Environmental Harm: An Eco-Justice Perspective

Environmental Harm: An Eco-Justice Perspective

Author: Rob White
Publisher: Bristol, UK: Policy Press, 2013. 216p.
Reviewer: Christopher J. Moloney | January 2015

As interest in environmental crimes and harms has grown over the last two decades; and so has the field of “green criminology”—an umbrella perspective under which numerous approaches for studying the intersection of environment, harm, crime, law and human action converge. There are few scholars whose names are as synonymous with the fields of green criminology and the study of environmental harm as is Rob White’s. He has written and published extensively on both topics. One of his latest contributions, Environmental Harm: An Eco-Justice Perspective continues to refine the conceptual and theoretical boundaries of green criminology and the study of environmental problems.

The core argument in Environmental Harm is that the concept of “social harm,” contested as it is, is one that provides scholars the necessary flexibility to draw into focus both criminal and non-criminal events that negatively impact the environment, human populations and non-human species and whose origins stem from human actions or inactions (p.1-3). White situates his focus on social harm in relation to the notion of justice — that is, via the idea that harms produce injustices. Connecting harm to the principle of justice, a key foci of green criminology, is at the foundation of an “eco-justice” perspective.  

White’s eco-justice perspective, which incorporates the environmental, ecological and species justice orientations commonly found throughout green criminological work, exposes “different instances of substantive social and environmental injustice,” or harm (6). Concepts like “human, ecological and animal rights, and broad egalitarian principles” are at the core of the eco-justice perspective. Thus, the key distinguishing feature of an eco-justice approach for studying harms, and environmental harms in particular, from other views of harm, is that the eco-justice perspective emphasizes the “object of the harm” or injustice—in other words, it focuses on the victims (8).  

The bulk of Environmental Harm: An Eco-Justice Perspective is devoted to exploring the three aforementioned orientations to justice and injustice, which are encapsulated within a larger eco-justice framework (i.e., environmental, ecological, species). Key points from these chapters include in-depth discussions of how notions of harm differ between the three approaches, and other general differences in orientation and subject matter. If one has read White’s prior contributions, then much of the work in these sections will have a familiar ring to it. The book concludes with a summation of the three justice approaches. How each focuses on a distinct group or population as the victim of concern is highlighted. Several key takeaway points from the final chapter include:

(1) People working under a green criminology heading and others studying environmental harms and crimes should be careful to acknowledge the assumptions underlying their approach, and clarify how their perspective may conflict or differ from the multitude of other potential perspectives available.

(2) With any approach to studying environmental harms, injustices and victims, it is crucial that we not divorce our analyses from larger political-economic contexts and social forces.

Environmental Harm: An Eco-Justice Perspective is a concise and practical read that handily summarizes key arguments and debates that any green criminologist or environmental harm researcher should be aware of. It should find a place on the bookshelves of many scholars.

Chris Moloney, Instructor, Department of Sociology, http://sociology.colostate.edu
The Center for the Study of Crime and Justice, http://cscj.colostate.edu/green-criminology
Colorado State University, Ft. Collins, CO

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