James Thornton (environmentalist)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
James Thornton
James Thornton, 2016 (cropped).jpg
New York, USA
Alma materYale
Spouse(s)Martin J. Goodman

James Thornton is an environmental lawyer and writer. He is the founding CEO of ClientEarth, a global non-profit environmental law organisation. Born in New York he is also an Irish Citizen.[1] The New Statesman named James as one of ten people who could change the world.[2] He was also called 'a new kind of environmental hero' by BBC Radio 4[3] and Metropolitan magazine called him 'La force tranquille'.[4] In 2013 The Lawyer identified him as one of the Top 100 lawyers practising in the UK.[5] The Financial Times awarded him its Special Achievement Award at the 2016 Innovative Lawyer Awards. He is a member of the bars of New York, California, and the Supreme Court of the United States, and a Solicitor of England and Wales.[6] He is a Conservation Fellow of the Zoological Society of London[7] and a fellow of Ashoka,[8] the network of leaders in social innovations. His latest book, Client Earth is described by Nature as "a tantalizing glimpse of how a variety of strategies can converge to create a global environmental enforcement effort."


Thornton founded ClientEarth in 2006. The International Bar Association has called ClientEarth “a public interest law firm, the first in the UK and continental Europe”.[9] Now with offices in London, Brussels, Warsaw, New York and Beijing, and operating globally, it uses advocacy, litigation and research to address the greatest challenges of our time - including biodiversity loss, climate change, and toxic chemicals. Its work is built on solid law and science. ClientEarth’s patrons are Coldplay, and Brian Eno is a trustee. In 2012 ClientEarth won Business Green’s NGO of the Year[10] award. In 2013, it won the Law Society Gazette's Excellence in Environmental Responsibility Award.[11]

In 2011, ClientEarth’s action[12] in the High Court forced the UK government to admit that it was breaching legal limits for air pollution. In 2012 ClientEarth’s amicus curiae[13] (friends of the court) brief in the cases challenging the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate carbon pollution was the first time that European groups have entered a US environmental case this way. Thornton calls the Common Fisheries Policy 'the worst law in the world'[14] and is working with the Fish Fight campaign of TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall to make it workable.[15] He also works to enforce the Aarhus Convention,[16] working to give citizens access to courts in order to seek environmental justice.

Thornton appeared on stage with Brian Eno at the Luminous Festival, Sydney Opera House, in 2009 to discuss the environment.[17] He also featured in the BBC2 Arena documentary of Brian Eno.[18] At this time Thornton wrote for The Sydney Morning Herald[19] on why humanity needs a new renaissance.

Before heading for Europe, Thornton worked for NRDC, for whom he set up the citizens' enforcement project focusing on the Clean Water Act when the Reagan administration dropped its own enforcement.[20] He brought and won sixty cases in the federal courts in six months [21] It was funded by the McIntosh Foundation, which under Mike and Winsome McIntosh became the founding funders of ClientEarth.[22] Attracted to study with the Japanese Zen Master Taizan Maezumi Roshi, Thornton headed for the NRDC office in San Francisco, from where he founded the LA Office of NRDC. He moved to LA to run it, staying at the Zen Center of Los Angeles.

He did a retreat with the Indian teacher Mother Meera in Germany for 14 months, after which he started Positive Futures, an organization to teach meditation to environmental activists.[23] For some years he was Executive Director of the Heffter Research Institute, which worked on the medical application of hallucinogens [24] among other neuroscience developments. For Theodore Roszak he wrote one of the founding documents for the ecopsychology movement, an early precursor of Wild Law.[25] He was ordained a priest in the Soto Zen order at the Zen Center of Los Angeles in April 2009, by Roshi Wendy Egyoku Nakao.[26] He wrote A Field Guide to the Soul,[27] a guide to spiritual practice. He also co-authored a major study of company reporting law 'Environmental and social transparency under the Companies Act 2006: Digging Deeper'[28] and his first novel Immediate Harm[29] was published in 2011, and his second novel Sphinx the Second Coming[30] came out in 2014. He is a frequent blogger on the Huffington Post.[31] He co-wrote Client Earth: Building an Ecological Civilization with his husband Martin J. Goodman. It won Judges' Choice in the Business Book Awards 2018.[32] His debut poetry collection The Feynman Challenge, which takes up a challenge by the physicist Richard Feynman that poets should tackle the realities of science, came out from Barbican Press in the UK in 2017. E.O. Wilson says of it: 'In this unusual and exceptionally interesting work, James Thornton speaks as both a poet who has colonized science and a scientist who speaks a poetic tongue.'[33]


