James Thornton is the founding CEO of ClientEarth. He is an environmental lawyer and social entrepreneur. A member of the bars of New York, California and the Supreme Court of the United States, and a solicitor of England and Wales, he moved from a Wall Street law practice to found the Citizens’ Enforcement Project at the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in New York, where he brought some 80 federal lawsuits against corporations to enforce the Clean Water Act after the Reagan Administration had stopped enforcing the law. He won these cases and embarrassed the government to start enforcing the law again. James founded ClientEarth – Europe’s first public interest environmental law organisation – in 2007. Now operating globally, it uses advocacy, litigation and research built on solid law and science to address the greatest challenges of our time – including biodiversity loss, climate change, and toxic chemicals.
In this wide-ranging interview, James Thornton describes the core motivations of his life’s work. The role of his Buddhist beliefs and practices becomes increasingly clear as he ties together the various pieces of his projects around the globe. The entire conversation is organized around the concept of ecological civilization, which James learned from his work in China and now sees as central to most of what he does.