29/01/18
Brisman and South (2017) point out that the ‘present global financial system depends on the exploitation of resources in order to maintain growth in production and consumption’ (p329). If you are a consumer, lets say, of a smart phone or anything that comes wrapped in plastic packaging, Brisman and Smith observe that your demand for manufactured products comes at great cost in terms of levels of pollution and waste that are ‘noticeably damaging ecosystems and even changing the climate of the planet’. For example, if you have recently updated your smartphone, have you ever given any thought to the disposal of your old one? Most phone companies send your old phones to recycling plants in Africa and China although as Annie Leonard points out, workers in these parts of the world often dismantle electronics’ harmful insides without proper personal or environmental protection.

Brisman and South argue that although there is an increasing awareness among the general public and especially, young people regarding the threat to the ecosystems of the planet, for example, David Attenborough’s BBC documentary series Planet Earth very clearly described the extent of the problem via clips of seabirds feeding their chicks with scraps of plastic, and coral on the Great Barrier Reef off the East coast of Australia being choked by shopping bags and dirty nappies, there is still a reluctance, especially among the world’s political elite and among the transnational companies probably responsible, that much or anything needs to be done. For example, influential figures such as President Trump continue to deny that global warming and climate change are actually occurring.


Criminologists such as Brisman and South and Rob White argue that we need to pay more attention to these environmental harms and to ask two key questions; firstly, why are the actions that cause such harms not defined as criminal? Lynch et al (2013) argue that this question requires an urgent answer especially because in their view green harm and crime are more widespread, have more victims and produce more damage than crimes that occur on the streets. In other words, these harms and crimes have greater social and economic consequences than conventional crimes. The second key question we need to ask is why there are hardly any international or global laws or even domestic or local laws which aim to protect aspects of the environment such as agricultural land, forests, jungle, freshwater rivers and lakes, the water that we drink, the air that we breathe, the beaches that we lie on and the sea and oceans that we swim in, and consequently in the long-term our health and mortality as well as the future of the planet from man-made risks. Moreover international and local laws, if they do exist, are extremely vague with regard to environmental ‘crimes’.

Rob White argues that we need to recognise that certain environmental harms are in fact ‘crimes’ because those who bring about these harms know the extent of the damage they are doing to the environment, and the non-human species and human beings who live in that environment. They also have the resources and technical ability to avoid doing these harms but choose not to because the cost of doing so would reduce their profit margin.

White defined 'green crime' to mean any offence which damages, pollutes and harms the environment or ecology of the planet. He points out that ecological systems include all living things including human beings, animals, birds, insects, trees, plants, and so on and those ecological requirements for living creatures to survive and live healthily including clean water, the quality of the air that we breathe and an avoidance of behaviour which damages ecological systems such as deforestation, the use of carcinogenic pesticides and fertilizers by agri-businesses, carbon emissions which produce greenhouses gases and acid rain, radioactive fall-out from atomic and nuclear power stations and the pollution of rivers, lakes, seas and oceans with raw human sewage and hazardous waste materials especially chemicals and plastics which are killing fish, birds and sea-creatures such as whales, dolphins etc. There is also some evidence that human access to clean water is likely to become more difficult in some regions in the future. White, therefore, argues that the main threat to the health and well-being of all these aspects of our ecological environment is industrial capitalism which with the tacit agreement of governments across the world pollutes the natural world. A notorious example of green harm is the Chernobyl disaster. In 1986 there was a catastrophic accident at a nuclear power station- Chernobyl – in the Soviet Republic of the Ukraine which resulted in the mass evacuation of the nearby city of Pripyat and the release of a radioactive cloud which was blown across Western Europe.

You should be aware that this area of criminology is so new that there is no universal agreement as to how green harms should be labelled. The label ‘green criminology ‘was first used by Lynch in 1990. Walters (2010) suggests an alternative label ‘eco-crime’ whilst Rob White has used the phrase ‘ eco-global criminology’. Other suggestions have included ‘environmental crime’ and ‘conservation criminology’. Brisman and South suggest that the terminology does not matter greatly and that ‘green crime’ is descriptive of ‘research and debate concerning actions and processes that are destroying our shared environment’ (page 333).