  1. ^ "James Thornton talks to RTE's Morning Ireland radio show about ClientEarth". YouTube. 2010-06-30. Retrieved 2012-06-24.
  2. ^ "Advocate for the planet". New Statesman. Retrieved 2012-06-24.
  3. ^ "BBC Radio 4 - Costing the Earth, Can Lawyers Save The World?". BBC.
  4. ^ Metropolitan magazine, February 2012
  5. ^ "Hot 100: James Thornton, ClientEarth". Thelawyer.com. Retrieved 2017-05-04.
  6. ^ "Verbier GPS". Verbiergps.com. Retrieved 2017-05-04.
  7. ^ "Endangered Animal Conservation - Zoological Society of London (ZSL)". Zoological Society of London (ZSL). Retrieved 2017-05-04.
  8. ^ "Podcast with Ashoka Fellow James Thornton, a lawyer whose client is The Earth". ashoka.org.
  9. ^ "IBA - Interview with ClientEarth CEO James Thornton". Ibanet.org. Retrieved 2017-05-04.
  10. ^ "BusinessGreen Leaders Awards 2012: ClientEarth (and Coldplay) stir up trouble in the courtroom". Businessgreen.com. Retrieved 2017-05-04.
  11. ^ "Legal Sector Alliance Award for Excellence in Environmental Responsibility". Lawsociety.org.uk. Retrieved 2017-05-04.
  12. ^ "Ministers admit pollution breach". BBC News. Retrieved 2017-05-04.
  13. ^ "Europeans file brief to support US green push - The Lawyer - Legal News and Jobs - Advancing the business of law". Thelawyer.com. 4 September 2011. Retrieved 4 May 2017.
  14. ^ 31 January 2011 (2011-01-31). "Focus - Environmental law: Force of nature | Features". The Lawyer. Retrieved 2012-06-24.
  15. ^ "Tesco, Asda, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury's and Waitrose Misleading Fish Eaters - Kayak, Shore And Boat Fishing | Kayak, Shore And Boat Fishing". Whitbyseaanglers.co.uk. 2012-02-18. Retrieved 2012-06-24.
  16. ^ Kanter, James (1 March 2010). "U.S. Lawyer Finds Europe Going Astray". The New York Times. Retrieved 4 May 2017.
  17. ^ "The Still Point". Abc.net.au. 2012-03-11. James Thornton. Archived from the original on 2010-11-28. Retrieved 2016-01-22.
  18. ^ "James Thornton and Brian Eno discuss ClientEarth on BBC Arena [1011]". Clientearth.org. Archived from the original on 2012-05-01. Retrieved 2012-06-24.
  19. ^ "Our world needs a new renaissance". The Sydney Morning Herald. 9 June 2009. Retrieved 4 May 2017.
  20. ^ John H. Adams, Patricia Adams, George Black, A Force for Nature: The Story of NRDC and Its Fight to Save Our Planet, Chronicle Books, 2010
  21. ^ "CAMPAIGN HERO: James Thornton of ClientEarth". The Ecologist. 2010-12-06. Retrieved 2012-06-24.
  22. ^ "McIntosh Foundation [172]". Clientearth.org. Archived from the original on 2012-05-01. Retrieved 2012-06-24.
  23. ^ Lisa Corum Fox. "Zen, Ecology, and the Inner Life". Earthlight.org. Retrieved 2012-06-24.
  24. ^ "New LSD Research: Gene Expression within the Mammalian Brain". Maps.org. Retrieved 2012-06-24.
  25. ^ "ECOPSYCHOLOGY ON-LINE: James Thornton". Ecopsychology.athabascau.ca. Archived from the original on 2012-07-07. Retrieved 2012-06-24.
  26. ^ "Water Wheel : A Beautiful Thing" (PDF). Zencenter.com. May 2010. Retrieved 2017-05-04.
  27. ^ James Thornton, A Field Guide to the Soul, Random House / Bell Tower, 2000
  28. ^ "ClientEarth - environmental lawyers - UK company law: digging deeper [875]". ClientEarth. Archived from the original on 2011-11-14.
  29. ^ "James Thornton - Caffeine Nights Publishing". Caffeine-nights.com. Retrieved 2012-06-24.
  30. ^ "Sphinx: The Second Coming". Barbican Press. Retrieved 2017-05-04.
  31. ^ "James Thornton". Huffingtonpost.com. Retrieved 2017-05-04.
  32. ^ "Business Book Awards 2018". Retrieved 2018-05-11.
  33. ^ "The Feynman Challenge". Barbican Press. Retrieved 2018-05-11.

External links[edit]