Re-defining environmental harms: green criminology and the state of Canada's hemp industry.

AuthorTourangeau, Wesley


How should environmental harms be defined? Moreover, is it possible to draw a clear line for what can be considered environmentally harmful? Criminologists have been grappling with these types of questions for over two decades in the subdiscipline of green criminology, (2) a body of literature "that takes its focus from issues relating to the environment (in the widest sense possible) and social harm (as defined in ecological as well as strictly legal terms)" (White and Heckenberg 2014: 1). The present article moves beyond defining actions as strictly illegal or legal, harmful or harmless, extending the conceptual boundaries of harm to everyday activities, structures, and ideas. Brisman (2010) and Halsey (1997, 2004b) both provide important examples of environmental issues, exploring harms caused by restrictions to environmentally beneficial (or at least benign) activities, and environmentally damaging activities which are incorporated into the context of the legal and commonplace. The purpose of this article is to continue extending the definition of environmental harm by highlighting public perception, regulation, and technological development as social structures that limit (legally) the wider uptake of a resource that offers countless potential benefits to the environment.

The industrial hemp sector, in Canada and globally, faces both unique and typical challenges with regard to agriculture, trade, markets, and so forth. However, it is hemp's uniqueness as a food and fibre crop associated with illicit drug production that is the focus of this study. The discourses surrounding hemp, currently and historically, merit critical attention regarding their impacts on the plant's social construction. Further, an exploration of these impacts offers important insights for how we understand environmental harms. The intention of this article is to help open up green criminology to "new discursive and extra-discursive pathways" for defining environmental harms (Halsey 2004a: 849), effectively following up on Halsey's (2004a) notable critique of modernist thought applied in green criminology. This approach to environmental harm helps move green criminology toward an acategorical (3) frame that disengages limitations on what is considered harmful and harmless. Following Halsey (2004a), concepts from postmodernism and poststructuralism are applied in this application of a green criminology perspective.

Green criminology

Gary Potter (2012) describes green criminology as "the analysis of environmental harms from a criminological perspective, or the application of criminological thought to environmental issues." Green criminology offers an interdisciplinary approach to analysing harms to the environment, focusing on "understandings of context, culture, law, economics and science" (South 2007: 243). Nigel South (1998: 212) refers to green criminology as a "green perspective" applied in the field of criminology; a viewpoint that can adopt several different theoretical positions, "including Marxism, feminism, anthropology, functionalism or postmodernism," that are capable of analysing environmental issues. Within green criminology, there are scholars focusing on actions that violate existing laws and others pursuing a wider approach that acknowledges environmental harms beyond legal definitions (South, Brisman, and Beime 2013). Defining the boundaries of what is considered environmentally harmful or environmentally benign is of particular interest to this study.

The impetus of a "green" perspective in criminology can be credited, at least in part, to Michael Lynch's (1990) Tire Greening of Criminology: A Perspective for the 1990s. Since 1990, several authors have contributed to establishing a green perspective for criminology, many of whom are included in South and Beime's (2006) Green Criminology and Rob White's (2009) Environmental Crime: A Reader. More recent contributions include Rob White's (2013) Environmental Harm: An Eco-justice Perspective and South and Avi Brisman's (2013) edited volume, the Routledge International Handbook of Green Criminology, which catalogues a range of recent works in the field. (4) Although this growing compilation of work continues to contribute new and important understandings of environmental harm, there remains insufficient engagement with a postmodernist/poststructuralist (5) vision of green criminology, most notably exposed by Mark Halsey (2004a).

