The Carbon Footprint of Crime

A study published in Yale's Journal of Industrial Ecology attempts to quantify the "carbon footprint" of crime, calculating that crime committed in England and Wales during 2011 was responsible for more than 4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.
carbon footprint crime
Zoran Karapancev / Shutterstock.com
While policymakers have long sought to quantify the social and economic costs of crime, the environmental costs typically are not acknowledged. A new paper published in Yale’s Journal of Industrial Ecology attempts to change that, calculating what it calls the “carbon footprint of crime.”
 
According to the findings, the costs are not trivial.
 
Using a sophisticated method of quantification, a team of researchers found that crime committed in England and Wales during 2011 was responsible for more than 4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide — or the equivalent of the carbon footprint about 900,000 UK homes.
The analysis illustrates the complex ways that institutions in society and the associated economic activity shape the impact we have on our climate.
— Helen Skudder, lead author
In the paper, the researchers break down the carbon impacts by crime type. And they factor in the subsequent costs associated with criminal justice system services, including police investigations and the impacts of operating prisons and court buildings.
 
Among criminal offenses, burglary produced the largest proportion of the total footprint (about 30 percent), largely due to the emissions associated with replacing stolen or damaged goods.
 
Criminal justice services account for about 21 percent of the total footprint.
 
“The analysis illustrates the complex ways that institutions in society and the associated economic activity shape the impact we have on our climate,” said Helen Skudder, a research engineer at the University of Surrey and lead author of the paper. “We have shown that is possible to take into account the environmental implications of crime alongside the social and economic costs, as part of crime prevention policy appraisals.”
 
The paper, “Addressing the Carbon-Crime Blind Spot: A Carbon Footprint Approach,” is downloadable at bit.ly/JIEcrimecarbon.
 
For their analysis they utilized an “environmentally extended input-output” model, a top-down methodology that uses economy-wide modeling to estimate supply chain emissions.
[This study] reminds us — once again — that reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is a complicated, multi-faceted challenge.
— Reid Lifset, editor, Journal of Industrial Ecology
According to the findings, a reduction in crime might not necessarily reduce these environmental impacts. For instance, even if society were able to reduce crime, the researchers say, the money that consumers keep — and spend — because of the decline of theft and related activities would likely increase emissions by 2 percent.
 
“This study illustrates the increasingly sophisticated capacity industrial ecology to quantify the climate impacts of complex dimensions of our society,” said Reid Lifset, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Industrial Ecology. “It also reminds us — once again — that reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is a complicated, multi-faceted challenge.”
 
The Journal of Industrial Ecology is a peer-reviewed international bimonthly journal owned by Yale University, headquartered at F&ES and published by Wiley-Blackwell.
– Kevin Dennehy    kevin.dennehy@yale.edu    203 436-4842
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PUBLISHED: June 21, 2016
 

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