Green Criminology: An Intriguing Discipline, Related to Ponerology, Studying Environmental Harm

Posted by admin on April 1, 2013

When I first learned about ponerology, I experienced a huge epiphany. Suddenly, I was aware of one field that in one word brought together tens, if not hundreds, of disparate threads that I’d been tracing and trying to communicate about throughout my life. The power of that insight drove me to write extensively about the topic and to start this website.

One of the bonuses of running and promoting this site is that, in the course of doing so, a lot of relevant ideas and people come to my attention. And, once in a while, another whole field of study, related to ponerology, that also brings together many disparate threads, becomes known to me.

This happened recently.

Several weeks ago, I wrote about a study led by criminal justice professor Volkan Topalli. After publishing that piece, I found and followed Dr. Topalli on Twitter. Soon after that, Dr. Topalli retweeted a tweet by the criminology division of the publisher Routledge about a new book, the Routledge International Handbook of Green Criminology.

Green Criminology?

The term intrigued me and I was motivated to do a little more research on it. I’ll share with you some of what I found shortly. But first I’d like to provide some context regarding how this topic relates with the wide-ranging audience interested in ponerology.

I know that, among those drawn to ponerology by a desire to understand the roots of what they consider “evil” behavior, there are those of all political stripes holding every possible view on environmental issues.

There are those who believe that:

There are some who:

Others believe that

And there are many who hold some combination of these views on the subject or still other views entirely.

In my case, concern about ecological sustainability was very instrumental in propelling me along the path that brought me to ponerology. The work of Daniel Quinn and Derrick Jensen, in particular, influenced me to focus, at a relatively young age, on the damage engendered on many levels by a cultural mindset, sanctioning infinite growth in spite of finite natural resources, that has become the basis for our economic system and both shaped and been shaped by deeply unhealthy psychological attitudes and belief systems – and, quite possibly, by those with pathological conditions.

During the many years spent following up on the ideas Quinn and Jensen helped introduce to me, I explored, from every angle I could, the environmental debates and the many subjects they involve. Over time, I’ve come to a deeper understanding of people who approach environmentalism from a variety of different perspectives.

The epiphany that I experienced upon discovering ponerology sprung in part from the fact that it clarified a mindset regarding questions about the emergence of harm that were woven through myriad areas that concerned me and to which I was having great difficulty formulating an approach. It embodied the idea that our starting point should be to learn all that we can about the scientific facts relating to these questions. While conceding that we will never know everything we need to know to make perfect decisions, it argues that maximizing our systematic, objective knowledge will provide us the firmest basis on which to make them.

When I saw Topalli’s retweet about the Routledge International Handbook of Green Criminology, that term – green criminology – provoked in me another similar epiphany.

We may not, in the near future, all come to agree on either what is really happening environmentally or what we should do about it. But hopefully many of us can at least agree that we should establish, to the best of our ability, the facts regarding any egregiously reckless malicious or negligent behavior implicated in ecosystem damage and the people involved in it. Green criminology sounded to me like a field devoted to doing just that from a scientific perspective.

So I did some searching to learn about what green criminology is and what resources are available for people that want to know more or get involved.

One of the first resources I found is the website. This site is run by the International Green Criminology Working Group (IGCWG), which is “a group of academic professionals, students, and others that practice Green Criminology and collaborate on projects and discussions” and was crowdfunded through a Kickstarter campaign that featured the video below.

The IGCWG define green criminology as “the analysis of environmental harms from a criminological perspective, or the application of criminological thought to environmental issues.” Basically, according to the brief explanation featured on their “What is Green Criminology?” page, it concentrates on questions such as:

I then found that University of Colorado Denver, through their School of Public Affairs, supports a research working group on green criminology.

Of course, the Routledge International Handbook of Green Criminology, which was where I first came across the term, looks like a thorough overview of the subject.

And Amazon also features some other books when I do a search for "green criminology". Some of the ones that look interesting include:

It’s somewhat surprising to me that, despite all the investigation I’ve done of pathological conditions and environmental issues, as well as their overlap, I’d never even heard the term “green criminology” before.

Derrick Jensen has explicitly linked our culture’s high level of environmental damage to the influence of psychopathy and has written thousands and thousands of pages and done countless talks on these issues. Yet even in all of his work that I’ve read, seen and heard, I don’t recall him using the term “green criminology.”

I’m thankful that, through promoting this site, I came across people who were able to finally bring it to my attention.

I hope to have more experiences like that in the future. And I am looking forward to learning more about green criminology.

I realize that not everyone interested in ponerology will be similarly interested in this angle on it. Some may even disagree with green criminology’s basic premises for various reasons (though I think, if they take a closer look at some of the writing on, they may find some of their concerns are addressed more openly than they would have expected). And that’s fine. The goal of this site is simply to bring information related to ponerology to people’s attention. From there, they can do with that information what they wish.

But I believe green criminology is a discipline that anyone who cares about ponerology should at least be aware of.  It shines a light on what has often been a blind spot in the consideration of evil. Those who commit “evil” in which the damage is externalized to the broader environment, even if it then indirectly harms a large number of people, have been able, relatively, to escape notice as compared with those who do damage directly to even a small number of others. A tighter integration with green criminology may help correct this imbalance within ponerology’s perspective.

At the same time, I think those interested in green criminology should be aware of ponerology because the information it helps reveal can potentially inspire a more profound level of understanding about why the harmful events that field studies come to pass.

It’s always exciting for me to see connections and relationships develop amongst people with overlapping interests of great depth that pertain to improving health and sustainability. I hope this article will help catalyze some new connections and relationships between the emerging green criminology and ponerology communities. Not everyone in those communities will see eye to eye on every topic. But, surely, there are many within them who will find common ground and can share with each other a good deal of meaningful dialogue and support.

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