Climate Change, Politics, Reviews
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Client Earth by James Thornton and Martin Goodman

Client Earth by James Thornton and Martin Goodman

‘Client Earth’ is the first book that I read cover to cover in 2019. I started a new job in January and didn’t want to overwhelm myself. I opted to keep my reading to a minimum – although this only lasted about two weeks! Located about ten minutes away from my office – so perfect for a lunch time stroll – is one of the last remaining independent not-for-profit bookshops in the area. Naturally, I picked up three:

  1. ‘Client Earth’ by James Thornton and Martin Goodman
  2. Safe Planet’ by John Cowsill
  3. ‘Why Your World is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller’ by Jeff Rubin


As a legal undergraduate, Client Earth felt like the easiest place to start; Thornton and Goodman provide a brilliant summary of Client Earth’s history – this is a book that made me both laugh and cry. It has a distinctly human, and time precious feel about it, with both writers able to completely captivate the audience, albeit in very different styles.

Thornton and Goodman provide an engaging history of Client Earth; from its roots in the US, to the journey over the Atlantic to the UK and the associated re-training, all the way through to their project in Ghana. They carefully illustrate their broader theoretical and political points with the cases that Thornton has bought before the courts. Effortlessly, they engage the reader, and make us feel as though we are living those experiences. Ultimately what this delivers is an overwhelming feeling of the truly global scale of this problem, and the role that each of us can play in holding power to account.

Shortly after completing the book, the Guardian released a news story titled “Agency protecting English enviroment reaches ‘crises point’” detailing how Natural England, the agency tasked with a wide range of environmental responsibilities, is struggling to cope under consistent budget and staffing cuts during the last decade. With Thornton and Goodman saying “[t]he main point for the environment is that, in leaving the EU, we will need to ensure the UK gives its environment the same standard of care it has been obliged to do”, it makes me wonder whether this is even possible. It is no secret that the UK government is struggling to prepare for Brexit, with the environment already so far down the list of priorities, does it really stand a chance in the coming months and years?

In other well publicised news, Rutger Bregman at Davos, publicly called out philanthropists and argued for higher tax levels. Throughout the book Thornton and Goodman name a number of philanthropic foundations who funded their work in various countries. As they rightly state “[i]f you pass a law and do not enforce it, you in effect authorise the behaviour you sought to prohibit”. Considering their well documented fight to get the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to re-ignite their passion for enforcement, and shame them into doing their job – would this really have been possible without the philanthropic funds? Could someone really argue that the government would have backed them with tax-payers money instead? Like all arguments, I think it is important to consider both sides and be as objective as possible. However, I think it is clear, at least from an environmental protection standpoint, that there is space in the world for philanthropic funders.

As is similar with other books of this nature, Thornton and Goodman want to draw your attention to the true magnitude of the problem we are dealing with. They do not dart around the edges, or attempt to smarten up an ugly picture. Yet, they do leave the reader with hope, saying “[y]ou can’t change the world on your own, but you have to move with people who are trying to”. Arguably climate change is the problem of the decade, with it’s effects tying in so closely to poverty, inequality, and the rise of unstable geo-politics. This does not however, make it unsolvable; crucial to determining the pace of how we tackle climate change will be the US and UK governments. With Brexit looming close, and Trump doing all he can in his power to weaken the EPA only time will tell if we’ve made the cut off point.

‘Client Earth’ in Facts:

Author(s): James Thornton and Martin Goodman

First Published Date: 2017

Publishing House: Scribe

Pages: 318 (281 as bulk read)


  1. Pingback: Winter 2019 (January – March) Round Up – The Reading Millennial

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