Environmental Victimization And Environmental Justice

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Environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, colour, nationality, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies (Mohai, Pellow, Roberts, 2009). An understanding of this concept is paramount to understanding environmental crime and victimisation. Environmental crime is any illegal act that directly harms the environment (Cohen, 1991). Environmental injustice is still a rampant problem today in a world rife with social justice issues. Due to the rise of neoliberalism and the infectious spread of capitalism environmental concern is often an afterthought for individuals or companies that ignore how their actions are influencing and affecting the environment.

Understanding and addressing environmental crime and victimisation is paramount for society. The implications of failing to do so impact the world on a global scale, from imploding ecosystems such as the Great Barrier Reef, plummeting numbers of flora and fauna to devastating acts of negligence from our governing bodies such as Chernobyl. The effects of these crimes have human victims too, such as causing extensive health problems. There are multiple victimological perspectives, but they all call for a wider understanding and use of restorative justice and mediation-based approaches to provide justice mechanisms for both human and nonhuman victims of environmental crimes. It is paramount to understand how humans are not the only victims.

Yet doing so can be extremely difficult and challenging. The term environmental victimisation in itself is an ambiguous and complex one, partly due to it often being used and associated with all crime related to natural resources, flora, fauna, hazardous waste, banned substances and infringements on environmental quality. Stemming from the recent development and further push for green criminology as an independent branch of critical criminology (Cao and Wyatt, 2013). The freshness and newness of the term adds to the confusion surrounding an already ambiguous phrase. Therefore, the full extent of environmental victimisation is easily overlooked, and as previously explained the vast array environmental crimes results in a muddy, and difficult to understand concept. Even after hypothetically narrowing down and focusing on environmental quality/pollution issues, we are still left with conceptual questions. Pollution crimes vary in harm produced, as does environmental crime. Littering is not the same as the illegal dumping of waste. This is also complicated by the wide range of potential offenders and victims.

This essay aims to understand environmental victimisation by analysing a multitude of environmental justice and victimisation perspectives. It will explore how the causes and consequences of these crimes and the crimes themselves are both legally and morally ambiguous. It will present the complications that arise from defining non-human victims and analyse the extent that environmental victimisation crosses geographical and temporal boundaries. It will attempt to look into the role that profit driven capitalism, and neoliberalism has had on perpetuating victimisation before concluding with an examination of the roles that governments, states, and corporations have had in perpetuating widespread global environmental victimisation.

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Environmental or green crime has become an increasingly critical issue worldwide. As transnational organised crime has been widely proven as a significant and direct threat at both a national and international level to the world (Levitsky, 2003), then there is no reason to assume that the consequences of organised environmental crimes aren’t as internationally detrimental. In fact, evidence points to the consequences of environmental crime often being more pervasive and serious than street-based crime. Though environmentally criminal acts may be difficult to define and categorise, their consequences are not. The global profits from some forms of green crime are similar to those from arms, human and drug trafficking. Environmental crime is also intertwined heavily and often facilitated by corruption (Liddick, 2011). Broadly speaking, environmental crime is a significant security risk, thus a foundation for the creation of clear definitional approaches, understanding of the blamed parties and restorative support for the victimised is required.

Relying on a definitional approach that focuses on criminal law results in an unobjective definition of environmental crime, for example much illegal logging is conducted by or with the permission of the governmental agencies that would provide a formal definition of crime. Green criminology speaks about 4 different perspectives to define green crime, the legalist, socio-legal, ecocentric and biocentric. The legalist perspective has its definitional foundations rooted in criminal law, defining green crime as a violation of criminal laws designed to protect the health and safety of people, the environment or both. The socio-legal perspective considers administrative and civil laws and regulations, defining green crime as any illegal activity or formal rule breaking that negatively impacts the environment. The ecocentric approach to defining environmental crime focuses on the environmental and ecological impacts of the crimes in its definition, stating that green crimes are those acts that cause identifiable environmental damage originating from human action. The final perspective is biocentric, the biocentric approach focuses on species justice and defines environmental crime as any human activity, either due to neglect or intent, that disrupts a biotic system or impacts negatively on the earths biotic and abiotic natural resources (Gibbs, Gore, McGarrell, Rivers, 2009).

The sociolegal perspective expands on the legalist perspective to include administrative and civil violations in its definition, ecocentrism recognises the intrinsic value of ecosystems and views human as a component of those systems. Bio centrism progresses further than centrism in that it considers crime to be any environmental destruction in any form. In brief green criminology offers a critical perspective and goes beyond the conventional and traditional approaches to defining crime. This in turn supports the understanding of environmental victimisation.

