Green crime is defined as crime against the environment. Green crime is linked to globalisation and the idea of transnational boundaries. Regardless of the division of nation states, the planet is one unified eco-system which is global rather than local. Therefore, green crime goes beyond political borders. Green crimes include air pollution, water pollution, deforestation, species decline and the dumping of hazardous waste.
Beck (1992) argues that society today is a global risk society. This means that risks in the modern era are ‘man-made’ or ‘manufactured risks’, and so we cannot predict the consequences of these, e.g. global warming. This links in with the idea that individuals have adopted ‘risk consciousness’. Green crime is therefore on the socio-political agenda.
There are 2 schools of thought regarding green crime: traditional and contemporary.
Traditional green criminology focuses on green crime which has by definition broken environmental law. They are interested with regulations concerning the environment. Situ and Emmons (2000) define environmental crime as “an unauthorised act or omission that violates the law”. It investigates the patterns and causes of law breaking. These sociologists are structuralist sociologists and positivists in methodology. For these theorists, because criminal law is relative to each country, the same harmful environmental action may not be a crime in one country to the next. Legal definitions cannot provide a consistent standardisation of the harm. Definitions of green crime are tangled in political processes. Cultural sociologists have developed a global perspective on environmental harm.
An example of contemporary crimes would be the toxic leak in Hungary, which happened on the 5th October 2010. A state of emergency was declared in three western countries after the chemical waste burst from a reservoir at an alumina plant. At least seven villages and towns were affected including Devecser, where the torrent was 2m (6.5ft) deep. The flood swept cars from roads and damaged bridges and houses, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of residents. The sludge – a mixture of water and mining waste containing heavy metals – was considered hazardous, according to Hungary’s National Directorate General for Disaster Management (NDGDM).
Marxism focuses on green crime as an act of power. Marxists believe that the ruling class shape and define the law to benefit their own exploitative interests in the environment. Such laws benefit transnational corporations. White-collar crime is difficult to detect especially if it is carried out in a developing nation.Green crime is usually focused on a smaller scale to make it more difficult to detect.
Transnational corporations adopt an anthropocentric view of environmental harm. This means that humans have the right to dominate nature for their own ends. Economic growth comes before the environment. Transnational organisations sell toxic waste to developing nations to dispose of, contributing to eco-poverty.
The 2006 Ivory Coast toxic waste dump was a health crisis in the Ivory Coast in which a ship registered in Panama, the ‘Probo Koala’, chartered by the Swiss-based oil and commodity shipping company Trafigura Beheer BV, offloaded toxic waste at the Ivorian port of Abidjan. The waste was then dumped by a local contractor at as many as 12 sites in and around the city of Abidjan in August 2006. The gas caused by the release of these chemicals is blamed by the United Nations and the government of the Ivory Coast for the deaths of 17 and the injury of over 30,000 Ivorians with injuries that ranged from mild headaches to severe burns of skin and lungs. Almost 100,000 Ivorians sought medical attention for the effects of these chemicals. The substance was claimed by Trafigura to have been “slops”, or waste water from the washing of the Probo Koala’s tanks. An inquiry in the Netherlands in late 2006 revealed the substance was more than 500 tonnes of a mixture of fuel, caustic soda, and hydrogen sulphide for which Trafigura chose not to not a 1,000 Euro per cubic metre disposal charge at the port of Amsterdam. The ‘Probo Koala’ was later turned away by several countries before offloading the toxic waste at the Port of Abidjan.
Trafigura denied any waste was transported from the Netherlands, saying that the substances contained only tiny amounts of hydrogen sulphide, and that the company did not know the substance was to be disposed of improperly. In early 2007, the company paid US$198 million for clean-up to the Ivorian government without admitting wrongdoing, and the Ivorian government pledged not to prosecute the company. A series of protests and resignations of Ivorian government officials followed this deal. A civil lawsuit in London was launched in 2008 by almost 30,000 Ivorians against Trafigura. In May 2009, Trafigura announced it would sue the BBC for libel after its ‘Newsnight’ program alleged the company had knowingly sought to cover up its role in the incident. In September 2009 ‘The Guardian’ obtained and published internal Trafigura emails showing that the traders responsible knew how dangerous the chemicals were. Shortly afterwards Trafigura offered an unnamed settlement figure to the class action suit against it.
The Ivory Coast example is seen as an example of Neo-Colonialism whereby a major power uses economic and political means to perpetuate or extend its influence over underdeveloped nations or areas. Anti-globalists believe that cases such as the one in Ivory Coast show that many first world nations have a ‘we can do what we want to third world nations as they accept the money they’re offered’ attitude.
However, green crimes do not just hit third world nations. The BP oil spill off the coast of New Orleans brought the issue to the fore in the United States of America, seen as the world’s most powerful nation.
Oil flowed from the Deepwater Horizon oil rig for three months in 2010 and the spill is said to be the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the fuel industry. The spill stemmed from a sea-floor oil gusher that resulted from the April 20, 2010 explosion. The explosion killed 11 men working on the platform and injured 17 others. On July 15, the leak was stopped by capping the gushing wellhead, after it had released approximately 205.8 million gallons of crude oil. It was estimated that 53,000 barrels of crude oil per day were escaping from the well just before it was capped.
Once the spill had been fixed, a blame game took place as to who was responsible. This even included President Obama who came out and blamed BP, even raising the stakes still higher as he made clear it was a British company that had been responsible for an American disaster. Many frowned at the blatant flag-waving and the ‘it’s their fault not ours’ approach. BP for its part blamed a subsidiary American company that was used to service devices at the bottom of the well that should have stopped any leaks, thus avoiding any spills.
A final report on the spill was released in January 2011. It blamed BP, Halliburton and Transocean for making a series of cost-cutting decisions. The report also highlighted the lack of a system to ensure well safety. It concluded that the spill was caused by a systemic failure and was not the fault of any rogue company or individuals. It also stated that unless action was taken to positively reform what the report highlighted, then such a disaster, twenty times worse that the Alaskan ‘Exxon Valdez’ disaster, could happen again.
Probably the most serious environmental disaster of the C20th was at Bhopal, India in December 1984. Hundreds of thousands of people were affected by a leakage of methyl isocyanate gas and other chemicals from the Union Carbide India Ltd pesticide plant in Bhopal. 3,787 were killed within days/weeks of the leakage but it is thought that as many as 8,000 have died since December 1984 from medical complications directly linked to methyl isocyanate. In 1986, the Indian government claimed that an estimated 558,000 had been affected in some way by the gas but not fatally, 200,000 of them being children. Many suffered from long term and incurable respiratory complaints.
To what extent was the incident at Bhopal a crime? The company initially said that the plant had been sabotaged by a disgruntled former employee and they, therefore, could not be held responsible for what had happened. However, as early as 1976, some eight years before the December incident, trade unions leaders within the plant had complained about safety concerns. Between 1981 and 1984, there were seven occasions when there was either a leak of gas or some form of safety incident occurred leaving workers either injured or dead. Local authorities in Bhopal had warned the company on several occasions about the potential for accidents. Was profit put before safe working conditions as any improvements would obviously have had to be paid for with a possible interruption in the time the plant was working?
Courtesy of Lee Bryant, Director of Sixth Form, Anglo-European School, Ingatestone, Essex