Environmental crimes scrutiny should focus on the whiteness factor

Yes, I ethnicized this declaration, yes, I’m white, and you think I’m a self-loathing case to dismiss. My truth though, is worldwide white (or white-approved) elites alongside wild biodiversity destruction. It’s self-reflection, self-improvement and self-responsibility.

Which is why I was so excited about the FITS (International Forum on Security Technologies) Forum 2015 that took place on Monday and Tuesday in Nimes, the first conference of its kind in France to tackle environmental crime, targeting the responsibility of the economic realm and specifically businesses, a potentially much more actionable and graspable level of environmental damage repression than the national responsibility discussions on greenhouse gases emissions about to take place next month in Paris (see COP21).

A bold stance: Daringly, criminalization of a practice characteristically western, was the topic “du jour.” These crimes affect not only environmental security, but economic, health, social, climate and geopolitical security for entire regions, according to the “Nimes Call” launched by Laurent Neyret on this occasion.

Land grabbing, waste and e-waste dumping, illegal logging, threats to fauna and flora… all contribute to fostering poverty and therefore local mafias that will serve bigger actors in a vicious cycle. The law professor goes to mention that in poor countries “these exactions are sometimes a matter of economic survival.” Products from this trade go straight to the western world, which is not always to our benefit: according to Davyth Stewart (a criminal intelligence officer with the International Criminal Police Organization -INTERPOL) there would be substantial ties between environmental crimes (least scrutinized and low sensitivity) and very sensitive crimes such as drug trafficking (where cocaine or opium are for example hidden into illegally logged timber to cross borders).

Now to be sure, these crimes may not affect our elite’s environment as directly as it does the rest of the world’s, but this problem is a white problem and this seemed to have been echoed by the entirely non-black speaker panel at the Forum. Well… that, actually, would rather be my criticism of the otherwise shining star this event was. How is it that their diversity efforts (many women speaker were given the spotlight) didn’t think to take into account the population from the regions where a majority of the crimes discussed are taking place in? The only black voice speaking up should have been praised in this context, but it (a Ghanaian official in the audience sharing its country’s plans to refuse so-called reusable e-waste from the West) was questioned and almost contested by the panel (defending the practice as part of the circular economy).

The paradox: doesn’t capacity building and enhanced coordination in environmental protection begin with responsibility and empowerment of an extended network? What about the message it sends to the black and brown population that’s hopelessly suffering from environmental shifts? Doesn’t respect for the environment begins with its inclusion and the inclusion of its whole ecosystem into our everyday lives? While I understand we think we are the most adapted to work through a system we created, isn’t it also precisely the reason why we need to reach out for decentralized support?

We have to be able to recognize our ethnocentrism in order to do this. The system we created is divided along racial lines, like it or not. Care for the environment is an opportunity not to be missed to unlearn our prejudice and crack through this division.

Valerie Cabanes, the speaker I was most awaiting as an Environmental and Human Rights lawyer working closely with indigenous communities, confirmed that a social shift where ties between man and nature were at the forefront was the solution we’re looking for. The global south, its blackness and its diversity we could definitely use the collaboration of on this, in a revamped international balance of power.

A positive spin on a potentially daunting subject: we have the power. Most environmental crimes would disappear if they stopped being so lucrative (according to INTERPOL the reason these are thriving is that they are paying — gains are estimated to be between 70 and 213 billion dollars per year): that means that if you don’t buy, they slowly disappear into oblivion. Sounds like a plan?