Silvester Horne Institute in Church Stretton was packed on Friday 2nd June for an evening with internationally renowned lawyer James Thornton of Client Earth. James dashed to Shropshire having appeared on the BBC morning news to respond to president Donald Trump’s announcement that the USA would be pulling out of the Paris Accord on Climate Change. With his co-author, Professor Martin Goodman, James was launching the new book “Client Earth”, which describes his firm’s legal battles on behalf of the environment – battles that they usually win.
James Thornton originally studied philosophy, then fell in love with the natural world and decided to pursue environmental law. As a member of the American Bar he already has a distinguished track record in winning environmental law cases. Environmental lawyers in USA followed the path of the Civil rights movement, he said, and it seemed natural to take on the government as a result. However, in the UK and Europe the culture was very different. “I learnt”, he said “ that in Europe if you are going to sue someone, you start by writing them a really polite letter”.
The audience was captivated, breaking into spontaneous applause at times as James recounted how at one point in the Supreme Court hearing the government agreed they were in breach of UK pollution law, but said they had no intention of complying with it. James pointed out to the court the massive constitutional implications of the government’s position; if the government was allowed to ignore their own environmental laws the precedent would be set and they could disregard any category of law. Their Lordships nodded thoughtfully, and in due course ordered the government to comply.
David Howard, Chair of Stretton Climate Care, said: “We are enormously privileged that a high-profile campaigner such as James Thornton has come to Church Stretton. His advocacy on behalf of the environment is a source of inspiration and hope for the future. We and others draw tremendous encouragement in the campaign to hold the earth back from ecological suicide.”
David also paid tribute to Ros Ephraim of Burway Books, who had helped set the meeting up, and was able to sell dozens of copies of the new book. All signed by the authors, of course.
…and James’ view of the latest Trump silly? Don’t worry. First, his reasons for pulling out are false; the USA wasn’t locked into a bad deal because the Paris Accord is entirely voluntary. Second, it takes four years to pull out of the Accord, and that means there will have been another presidential election before the decision to leave takes effect; so a new president can sign up again. Third, about 40 States have already said they will stick to the principles of the Paris Accord anyway. So they will in a sense bypass the Senate and Congress and take their own decisions, which will both be good for the human race and embarrassing for the President and central government. Fourth, fossil fuels are becoming a steadily more risky investment; and it’s becoming clear that the economics of bringing back King Coal just don’t add up. All over the US, businesses and state organisations are looking to invest in other, cleaner industries.
They can do it, too. California is already the sixth largest economy in the world; merge it with New York and you have the fourth largest. These guys aren’t looking backwards; the future is already locked in – and it’s renewable.