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New RAN Executive Director Seeks to Pry Polluters Away from Washington

Respect for human rights of people everywhere, in forests as well as coal country

By Stacy Feldman

Aug 27, 2010

India also introduced her to Helena Norberg-Hodge, founder of the (ISEC), a non-profit with offices in Ladakh that promotes local trading of food to combat global agribusiness. "She has been a real mentor to me."

So has Mike Brune, her predecessor, who left RAN after seven years in January 2010 to head up the . He taught her much of what she knows about eco-campaigning, she says. "I continue to consider him one of my most important mentors."

Keeping Banks Away from Coal 

Hired by RAN three and a half years ago as global finance campaign director, Tarbotton spearheaded a push to drive dollars away from new coal.

At the time, the debate about whether climate change was real was still raging, she says, and upwards of 250 new coal plants were on the books.

"That convinced us that one of the most important things that RAN could do if we were going to be taking an active and a really critical role in the climate fight was to actually figure out how to stop those plants from being built," Tarbotton says.

Under her lead, Ran took on the world's biggest banks — Citi, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley. The message was simple: Bankrolling dirty energy will be bad for your bottom lines. In 2008, RAN and other groups got them to agree to a set of "" to guide their investments in coal-fired electric utilities.

With Sierra Club and other organizations furthering the cause legislatively and legally, "I think we turned the tide very successfully," she says. In 2009, no new plants broke ground.

Of course, there were other factors that cooled off investment in coal. For one, the financial crisis. "We can't pretend that didn't happen," she says with a laugh.

In terms of campaigns, this year will essentially be more of the same. Tarbotton is determined to keep banks away from new coal projects, and "corporate polluters" away from Washington.

Pragmatic Idealist

She nimbly sums herself up as a "pragmatic idealist" — as well as her organization.

We start with a big vision, Tarbotton says of RAN, "What is it that the Earth really needs? What is it that science really dictates that we need in order to stop global warming?" And then we start "teasing out what all the different steps are toward that."

The group has two rather large and interlocking goals: stopping climate change by breaking U.S. addiction to coal and oil, and ending deforestation.

In the near future, it plans to defend California's landmark climate change law, AB32 "tooth and nail," as well as to stop forest loss in Indonesia, and later in the Congo and Amazon.

Another goal: bridge-building among green groups.

"We straddle a couple of different worlds," Tarbotton says.

One world is the radical portion of the grassroots left; the other is inhabited by the environmental groups in the Beltway establishment. She sees RAN as somewhere in the middle. "We want to be able to connect those two pieces together," and to bring "our deep commitment to human rights," she says.

"We're not carbon reductionists. We want to see a shift toward a green economy and a green energy future that is respecting of, and built on a firm foundation of, human rights and respect for the people that are on the front lines of the climate battle — whether they’re in the forests or coal country."

(Image: Rainforest Action Network) 

See also:

Banks Toughen Lending Rules to Coal, PNC & UBS Still Bucking the Trend

Arrested in West Virginia: A First-Person Account

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