Some green criminologists have attempted to construct ‘typologies’ in order to identify and organise into clusters, issues and actions that negatively impact on the environment. For example, South categorises actions that contribute to environment harm into two broad types: ‘Primary harms’ include threats to the atmosphere, crops (our main food supply), livestock, forests, animal and insect species, clean fresh water supplies and the world's oceans and seas. ‘Secondary harms’ arise from exploitation of weak environmental laws/regulations or conditions that follow environmental damage. For example, governments, corrupt politicians, corporations and criminal organisations may collude to dump hazardous waste in areas close to human habitation, (e.g. in Italy organised crime such as the Mafia and Camorra make millions by illegally dumping the hazardous waste of Italian chemical companies and bribing local officials and police to look the other way). Some developing nations are so desperate for US dollars that they have agreed to take nuclear waste from the West but this often has a negative effect upon their own population (for example, the chemical transnational, Trafigura . created a health hazard in the West African country, Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire) in 2006 by bribing local officials to overlook their illegal dumping of toxic waste. This scandal only became public after dozens of children fell ill after playing at the dump site. South also argues that another type of secondary harm is when governments go out of their way to prevent people or environmental organisations like Greenpeace protesting against these activities. (For example, South would argue that the arrest of 30 Greenpeace protesters in international waters by Russia in 2013 and the seizure of their ship and their subsequent imprisonment without trial is an example of a secondary harm. Similarly in 1985, the French secret service bombed and sank the Greenpeace ship ‘Rainbow Warrior’ whilst it was docked in Auckland, New Zealand bEcause its crew had been attempting to disrupt the French testing of a nuclear bomb in the South Pacific. One member of the crew was killed as a result of this ‘state-sponsored’ terrorist act.

Brisman and South identify a number of green issues or harms that may be the result of deliberate actions that could be defined as ‘criminal. Firstly, they focus on climate change but acknowledge that this is contested. South (2012) argues that climate change will stimulate a number of criminogenic forces, for examples, if corporations see that rival corporations are not being punished for environmental pollution, this may encourage others to follow suit.
Secondly, Brisman and South suggest ‘state-corporate crime’ should be another subdivision of green criminology. Pearce and Tombs have documented the environmental crimes of the chemical industry, labelling it ‘toxic capitalism’ whlst Ruggerio and South (2013) have documented economic crimes, usually involved with minimising costs and maximising profits which have involved environmental disasters, particular the oil spills associated with BP in Canada’s Prudhoe Bay in 2006 and the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Katz (2010) has documented harms caused by Western governments’ de-regulation of particular industries. These regulations were put in place to protect the environment, workers and consumers but corporations grew so powerful in the late 1990s and early 2000’s that they were able to persuade governments to abandon or relax the rules which strictly controlled the relationship between corporations and the environments in which they operated.
A third category of green crime identified by Brisman and South is that committed by organised crime. Block ( 2002) found that corporate leaders often used organised criminals to get rid of toxic materials, thus protecting their profits against the expense of safely disposing of this waste. This often led to more expense for the public sector which had to clean up the rivers or lakes in to which the waste had been dumped.
A fourth category of green crime identified by Brisman and South are ‘food-crimes’. They observe that ‘the different ways in which food is grown, manufactured, processed and produced, as well as marketed and sold, attract different types of crime and harmful activity such as food fraud, food poisoning, violations of food labelling laws, illegal trade and pricing policies, food labour exploitation and financial crime’ (page 337). A case-study carried out by Leighton (2015) examined how salmonella-infected peanuts caused nine deaths in the USA. In the UK, there have been a number of meat-related scandals. For example, in 2013, horse-meat was unknowingly sold by supermarkets across the UK after a gang of three men mixed it with beef and then falsified documents. In 2017 the 2-Sisters
food group was accused of changing the labels on out-of-date chicken and selling it to supermarkets and schools despite the risk of food poisoning.
Brisman and South also identify E-waste as a category of green crime. This refers to white-collar crime which stems from the global trade in electronic waste disposal such as the recycling of the radioactive parts of mobile phones and computers. South argues that low-paid workers are exploited, particularly in India and China, and that their health is frequently put at risk from crude recycling processes which often result in the release of hazardous chemicals from products such as lap-tops and mobile phones which pollute both air and land and result in serious diseases such as cancer.
Another category of green crime is ‘non-human animal abuse’. This is sometimes referred to as ‘speciesism’. Brisman and South describe it as the ‘human devaluation and prejudicial treatment of non-human species as well as human perception of non-human animals as less worthy of concern, compassion or justice’ (page 339). Beirne (2009) has proposed the concept of ‘theriocide’ to refer to those diverse human actions that cause the death or extinction of species.

