When it comes to protecting the environment, numerous skeptics claim nothing can be done as powerful corporate and governmental interests ravage the rainforests, pollute the water and air, and damage the soil in their pursuit of profits or for politicians, in their pursuit of campaign contributions.
But Becky, as the head of San Francisco based Rainforest Action Network (RAN), which focuses on protecting rain forests and addressing climate change, showed us one person, with the support of a handful of other dedicated people, can make a huge difference.
Born July 30th, 1973 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, Becky earned a bachelor’s degree from McGill University in Montreal and a master’s degree from the University of British Columbia.
But what got her into environmental activism was an incident that happened in British Columbia when Becky was 12 years old. That summer, her best friend’s father, a logging contractor flew the girls on a hiking excursion on his four seat prop plane to an area well north of Vancouver.
Having seen so many tall trees around Vancouver, Becky assumed the entire area was heavily forested, but from that prop plane, she saw it was a facade. Behind those tall trees, vast sums of forest had been harvested, leaving nothing but environmental damage and just beyond what the people of the area could see, a huge eye sore of clear cut tree stumps.
As Becky later said, “British Columbia was this amazing waste of land of clear cut,” and to her it became “a wakeup call.”
After college, she immersed herself in environmental causes, most notably, working in India from 1996 to 2004 with Helena Norberg-Hodge, a top environmentalist and writer.
In 2007, Becky joined RAN.
Since then, Becky and her small team persuaded such banking giants as Bank of America and Wells Fargo and other giant banks to stop funding mining companies that blast the tops off the Appalachian Mountains.
While it is cheaper for mining companies to dynamite those tops off, it destroys many streams and lakes in the area, pollutes the water table, creates an eyesore, and it makes nearby towns and neighborhoods almost unlivable.
Persuading banking giants to end this funding is a huge coup, for it also encourages big mining polluters to rethink how they function, as they are forced to scramble for dollars elsewhere.
And there is more good news. In 2011 RAN persuaded the Walt Disney Company to stop using Indonesian Rainforest harvested paper in their many children’s books. They among a growing number of companies in Becky’s words are “… demonstrating that there’s no need to sacrifice endangered forests and animals for the paper we use every day.””
But then suddenly everything changed for RAN. On December 26th, 2012 Becky drowned in rough surf near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. She was just 39 years old.
Among Becky’s survivors are her husband, Mateo Williford, her mother Mary, and her brothers, Jesse and Cameron. But Becky is also survived by her and RAN’s remarkable achievements. And RAN’s work will continue.
Can a handful of dedicated people make a real difference in this world? In the words of renowned Anthropologist Margaret Mead: “Never doubt a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Becky and the team at RAN admirably demonstrated Ms. Mead’s words.