Taking dirty energy to court with James Thornton: Podcast highlights

As celebrated in our recent environmental podcast list, ‘Outrage and Optimism’ continues to deliver astonishing and inspiring stories from their weekly world-class list of guests. In a recent episode, host Christiana Figueres and Paul Dickinson are joined by James Thornton, CEO of ClientEarth, and Dr Tara Shine, Co-Founder of Change by Degrees, to unpick litigation and “little by little activism”.We share our podcast highlights below: 

Saving the planet, one object at a time.

Surrounding the long-standing debates of ‘which activism is the most successful in delivering environmentally-friendly results?’, many of the public still hold the misconception that their small changes are an inconsequential chip off the iceberg. Contrary to this, Dr Tara Shine believes in the power of the individual to remodel societies.

She spent 20 years on the front line of international and national climate policy trying to identify triggers for systemic change, “but all that anybody wanted to talk to me about was ‘what can i do?” It lead to her setting up Change By Degrees to provide sustainability leadership, and also publish ‘How to Save Your Planet One Object at a Time’ –  a book that guides you from room to room with environmentally friendly solutions, backed by science. As a key feature of this podcast, we highly recommend giving this one a read. 

Litigation in practice

Since the bringing together of all nations under the Paris agreement for the common cause of combatting climate change, litigation has gained more of a focus in the environmental conversation. Individual lawyers and organisations who work within the legal framework naturally-saw this as an opportunity to support citizens and businesses in taking legal action to increase the probability of achieving Paris goals.

One of the promoters of this initiative, and key spokesperson on this podcast, is James Thornton, Lawyer and CEO of Client Earth. James explores his world-leading work in China on the Belt and Road project; a $1 trillion infrastructure project funded by China that will fund roads, ports and major construction projects in over 70 countries. Interestingly, James believes that many environmental organisations are hesitant to work with China, and yet it is huge projects like the Belt and Road that are critical for the future of the planet. With this in mind, James and his teams of NGOs, policy advisors and lawyers set up the “traffic light system” for this project that specifies environmental laws and standardises the green developments across the project. Fundamentally, Client Earth didn’t wait to respond to a locked-in problem that may exacerbate the climate crisis. They recognised the opportunity for environmentally sound development that will now support a greener future for our planet.

Economics on the green side

It has long been assumed that planet and profit exist in a dichotomous relationship. With promises of riches to be made off dirty industries, the green financial sector has often been named as ‘ethical’ but worthless for profit-driven investors.

A tremendous shift over the past 5 years has now made it clear that economics are on the green side. James Thornton proves this by his work tackling coal mine projects in Poland, managing to halt the new implementations by buying shares in the coal companies and suing the CEO both professionally and personally for the first time over their violation of the fiduciary duty to act ethically in the best interest of stakeholders.

Thornton gives us a flavour of ‘how to use the law’, stretching from training Chinese NGO’s with international environmental judges to sue their own government over environmental policies, to the success of the EU Green Deal. It was wonderful to hear that, upon reflecting on his achievements, that he believes “economics are now on our side” and that there is a movement away from “an addiction to old forms of thinking.”

Bridging the gap

It is evident that both Dr Shine and James Thornton’s dedication to creating networks across different sectors, be that between the public and science, human rights lawyers and protestors, proves the beneficial aspects of intersectionality within the environmental space. 

Outrage and Optimism episodes like this one truly do advocate that the climate conversation belongs to all, not just the few.

Please do listen to the podcast yourself here.

  • Follow Dr Tara Shine’s ‘Change By Degrees’ here and watch her sustainable quarantine tips here.
  • Find out more about Thornton’s work on the Belt and Road traffic light initiative and Client Earth here.
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