David Suzuki: Rainforest defender Rebecca Tarbotton leaves inspiring legacy

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      Last year ended on a sad note, with the accidental drowning death of Rebecca Tarbotton in Mexico, at 39 years of age. Becky was the inspirational executive director of San Francisco-based Rainforest Action Network, but her roots were in British Columbia.

      In an October speech, she eloquently recalled her early days in the environmental movement, including an internship at the David Suzuki Foundation, and explained how a few people with purpose, committed to a goal, can accomplish a lot. The speech can be viewed on the Rainforest Action Network website.

      Becky believed strongly in social justice and environmental protection. For her organization’s campaign to save rainforests from the devastation of clear-cut logging, she and her colleagues met with book publishers to convince them to stop using paper from threatened areas.

      Eight agreed, but the biggest victory came after much hard work and imaginative campaigning, when Rainforest convinced Disney to adopt a policy for all its operations, “eliminating paper connected to the destruction of endangered forests and animals.” Disney is the world’s largest publisher of children’s books and magazines, but the policy extends beyond that business to cover paper for all of its interests and supply chains everywhere in the world, including theme parks and cruise ships.

      Becky also referred to a seemingly gloomy conversation she once had with me about the failure of environmentalism. She got the point I was trying to make. In her speech, she said, “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."

      After a year when, as U.K. writer George Monbiot says, “governments turned their backs on the living planet, demonstrating that no chronic problem, however grave, will take priority over an immediate concern, however trivial,” we need to look to the example of brave and inspiring people like Becky Tarbotton. If our leaders are not willing to lead, it’s up to the rest of us.

      We’ve seen what kind of “leadership” to expect from our elected representatives. In Canada, our government is gutting environmental protections and regulations in the name of speeding up fossil fuel exploitation, no matter how much this contributes to climate change. As Arctic sea ice melts to levels that experts have referred to as a “global disaster”, possibly disappearing within four to 10 years, industry and governments salivate at the prospect of having more open areas for oil and gas drilling, despite their being in sensitive ecosystems with extremely risky conditions.

      Unfortunately, too many politicians focus more on the fossil fuel industry than the citizens they are elected to represent. As writer Rebecca Solnit recently posted for a year-end essay on TomDispatch.com, “For millions of years, this world has been a great gift to nearly everything living on it, a planet whose atmosphere, temperature, air, water, seasons, and weather were precisely calibrated to allow us—the big us, including forests and oceans, species large and small—to flourish. (Or rather, it was we who were calibrated to its generous, even bounteous, terms.) And that gift is now being destroyed for the benefit of a few members of a single species.”

      It’s not that people support what’s happening. A recent Environics poll showed most Canadians believe our governments should do far more to combat climate change. Polls indicate similar trends in the U.S. and U.K.

      Sometimes the odds seem so overwhelming that it’s tempting to run and hide, to give up. Sometimes the gains seem so small and the setbacks so great that we can’t think of much to do beyond looking at our kids and saying, “Sorry.”

      But if there’s one thing we can learn from Rebecca Tarbotton and the many other dedicated people in the world, it’s that we can change the world if we care, think and act.

      Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Communications Manager Ian Hanington. For more insights from David Suzuki, please read Everything Under the Sun (Greystone Books/David Suzuki Foundation), by David Suzuki and Ian Hanington, now available in bookstores and online.



      Lee L.

      Jan 8, 2013 at 9:05pm

      "As Arctic sea ice melts to levels that experts have referred to as a “global disaster”, possibly disappearing within four to 10 years"

      Now you see, that is precisely why you have to make up the OTHER distortions like

      ". A recent Environics poll showed most Canadians believe our governments should do far more to combat climate change. Polls indicate similar trends in the U.S. and U.K."

      The reason is precisely that most people do NOT believe you...and you know it... because of the constant flow of distorted, sometimes fabricated, propaganda that issues from the WWF, David Suzuki Foundation and Greenpeace..etc.

      And as for sea ice, we both know that there will be plenty of it in 10 years time. We both know that that old wooden boat down near Kits beach, the St. Roch (no icebreaker she), navigated the northwest passage long before the current climate alarm propaganda. She was:

      First vessel to sail the Northwest Passage from west to east (1940 – 1942)
      First vessel to complete the Northwest Passage in one season (1944), also making it the first to use the more northerly, deeper route and to complete the Passage in both directions

      Also, and by the way, we both know there has been no detectable global warming appearing in the global datasets since around 1998.

      Emily B

      Jan 9, 2013 at 2:05am

      Lee L...are you just really ignorant or totally and completely insane? Or was that a joke? I'm kind of in shock after reading your comment.


      Jan 9, 2013 at 8:15am

      Emily B...

      Lee L. writes the truth. How could that cause you to go into shock?

      Just like Harold Camping, the DSF makes their money by preaching the end of the world is coming.

      Amelie S.

      Jan 9, 2013 at 9:07am

      Lee L. isn't insane - he/she is a hired hack from the oil industry - they've got people watching columns and responding night and day. Wouldn't you be denying reality if you saw your profits of 100's of millions of dollars threatened when it's still possible to sew seeds of doubt. After all - we're still voting in politicians who are not only NOT dealing with the situation but contributing to it.
      One Solution: Boycott Oil - start neighbourhood/community/city support groups to wean ourselves from this addiction and act on innovative (community-based) solutions to move in the direction we want/need to go. Anyone tried a bicycle train lately?

      Lee L.

      Jan 9, 2013 at 9:42pm

      Well thanks for that Amelie S.

      Unfortunately, I cannot return the compliment since the sad truth is, I truly can't tell if you are being sarcastic or not! Now ain't that a comment on how bad things have gotten. Or maybe I just don't have the brains for it.

      Either way, though, that bike train thing sounds like fun. I am sure to laugh my ass off!


      Jan 10, 2013 at 10:58pm

      I'd actually like to comment on the loss of Rebecca Tarbotton, and not air my personal views on global warming and oil...
      Whether you agree with her beliefs, her cause and her work or not, her loss was tragic and heartbreaking. She was a strong, inspirational woman and the world has lost a good person. I'd like to pay my respects to her family and wish them strength during this painful time.