Almost everybody has committed an environmental crime mostly they are smaller ones, but many people have also committed big ones.
Environmental crime in the sense of violating a law of the land is the more serious type of crime that is sometimes unwittingly committed, but often with full cognisance of the misdemeanour on the part of the person engaged in the act. Example: chucking a cool drink can and/or a take-away box from a moving car into the great blue behind. Out of sight, out of mind, but almost every country in the world now has laws against littering, so a crime has been committed and this crime usually carries a financial penalty (of course lots of people are now thinking “if you are caught” which is the sort of ethics modern-day society subscribes to, but that’s another discussion).
Other environmental laws that are routinely broken by ordinary people, who are therefore criminals whether they like this description or not, are those prohibiting dumping rubble and other wastes in undesignated spaces, washing oils and paints into storm water drains, backwashing swimming pools into storm water drains, burning plastic products in open fires, storing large quantities of hazardous goods such as fuels and pesticides without proper containment (farmers), allowing alien and invasive plants to grow and multiply on property, and so on.
Most people would argue that the above transgressions are minor and that “everybody does it”. That is the principle which results in such persons being classified as fugitives. When people hide a violation of a law, whether minor or major, they are fugitives. Because environmental law is so ubiquitous and seems to interfere with our daily lives in ways we don’t even always know about, we all end up as fugitives from environmental law.
The fugitives we should rightly be more concerned about, are the ones that do real damage, either by the size or volume of the violation or by the significance of the impact it causes. Here are some examples:
Mechanical workshops that allow oils, lubricants, grease and other hydrocarbons to wash into storm water drains and bare soil or vegetation.
Fuel stations (garages) whose underground fuel tanks have been slowly leaking into the soil and groundwater for years.
Factories that have hidden effluent pipes pumping chemical wastes into surface water streams or the sea.
Manufacturers who refuse to upgrade their process to conform to air pollution standards and continue spewing toxic gases into the air that we breathe.
Commercial fishing companies that overfish their quotas and use illegal fishing methods.
The list goes on.
All of the above usually engage in these activities with the full knowledge that they are violating laws regardless of the “reasons” they may have on why they feel that they are justified for doing so, they are environmental fugitives.
It is very hard today to get away with really big environmental crimes (like the Exxon Valdez spill) because there are ears and eyes everywhere. However, until there is a realisation that the obligations and responsibilities we have as individuals are also important, the small jackals will continue to ransack the vineyard.