Leading environmentalist and human rights champion Rebecca “Becky” Tarbotton, executive director of the organization Rainforest Action Network (RAN), has died at the age of 39.
According to RAN, Tarbotton died Wednesday on a beach in Mexico while vacationing with her husband and friends. The coroner ruled cause of death as asphyxiation from water she breathed in while swimming.
“Tarbotton was the first female executive director of RAN, and a strong female voice in a movement often dominated by men,” quotes RAN in a press release. “Under her leadership, RAN was engaged in protecting endangered rainforests and the rights of their indigenous inhabitants. Most recently, she helped to design 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.”
Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman wrote about Tarbotton’s work this May after RAN activists climbed 100 feet to suspend a banner on Charlotte’s Bank of America stadium, where President Obama was scheduled to make his nomination acceptance speech. The banner read “Bank of America” with the word “America” crossed out and replaced with “Coal.” Tarbotton told her: “Bank of America is the lead financier of mountaintop-removal mining, which is a practice of mining which is really the worst of the worst mining that we see anywhere, essentially blowing the tops off of mountains in Appalachia, destroying people’s homes, polluting their water supplies. And that’s even before it gets into the coal plants, where it’s burnt and creates air pollution in inner-city areas and all around our country … [it’s] the canary in the coal mine for our reliance on fossil fuels.”
Tarbotton was interviewed several times on Democracy Now! over the years. You can watch her last appearance above.
Tarbotton was interviewed on Democracy Now! in 2010 when she spoke about efforts to defeat a ballot initiative that would effectively repeal California’s landmark global warming emissions law.
“Becky was a leader’s leader. She could walk into the White House and cause a corporate titan to reevaluate his perspective, and then moments later sit down with leaders from other movements and convince them to follow her lead,” said Ben Jealous, executive director of the NAACP and a close friend, upon news of her passing. “If we had more heroes like her, America and the world would be a much better place.”
Read more about Tarbotton on RAN’s tribute page to her.