Ecocentrism and criminal justice

AuthorRob White
DOI10.1177/1362480618787178
Publication Date01 August 2018
Date01 August 2018
SubjectArticles
https://doi.org/10.1177/1362480618787178
Theoretical Criminology
2018, Vol. 22(3) 342 –362
© The Author(s) 2018
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DOI: 10.1177/1362480618787178
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Ecocentrism and criminal
justice
Rob White
University of Tasmania, Australia
Abstract
Ecocentrism refers to valuing nature for its own sake. This ecophilosophical orientation
requires that all social practices incorporate ecological sensitivities and heightened
awareness of the intrinsic value of non-human entities. This article explores what
ecocentrism means for criminal justice and how the core principles of an ecocentric
worldview translate into concrete application. Trends within criminal justice that
are broadly supportive or reflective of ecocentrism are summarized. The article also
considers the limitations of ecocentrism, particularly in the context of criminal law and
in regards to the prosecution of human subjects for environmental offences. A basic
premise of the article is that for those interested in eco-justice and green criminology, it
is vitally important to describe what an eco-just future might look like, and this includes
recognition of and support for already existing ecocentric initiatives evident in some
policies and practices across criminal justice institutions.
Keywords
Criminal justice, ecocentrism, environmental harm, green criminology, intrinsic value
Introduction
Ecocentrism refers to valuing nature for its own sake. This ecophilosophical orientation
requires that all social practices incorporate ecological sensitivities and heightened
awareness of the intrinsic value of flora, fauna, ecosystems and non-living entities, such
as rivers and mountains. The aim of this article, then, is to explore what ecocentrism
means for criminal justice and how the core principles of an ecocentric worldview
Corresponding author:
Rob White, University of Tasmania, Private Bag 22, Hobart, Tasmania 7001, Australia.
Email: R.D.White@utas.edu.au
787178TCR0010.1177/1362480618787178Theoretical CriminologyWhite
research-article2018
Article
White 343
translate into concrete application. The impetus for this is twofold. First, while perspec-
tives such as green criminology are generally good at providing critique and exposing
injustice, when it comes to environmental crimes and harms, the tendency has been to
react to existing trends and issues rather than promote alternative courses of action or
the adoption of proactive measures (Lynch et al., 2017; South and Brisman, 2013;
White and Heckenberg, 2014). The challenge, therefore, is to construct a vision of ‘what
could be’ as well as to criticize aspects of ‘what is’. Certainly for those interested in
eco-justice and green criminology, this means describing what an eco-just future might
look like, which includes consideration of ecocentric forms of criminal justice. It also
involves recognition of and support for already existing ecocentric initiatives evident in
some policies and practices across the criminal justice institutions.
Second, while acknowledging the voluminous literature on environmental, species
and ecological justice (Schlosberg, 2007; White, 2013), the emphasis herein is less on
the philosophies of eco-justice than the doing of eco-justice. Accordingly, the concern
in this article is with exploring how the instruments of criminal justice (including the
regulatory apparatus of the state, as well as its enforcement and judicial arms) might
best reflect ecocentric principles. Abstract discussion of justice and ecology serves to
provide the conceptual and moral foundations of eco-justice. But at the end of the day,
eco-justice only really finds purchase when it is manifest in specific institutional
practices—that is, when it is embedded in specific legislation, policy, programmes
and budget allocations.
Previous commentary has pointed to the shortcomings of regulation, enforcement and
sanctioning processes when it comes to dealing with environmental crime (Du Rees,
2001; White, 2011); indeed, the limits of criminal justice are well known and are stand-
ard fare within green criminological literature. What is less discussed, however, are the
opportunities and contemporary developments that offer hope that positive action around
these issues is in fact possible, notwithstanding criticisms of past and present institu-
tional efforts in this area.
The article has three parts. The first section outlines ecocentrism as a concept and
orientation. It does this by contrasting ecocentrism and anthropocentrism and identifying
key principles. It includes discussion of the indicia by which criminal justice systems can
be evaluated with respect to ecocentric practice. The next section summarizes trends
within criminal justice that are broadly supportive or reflective of ecocentrism, with
specific attention given to exemplary sentencing practices by a specialist environment
court. In the final section, the article considers the limitations of ecocentrism, particu-
larly in the context of criminal law and in regards to the prosecution of human subjects
for environmental offences.
Ecocentrism
Ecocentrism refers to the view that the environment ought to be valued for its own
sake apart from any instrumental or utilitarian value to humans (Berry, 1999; Preston,
2011). There are a number of concepts and propositions that form the core philosophi-
cal concerns of an ecocentric perspective although these are interpreted differently by
commentators (De Lucia, 2015) and include notions of the intrinsic value of nature,

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