Ketchikan climate activist named to Forbes 30 Under 30 list

A portrait of a young woman standing on a beach with the water behind her.
Kiera O’Brien is one of two Alaskans named to Forbes’ “30 Under 30” lists this year. (Courtesy Kiera O’Brien)

A young climate activist born and raised in Ketchikan was one of three Alaskans named to Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list this year. Kiera O’Brien says growing up in Alaska inspired her to pursue a career focused on fighting climate change.

Kiera O’Brien has some advice for other young Alaskans looking to make a difference in their communities:

“Find something you’re passionate about and go for it.”

O’Brien is a 24-year-old Harvard graduate and climate advocate. Her passion for clean energy landed her a spot on Forbes’ “30 Under 30” energy list this year.

O’Brien said she just got the news Tuesday morning.

“Climate and clean energy are near and dear to my heart, and (I am) very excited to see the energy list for Forbes turning towards clean energy in the way that it has,” she said.

She said her childhood in Ketchikan led her to where she is today: working for a green energy developer called TotalEnergies as a public policy representative.

“My childhood in Ketchikan really, really shaped what I’m doing today,” O’Brien said. “And Alaska is ground zero for climate change. So clean energy is the future for Alaska.”

Her job means she works in Washington, D.C., keeping an eye on federal offshore wind and solar policy.

“I monitor federal public policy — so anything that’s happening on the Hill, happening in the White House, that’s of interest to us, and then I bring the findings back to the company, and try to deduce what exactly that means for our business and our investment decisions,” she said.

She’s started two climate-focused nonprofits and worked on the federal auctions that won her company two major offshore wind farm leases worth nearly a billion dollars. That includes the $795 million New York Bight project and the $160 million Carolina Long Bay wind farm lease.

“My field is quite niche, offshore wind, especially in the US,” O’Brien said.

It’s not O’Brien’s first time making one of these lists — she made a different “30 Under 30” list in 2020.

“I was on one a couple years ago — GreenBiz,” O’Brien said. “It’s a very similar kind of thing. It’s just specific to climate and clean energy, though.”

But before Forbes, and before Harvard, O’Brien was a student at Ketchikan High School.

“I was captain of the varsity swim team while I was there,” she recalled. “I was a Class Act (program) mentor. In the band program, a handful of other things.”

She also was a summer intern for Sen. Dan Sullivan in 2016, the same year she graduated from Ketchikan High School. She went back to work for him in 2021 as a correspondence manager.

At Harvard, O’Brien was the president emerita of the Young Republicans club. She also founded the Young Conservatives for Carbon Dividends club.

The complete Forbes “30 Under 30” energy list can be found here.

Quannah Chasinghorse of Fairbanks was the only other Alaskan to be highlighted by Forbes this year.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of Alaskans named to the 30 Under 30 list.

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