Monday, 31 March 2008

Environmental Crime

This piece is a look at an article ‘Politics, economy and Environmental Crime’ by Reece Walters on this issue from the Winter 07/08 issue of Criminal Justice Matters.

The idea of environmental crime is a relatively new one and it’s use in official circles far from captures the entirety of the concept. For Walters (and for myself) such a term would encompass “…the destruction of natural habitats and pollution of oceans, waterways and airways…” However, for the Home Office, as Walters points out, it covers things individuals may do such as Fly-tipping, Littering, Grafitti and Vandalism. Now it might just be me, but the actions described there don’t cover the entirety or even most of the former – in a similar way to climate change been tackled by individuals switching off the lights, this attempts to tackle environmental destruction by stopping littering (which is not to say that you should leave the lights on or litter). Why is this so? As Walters points out, the problem of environmental crime as she would define it is not really seen as a crime for the government or multi-national corporations, it’s more of a necessary by-product of making profits.
Walters does point out that the government has defined a term of ‘corporate environmental crime’, but this doesn’t include important transnational offences such as trading in endangered species, illegal waste dumping, deforestation etc.
Walters then goes on to site some examples of corporate environmental crime including the non-payment of tax by corporation, that 3.2 million cubic metres of timber sold in the UK is from protected woodland areas, at least 12,000 tons of illegally fished fish is imported into Britain each year, the nuclear industry has illegally disposed of thousands of barrels of radioactive waste in the Channel Islands and so on.
Her conclusion is somewhat lacking – she correctly points out that the needs of ‘fiscal prosperity’ dominate over those of sustainability – but goes no further than this. I would suggest a few things, firstly that part of the reason why environmental destruction is easy for these bodies is because they do not have to live with the consequences. I do not mean exclusively in terms of global warming where the severest impacts will happen years down the line as feedback effects continually increase, but in terms of physically living with the destruction – the advantages of being a multinational corporation mean that you can exploit anywhere around the world and you only have to live in one part of it. The second point is that tougher environmental laws – which Walters may or may not be suggesting – won’t solve the problem, as Walters illustrates with the sheer amount of already existing laws that get broken.
The solution to the problem of corporate environmental crime is putting these multinationals under the democratic control of the working class – with representatives from workers within the company and from the general community. These representatives would have a much greater stake in stopping environmental destruction than those who are only interested in profits.

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