Environmental Harm and Crime Prevention

Article excerpt

Worldwide concern about the impact of climate change, population growth and resource depletion will continue to drive a focus on environmental harms. Tackling and reducing these harms will inevitably lead to greater regulation and further criminalisation of both intentional and negligent acts by individuals, business and government. This paper discusses what can be learned from traditional crime prevention to reduce and prevent environmental harm. It underlines how a problem-solving approach involves tailoring interventions and strategies based on the source and type of harm, and according to place, scale and the perceived threat. Subsistence and traditional fishing is used as an example to highlight the potential for unintended consequences on the vulnerable and less powerful of greater controls, and to illustrate the range of situational and social measures that could be applied to minimise harmful or illegal behaviour. By setting out a framework on which to base policy and practice-oriented research, this thoughtful analysis can only assist future efforts to study and improve environmental crime prevention.

Judy Putt

General Manager, Research

In recent years, there has been growing state and popular concern at local, regional, national and international levels about environmental issues, and the impacts of specific types of environmental harm such as pollution, toxic waste and illegal logging. However, for criminologists, environmental considerations have generally attracted much less attention than traditional forms of crime and violence. This is now starting to change, as evidenced in a range of new research and scholarly discussions dealing specifically with different aspects of an emergent 'green criminology' (Beirne & South 2007). Within the Australian context, crime in the fishing and timber industries has recently attracted sustained investigation, again illustrating the growing importance attached to these issues (Putt & Anderson 2007; Schloenhardt 2008).

Drawing upon White (2008), this paper aims to examine the relationship between environmental harm and crime prevention. The nature and dynamics of environmental crime will impinge upon law enforcement and prevention strategies in new ways. This is partly a matter of technique; for example, how do we deal with harms that we cannot see or smell, as with some forms of toxic pollution. It is also a matter of conceptualisation and value judgement; where does the precautionary principle fit within criminological analysis? Who or what is the victim? It also relates to scope, given the globalised nature of certain types of environmental harm; how should we deal with transnational environmental harms, such as those associated with fishing and the logging of forests?

This paper discusses what we might learn from conventional crime prevention about how to prevent environmental harm. What ideas might we glean from the literature on situational prevention (e.g. satellite technology), community crime prevention (e.g. coastal watch groups) and crime prevention through environmental design (e.g. channelling people via predetermined routes through wilderness)? What skills, capacities and organisational relationships are needed if we are to prevent environmental harm adequately and successfully? The paper concludes with a review of key tensions likely to arise in criminological encounters with environmental issues.

Environmental crime prevention

Environmental crime prevention encompasses a range of substantive considerations. It must deal with acts and omissions that are already criminalised and prohibited, such as illegal fishing or illegal dumping of toxic waste. It must also come to grips with events that have yet to be designated officially as 'harmful' but which show evidence of exhibiting potentially negative consequences. Environmental crime prevention likewise has to negotiate different types of harms, as these affect humans, local and global environments, and non-human animals. …