The dull anger of environmental crime



Posted on 03 December 2012  | 
by David Higgins, Manager of Interpol Environmental Crime Programme

Early in my career when I was an officer with the Tasmanian Police Service, I saw people in my community in all different emotional states. That was the start of my understanding of what drives individuals and what drives a community. Now leading the Environmental Crime Programme at Interpol, I have found that as a global community, we need to broaden our thinking of who the criminals are and what a victim is.

If you’re the victim of a burglary - someone breaks into your house, or steals your car – it hurts. When someone steals from you it hurts. You get upset. You get really passionate about it because they have taken from you as an individual. You think, “How dare they violate my rights, take my property.” You get mad, you call the police and you demand a reaction.

Now perhaps you have forests outside your city, forests that you enjoy from time to time. If you’re in Asia and those forests are tiger habitat, you maybe see a tiger once every year or every two. Now imagine that somebody kills that tiger. When you hear you think, “Aw, someone killed the tiger, that’s a shame.” But when you go home and find that someone has broken into your house do you think “Aw that’s a shame?” No. You’re furious. And that’s the difference between environmental crime and other crimes and why it’s perceived to be victimless. The problem is that if there are no tigers left, the emotion will be less sharp within us. It makes us angry, but it’s a dull anger.

We don’t like to hear that we are vulnerable; we think we are strong. But we are not victimless; criminals are stealing our natural resources, they are destroying our environment and we ultimately need it to live. If we don’t have the air, the water, the soil and the biodiversity then we are dead. But we don’t have that sharpness in our emotion.

Environmental crime is individuals within our community that are stealing from us as people. They are taking from our future and from our future generations. We as human beings don’t take sufficient ownership of our environment, but we are beginning to. I have seen a lot of community groups starting to take responsibility for their environment and their biodiversity and they get very upset about the theft of this.

There are many countries around the world where thieves are stealing our natural resources, like timber or fish, on a daily basis. The criminals are exploiting us by sending out their fishing vessels to steal our fish stocks, for example. You think that doesn’t hurt you, but actually it does. Because they aren’t paying taxes and therefore they are not building up our school systems or our roads.

So that pothole that you drive over on your way to work every day doesn’t get fixed because that person is not paying their taxes like you do. They are stealing our fish, they are stealing our timber, they are killing our wildlife and that’s why that pothole is there. When you get a flat tire from driving over that pothole, don’t blame the government, think about why they don’t have the money to fix it. Because criminals are stealing timber and not giving the government the money that they should be.

The government is representatives of our community. If you think that environmental security is important, then your community needs to empower the government to address it. The government can be lobbied and convinced to do it. Everybody is at risk here. We are all collective victims of the issue and all have a stake in solving it. We need to start feeling that way, to feel the emotion of people stealing from us.

I would like to see a significant enhancement in the way that we as a global community consider environmental security. The environment is not something that’s just there for us to exploit. If you saw someone breaking into your house you’d chase them down the road, but it’s not a social norm for us to confront someone who is littering or is destroying our environment. I’d like to see a change so that we all start thinking more community-oriented, rather than focusing on the individual.

We are changing as a global community, but we need to recognize that it’s a shared environment. My organization Interpol hopes to have a valuable part in helping the world realize this. Combating criminality is ultimately about protecting what we value: the safety of our community. That’s what we are doing from an environmental point of view.


David Higgins, Manager of Interpol Environmental Crime Programme
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