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'Follow the Money': How Rainforest Action Network Is Beating the Corporate Giants

RAN has a winning strategy for taking on the biggest threats to our climate and to biodiversity.
 
 
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We’ve arrived at a dangerous milestone. For the first time in human history, as Amy Goodman reported this week, "the amount of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has topped 400 parts per million." Climate scientiststs have warned that we should seek to stabilize emissions no higher that 350 ppm if we hope to fend off catastrophic planetary changes.

 

The climate crisis demands that we take action, and that those actions have the greatest impact possible. That’s what motivates the organizing strategies of Rainforest Action Network. Since 1985, RAN has been a leader in the fight to protect rainforests across the globe and the people who live in and near them. But as the climate crisis heats up, all of our lives have become dependent on protecting these vital ecosystems. 

One of the signature strategies of the organization has been to follow the money — it's waged campaigns against corporate giants like Burger King and Disney, and won. Its success in recent years was driven by visionary leader Rebecca Tarbotton. But last December, Tarbotton, 39, was killed in a swimming accident while vacationing in Mexico. Her death sent the environmental community reeling. (Read AlterNet's 2010 interview with Tarbotton here.)

Since then RAN has named Lindsey Allen, the organization’s forest program director, as acting executive director. RAN's board chair called Allen, “a world-class campaigner with more than a decade of experience and an unmatched track record pressuring and inspiring some of the world’s largest corporations to protect rainforests. Rainforest Action Network’s board, leadership team and staff stand behind Lindsey 100 percent as she takes on this crucial role. She is the natural choice, and the perfect choice.”

Allen and RAN’s communications director Nell Greenberg recently sat down with AlterNet to talk about RAN’s current campaigns and their vision for taking on the country’s biggest polluters.

Tara Lohan: What campaign are you most excited about now?

Lindsey Allen: Right now the campaign that we are most excited about is the launch of our palm oil campaign. What folks probably don't realize is that palm oil is in roughly half of processed foods that you find at a grocery story. We're going to be targeting snack companies and taking the top 20 of them to task for using palm oil because it's clearing orangutan habitat. It's causing human rights violations. There's forced labor on palm oil plantations.

We're looking at this as the last stand of the Sumatran orangutan. We won't be able to say that we didn't see extinction as a very real threat and that we didn't see this coming, because it's very clear. There are very few animals left, especially in northern Sumatra.

TL: How are you going to get people excited about a campaign that's happening very far away?

LA: Well, it's not as far away as you might think. If you walked around your house you can find palm oil in every room of your house, so there's a very direct connection between the decisions that people are making with their pocketbooks and what is happening in a place that might seem very far away. There are people that are at the other end of the supply chain so our decisions are all directly affecting those communities. 

This is a local action you can take that is globally relevant when we're talking about Indonesia where there's the biodiversity threat. There's the land tenure issues, where communities’ lands are being stolen to plant these palm oil plantations. And everyone now needs to think about climate as a backyard issue. This does relate to that because Indonesia is the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases and it's primarily related to deforestation.