Rainforest Eco-activist R.I.P.

We don’t always know exactly what it is that creates social change. It takes everything from science all the way to faith, and it’s that fertile place right in the middle where really exceptional campaigning happens–and that is where I strive to be.”

These were the words of Becky Tarbottom, a woman who died accidentally and unexpectedly the day after Christmas, at the too young age of thirty-nine. She had served as executive director of The Rainforest Network. I will post her tribute below, but first I want to share my own sadness. Becky speaks of that fertile place right in the middle . . . As I heard her speak those words last fall, I understood her to be talking of what I call the space between. I think of the space between as that ground in which people are able and willing to shed ideologies, self-interest, and non-sustainable lifestyles for the sake of the healing of our planet.

The second touchstone I shared with Becky was this: she not only understood that social justice is intricately and inescapably intertwined with ecological justice – that one can’t/won’t happen unless both happen concomitantly. Becky had a huge vision, and although I didn’t know her personally, I often found myself in the wake of her philosophy and activism, trying to stay afloat. She was tireless.

I am so saddened by her dying. And frightened. The rainforests are essential to the health of the earth community, and their destruction, from South America and Central America to Southern Asia and Africa, are and will continue to have devastating effects on human and non-human populations.

I want to share the words of her friends and colleagues, offered in tribute.

Rebecca Tarbotton, known to friends as Becky, was a profound thinker and leader. She was dedicated to merging environmental and social justice movements, and building campaigns that inspire transformational changes in forest protection, climate change and human rights. A self-proclaimed “pragmatic idealist,” Becky was deeply admired by a whole movement of activists for her boldness and clarity of vision.The RAN staff, her friends and family remember a “force of nature” with an infectious laugh, adventurous spirit, and a heart bursting with love.

Under her leadership, RAN achieved tremendous victories in preserving endangered rainforests and the rights of their indigenous inhabitants. Most recently, Becky helped to architect the most significant agreement in the history of the organization: a landmark policy by entertainment giant, Disney, that is set to transform everything about the way the company purchases and uses paper. 

Becky spent much of her time thinking about how to inspire masses of people to work for transformational social and environmental change, and how to push the country’s biggest corporate polluters to reform their ways.

As she said during a keynote address in October 2012: “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 don’t always know exactly what it is that creates social change. It takes everything from science all the way to faith, and it’s that fertile place right in the middle where really exceptional campaigning happens–and that is where I strive to be.”

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