Toward a Green Criminological Revolution

Exploring Green CriminologyIn their new book Exploring Green Criminology: Toward a Green Criminological Revolution, Michael J. Lynch and Paul B. Stretesky call for criminologists to take green harms more seriously, and for the discipline of criminology to be revolutionized so that it forms part of the solution to the large environmental problems currently faced across the world.

‘In this book two pioneers of Green Criminology show how the perspective can enrich traditional criminology and make it more relevant to a world in danger. This is an impressive and important work, recommended to anyone with an interest in green issues and the future of criminology or the planet.’   Nigel South, University of Essex, UK

‘Lynch and Stretesky’s call for a revolution in criminology that would redirect the field away from its historic attention to personal crimes and toward the far graver threats posed by blameworthy environmental wrongdoing is a must read for any criminologist who hopes to remain relevant to the future of our planet.’   Raymond J. Michalowski, Northern Arizona University, USA

‘In Exploring Green Criminology, Lynch and Stretesky lay out an ambitious framework and research agenda for the future of green criminology. In this groundbreaking work, they demonstrate how traditional criminology must adapt, if it is to remain relevant in an era of human history that is replete with environmental crime.’   Michael A. Long, Oklahoma State University, USA

Here is an edited extract of Chapter 1 of Exploring Green Criminology:

The earth is being destroyed as we watch, often as we do too little to stop the destruction. Today, for example, the Global Footprint Network estimates that it takes the earth one and one-half years to regenerate the resources that we have extracted from the earth in a year. This means that we are using the earth’s resources at a greater rate than is sustainable.

Unfortunately unsustainable business practices have been occurring since the early 1980s and are accelerating at such a rapid rate that we will consume nearly three times what the earth can regenerate annually by the year 2050 (Global Footprint Network, 2013). To be sure, there are those who take note of these alarming trends and are doing something to work toward sustainability. But, the efforts of a few individuals when compared to the majority of the human race are too little to overcome the devastating and unsustainable forces humans unleash on the planet. Thus we hide our head in the sand. We hope that divine intervention1 or the next generation can prevent the impending ecological calamity. However, there may not be too many more next generations and time is running out to take care of the problem.

It is not our intention to write about the general neglect of environmental problems within society at large. Rather, our topic is much more limited, and is in many ways simply a microcosm of these broader social tendencies to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear toward environmental problems. In the scheme of things, the small area we address in this work appears to have little relevance to the vast problems of ecological destruction that lay before us as humans. Yet, that is, perhaps, precisely the point. All these small situations and contexts sum together to create our unsustainable and devastating behavior that result in massive ecological destruction. Since many people believe that the big ecological problems of the world are too big to tackle, the alternative is to approach these problems at smaller levels of aggregation. The hope is that changing each small situation will lead to large-scale change. Whether or not that is true is hard to determine and it is entirely possible that small change is an inefficient and ineffective strategy to prevent large-scale global harm.

We, as criminologists, are concerned with the general neglect of ecological issues in criminology. We are concerned with teaching people lessons about crime, law and justice within the context of our biosphere. Indeed, a small number of criminologists continually call attention to the fact that criminology neglects widespread and important forms of harm such as green or environmental crimes. And still other criminologists suggest that these green crimes present the most important challenge to criminology as a discipline. As criminologists, we are not simply concerned that our discipline continues to neglect green issues, we are disturbed by the fact that as a discipline, criminology is unable to perceive the wisdom of taking green harms more seriously, and the need to reorient itself in ways that make it part of the solution to the large global environmental problems we now face as the species that produces those problems.

We expect that most criminologists will reject the idea that they ought to be paying greater attention to the problems of green crimes and justice. After all, the history of criminology as a discipline is the history of an academic field devoted to the study of ordinary forms of street offending and efforts to control those offenses. In our view, these offenses and their consequences are quite small in comparison to the forms of environmental destruction taking place in the world around us. Yes, people are hurt by crime—but those are small hurts when one considers them in comparison to the end of humanity.

As criminologists we are dissatisfied to be part of a discipline that has become rather meaningless within the context of the modern world. The meaninglessness of criminology in that context will not change overnight, and this book may have little impact on that situation. Yet, at the same time, we feel that it is our obligation to propose that this situation needs to change, and to outline the ways in which criminologists can actively engage in research of importance in the contemporary world.

While the research of criminologists is unlikely to change the world, any small step forward that addresses green crime and justice is a step in the right direction, and contributes to changing the social attitudes and practices needed to help reform the behaviors that have produced the ecologically damaging situation in which we now find ourselves. While our book is no solution to the ecological problems of our times, it exposes a way of thinking that pushes the discipline of criminology closer to being relevant in the modern context of ecological destruction.

To take this step forward, this book explores the parameters of green criminology, its theory and practice, and why environmental issues ought to become more central to the study of crime, law, and justice, or, more specifically, an integral part of criminological research and the criminological imagination.

We argue that if harm is the primary concern addressed by criminology—that is, if criminology exists as a science designed to understand, address, reduce, or eliminate crime in the hope of reducing or eliminating harms and to promote justice for humans, nonhumans, and the environment—then criminologists need to recreate criminology, redesign its focus, open it to new understandings of harms and crimes, criminals, laws, corrective responses to crime and harms, victims, and justice.

But how do we redesign criminology to consider environmental harm as an important area of study in an era when the destruction of the earth and the world’s ecosystem is the predominant concern of our times? And, if we are correct in stating that this has yet to happen, we must ask why this has not been accomplished given that this situation has been known for quite some time.

The how question comprises a large section of this work, and is illustrated in various chapters that apply an environmental frame of reference that underlies a green approach to issues that can be addressed within criminology.

Taking this environmental frame of reference as the starting point and applying it to criminological issues is the substance of green criminology. Such a perspective helps us to see criminology in a new way that is only apparent once this green environmental frame of reference is adopted.

Read the whole of chapter one on Ashgate’s website

About the Authors:

Michael J. Lynch is a professor in the department of criminology, and associated faculty in the Patel School of Global Sustainability, at the University of South Florida. He has been engaged in research on green criminology since 1990. His other interests include radical criminology, racial bias in criminal justice processes, and corporate crime and its control. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society of Criminology’s Division on Critical Criminology.

Paul B. Stretesky is a Professor of Criminology in the Department of Languages and Social Science at Northumbria University. In addition to his research on green criminology, he is engaged in research on families of homicide victims and missing persons, and the study of environmental justice. He is co-author of Guns, Violence and Criminal Behavior: Accounts from the Inside as well as Environmental Crime, Law and Justice.

Exploring Green Criminology: Toward a Green Criminological Revolution is published in Ashgate’s Green Criminology series


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