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In recent decades, ‘environmental protection’ has become a topic of marked academic and political debate, particularly concerning the vested interest of the state and the role of powerful corporate entities in influencing the passing and enforcement of relevant legal provisions and regulations. Although the widespread legal and political attention now being focused on environmental harms is a relatively new phenomenon, it is not without historical antecedents. McMurry and Ramsey (1986) describe how in 14th-century England, the Crown prescribed capital punishment for Englishmen who defied a royal proclamation on smoke abatement.

In recent years, authors from sociological and criminological backgrounds have joined the legal debate on environmental protection by marshalling radical arguments to the effect that social harms often derive from powerful social elites. Stretesky et al (2014) have recently stimulated this discussion by adapting Schnaiberg’s (1980) ‘treadmill of production’ to the question of ecological destruction. Their resulting ‘treadmill of crime’ model grounds ‘green crimes’ in the contemporary capitalistic imperative to increase production and the unimpeded pursuit of such production. Green crimes are defined by Stretesky et al (2014) widely as incorporating harms that are not officially criminalised.

Commentators (see Shapiro, 2012) have highlighted many examples of how environmental protection has often come second place to combined state and corporate power interests. One example comes from the Nigerian Delta, where, since 1950, oil exploitations by Royal Dutch Shell have had dramatic effects on the local environment, its human and animal populations, and, in particular, the indigenous Ogoni people.

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