Green Criminology Essay

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Green criminology refers to the study of environmental crimes and harms affecting human and nonhuman life, ecosystems, and planet Earth as a whole. It has emerged as a distinctive area of study, drawing together criminologists with a wide range of specific research interests and representing varying theoretical and ecophilosophical orientations. Despite occasional disagreements about the proper name or label for the study of ecological or environmental crime or harm, research in this area is burgeoning and will continue to do so in the second decade of the 21st century.

Scope and Focus of Green Criminology

More properly considered a perspective than a theory, green criminology draws on research and writing across academic disciplines to achieve the following:

  • Expose instances and patterns of environmental harm, ranging from the micro to the macro
  • Illuminate risks and threats to specific places or localities, as well as larger regions in and across geopolitical boundaries
  • Identify and understand the etiology of environmental harm, including violations of existing environmental law and regulation designed to protect the health, safety, and vitality of humans, animals other than human animals, and ecosystems, as well as environmental harms that may not be statutorily proscribed
  • Analyze and assess existing and proposed environmental law and regulation, as well as failures of law and regulation, and avoidance of corporate, state, and personal responsibility regarding environmental harms and threats
  • Predict environmental disaster and degradation, and propose measures for avoiding or mitigating such destruction
  • Investigate grassroots and institutionalized resistance and opposition to environmental crimes and harms
  • Explore and critique the depictions and representations of nonfictional and fictional environmental crimes, harms, disasters, and threats in newspapers, film, television, on the Internet, and in other media outlets

Although these tasks had been undertaken for decades, the term green criminology did not appear until 1990, when it was first introduced by Michael J. Lynch in a short article in The Critical Criminologist as part of an appeal for increased criminological attention to issues pertaining to environmental crimes, harms, and hazards. Green criminology’s roots lie in critical criminology, and much research in green criminology contemplates environmental harms that may not be statutorily proscribed. It considers state-corporate collusion in the propagation of environmental harm—two hallmarks of critical criminology. Nevertheless, green criminology includes research conducted from both mainstream and critical theoretical perspectives and reflects a range of ecophilosophies (e.g., anthropocentric, biocentric, ecocentric). Regardless of theoretical or ecophilosophical orientation, the broad spectrum of green criminological scholarship includes work on the following:

  • Air pollution and water pollution and their regulation
  • Animal abuse and animal rights
  • Environmental justice
  • Food crimes
  • Harm caused by global warming and climate change
  • Harm caused by the hazardous transport of e-waste
  • Illegal disposal of toxic waste
  • Violations of the Endangered Species Act in the United States and the illegal trade in species threatened with extinction listed in the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Appendix I
  • Violations of workplace health and safety regulations that have environmentally damaging consequences


Despite the agreement on major themes, topics, and problems, predictably, those conducting research in these areas have reflected on the term green criminology and there has not been universal agreement on the appropriate name or label for this perspective or subfield. For example, Rob White has argued that the term environmental criminology should be reclaimed from what is more properly considered “place-based criminology” to refer to the study of environmental harms and threats, environmental legislation, and related research and scholarship. This usage is an obvious reflection of the way that the word environment is frequently employed in everyday discussion and contemporary media, but it suffers the disadvantage of being too easily confused with the longer established usage of “environment” in criminology to describe relationships between the incidence of crime and the spatial features of the built and urban environment. Without expressly abandoning this endeavor, White has also offered the term eco-global criminology to refer to a criminological approach that is informed by ecological considerations, an inclusive definition of harm, and a critical analysis that is worldwide in its scale and perspective.

In a related vein, Reece Walters has suggested that the term eco-crime is helpful and capable of encapsulating violations of existing environmental law (including civil and regulatory violations) designed to protect the health, safety, and vitality of humans, natural resources, and ecosystems, as well as sociological analyses of those environmental harms not necessarily specified by law. Other formulations include “conservation criminology,” but at this stage in its development, it seems that criminologists most frequently employ the term green criminology to describe the study of ecological, environmental, or green crime or harm and related matters of speciesism and of environmental justice and injustice.

History and Emergence

While criminologists were initially slow to respond to Lynch’s call, special issues of journals such as Social Justice, Theoretical Criminology, and Current Issues in Criminal Justice demonstrated growing interest in the study of environmental harms, environmental laws, and environmental regulation by criminologists and helped catalyze further criminological research in this area. Green criminology stands as a bona fide (albeit evolving) perspective within the discipline of criminology, as evidenced by monographs, edited volumes, a book series, and the proliferation of “green criminology” sessions at the annual conferences and meetings of the American Society of Criminology, the British Society of Criminology, and the European Society of Criminology. In 2013, “green criminology” appeared as its own submission category at the annual meeting of the American Society of Criminology. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Green Criminology Research Series began in October 2012 and will consist of five half-day seminars every term in different locations around the United Kingdom until August 2014, when it will conclude with a two-day miniconference. The International Green Criminology Working Group (IGCWG)— a group of academics, students, and professionals who conduct research in green criminology—was formed in 2010 and continues to add members to its international directory.

