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Study Notes

Green Crime

AS, A-Level
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, Eduqas, WJEC

Last updated 30 Jul 2018

Green crime refers to crimes committed against the environment. The investigation of green crime is the focus of "green criminologists"!

Green criminologists are transgressive criminologists in that not all the activities they are interested in would necessarily be of interest to traditional criminology: activities that cause harm, not necessarily only those that break current laws.

There is plenty of green crime that is unquestionably criminal‐ illegal pollution; breaking laws relating to animal cruelty or protection of wildlife, etc.; but there are other activities that are within current laws, but significantly damage the environment: e.g. legal logging activity in rainforests.

The term green criminology was first coined by M J Lynch (1990).

Some sociologists argue that globalisation is also an important factor in green crime. While some environmental crimes are local in character (such as fly‐tipping) many cross national borders (such as pollution). This links with the post‐modernist Ulrich Beck's work on a global risk society (1992); he points to issues like global warming and the way they pose a risk to the whole world. He argues that many of these risks are manufactured risks that have been created by the way we organise contemporary society.

While green criminologists are all interested in harms to the environment, there are two different green perceptions of harm: anthropocentric and ecocentric harm (these ideas were explored by White, 2008).


Considers harm to the environment from the perspective of humanity. Pollution is a problem because it damages human water supply or causes diseases that are expensive to overcome; climate change is a problem because of its impact on people and the economic cost of dealing with it.


Does not distinguish between humans and the rest of the ecosystem; sees harm to any aspect of the environment as harm to all of it. Therefore, crimes like animal cruelty or the destruction of habitats are green crimes, regardless of whether or not there is any specific human cost.

Primary and Secondary Green Crime

Green criminologist, Nigel South (2008) talks about primary and secondary green crime:


Crimes that are committed directly against the environment or acts that cause harm to the environment, e.g:

  • Pollution
  • Animal cruelty
  • Deforestation


Further crime that grows out of flouting rules relating to the environment, e.g:

  • Violence against environmental groups (e.g. the French attack on the Greenpeace ship, the Rainbow Warrior)
  • Bribery / organised crime to avoid environmental regulations

Evaluating Green Criminology

One problem with all forms of transgressive criminology is the difficulty of categorisation. While Marxists and feminists have correctly exposed problems in perceiving crime purely in terms of the breaking of laws, it at least provides a limit to what can and should be studied. By focusing simply on "harm" the activity that could come under criminologists' investigations is almost infinite. Furthermore, the question of whether harm has been caused becomes one of political and moral judgement rather than empirical and value‐ free research. For example, while all green criminologists might decide to include animal cruelty within their definition of crime, some would include all meat production or even the consumption of meat, while others would consider that entirely normal and acceptable behaviour. If sociologists cannot agree on what is and is not a green crime, then they are unlikely to find each other's conclusions useful.

The concept of secondary green crime is arguably not all that useful; what is being described is simply crime, the links to environmental issues are incidental.

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