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Rebecca Tarbotton, Head of Rainforest Action Network, Dies at 39

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The green movement has too few visionary leaders and too few women leaders and too few leaders under the age of 40. Tragically, this week it lost one leader who stood out in all three categories.

On Dec. 26, Rebecca Tarbotton, executive director of the Rainforest Action Network, died while vacationing along the west coast of Mexico, north of Puerto Vallarta. In a freak accident at the beach, she got tossed around in rough surf, took too much water into her lungs, and asphyxiated. She was 39 years old.

Tarbotton had been at the helm of RAN since August 2010, and had worked with the organization for almost six years. Under her leadership, RAN has focused on the intersections between forests, fossil fuels, and climate change, and run aggressive campaigns pushing corporations to change the way they do business. Most recently, Tarbotton helped convince entertainment giant Disney to adopt a major new policy that will eliminate the use of paper connected to the destruction of endangered forests.

"Becky reshaped Rainforest Action Network, and was a force against deforestation and corporate greed," said Michael Brune, former executive director of RAN and now executive director of the Sierra Club. "She was a rising star. We need more women to be leading environmental organizations, and losing a leader and friend like Becky is especially painful."

Bill McKibben of (and a Grist board member) also had the highest praise for Tarbotton: "She was, among other things, one of the most spirited of environmentalists - no long-faced doomsayer, and no too-careful D.C. tactician, but a fighter with a spring in her step and a bit of fire in her eye. A true heir to giants like David Brower."