Friday, August 18, 2000

Fledgling lawyer determined to protect the environment

By John Johnston
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Everyone has a story worth telling. At least, that's the theory. To test it, Tempo is throwing darts at the phone book. When a dart hits a name, a reporter dials the phone number and asks if someone in the home will be interviewed.

[photo] Margaret Kaiser of Greenhills will attend Columbia University Law School in the fall.
(Dick Swaim photo)
| ZOOM |
        She became a vegetarian in eighth grade “for moral reasons.” Eventually she concluded the environmental reasons were even more compelling.

        “It takes exponentially more resources to produce a pound of beef than it does to produce a pound of grain,” Margaret Kaiser explains. “More water, more fertilizer, more pesticides.”

        Janet and William Kaiser didn't object to their daughter's decision. Although not vegetarians themselves, theirs is an environmentally conscious household.

        Still, Margaret says, “I don't think they thought I was going to stick with it.”

        She did.

        Says her mother: “We should have known that Peggy is a rather determined person.”

        Indeed she is.

        Margaret Kaiser, age 22, is sitting at a picnic table in her parents' back yard in Greenhills, where she's enjoying a short summer break before starting law school at Columbia University. (Classes began this week.) Her 16-year-old twin brothers, John and Ben, say she hasn't been forgotten at Winton Woods High, which graduated her in '96.

        “She was valedictorian,” John says, “so all the teachers are telling us we should be doing as well as she did.”

        He smirks at the notion of such an impossibly high standard.

        “She decided she wanted to be first in her class,” her mother says. “She'd walk into a class and tell the teacher she wanted an “A,” and ask, "What do I need to do to get it?' ”

        When it was time for college, Margaret wanted to see a different part of the country. She chose Claremont McKenna College, a small liberal arts school an hour east of Los Angeles. It offered a degree in environment, economics and politics, as well as a strong Asian studies program.

        Her junior year, she spent six months in China studying at Beijing University, teaching English to middle school students, and traveling. A trip to Sichuan province included a 14-hour bus ride followed by a three-day trek on horseback. The guides spoke no English.

        “We were out in the middle of nowhere,” Margaret says. “Got a rat in our tent.” She giggles.

        After graduation last May, she spent eight weeks living in a remote mountain cabin east of Yosemite. She was working at an environmental field station owned by Claremont McKenna. The nearest town and phone were a five-mile hike away.

        She'll travel to the Netherlands in November when the next round of Kyoto Protocol talks are held. The accord, yet to be ratified by the United States, calls for industrialized countries to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

        She'll be there with members of Ozone Action, a Washington, D.C.-based group that focuses on air pollution issues. Maybe she'll use some of the tactics she learned in Florida last spring, when she attended a week-long civil disobedience boot camp run by the Ruckus Society.

        She learned how to scale scaffolding to hang protest banners. And she practiced locking arms with other protesters to prevent police from pulling them apart.

        Although she has never been involved in that kind of demonstration, “I'm perfectly open to the concept,” she says. Such protests attract media attention, which in turn can get more people involved.

        If she is to help change the world, it's likely she'll do it not as an activist, but as an environmental lawyer. Her dream job: environmental crisis management on an international scale.

        You might think this intelligent young woman has everything figured out. But she's smart enough to know she doesn't.

        “I think the big challenge is going to be once I graduate (from law school), figuring out some balance between career and the rest of my life.” She's not sure how to juggle a family with a job in which “they expect you to spend 100 hours a week at the office.”

        She'll face those decisions another day. Last Friday, she left for law school.

        “She's just a very determined person,” her mother says. “She knows what she wants, and she's going to do what's necessary to obtain it.”


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