Initially in complete disagreement with the use of the term green criminology, Halsey (2013) appears less attached to this position in recent writing. Nevertheless, there remain several important criticisms Halsey (2004a) has made beyond the naming of the subdiscipline. Using insights from poststructuralism, Halsey (2004a: 845) calls for an alternative terrain in green criminology, with a "nuanced account of human/ environmental interaction" that dismantles current understandings of "harm" and "nature," which carry ideological and normative weight. An example of the type of issues such a terrain would explore is clear-cutting old growth forests for the production of paper instead of using a renewable, sustainable resource like hemp (Halsey 1997). Normatively entrenched, these actions are legal and part of a complex system of extensive paper production which utilizes readily accessible and economically efficient resources. A means for challenging systematic environmental harms like the production of paper from old growth forests comes from Halsey's (2004a) conceptualization of environmental harm which problematizes notions of what is considered "real," "proper," or "authentic." According to Halsey (2004a: 847), the key is to "invent concepts which allow one to escape the image of thought which governs what is possible and not possible to do and say with respect to 'the environment.'" The concept of the image of thought is appropriated from the work of Gilles Deleuze (1994) and is usefully applied here to conceptualize the discourses structuring the basis of thought and reasoning, the images of "truth" that constitute what is possible and rational. In this view, the clear-cutting of old-growth forests is challenged as it is not justifiable to adopt the practice for paper production. Contemporary views of the environment are predetermined by various subjective images of what is considered harmful or benign, worth exploiting or worth preserving. The disengagement from such images is a complicated task, but steps toward achieving this are made through a discussion of Canada's industrial hemp sector. Experiences from Canada's hemp industry shed light on the alternative directions of development needed to offer benefits (relative to comparable resource applications) to the environment. This approach to green criminology has important connections to other developments in criminology.

Constitutive criminology (see Henry and Milovanovic 1991) and chaos criminology (see Takemura 2010) offer useful approaches for understanding crime that match well with Halsey's (2004a: 849) dilemma as to "how to think beyond crime as a useful category of thought." Henry and Milovanovic (1991, 2000) offer a vision of crime that draws from postmodernist concepts (as well as several other critical social theories). Particularly applicable to the present article is the idea that "crime is both in and of society" (Henry and Milovanovic 1991: 307). Human agents are active participants in the production of what it means to be criminal and harmful and it is this mode of discourse that needs reimagining and replacing (Henry and Milovanovic 1991). For Halsey (2004a), this may be articulated as a rewriting of the world with newly invented concepts that escape the categorizing of what is understood to be harmful. Further, Noriyoshi Takemura's (2010: 220) application of chaos criminology (developed from chaos and complexity theories) acknowledges the importance of "uncertainty, randomness, flux, absurdity, chance, and irony." Chaos criminology operates outside of grand narratives, with an ever contingent and augmenting concept of social justice that is concerned more about justice for the social whole than for the individual (Takemura 2010). Halsey's (2005) postmodernist/poststructuralist approach to the environment mirrors this view: a continuously mutable conception of nature, constantly in flux. This article engages with these concepts to open up the definition of environmental harm in hopes of facilitating a greater diversity of understanding.

Brisman (2010: 62) usefully captures the push toward opening up the definition of environmental harm with the assertion that "green criminology must continue to consider the ways in which environmental harms, regardless of their origin, stem from and are permitted by particular relations of power and selective criminalisation." It is essential to look beyond legal definitions and acknowledge the multitude of definable environmental harms that are permitted and even promoted. Legal activities such as large-scale intensive farming and clear-cutting forests are normalized and have become integrated into social and economic structures. Brisman (2010) and Halsey (1997) extend our understanding of environmental harm by recognizing the criminalization of activities which provide environmental benefits. Brisman (2010) examines the legal sanctions faced by pedicab drivers, the human-powered and environmentally friendly vehicle alternative. Pedicab drivers face fines, police harassment, stigmatization, and marginalization instead of being embraced as a sustainable means of transport (Brisman 2010). Halsey (1997), as well as Brisman (2010), identifies the prohibition of hemp farming as an unnecessary restriction of a widely beneficial crop both environmentally and economically (6). These examples of criminalized environmental benefits are important illustrations from which I extend conceptualizations of environmental harm. I...

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