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Environmental Crime Is Starting to Become a Distinct Category of Crime

Info: 2329 words (9 pages) Law Essay
Published: 6th Aug 2019

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Jurisdiction(s): US LawEU Law

Environmental Crime is starting to become a distinct category of crime in criminology and is very hard to define. Some may say that it is a white collar crime, however to others it can be considered as crime against society. Whit Gibbons (2001) revealed two types of environmental crime in his article. The First type is an ordinary individual dumping waste to the river and the white-collared type is where companies dump harmful pollutants to water sources or the air. Comparing the two the difference between them which is pointed out by Gibbons (2001) is that it is easier to prosecute an individual than a big corporation.

The main emphasis of the group presentation was on crimes against the environment and the links it has with the crimes of the powerful and also the presentation was to highlight and point out why big corporations commit crimes against the environment and get off lightly despite the fact that there are organisations and legislations in place to protect the environment. As crimes against the environment is such a broad topic, as a group it was decided to narrow it down to the lack of punishment and policing towards elite companies that commit eco-crime instead of issues such as wildlife etc. the main areas for the presentation were Green Criminology, What is being done to protect the environment, social corporate responsibility, BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Bhopal Tragedy in 1984 and the lack of policing and punishing of Elite companies.

In this report will explore all the individual research that was conducted for the group presentation. And will focus specifically on Green criminology, what is being done to protect the environment such as Greenpeace, Legislations, treaties and protocols, the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, and also cases which show incidents of environmental crime caused by big corporations

As part of the countless ways that criminology is growing and branching out in the twenty-first century, there’s a growth of a green criminology which focuses on crimes against the environment recently. It was important to research green criminology as it linked very much with crimes against the environment committed by the powerful. What had to be addressed firstly was what green criminology is. Green criminology refers to the studies of environmental harm, environmental laws and regulations by criminologists. It focuses on criminal patterns within particular environments and looks at the effects of people’s cognitive behavior. Some areas of this perspective include concern with precisely environmental issues, social justice, ecological consciousness, the role of the nation state and the destructive nature of global capitalism. Green criminology offers an umbrella which theorizes and critiques developing terminologies that relate to environmental harm, green criminology had identified early stages of development which has four key tasks, firstly being to document the existence of green crimes and all their forms and to develop basic typologies and distinctions between primary and secondary green crimes. Secondly it tries to map ways that the laws have been established around this area, and to evaluate problems and political issues that are produced, thirdly to connect green crimes to social inequalities and lastly, to assess the role of green social movements in making change. Green criminology examines diverse narratives and disciplines which provides an interface with social movements and green politics, it explores issues of environmental harm being utilized by a number of analytical tools in producing knowledge which is theoretical, empirically grounded and politically active. (McLaughlin and Muncie Pg. 146&147) Green criminology is a constructive concept for analysing legal and sociological descriptions of eco-crime.

The meaning of eco-crime had been expanded by Laura Westra, She had specified that Assaults on humans, whether they carry out the assault with bare hands or instruments of violence, are crimes. Thus a crime that has been committed must be seen, treated and be punished consequently. Eco-crimes which are regulatory offences that have been committed by the powerful, such as by the state and big corporations are said to be after an economic benefit, which should be seen as ‘attacks on the human person’, this strong argument had been made by Westra. Westra commiserated that eco-crimes were human rights violations, as citizens were deprived of certain freedoms and liberties that are expressed in many international treaties. (McLaughlin and Muncie Pg. 147)

Corporate definitions of a green agenda are occasionally explicitly rejected. Corporations are commonly seen to be the main contributor to problems of environmental harm. The green criminology perspective tends to start off with a strong sensitivity towards the crimes of the powerful and to be infused with matters relating to power, justice, inequality and democracy. (McLaughlin and Newburn 2010 Pg. 410) These crimes may occur due to violation of international agreements and laws that are about the environment or they could arise through various forms of exploitation, corruption and associated state or corporate crimes which find ways to avoid or abuse legislation.

It was clear through the research conducted that there has been a lot of emphasis on protecting the environment, G8, Greenpeace, Legislations, Treaties and protocols and the EU emissions trading scheme and corporate social responsibility. It felt necessary to look at mainly these that have been put in place to protect the environment as they were most relevant to what the main aim of the presentation was trying to understand about the powerful committing crimes against the environment.

The G8 is a forum which was created by France in 1975. The G8, also known as the Group of Eight, is a gathering of world leaders who meet annually to talk over global issues.  The G8, each year holds a Leaders’ Summit, whereby Heads of State and Government of member countries meet to discuss and challenge to resolve global issues and also tackle important contemporary topics such as the economy and climate change, they aim to create global policies and to set dates to cut down emissions

Greenpeace is a committed environmental organization which does not accept any funding from governments, corporations or political parties. They examine, expose and confront environmental abuse committed by governments and corporations around the world. Greenpeace has played a crucial role in, the adoption of a ban on toxic waste exports to less developed countries, banning on dumping at sea of harmful and industrial waste and disused oil installations, an end to extensive driftnet fishing on the high-seas, they also played a role in banning all nuclear weapons testing. This organisation was vital research as they campaign mainly against the powerful committing crimes against the environment.