Our final category of green crime is ‘poaching, trafficking and trading’ in wildlife especially endangered species. For example, the illegal trade in ivory is controlled by highly organised crime syndicates and results in the annual death of thousands of African and Indian elephants for their tusks. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) claim that the illegal trade of tiger skins is threatening the future of this species. Moreover the WWF have highlighted the exploitation of countless other species from marine turtles to timber trees. The WWF note that not all wildlife trade is illegal. Wild plants and animals from tens of thousands of species are caught or harvested from the wild and then sold legitimately as food, pets, ornamental plants, leather, tourist ornaments and medicine. Wildlife trade escalates into a crisis when an increasing proportion is illegal and unsustainable—directly threatening the survival of many species in the wild.
However, as I said earlier, the study of green crime is fairly newish and consequently there are lots of problems with the concept. The biggest problem is that many of the things identified by Brisman and South are not technically crimes because there is little or no agreement among nations that laws are needed to criminalise these actions. Although many countries have local or domestic laws to control, say pollution, these laws are often weakly enforced and/or ignored altogether. This is why some green criminologists prefer the word 'harms' rather than crimes.


White, however, is adamant that these harms should be interpreted as crimes. He notes that the biggest obstacle to these harms ever being defined as crimes and international laws being introduced to police them is capitalism - the fact remains that if we want to continue to enjoy the standard of living that we currently have as consumers, the factories that produce the material goods we all take for granted (e.g. mobile phones) produce hazardous waste and pollution as a by-product of our needs and wants. Only if consumers change their priorities ( therefore lowering the demand for the consumer goods whose production causes the most harm) will changes in the law to make these harms illegal occur. This is unlikely to happen in the near future.

Moreover, another problem with green harms is that they are often global in character and do not respect national borders. The pollution and waste, for example, plastic, produced by China or the USA or Europe is carried via the atmosphere or the ocean currents across the world. Many scientists believe that the net sum of all this pollution is global warming which is screwing up the climates of parts of the world (including the UK) and resulting in national disasters such as flooding, typhoons, hurricanes etc. However, there is no global organisation that is influential enough to bring the major countries (and polluters) together to solve the problem by introducing international laws that criminalise the sorts of green harms identified by White and South. The only pressure to change the law or to introduce new global laws is coming from environmental groups such as Greenpeace who have little influence with global powers such as Russia, China and the USA - the world's biggest polluters! Moreover there is evidence that countries such as China which has only developed in the last forty years are resentful of more developed nations telling them that their populations need to cut back on consumerism and consequently they are less likely to cooperate with international efforts to reduce, say, carbon emissions.

Sadly, then, in conclusion it seems that there is very little political will to deal with green harms by either the United Nations or rich powerful nations like China and the USA. They occasionally will take part in conferences which confirm that green harms are important but few countries seem willing to sign up to legal agreements that would transform these green harms into green crimes. Quite simply, this is because any such agreement would negatively affect their capacity to manufacture consumer goods and to please their populations, thus keeping potential disorder in check.

Green crime is a fertile area to research. Note too the cross-over between green crime, corporate crime, state crime and global crime. In my previous blog I mentioned Bhopal as an example of corporate crime. It is also a great example of a green crime. Also worth researching is the role of Coca Cola in bringing about green crime. four films worth looking at are ‘The China Syndrome’ which is based on an accident which occurred at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania, USA in 1979; ‘Deepwater Horizon which is a 2016 American disaster film based on the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that occurred in 2010; Edge of Darkness, originally a British television series which eventually became a movie starring Mel Gibson about a cophaving to deal with a criminal conspiracy within the nuclear power industry and ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ made by ex-Vice-President Al Gore to educate people about global warming via a Power-point presentation.