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Critical evaluation of radical and feminist perspectives in Green Criminology

  • 09 Pages
  • Published On: 03-11-2023


Green criminology is a wide term that includes multiple perspectives and multiple areas of interests. Studies that have been typified as green criminology have included regulation of pollution; environmental impacts of corporate crime; toxic waste disposal market and organised crime; ecological harms or injuries to species within their natural environments; sociology of deviance and its impact on environment, such as practices relating to hunting (South, 2014). There has also been an emphasis drawn on the ‘perspective oriented’ approach of green criminology, where some writers have chosen to call green criminology a ‘perspective’, rather than a theory, so as to enable the perspective to “harbour diverse theoretical positions” (South, 2014, p. 7).

This essay considers two of the perspectives within green criminology, which are, the radical and feminist perspectives. Both these perspectives take critical approach. The essay critically evaluates these approaches within the domain of the larger criminology discourse on environment and crime.

The Green Criminology Approach in General

Green criminology is an emerging area in criminology which focuses on green crimes, or crimes that harm eco-systems and the constituent parts of the ecosystem (Stretesky & Lynch, 2014). Constituents parts of the ecosystem can include nature, animals, other species and even human beings. Consequently, perspectives in green criminology at times are seen to take divergent routes. For instance, perspectives may vary from a human centric approach to eco-centric approach (Hoffman & Sandelands, 2005). These approaches take divergent views on the nature of harms as well as victimology. A human centric approach will involve conceptualisation of environmental harm as one that impacts humans, thereby treating human beings as the victims. An eco-centric approach would see conceptualisation of harm as that which leads to ecological damage, thereby treating the Earth to be the victim. This approach can be seen in the following words of Berry (1999):


“we need a jurisprudence that would provide for the legal rights of geological and biological as well as human components of the Earth community. A legal system exclusively for humans is not realistic” (Berry, 1999, p. 161).

Thus, both the visualisation of harm, as well as victimisation approaches would vary in human centric and eco-centric approaches, but both the approaches will be considered to come within the domain of green criminology. Even with respect to defining ‘green’ in green criminology, there are divergent approaches, one of which is aligned with corporate interests while the other is based in environmental justice and which also incorporates gender, race and class issues into green criminology (Lynch & Stretsky, 2003). As such, green criminology is seen as an open perspective and framework, allowing the emergence of multiple perspectives (Gibbs, Gore, & Rivers, 2009).

As the above discussion clarifies, perspectives within green criminology can be varied and there may be many approaches that all focus on green harms or crimes, but the focus or emphasis within these individual approaches may shift. The one common thread between these different approaches within green criminology is that each of these approaches takes a divergence from orthodox criminology, in that these approaches focus on the interrelationship between environment and crime, which orthodox criminology has not focused on. Therefore, in general, green criminology is distinguished from orthodox criminology. In fact, one of the claims of the green criminologists is that criminologists in general have been slow to consider climate change as an issue for criminology studies (Lynch & Stretesky, 2010).

One of the areas of distinction between green criminology and orthodox criminology is that the former is closely aligned to scientific analysis due to which it can illustrate the forms of harms explored in scientific and measurable terms (Stretesky & Lynch, 2014). In this sense, green criminology has been defined as an “intersection of criminology with the science of global warming” (Lynch & Stretesky, 2010, p. 62). However, green criminologists may actually align their research to scientific research without indulging in primary scientific research themselves. As an early approach by Lynch was predicated on the measurableness of the harms in the basis of science, green criminology approach was situated in a critical context from orthodox criminology (Lynch, 2013). It is also pertinent that green criminology is multi-disciplinary in nature and draws from science as well as sociology (Lynch & Stretesky, 2011).

The human centric approaches or perspectives towards the environment have been criticised for their narrow view point, which focusses on the harm that affects human beings but does not consider the environmental harms that are caused by human activity (Stretesky & Lynch, 2014). Consequently, ‘harm’ is viewed as something that is caused to the human beings and the perspectives on how humans can drive harm to environment is not considered at all (Stretesky & Lynch, 2014). The opponents of the human centric perspectives on the environment make use of the growing and extensive data on climate change and ecological damage to substantiate their arguments on the fallacy of the human centric approach (Lovelock, 2007).

