Kiera O’Brien shares her experience as a conservative environmentalist

Kiera O'Brien

Kiera O’Brien from Students for Carbon Dividends was CCL’s October 2019 guest speaker.

Kiera O’Brien shares her experience as a conservative environmentalist

By Hana Manjusak

Each month, Citizens’ Climate Lobby hosts an online meeting featuring a guest speaker to educate listeners on topics related to climate change, carbon fee and dividend, and the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. Check out recaps of past speakers here.

As vice president of Students for Carbon Dividends and President Emeritus of the Harvard Republican Club, Kiera O’Brien has been working hard to to mobilize political will among conservative students for carbon dividends legislation. O’Brien’s passionate views of climate change have been profoundly influenced by growing up in Alaska, a state whose citizens have an important relationship with the environment. Her home state informed her political beliefs overall, too. She told us that she is “inherently” a “Republican that cares about the environment and climate issues.”

O’Brien was recently able to testify at a congressional hearing alongside Republican pollster Frank Luntz. For her, the best part was the collaboration. “It was a really incredible process of getting to share my personal experiences with these members who legitimately wanted to collaborate on these policy issues,” she said. 

“Regardless of who I’m talking to, I focus a lot on the story.”

O’Brien speaks to both conservatives and liberals. She finds that it is important to connect with whoever she is talking to, and to show the person that she cares. She says, “I truly believe that this is a bipartisan issue that is so pressing, that we need to work together on.” 

Students for Carbon Dividends is currently on campuses across the country. The organization holds events every month, and O’Brien is thrilled to see where they will go from here. “We’d like to pass carbon dividends. That’s the ultimate goal,” she said. “But beyond that, we are really excited about the campus network that we’ve created and the dialogue between Republicans and Democrats on campuses across the country.”

Using all the tools in the toolbox

Often when speaking with people of different political beliefs, the concern of environmental justice gets mentioned. O’Brien emphasizes that people who are advocates for environmental justice can also advocate for a carbon price. She says, “A carbon price is a tool in the toolbox, and economists have shown that it is the most powerful tool we have in the toolbox.”

O’Brien expresses that there’s been significant interest in the “Economists’ Statement on Carbon Dividends,” in which thousands of economists expressed support for the Climate Leadership Council’s Carbon Dividends plan, another policy proposal that places a fee on carbon and gives revenue to households. While the CLC plan and the CCL plan differ, O’Brien says, “As long as we all do our part to get the main message of carbon dividends to the forefront, then we’ve done what we can do.”

For more information on Students For Carbon Dividends, visit their website. Watch the entire October meeting, including Kiera’s full remarks, here. Follow Kiera O’Brien on Instagram @kieraobrien.

Hana Manjusak is a communications intern at Citizens’ Climate Lobby. She is an undergraduate student currently studying at the Georgia Institute of Technology with a major in International Affairs.