Non-profit environmental law organisation ClientEarth works “to protect the environment through advocacy, litigation, and science”, and while James Thornton and Martin Goodman’s “Client Earth” provides some good evidence of the organisation’s work, a writing style which verges on the hagiographic and self-indulgent means the reported contributions of CEO James Thornton is not balanced by criticisms, evaluations of the organisation’s failures, or the perspectives of those who might be sceptical of ClientEarth’s work, and moreover means there was too much focus on the main narrator – Martin Goodman, also the husband of Thornton – who was too eager to insert himself into the narrative instead of letting his interviewees speak for themselves. This, despite his initial insistence on “critical detachment”, meant the book read more like a prospectus of the organisation.
Thornton and Goodman are the two narrators of the book, and as Goodman documents ClientEarth’s work across five main sections, Thornton’s essays – which “draw from his experience as a frontline public interest environmental lawyer” – interweave these sections. Having first described Thornton’s early work with non-profit international environmental advocacy group the Natural Resources Defence Centre and him subsequently bringing a model of public interest environment law to Europe, the five sections then geographically and thematically detail developments in: the United Kingdom (over air pollution), the European Union (over the Common Fisheries Policy), Poland (over coal-fired power plants and the move to sustainable energy), West Africa (over the destruction of forests in forest-dependent communities, segueing to a broader critique of environmental and institutional problems), and finally China (over the training of judges, prosectors, and non-government organisations).
“Client Earth”, in my opinion, would have been a more enjoyable and informative read had it centred on Thornton, not Goodman. The former’s essays were informative and to the point, explaining the life cycle of environmental laws (from the science to enforcement, a point which is repeatedly stressed), the importance of implementing a law and of citizens providing the counterweight against industries, companies, and their lobbyists, as well as the need for public interest environmental law groups like his ClientEarth to work broadly with both issues and civil society. I also wished there was more attention on how companies and investors might be incentivised or legally challenged “to move away from bad carbon investments towards a carbon neutral future” – a theme which was only highlighted at the very end, because those changes appear likely to have the most potential impact.