Within the field of green criminology, the traditional debate about environmental crime often neglects the discussion of victimisation (Hall, 2011). This exclusion could be due to the fact that environmental violations and crimes are often seen as victimless (Skinnider, 2011). This is true for the numerous non-human casualties that are victimised by environmental crime as well. Victims of environmental crime are often unable to report their victimisation or speak of their suffering. Spapens (2014) notes that “flora and fauna do not report crimes … the same is often true for humans.” Thirdly, a large amount of environmental crime is not legally criminalised or is actually performed with the consent of society. This means that those who suffer from environmental victimisation often do not fit into the standard concept of victim. Because of this exclusion, criminology has ignored an incredibly wide array of individuals, groups and even species that have potentially been wronged. Green and environmental crime can affect any type of individual, but there is a clear distinction between the vulnerability of certain groups in our society. Groups such as the lower class, the indigenous, or woman and children often experience a disproportionate amount of victimisation (Bullard, 1994). The concept of environmental victimisation is inherently complex and ambiguous for multiple reasons, it is directly related to green crime which is often used as an umbrella term for crimes related to biodiversity, wildlife, animals, natural resources, hazardous waste, and environmental quality. This creates an extremely varying and wide range of potential victims. Environmental laws result in a variety of unique offences which creates in an even greater variety of potential victims (Boyd, 2007). The crimes can be categorized in a variety of different ways, such as the type of environment affected, the type of pollutant involved, the geography of the crime, or even the potential victim. These offenses are perpetuated by an incredibly diverse array of potential offenders who can be grouped into a five-category typology: individuals, groups, governments, businesses, and state-corporate. Additionally, a recent development in green criminology has formed the concept that nonhuman species are capable of being victimised and are often the most at risk of potential harm. Due to the wide range of offenders it is not hard to believe that fully understanding the extent of environmental victimisation caused by these environmental crimes is just as, if not more, ambiguous difficult then defining the crimes themselves.

  • Geographical and temporal dimensions of victimisation in New Zealand
  • No national boundaries
  • Profit capitalism/ redistribution/ neo liberalism

The concept that the government has a role in perpetuating environmental victimisation and crime can initially seem counterintuitive, as a government is supposed to enforce laws that prevent such occurrences. However, history has shown that there are occasions (scarily frequent) where governmental organizations do not comply with, or fail to enforce the law, thereby causing environmental harm and victimisation. For example, there have been numerous incidents where state, corporate or governmental entities due to either negligence or intent have caused significant political, social and cultural change to New Zealand. The French testing of nuclear weapons in Mururoa is a clear example of a state or governmental entity perpetuating victimisation. The tests produced significant radioactive fallout and showered vast areas of Polynesia with carcinogenic radiation tripling the rates of thyroid cancer in some affected areas (de Vathaire, Le Vu, Challeton-de Vathaire, 2000). As well as causing this damage, the nuclear testing was a main cause of significant political, cultural and social reform in New Zealand. In July 10th, 1985 France committed an act of state sponsored terrorism against the Greenpeace flagship the Rainbow Warrior. Theoretically, governments should be held accountable by international law for acts such as these, but on the global scale these laws can be difficult to enforce. Particularly if countries are not members of an agreement or have not ratified these conventions into law (Raustiala, Slaughter, 2002). Realistically, the United Nations ability to address governmental infringements is limited, unless the violating government agrees to participate in the process (Trahan, 2009). This is particularly true for environmental crimes where often the consequences span geographical and temporal barriers.

It is through the lack of an effective governing international body that governments have become fairly protected from prosecution through domestic pathways. Almost all non-naturally occurring environmental disasters can be divided into two categories: acts of intent and acts of negligence. Acts of intent involve participation in an activity that results in harm, or the existence of mens rea. For example, in 1999,the container ship MV Rotoma illegally discharged a seven tonne cocktail of fuel and lighter fluid off the coast of Northland which caused a 6 km long slick that affected the Poor Knights Island Marine reserve. Several days were spent cleaning up the detritus and the ships agent and owner were fined $60 thousand dollars with and additional $159 thousand in clean-up costs (Ministry for Culture and Heritage, 2017). Acts of negligence include knowingly failing to prevent the occurrence of environmental harm. For example, in 1984, an employee at the ICI Riverview factory in Auckland accidentally mixed chlorine with spilt forklift oil and created a fire that engulfed the factory. The chemicals contained on site combined to create toxic fumes that spread across the southern suburbs. Additionally, the contaminated run-off killed fish and other aquatic life in a nearby estuary. The cause was found to be preventable if tighter controls around hazardous materials were in place (Swarbrick, 2010).

It is well known that most human activities impact the environment in either a negative or positive way. Humans have invaded every ecosystem on Earths surface and many human enterprises exploit the sources of their commerce. Agriculture extorts the land, industry exploits the atmosphere, and fishing the ocean and rivers. While there has been a recent increase in awareness of environmental issues, environmental degradation continues to accelerate. It is often the public who is left with the costs of the effects, whether these involve cleaning up pollution or living in a degraded environment.  

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