Interview: Rainforest Action Network Executive Director Rebecca Tarbotton
photo via RAN
Rainforest Action Network's new Executive Director, Rebecca Tarbotton, has big plans for the Bay Area-based advocacy group. RAN, which was founded in 1985, takes on big banks that are funding the coal industry, like JP Morgan and Chase, and it has worked to protect the world's most threatened rainforests, like those in Indonesia that are home to endangered orangutans and tigers. Tarbotton has a lot to say about RAN's future and where the environmental movement is going.Treehugger: It's obvious from RAN's achievements that when compared with the operating budgets of other large eNGOs, RAN punches above its weight. What are your strategies to make sure that RAN keeps up its output that seems to exceed its size?
Tarbotton: RAN works smart - that's really all there is to it. We make sure that every campaign, every strategy and every tactic is connected to real change in the world. Our small size means that we respond to rapidly changing circumstances, and when it counts, we can fly under the radar. That said, we also specialize in casting a long shadow. We straddle two worlds: we have strong alliances with the more conservative and larger policy-oriented organizations but our feet are firmly planted with the grassroots and frontline communities. That means that we can call on the backing of the Big Greens when we need it, but also know that we can get bodies in the street to rattle the cage of corporate decision-makers.
TH: The climate movement is at a crossroads. The framework for a global deal is dependent on active US engagement, but like his predecessor, President Obama seems unwilling to bring the US to the table as a constructive partner. Progress is stalled domestically for a cap on carbon pollution and activists are searching for ways to plug in and make a difference. Given all of that, what prescriptions does RAN offer for activists looking to engage?
RT: I think it's time to pull the lens back and look beyond Washington. Because when you do, it's clear that progress is being made on other fronts and there are a multitude of ways for anyone who wants to take action to engage. For example, while Washington has stalled out on climate, Wall Street is making waves. Just in the past six months, six major banks have committed to moving away from financing of mountaintop removal mining. That's no small thing, considering that just two years ago not one of those banks were even willing to engage on the issue. Challenging corporate power is the single most important thing we can do right now to pave the way for bold action on climate in Washington, and internationally.
TH: You're making progress on mountaintop removal by targeting the finance sector. Without forecasting to your opponents your strategies, what are the next steps to win this fight once and for all?
RT:Mountaintop removal mining won't be completely over until the EPA steps up and does it's job. The commitments that the financial sector have made to moving away from MTR has sent a strong message to Washington that the practice is becoming risky from a reputational, regulatory and financial perspective. Now we need to drive the final nail in the coffin by supporting the EPA to enforce the regulations already on the books that will end MTR. That looks like keeping up the public pressure, it looks like showing up in Washington for Appalachia Rising on September 27th to stand beside coal-field residents and their allies when they call for a ban on the destructive practice.
TH: What do you see as RAN's campaigning priorities over the next 3 years?
RT: RAN's priorities are stopping deforestation, and keeping fossil fuels in the ground - all with a deep commitment to human rights. We're focused on stopping the palm oil industry and the pulp and paper industry from clearing native forest in Indonesia because that's where there is the fastest rate of deforestation in the world (thus making Indonesia the third largest Greenhouse gas emitter in the world). And here in the US, we're working to break our addiction to coal and oil by keeping a laser focus on driving finance out of both of those sectors.