, who are members of socio-economic elites, and whose organizations and systems of production and reproduction initiate many, if not most, environmental harms. It is also they, like other powerful offenders, who will seek to reject criminal definitions that might be applied to them and who will pass on the costs of avoiding environmental regulations, including safety standards for products and workers, to others who must bear the consequences. To that end, such firms and organizations invest enormous resources into persuading legislators and courts that the imposition of norms or laws clearly marking limits to environmental harm would be damaging to their profitable economic development and stability and therefore damaging to the economic situation and stability of all. All the while, multinational corporations and other corporate-state entities work to construct and reconstruct the public and social meaning of “green” (see, e.g., Beder 1997; Brisman 2009, 2012; Lynch and Stretesky 2003; White this volume).

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