Green Criminology: Widespread Caring Means Justice For All

By Marc Bekoff, Psychology Today, November 27, 2020

Green criminology, One Health, and compassionate conservation have common goals.

Research shows that seemingly unrelated harms and crimes are closely entwined

“Caring for nonhumans, for their own sake, does not preclude caring for humans. Humans are more than capable of caring for many more than one kind of thing. Reasoning to the contrary might also be used to support the belief that honoring one’s ethnicity is fundamentally incompatible with racial equality. These considerations indicate that nothing is inherently misanthropic about being non-anthropocentric.” (John Vucetich et al. 2015, cited in Treves et al. 2019, Just Preservation)

“…everything has a right to be recognized and revered. Trees have tree rights, insects have insect rights, rivers have river rights, and mountains have mountain rights.” —Thomas BerryThe Great Work, p. 5

A few weeks ago I discovered an incredibly thought provoking book edited by Drs. Piers Beirne and Nigel South called Issues in Green Criminology: confronting harms against environments, humanity and other animalsI found a pretty inexpensive used copy and couldn’t put it down when I began reading it. I’d never heard of the “Green Criminology” and was astounded by the breadth and diversity of topics it includes.1 I hope that some of what I write will motivate people to read this forward-looking book and to pay close attention to just how inclusive and timely Green Criminology truly is.

To get the ball rolling, Green Criminology “is the analysis of environmental harms from a criminological perspective, or the application of criminological thought to environmental issues. As elsewhere in criminology, this means thinking about offences (what crimes or harms are inflicted on the environment, and how), offenders (who commits crime against the environment, and why) and victims (who suffers as a result of environmental damage, and how), and also about responses to environmental crimes: policing, punishment and crime prevention. On a more theoretical level, green criminology is interested in the social, economic and political conditions that lead to environmental crimes; on a philosophical level it is concerned with which types of harms should be considered as ‘crimes’ and therefore within the remit of a green criminology.”

The opening quotation for Issues in Green Criminology nicely lays the groundwork for what the editors want to accomplish. NYU’s distinguished professor Dale Jamieson writes

“The addiction to beef that is characteristic of people in the industrialised countries is not only a moral atrocity for animals but also causes health problems for consumers, reduces grain supplies for the poor, precipitates social divisions in developing countries, contributes to climate change, leads to the conversion of forests to pasture lands, is a causal factor in overgrazing, and is implicated in the destruction of native plants and animals. If there is one issue on which animal liberationists and environmentalists should speak with a single voice it is on this issue.” —Morality’s Progress, p. 46.

I added the last italicized sentence to what is offered in the book because it relates to what I write below about compassionate conservation and the  One Health initiative. The 12 chapters of this book are divided into three sections following an Introduction by the editors. The range of topics is staggering and it’s well worth seeing the breadth of what the authors cover.2 Clearly, they delve into an incredibly broad range of topics that at first glance don’t seem to be all that related, but, in fact, they truly are.

Green criminology, One Health, and compassionate conservation share common goals: Where to from here?

It was, and remains difficult for me to synthesize all that I read in this seminal book, but one message rang true as I went through the chapters and made detailed notes, namely, that harms against environments, humans, and other animals are all interrelated, Two ways in which I was able to make sense of all of the information was to cash it out in terms of the rapidly growing global field of compassionate conservation, in which the interests of all stakeholders are taken into account, and the One Health approach, “a way of looking at the world that helps humans to see and acknowledge that humans, other species, and the natural environment are all related to one another.3 These three pillars of One Health are completely entwined—if we harm one of these three pillars, all three are harmed.” 

People often criticize those who work on behalf of nonhumans by asking something like, “How dare you work with nonhumans when so many humans need help?” I always say that the life of every individual matters and in today’s challenging world the only way forward is to pay careful attention to the plight of nonhumans, humans, and their homes. I hope that one day nonhumans will be recognized as property ownersWhen they’re are granted the right to own their homes, rather than merely renting them from us on our terms and whims, it will be a gamechanger for fostering coexistence in which they and we are partners, rather than adversaries.

I hope that as time moves on more and more people globally will adopt this collaborative and multidisciplinary approach that characterizes Green Criminology, compassionate conservation, and the One Health approach, all of which that stress how important it is to work locally, nationally, and globally. They also recognize that we humans are just one of the gang, all of whom must work together for a better future for all beings and their homes.

Adopting these three eclectic transdisciplinary perspectives that converge on common themes—although these close relationships haven’t previously been explicitly recognized as far as I can determine—surely will be a win-win for all if they are the unwavering wave of future.