There has been a growth of environmental legislation, Since the mid-twentieth century, Legislation has increased pace internationally in various forms, the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment which is credited with giving rise to other awareness of the need for environmental regulations. A Declaration and an Action Plan was led with 109 recommendations in six broad areas such as natural resource management, educational and social aspects of the environment, pollution, and international organisations and established a UN environment programme. As every business has an effect on the environment, to make sure that this level of impact remains within suitable limits, there is a need to comply with environmental legislation. Environmental legislation covers areas that relate to aspects such as air quality, energy, hazardous waste, packaging, solvents, and waste from construction and water (Carrabine, Iganski, Lee, South, and Plummer Pg. 322)

International environmental agreements are usually multilateral treaties. There are around a thousand environmental law treaties which exist today. They exist in numerous areas of international law, but they mainly come into use in the field of environment. Agreements are made which permit countries on a framework that would be contentious if every detail were to be agreed on in advance. Through research conducted the most well-known protocol which came across was the Kyoto protocol, this protocol has a goal of climate change and fighting global warming. It is an international environmental treaty with the main aim being to achieve the maintenance of greenhouse gas concentrations which are released in the atmosphere at a stage that will stop interfering dangerously with the climate system.

In 2005 started The EU emissions trading scheme which came about to help the EU meet targets under the Kyoto Protocol, it puts a limit on the carbon dioxide (CO2) which is emitted by business and creates a market and price for carbon allowances. The whole goal of an emissions trading plan is to reduce the cost of meeting a set emissions target. The cap is a limit on Carbon dioxide which is emitted by business which then creates a market and price for carbon allowances that is overtime lowered which aims towards a national emissions reduction target. When a trade occurs, credits that are traded must be retired, causing a net reduction in emissions. Organizations which do not pollute might also participate, thus environmental groups can purchase and retire allowances or credits and hence drive up the price of the rest according to the law of demand. Corporations can retire allowances early by giving them to a nonprofit entity which then they would be suitable for a tax deduction.

Corporate social responsibility is where businesses keeps a watch and guarantees its active compliance with the spirit of the law, ethical standards, and international norms. The aim is to take on responsibility and encourage a positive impact through its activities on the environment, consumers, employees, communities, and other members of the public sphere. Researching corporate social responsibility showed that corporations have to take a responsible attitude, and to go beyond the minimum legal requirements and follow straightforward principles that apply whatever the size of the business is which is not the case for incidents such as the BP Oil spill and the Bhopal Tragedy.

As a group it was decided that the two main cases which would be focussed on for the presentation were the BP oil spill and the Bhopal Tragedy, the Hiroshima tragedy was looked into and researched also, this was the first atomic bomb ever used in war which was dropped in Japan that left long lasting effects to the environment after, causing radiation effects on humans and also caused mutation years after the bombing. Even though this was a crime of the powerful, it was more of a war crime, and due to the time scale and didn’t seem relevant compared to the other cases used, the Hiroshima case was not used in the presentation in the end.

The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was an extraordinary environmental disaster which happened on April 20th 2010. The disaster happened on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig when an explosion emerged, this was due to the carelessness of senior decision making members from BP on the oil rig. The US government had announced that BP was to be held accountable for the spill and that they were to cover deal with the costs of the spill and the untold amount of claims which started to be handled in the US legal system.

Similar to the BP case, The Bhopal Tragedy is one of the worst industrial catastrophes in the world. A pesticide plant which was run by the subsidiary of US company Union Carbide had released about 40 tons of deadly methyl isocyanate gas into the air in Bhopal in central India on December 3, 1984, which quickly killed around 4,000 people. The main Reasons leading to the scale of the gas leak include, the Storage of MIC which were in large tanks and that had been filled beyond suggested levels, Poor maintaining after the plant stopped MIC production at the end of 1984, there was a Failure of several safety structures which was due to the poor maintenance, Safety systems had been switched off to save money. Seven former executives of the chemical Company were sentenced with “death by negligence” for their part in the Bhopal gas tragedy that had killed 15,000 people which was more than 25 years ago. Union Carbide India Ltd. Had been convicted of the same charge however the company no longer exists. The former employees, of which most of them in their 70s, only face up to two years in prison and a $2000 fine.

The reason why BP and Bhopal were chosen for our presentation was because they were the most current, and fit best with the area the presentation focused on and were good examples of the lack of policing and punishment towards elite companies.

As a group it was decided that with all the facts drawn together, it came to the conclusion that despite the efforts that have been made to protect the environment with the legislations and organisations in place, not enough is being done. As mentioned earlier about the cases, it shows that not enough has been done for instance the Bhopal tragedy, 7 people were convicted 25 years later and with only 2 years prison sentence and a $2000 fine, which is unjust compared to the countless lives lost in the tragedy. Why is it that it is easier to punish an individual than to punish a business corporation, and is it fair when business corporations cause a lot more harm to the environment than an individual would. There is definitely not enough justice, and there needs to be more effective policing of elite companies.

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