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Risk and Environmental Victimisation


White, R, Risk and Environmental Victimisation, Risk and Social Theory in Environmental Management, CSIRO Publishing, T Measham and S Lockie (ed), Collingwood, Australia, pp. 27-39. ISBN 978-0-6431-0412-9 (2012) [Research Book Chapter]

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Copyright 2012 CSIRO

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A recent incident in Hungary provides a tragic illustration of what transnational environmental harm really means. A thick red torrent of toxic sludge burst from a reservoir at a metals plant 100 km south of Budapest in early October 2010. At least nine people died as a result of the sludge surge, some went missing and over 100 persons were physically injured as the toxic substance flowed into nearby villages and towns. The sludge reached the Danube River several days later, from where it could flow into six other European countries - Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Moldova - before reaching the Black Sea. An ecological and social disaster for Hungary thus simultaneously posed an environmental threat to surrounding countries and their human inhabitants, ecosystems and animal life.

What happens in one country can, in many cases, affect people, ecosystems and animals well beyond that country's borders. Harm and risk of harm are frequently and increasingly transnational in character.

How to interpret, respond to and prevent such events is part of the mandate of soial scientists with an interest in analysing existing and future threats to environmental well-being. Certainly matters of time, space and scale are relevant. For example, risks and harms may be direct or indirect, and their consequences may be felt in the immediate or in the long term. Harm may be specific to local areas (e.g. threats to certain species, such as coral in the Great Barrier Reef) yet manifest as part of a general global pattern (e.g. an effect of wide-scale temperature changes affecting coral everywhere). Harm is central, but this may be unintentional (in the sense of being a byproduct of some other agenda) or premeditated (insofar as the negative outcome, for some, is foreseen). The demise of polar bears due to the impact of global warming in the Arctic is an example of the former. The displacement of local inhabitants from their land due to carbon sequestration schemes is an example of the latter.

The intention of this chapter is to explore environmentally related risks by analysing current trends and patterns of victimisation including responses to victimisation, from the point of view of eco-global criminology (White 2011). Rather than being restricted by the limitations of the legal/illegal divide, this perspective asserts the precedence of 'the ecological' and ecological justice - the idea that ecological systems should be diverse and productive over time, and that there ought to be an equitable and just future for all. This means assessing 'harm' in many different contexts and guises, regardless of legal status and existing institutional legitimations. Questions of risk and potential harm are not simply technical in nature. Rather, as demonstrated in this chapter, risk tends to be apportioned to certain groups of people more than others. Environmental risk and social inequality frequently go hand-in-hand. Moreover, substantive potential harms are increasing in likelihood as a result of global warming.

Item Details

Item Type:Research Book Chapter
Research Division:Human Society
Research Group:Political science
Research Field:Environmental politics
Objective Division:Law, Politics and Community Services
Objective Group:Justice and the law
Objective Field:Justice and the law not elsewhere classified
UTAS Author:White, R (Professor Rob White)
ID Code:77775
Year Published:2012
Deposited By:Sociology and Social Work
Deposited On:2012-05-28
Last Modified:2014-08-11

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