Air pollution from a factory.
Environmental crime is generally defined as a crime committed against the environment. Most law enforcement agencies divide environmental crimes into two categories: pollution and threats to endangered species. Growing awareness of environmental issues led to a crackdown on environmental crime in many nations during the 20th century, and major law enforcement agencies take environmental crime very seriously. Not only does it harm the environment, but it often has an impact on the economy and also on the quality of life in general.
Carelessness that leads to an oil spill can be considered an environmental crime.
When an environmental crime is committed, it is usually not out of a desire to destroy the environment, although it has the ultimate effect of causing environmental damage. In the case of pollution, environmental crime can take the form of dumping toxic material, failure to properly protect toxins, or inadvertent leakage of toxins into the natural environment, among other things. As a result of the release of toxins, the air, land or soil becomes polluted. In some cases, pollution can directly cause death or serious environmental damage, as is the case when chemical spills cause health problems in small communities or kill animal populations. The impact of pollution can also be more subtle and lasting, as seen with the chemical DDT, which did not always kill animals all at once but contributed to the decline of many animal populations.
Pollution is strictly regulated in most nations. Many countries have government agencies that specifically address pollution by helping to establish and enforce laws. In the United States, for example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is involved in a wide range of anti-pollution campaigns that include things like granting money to clean up contaminated sites and regulating emissions. Various international agreements, such as the Kyoto Protocol, have also been implemented to try to end global pollution.
In the case of endangered species, criminals can commit crimes directly by killing endangered animals, or they can cause damage to their habitats, resulting in population pressure that puts these animals in danger. By international agreement, most nations severely prosecute the slaughter and any kind of dealing with endangered species, except in the case of zoos and breeding programs that are trying to save these animals. Habitat damage is an environmental crime that is more difficult to prosecute and regulate in some cases, as it often involves conflicting interests of companies and the endangered species in question.
Fighting environmental crime is important because it helps ensure that there will still be an environment for future generations to enjoy. Some activists also argue that humans are responsible for ensuring that Earth is a safe and healthy place for animals and plants to live, as all life forms are interconnected.