Environment and Culture

Avi Brisman and Nigel South have demonstrated that cultural criminology is, at some levels, already engaging in green criminological analyses, and have suggested that green criminologists have not adopted a cultural criminological lens. Promulgating a “green cultural criminology,” Brisman and South highlight a number of ways in which green criminologists might openly employ a cultural criminological approach to their study of environmental crimes and harms: (1) by adopting cultural criminology’s concern with the contestation of space, transgression, and resistance to investigate and analyze the ways in which environmental harms are opposed in/on the streets and in day-to-day living; (2) by devoting greater attention to the way(s) in which environmental crime, harm, and disaster are constructed and represented by the news media and in other popular culture forms; and (3) by dedicating increased attention to patterns of constructed consumerism and related global capitalist processes endemic to late modernity.

In a different vein, Steven Kohm and Pauline Greenhill have extended Nicole Rafter’s concept of “popular criminology” to green criminology in order to better appreciate the emotional, moral, and philosophical dimensions of the relationship between crime and the physical and social environments—an endeavor they have labeled “popular green criminology.” Just as “popular criminology” is a discourse found in accessible mass-media texts exploring issues pertaining to crime and justice, Kohm and Greenhill encourage a “popular green criminology” that deals with environmental crimes and harms, issues of place and space, and the oppression of humans and animals other than human animals by people and institutions.

Environment and Conflict

While arguably the existence of any group or groups of humans will bring about some degree of socioenvironmental conflict, green criminologists have begun to focus on three types of conflict.

First, the environment and natural resources can be a source of conflict, that is, when groups fight over access to or use of natural resources— a phenomenon likely to occur with greater frequency as a result of global climate change. Second, the environment and natural resources can fuel or fund existing conflicts (e.g., when warring groups extract diamonds or metals or timber that are then sold to finance conflicts). Third, the environment and natural resources can be a casualty of conflict (e.g., in the Vietnam War, when deforestation chemicals, such as Agent Orange, caused crop destruction; in the first Gulf War, when oil wells were set ablaze).

While the linkages between environment and conflict are varied, green criminologists recognize that they do not always describe or represent current or anticipated violence. High-value, well-managed natural resources can help fund reconstruction efforts after a violent conflict and have the potential to promote and consolidate peace. Such resources can spur development, help ensure sustainable growth, elevate living standards, and increase economic equality. They may also be an important source of foreign currency for post-conflict governments strapped for cash; they can reduce dependence on international aid, and can generate compensation for conflict-affected populations. Thus, it is here, in the analysis of environment and conflict, that green criminologists might expose some of the greatest injustices in the world (and reveal which groups have been, currently are, or are likely to become environmental victims) but also discover potential for justice.


  1. Beirne, Piers. Confronting Animal Abuse: Law, Criminology, and Human-Animal Relationships. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009.
  2. Beirne, Piers and Nigel South, eds. Issues in Green Criminology. Cullompton, UK: Willan, 2007.
  3. Brisman, Avi and Nigel South. “A Green-Cultural Criminology: an Exploratory Outline.” Crime Media Culture, v.9/2 (2013).
  4. Burns, Ronald G., Michael J. Lynch, and Paul Stretesky. Environmental Law, Crime, and Justice. New York: LFB, 2008.
  5. Ellefsen, R., R. Sollund, and G. Larsen, eds. Eco-Global Crimes. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2012.
  6. Kohm, Steven and Pauline Greenhill. “‘This Is the North, Where We Do What We Want’: Popular Green Criminology and ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ Films.” In Routledge International Handbook of Green Criminology, Nigel South and Avi Brisman, eds. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2013.
  7. Lynch, Michael J. “The Greening of Criminology: A Perspective on the 1990s.” The Critical Criminologist, v.2/3 (1990).
  8. Nurse, Angus. Animal Harm. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2013.
  9. Sollund, Ragnhild, ed. Global Harms: Ecological Crime and Specieism. New York: Nova Science,
  10. South, Nigel and Piers Beirne, eds. Green Criminology. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2006.
  11. South, Nigel and Avi Brisman, eds. Routledge International Handbook of Green Criminology. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2013.
  12. Walters, Reece. Eco Crime and Genetically Modified Food. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2011.
  13. White, Rob. Crimes Against Nature. Cullompton, UK: Willan, 2008.
  14. White, Rob. Transnational Environmental Crime: Toward an Eco-Global Criminology. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2011.
  15. White, Rob, ed. Climate Change From a Criminological Perspective. New York: Springer, 2012.
  16. White, Rob, ed. Environmental Crime: A Reader. Cullompton, UK: Willan, 2009.
  17. White, Rob, ed. Global Environmental Harm: Criminological Perspectives. Cullompton, UK: Willan, 2010.

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