Featured Image: The One Health Triad, Source: Thddbfk, Wikipedia, Creative Commons



1) The book’s description reads: Issues in Green Criminology: confronting harms against environments, humanity and other animals aims to provide, if not a manifesto, then at least a significant resource for thinking about green criminology, a rapidly developing field. 

It offers a set of specially written introductions and a variety of current and new directions, wide-ranging in scope and international in terms of coverage and contributors. It provides focused discussions of current and cutting edge issues that will influence the emergence of a coherent perspective on green issues. The contributors are drawn from the leading thinkers in the field. The twelve chapters of the book explore the myriad ways in which governments, transnational corporations, military apparatuses and ordinary people going about their everyday lives routinely harm environments, other animals and humanity. 

The book will be essential reading not only for students taking courses in colleges and universities but also for activists in the environmental and animal rights movements. Its concern is with an ever-expanding agenda – the whys, the hows and the whens of the generation and control of the many aspects of harm to environments, ecological systems and all species of animals, including humans. These harms include, but are not limited to, exploitation, modes of discrimination and disempowerment, degradation, abuse, exclusion, pain, injury, loss and suffering. Straddling and intersecting these many forms of harm are key concepts for a green criminology such as gender inequalities, racism, dominionism and speciesism, classism, the north/south divide, the accountability of science, and the ethics of global capitalist expansion. 

Green criminology has the potential to provide not only a different way of examining and making sense of various forms of crime and control responses (some well known, others less so) but can also make explicable much wider connections that are not generally well understood. As all societies face up to the need to confront harms against environments, other animals and humanity, criminology will have a major role to play. This book will be an essential part of this process.

2) The table of contents for Issues in Green Criminology reads: Part 1: Introduction to Green Criminology  1. Ecology, community and justice: The meaning of green, Ted Benton  2. Green criminology and the pursuit of social and ecological justice, Rob White  3. Animal rights, animal abuse and green criminology, Piers Beirne; Part 2: Animal Rights and Animal Abuse  4. Labelling animals. Non-speciesist criminology and techniques to identify other animals, Geertrui Cazaux  5. Vivisection: The case for abolition, Tom Regan  6. Debating ‘animal rights’ on-line: The movement-countermovement dialectic, Roger Yates; and Part 3: Ecological Systems and Environmental Harms  7. At risk: Climate change and its bearing on women’s vulnerability to male violence, Sandra Wachholz  8. Crime, regulation and radioactive waste in the United Kingdom, Reece Walters  9. Food crime, Hazel Croall  10. The ‘corporate colonisation of nature’: Bio-prospecting, bio-piracy and the development of green criminology, Nigel South  11. Green criminology in the United States, Michael J. Lynch and Paul Stretesky  12. Eco-crime and formal and informal law-enforcement in South Africa, Maria Hauck.

3) Numerous references about compassionate conservation can be found in Compassionate Conservation, Sentience, and Personhood

Bekoff, Marc. Why People Should Care About Animal and Human Suffering. (In the future, we must pay attention to the plight of nonhumans and humans.)

_____. World Animal Day: Compassion, Freedom, and Justice for All.

_____. Murdering Animals: A Book About Social and Species Justice. (Piers Beirne writes about theriocide, speciesism, personhood, and animal rights.)

_____. Life In the Compassionoscene, Freedom and Justice For All. (Coexistence in the Anthropocene and beyond rests on compassion for all beings.)

_____. United Nations Harmony with Nature Stresses Justice for All. (The United Nations harmony with nature dialogue focuses on Earth Jurisprudence.)

_____. Food Justice and Personal Rewilding as Social Movements

_____. Why Justice for Animals Is the Social Movement of Our Time. (Reflections from a human rights doctor (guest essay by Dr. Hope Ferdowsian.)

_____. Thomas Berry: Reflecting on Emotions, Heart and Conservation. (An analysis of this great thinker’s views on our relationships with Earth.)

_____. Impersonating Animals: Speciesism, Rhetoric, and Ecofeminism. (S. Marek Muller writes on race, gender, class, sexuality, and ability.)

_____. ‘Animaladies: Gender, Animals, and Madness’.

_____. Urban Animals Work Hard to Adapt and We Must Be Kind to Them.

_____. Neighborly Animals Offer Valuable Lessons About Coexistence. (As animals come to town in the Anthropause, changes occur for them and for us.)

_____. Compassionate Conservation: A Green Conversation

Bradshaw, Karen. Wildlife as Property Owners: A New Conception of Animal Rights. University of Chicago Press, 2020. 

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