Global Green Room Interview: Kelly Rigg


We've come to know Kelly Rigg in her role as the Executive Director of the Global Campaign for Climate Action (TckTckTck), a global alliance of more than 300 organizations -- including Global Green. She has led international campaigns for the last 30 years and is also the co-founder of the Varda Group, a consultancy that provides campaign and strategic advice to nonprofits. Below, she answers questions for our Global Green Room Interview.

What would surprise us about your work?

People often assume I'm a climate expert, but in fact I am the supreme generalist. I've worked on so many issues over the years -- apart from climate and energy, my heart really belongs to the sea. Don't get me wrong -- I do my homework, but if anything I'm an expert on campaigning. And especially on working with coalitions of organizations to protect our global commons.

Who is your hero?

I have many, but I'll go with the first person who popped into my mind -- David McTaggart. He was a powerful force in the making of Greenpeace International in the 1970s and '80s, and taught me much of what I learned about strategic, smart campaigning. He was infuriating and lovable in equal measure. His most memorable quote says it all: "Keep the number one thing in mind: You're fighting to get your children into the 21st century, and to hell with the rules."

What is your greatest success?

Amongst friends and colleagues, I'm probably best known for having coordinated the campaign to save Antarctica in the 1980s. Governments had negotiated a treaty that would have opened the continent to oil, gas, and mineral development. After doing our best to give the treaty the strongest possible environmental protection measures, we campaigned against its ratification once adopted. For once, the consensus decision-making process of many international fora worked in our favor. Governments ultimately abandoned the minerals treaty and opted instead for an environmental protocol that placed a 50-year moratorium on mining. The way I looked at it, if we haven't figured out in 50 years’ time that we can't afford to burn the oil in the most remote, hostile places on Earth, polluting Antarctica will be the least of our worries.

What is your greatest failure or challenge?

Despite many campaign successes over the years, we continue to lose ground. My very first campaign was to prevent offshore oil drilling on Georges Bank, which at that time (1982) was one of the world's most productive fishing grounds. (In 1984, I actually submitted 149 bids on a lease sale and suffered no legal repercussions, but I guess back then that  America -- under Ronald Reagan! -- was a kinder and gentler place for protesters.) We succeeded in getting a moratorium on oil drilling, but massive overfishing wiped out the fish anyway. Today, our greatest challenge is addressing climate change (and its evil twin, ocean acidification). We know what we need to do, but most politicians lack the courage to get the job done. Are we going to hold them accountable?

If you could make one global and green change, what would it be?

I would change the way people think about their relationship to the ecosystems of which they are a part, and on which they are dependent for their health, well-being, and livelihoods. Not even so much how they think about it, but thinking about it all. This is why the TckTckTck campaign launched the "Date with History" competition in the run-up to the Rio Earth Summit, aimed at getting young people to think about and ultimately demand the future they want, as opposed to the future we seem bent on leaving them.