At its very extreme, the criticism of environmentalism approaches in general, which also relates to radical perspectives, is that it is not concerned with its natural proletariat, that is, the underworld of the nature, exemplified by the micro-organisms, the fungi and the worms (Lovelock, 2007, p. 111). Rather, the focus of the environmentalists has been on a radical political movement, which brings more attention to the visible and more relatable (to human beings) parts of the nature, such as exotic birds and endangered animal species (Lovelock, 2007).

The Radical Perspective

Radical perspectives on green criminology criticise the orthodox criminology approach for its failure to respond to crimes that are related to the environment and for ignoring the crimes against environments, environmental victimology and regulatory mechanisms applicable to crimes against environment (Lynch, 2013). The radical approach is aligned to the nature or animal centric perspectives within green criminology (White, 2013, p. 18). This approach challenges what it considers to be the narrow definitions of crime. However, the basic problem with the radical approach is that almost everyone is an environmental criminal because wide definitions of crime would implicate every individual as most people are inadvertently involved in some activity or the other that damages the environment, including driving or using car air conditioners and the use of the word criminal is not limited to those profiting from environmental crimes (Schmidt, 2004). The absence of intention in most of the harmful behaviour makes it difficult to conceptualise the nature of environmental crimes within the law. This leads some critics of green criminology to distinguish between environmental damage and environmental crime (Halsey, 2004).

Radical criminologists have always taken a divergent view from orthodox criminology on important issues that relate to the definition, creation and enforcement of the criminal law (Potter, 2010). Radical criminologists believe that the criminal justice system simply “replicates and reinforces social divisions within society” and that “criminal law can often be seen to be acting, predominantly, against the interests of the lower classes and the poor while serving the interests of the powerful” (Potter, 2010, p. 11). This approach extends into the domain of green criminology, with the radical perspectives extending a critical view on how the general approach ignores the interests of the poorer sections of society, the interests of the environment or the Earth in general and animals and other species as well (Lynch M. , 2013). The non-spiciesist approach has allowed green criminology to move the discourse towards animal rights (Stretesky, Long, & Lynch, 2013, p.106).

The radical approach towards environmentalism has been to emphasise on the need for environmental or ecological justice that focusses on the definitions of crime and victimisation from the perspective of environment or ecology related harms. There is a lot of overlapping between the radical criminology approach and green criminology in the sense that green criminology itself took a radical perspective on crime, perpetrator, and victimology, which differed significantly from what was otherwise being written about in the domain of orthodox criminology literature (Lynch, Stretesky, & Long, 2015). At times, the radical approach’s focus on environmental justice translates into justice for the poor and marginalized societies of the world who are negatively impacted by the changes in ecology and environment brought on by the increasing corporate activities and their impact on the environment (Adeola, 2001). The inter-relationships between the environment and the corporate activities have been the subject of much work (Simon, 2000); and environmental disasters are sometimes attributed to the corporate drive to make more money without the application of ethics (Hopkins, 2012, p. 4). There has been a purposive emphasis on the need for human actions to not adversely impact the environment, which has also translated to more effective corporate governance methods (Crowther & Martinez, 2004). However, radical green criminologists demand more stringent definitions and penalties for environmental crimes (Adler, 2010). They argue that since the environmental harms associated with pollution and other ecological damage, kill and injure more people, the crimes should not be overshadowed by conventional crimes (Burns, Lynch, & Stretesky, 2008).

An instance of demand for more stringent punishment for environmental crime can be seen in Higgins (2012), who has emphasised on the need to take Ecocide seriously as a crime for which international law must also propose punishment regime. For this purpose, she has suggested that Ecocide be added to international Crime against Peace regime by effecting an amendment to the Rome Statute (Higgins, 2012). She proposes a radical approach to eradication of ecocide as in her opinion this is the only way in which the containment of this problem can be effected. In this Higgins has not proposed anything novel because the need for international law to consider environmental crimes with war crimes has been articulated earlier as well (Drumbl, 1998). Higgins proposed the following as an amendment to the Rome Statute:

“Ecocide is the extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been severely diminished” (Higgins, 2012, p. 254).

