Criminals don't bother to consider their victims, so would they give thought to how their actions influence the environment?
Almost certainly not, but U.K. researchers publishing in the Journal of Industrial Ecology went ahead and tallied up the debt owed by those who commit crimes -- not just to society but also to the environment.
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The researchers broke emissions down into three categories: those in anticipation of crime; those as a consequence of crime; and those attributed to the criminal justice system. In other words, in terms of carbon offsets, criminals are on the hook for not only emissions attributed to planning and committing crimes but also those related to police investigations, courtroom proceedings and prison operations.
Based on this scoring method, criminal activity was directly responsible for 4 million metric tons (4.4 million tons) of carbon dioxide in a single year in the United Kingdom, similar to what's generated by 900,000 homes over the same period.
Burglary proved the most environmentally taxing crime, owing to the cost of replacing stolen goods. Burglars together were responsible for 30 percent of the total carbon footprint. All crimes involving stolen or damaged property -- such as grand theft auto or vandalism -- produced 51 percent of total emissions output.
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Although burglars had the highest total footprint, murderers were linked to more emissions for each individual crime, even if homicides only accounted for 1 percent of the total carbon output. "Personal crimes require time- and resource-intensive investigations," the authors wrote, "and tend to lead to longer prison sentences than property offenses, hence their higher individual footprints."
On the enforcement side, the criminal justice system pumped out 21 percent of emissions tied to illicit activity.
Given the total emissions attributable to criminals, would a reduction in crime also lead to a decline in carbon output? Not necessarily, the researchers explain, and here the work gets speculative.
In one scenario, the researchers considered a 5 percent reduction in burglary. Instead of a proportional decline in emissions, total carbon output would increase by 2 percent, based on their model, owing to the money consumers keep and later spend.
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Future research will delve into whether it's possible to reduce the carbon footprint of crime and crime prevention measures.
When a crime is committed, there are certainly all sorts of immediate concerns of law enforcement and for victims of illicit activity. But the study highlights an overlooked and nontrivial impact of illegal activity, what the researchers call the "carbon-crime blind spot."
"Although it is not possible to definitively state whether the carbon emissions that result from crime can be avoided completely by preventing crime, raising awareness of these emissions remains important for policy valuation of crime," the authors write.
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