Give a hoot, don’t pollute—and sue anyone who does.
According to this account by British writer Goodman (Chair, Creative Writing/Univ. of Hull; Suffer and Survive: The Extreme Life of J.S. Haldane, 2007, etc.) and ClientEarth CEO Thornton, an American innovation ranking up there alongside jazz is the fine tradition of taking despoliators of the environment to court; that the New World could teach the Old World something about public-interest law, they add, is “a significant postcolonial act.” Thornton and his team of environmental lawyers have taken the American ethic and run with it, their overriding premise being that “without talented lawyers’ intense scrutiny of legal language on the Earth’s behalf, ecosystems will continue to vanish.” The brief of those lawyers is to “assert planetary rights”—and if corporations can have legal personhood, why should the planet not have the same standing? ClientEarth lawyers dug deep into U.K. and EU regulations on fishing to develop sustainable standards, no easy matter in the instance of the EU given that 26 signatory nations have to agree, and EU regulations always seem open to being thwarted. “A legal strategy deployed by a single lawyer at ClientEarth,” write the authors, “may stop the destruction of 40 years’ worth of health and environmental law built up by the EU.” ClientEarth prevailed, though not without considerable difficulty—and considerably impressive lawyering, making the case, for instance, that fish have rights, too. (“Any lawyer for halibut might start with establishing one right: Let the fish breed.”) As groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council have learned in the U.S., the courtroom is usually a more effective venue for reform than the sidewalk. Demonstrations have their uses, but, as the authors write, making corporate bigwigs lie awake at night wondering when the next process server is going to show up has its own pleasures.
Anyone with an interest in environmental activism and environmental law will take pleasure in this vigorous account of justice in the making.