It’s early morning on Spencer’s Butte and Claire Kiss is perched on a boulder. She watches as the sky slowly lightens up, like blue watercolor spreading on a blank page. Kiss takes a pen and a sheet of paper from her backpack. With a click of the pen, she uses the boulder as her desk and begins to write. It has been a while since she has last written to her pen-pal from New Zealand.
After Kiss graduated from college she was unsure of what she wanted to do next. “My mom is an attorney and she always told me that I was going to go to law school and be an attorney. And of course, I was like no, never going to happen, absolutely not.”
This uncertainty of the future pushed Kiss to take her first steps as a college graduate, not on the coffee-stained carpet of an office job, but onto foreign soil. Kiss decided to jet off to New Zealand. Kiss explained that the purpose of this trip was to reflect on her personal priorities and desires while being completely out of her comfort zone.
For the next six months, Kiss lived in Dunedin, New Zealand. But she wasn’t there alone. Kiss’s cousin also lived on the island. It was through her cousin that she met her future pen-pal and best friend, Ursula Griffen. Kiss and Griffen bonded over their shared love for nature. Together they went hiking to hidden beaches and went on cave adventures, all while having deep conversations about nature and its conservation.
Kiss picked up a job at Green Peace, campaigning to stop offshore oil drilling. She understood the devastating impact an offshore oil spill could have on the small island at any moment, potentially destroying the whole country. Kiss explained how interesting it was to discuss with the natives and her colleagues, this widely supported perspective, “the land doesn’t belong to them, they belong to the land and it is their duty to protect it.” A perspective that Kiss shared, but felt it wasn’t as heavily supported in other countries, such as the United States.
It was this realization that Kiss explained, “I put two and two together, that this was the path I wanted to go on, to protect countries around the world from climate disaster because this is something that is approaching very fast.”
Back in the United States, Kiss continues to write letters to Griffen about her studies in environmental law and how hard she is working to reach her goals. Kiss is using the legal system to protect the environment of the United States for future generations, through the encouraging use of renewable energy resources.