13. Green Criminology

13.7 The Ecological Justice Perspective

Dr. Gregory Simmons; Dr. Mark Vardy; and Dr. Rochelle Stevenson

Under an ecological justice orientation, the domain of ethical concern is broadened still further. Here, victims are not restricted to living organisms in themselves—be they human, animal, or plant. Rather, “natural objects” (Stone, 1972) like lakes or mountains, as well as “nonhuman environmental entities” (Cullinan, 2003) such as ecosystems, are regarded as entities deserving of protection and preservation in their own right. Under this view, the natural systems in which humans are embedded are conceived of not merely as property to be owned or resources to be exploited and commodified, but as beings possessed of rights and inherent value in themselves. Our relationship with them and our capacity to impact them in profound ways mean we bear a stewardship responsibility for their preservation and conservation (White & Heckenberg, 2014)

The standing of such entities has begun to be legally recognised through a rights framework. For example, in March 2017, the Whanganui River in New Zealand, was granted its own legal identity, “with the rights, duties and liabilities of a legal person” (Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act 2017). The river is of special and profound spiritual importance to the Māori people. The passage of the Treaty of Waitangi marked an effort to recognise the river’s status as taonga (loosely translated as “special treasure”) by the Māori, concluding 140 years of negotiations between the Māori and the New Zealand settler government and marking the conclusion of the longest-running legal case in New Zealand’s history. Whereas the granting of legal personhood to a non-human being may strike some as strange, it should be noted that this is already commonplace under Western law, which recognises the legal personhood of registered corporations of Western jurisprudence; the guardians appointed by local Māori to speak on the river’s behalf and take part in its co-management with the Crown bear a fiduciary responsibility similar to trustees or the board of directors of a corporation. Under the 2017 law, Te Awa Tupua was recognised as an “indivisible and living whole, comprising the Whanganui River from the mountains to the sea, incorporating all its physical and metaphysical elements” (Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act 2017, s. 12). In this way, we see the holistic ecological justice perspective of Maori incorporated into the western legal system, with the goal of protecting the “spirit” of the river and all the beings connected to it. See Using legislation to designate mountains and rivers as a people for a discussion on how legislation is used to designate mountains and rivers as a people.

Table 13.2: The Three Justice Perspectives of Green Criminology
Environmental Justice
  •  Justice as grounded in overcoming the disproportionate impact of environmental harms on marginalized groups in society (defined in terms of race, gender, class or other factors and their intersection)
  • Anthropocentric orientation
Species Justice
  • Justice as concerned with living creatures having intrinsic value and the rights, obligations and duties owed to them as a result
  • Biocentric orientation
Ecological Justice
  •  Justice as recognizing that while humans inevitably impact natural entities and the natural world, they are worthy of protection in their own right and not just as resources to be exploited or used instrumentally
  • Ecocentric orientation


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Introduction to Criminology Copyright © 2023 by Dr. Gregory Simmons; Dr. Mark Vardy; and Dr. Rochelle Stevenson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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