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In Memoriam: Rebecca Tarbotton, Executive Director, Rainforest Action Network

Posted Jan. 2, 2013 / Posted by: Erich Pica

Often, I am asked to assess the environmental movement. Will we win the fight against the fossil fuel industry? Can we prevent the worst impacts of climate disruption? Who’s out there fighting the good fight for a healthy and just world?

My answer to these questions is we must win the fight against fossil fuels; we will prevent the worst impacts of climate disruption; and Rebecca (Becky) Tarbotton, the head of Rainforest Action Network, is fighting the good fight, winning and will be a part of our inevitable victories. 

On December 26, 2012 the nation and globe lost Becky Tarbotton at age 39. Becky was a shining light in the national and global environmental community. As the relatively newly-minted executive director of the Rainforest Action Network, Becky led the organization to its biggest victory in its 25 year history

Personally, Becky was an inspiration. It was three years ago when Becky and I really started to know each other. We both were a part of an intensive year-long leadership training program that brought progressive leaders from around the country together to become more effective leaders. We were also relatively new leaders of environmental organizations with strong histories of fighting and winning against incredible odds. We had a lot in common.

The first thing I noticed about Becky was her free-spirited laugh and a curiosity for learning and thinking about new things. She was light-hearted and approachable, but under the light-heartedness was a burning intensity that, once engaged, you either looked away from, or you were drawn more deeply into. It was this intensity that made Becky a force of nature; a shining beacon of light for the environmental movement.

My last conversation with Becky was over breakfast in Washington, D.C. a couple of weeks before she passed. She was in town to attend a State Department dinner on rainforest protection. Our conversation only briefly focused on this meeting. She mentioned that she wasn’t sure why she was invited, but wanted to meet some of the CEO's who were there. If only, she said with a smile, to put a friendly face on Rainforest Action Network’s hard-nose campaigning.  The rest of our conversation was focused on the loss of her father, my new son Zander, how Amy and I were doing, catching up on the lives of our cohort, how newlywed life was treating her and Mateo, the infamous clog incident that I didn’t witness but heard so much about, and the trials and tribulations of running organizations. We also spent a substantial amount of time talking about the need to broaden the environmental movement's thinking and actions on climate change, which she so eloquently stated at her annual Revel event in October:

We need to remember that the work of our time is bigger than climate change. We need to be setting our sights higher and deeper. What we're really talking about, if we're honest with ourselves, is transforming everything about the way we live on this planet. 

We ended our conversation with a mutual commitment to have more conversations like the one we were having.  Unfortunately, the opportunity to have more conversations over wine and whiskey (or just breakfast) is gone.

Becky was a friend, sister, compañera, colleague and fellow traveler.  She was a brilliant campaigner. Her wisdom, humor and free spirit empowered people around her and helped me and Friends of the Earth become better at what we do. She was the present and future of the environmental and larger social justice movement. I will miss her. 

Many of our staff and board knew and worked with Becky. Our support, thoughts, and love go out to Mateo and the Rainforest Action Network family. Many of us lost a friend, and the planet lost a tireless advocate for a healthy and just world.

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