Bern Johnson on "Grassroots Heroes for the Global Environment?"

On Friday, April 7, Bern Johnson spoke to Log Lunchers about his work as Executive Director of the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW), an organization that provides resources for grassroots environmental lawyers and citizens fighting environmental legal battles throughout the world.


Bern Johnson with daughters Tatum (left) and Harper ’19 (right).

Johnson, who graduated from Williams as a political economy major in 1983 before attending Harvard Law School, has supported lawyers in Central and South America, the South Pacific, Africa, Asia, the former Soviet Union, the Middle East, and Europe. It’s a big planet,” Johnson Grist in 2006, “and we are keeping busy.”

During Log Lunch, Johnson shared many environmental legal victories that ELAW has been a part of. These included holding bauxite mining operations responsible in India, protecting biodiversity resources in Mexico, upholding citizen participation in Jamaica and Kenya, and establishing the right to a healthy environment for Nepali citizens. Often, these victories were accomplished by carefully evaluating the environmental impact assessment of a proposed project, and catching inaccuracies that the local government missed.


“It’s tempting to think we can leave it up to the government,” said Johnson, “but governments are sometimes the problem. Citizen activism—speaking up for your environment—is essential.”


— Sophia Schmidt ’17