The problem with this definition is that it is very wide as far as the perpetrators are concerned, identifying human agency as well as other causes. However, the call for adding ecocide to the crimes under Rome Statute, has received some support as well because ecocide is seriously seen as one of the most pressing challenges of our times (South, 2013).

Feminist Perspectives

Feminist criminology had a profound impact in emphasising the crimes of men and the victimization of women. Studies of the marginalisation of women as actors (whether criminals, victims, protestors) and the role of men as responsible for violations of women and of civilized life readily connect with concerns about the violation of the environment and of other species (Collard with Contrucci 1988; Gaarder 2013; Lane 1998; Sollund 2013). Within feminist approach, there are varying perspectives on the interrelationships between ecology and women. Gaard (1993), chose to describe her approach as ecofeminism, which focusses on liberation of nature from patriarchal oppression as an essential condition for liberating women from the same oppression.

Ecofeminist approach treats women, children and nature at par, arguing that each of these have a common cause, which is exploitation in the patriarchal and androcentric structures (Sollund, 2013). Feminist scholars have argued that the cultures of patriarchal power structures and androcentricism has contributed to the exploitation of Earth and its non-human species (Donovan & Adams, 1996). Moreover, the feminist approach seeks to show that the ill-effects of the androcentric exploitation of nature, is felt more by women, particularly due to the impact on their reproductive systems. Toxic pesticides, acid rain, chemical waste and radiation, all are more negatively impactful on the health of women and children as compared to men (Sollund, 2013). There is a lot of support for the viewpoint that women are the most affected by ecological and environmental damage (Wachholz, 2013).

Sexism and speciesism are also seen to be interlinked in the feminist approach, especially in the context of trafficking, be it of women and children or animals (Sollund, 2013). In this sense, women, children and animals are all objectified or treated as products within the patriarchal systems, which ultimately lead to their exploitation.

In the context of green criminology, the feminist theoretical approach brings focus on the patriarchal attitudes that lead to the exploitation of nature. For instance, the propensity of males to violence or violent activities as a mark of their masculinity is given attention to in feminist approach to green criminology. Here, an example may be given of hunting as an activity, which glorifies man’s ability to dominate nature through killing wild animals (Collard & Contrucci, 1989). The patriarchal perspectives to masculinity tend to foster violent and dominating attitudes towards nature, as being subservient to man and this allows men to create a nobility around the practice of hunting. In fact, the general treatment of animals and nature is argued to be the ‘vilest manifestation of the disease’ of patriarchy (Collard & Contrucci, 1989, p. 1).

Even if some of the contentions of the feminist approach are accepted, it cannot be considered that the entire onus for the environmental or ecological damage rests on patriarchal attitudes. Taking the example of hunting itself, although the activity is admittedly male dominated, it cannot be denied that women too partake in hunting. This has been accepted by Collard & Contrucci (1989) although, they choose to blame the incidence of women hunters on the adoption of masculine attributes by women. Collard & Contrucci (1989) argue that women hunters have separated themselves from their real attributes of nurturing and caring and adopted the masculine attributes of violence.

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Radical and feminist approaches to criminology have always taken a divergent approach to defining and conceptualisation of crime and victimology. The radical and feminist approaches to green criminology have followed these traditions. The radical approach demands more stringent measures against those who commit crimes against environment, ecology and nature. However, it is difficult to practically follow this dictum because if the radical approach is applied every person would be guilty of environmental harm. Therefore, there is a need to differentiate between environmental damage (which can be attributed to almost every human being) and environmental harm (which requires mens rea). How this will be practically applied within the criminal law is something that is not as yet been defined by radical green criminologists. Feminist criminology has always focused on defining harms from the perspective of women within patriarchal systems. In green criminology, this approach has led to the inclusion of nature, environment and animals as victims of male centric or patriarchal systems. Patriarchal systems are responsible for violence against women, nature and animals because of the inherent violent nature of men, which supports and glorifies harms against nature, manifested in practices such as hunting. However, this approach is too narrow because it fails to consider that women too perpetrate harms against the environment.


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