22-Apr-20 COVID-19 and Green Criminology

Photo by Pixabay at Pexels

There has been much media coverage about the impact of the global lockdown on the environment. Satellite pictures are showing dramatic declines in air pollution; wildlife is repopulating clearing lakes and canals; animals have started to reclaim urban streets and towns; flights have been grounded and the price of crude oil has plummeted as demand collapses.  It looks like we may see a record drop in carbon emissions of 5% this year: when we were celebrating 2020 on New Year’s Eve, such a cut would have looked an unimaginable achievement.

Yet, despite the romantic narratives of the ‘earth healing’ and ‘nature re-asserting itself’ – this achievement comes due to a virus pandemic and economic meltdown, creating widespread and likely medium-term loss of livelihood (or life) for millions.  It is not because world leaders and corporations have changed their beliefs and policies on climate change. Speaking to the Guardian (12 April 2020), Dr Fatih Birol, the head of the International Energy Agency, said that unless governments start to support clean energy going forward, then once Covid-19 is brought under control.

“…this decline could be easily wiped out in the rebound of the economy. These figures are important and impressive. But they don’t make me happy. For me it’s more important about what happens next year, and the year after that.”

In other words, these gains can be easily lost. 

A relatively new entrant to the discipline, Nurse (2017) explains the rationale of Green Criminology:

Green criminology applies a broad ‘‘green’’ perspective to environmental harms, ecological justice, and the study of environmental laws and criminality, which includes crimes affecting the environment and non-human nature. Within the ecological justice and species justice perspectives of green criminology there is a contention that justice systems need to do more than just consider anthropocentric notions of criminal justice, they should also consider how justice systems can provide protection and redress for the environment and other species.

Too often however, there has been a conflict between the interests of states and corporations in pursuing economic growth (which can involve the exploitation and commercialisation of natural resources) and the need to safeguard the planet. States and corporations may return to their old ways post-COVID-19. 

However, two things may prevent that.  First, as Greta Thunberg argues today (the 50th anniversary of Earth Day), coronavirus has demonstrated how precarious our economies are – it is a wake-up call that we need a more sustainable way to live and produce.  Second, despite the grief and the economic misery, people are also finding new and positive ways to be.  Having tried, survived and possibly thrived at living differently, we may be reluctant to go back to how things were.  So while governments and corporations may want to revert to type, people power may finally bring environmental change.

© Natasha Mulvihill and Criminology Tales, 2020. 


Nurse, A. 2017.  Green criminology: shining a critical lens on environmental harm. Palgrave Communications, 3(10). Available at: https://doi.org/10.1057/s41599-017-0007-2

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