Ben didn’t want to be a lawyer initially because he thought it was just arguing all the time. It may seem counterintuitive to have a lawyer working for a water organization. But it’s not just scientists that work for waterkeepers. “Kind of like how the Lorax speaks for the trees, we speak for the river,” explains ORK legal director Ben Kirsch. “We all live in the environment, so making sure that it was protected and thriving would allow people to be protected and thrive.”
Though he always loved being out in nature, he didn’t see the connection at first either. “I found my latent love for the environment during undergrad – both in the classroom and out in nature,” he recalls. “From there, it was a near-perfect marriage of history, current events, working for a greater good, and enjoying our shared natural world.”
After undergrad, Ben joined the Peace Corps and taught English in a remote Mongolian village. It was there that the impact – positive and negative – that people have on the environment became clear. “It was an entirely different geography, biome, and level of development, coupled with the locals’ reverence, respect, and appreciation for nature. I could see things through fresh eyes; that is hard to do when you’ve been living in one kind of place for a long time.”
He’d never lived in the Southeast before, but has quickly taken to it. With ORK, Ben focuses on combing through permit applications, suggesting ordinance updates, tracking legislative efforts, and more. Compared to some staff members, Ben doesn’t get to spend as much time actually out on the river but he loves to talk to anyone who will listen about what a unique blackwater river that ORK protects.
Even though ORK’s staff and board members are based throughout the basin, “There’s an easy friendliness and camaraderie that comes with our shared goal to protect our waters,” Ben says.
For someone interested in becoming an environmental lawyer, Ben recommends they get involved, and watch and learn from other dedicated people.
“Ultimately, I chose to pursue law because it would allow me to know how our government, political, decision-making systems work and how to be able to affect systemic change to make people’s lives better.”
What is your idea of happiness? Outdoors, surrounded by loved ones, and laughing
Who are your favorite painters and composers? I enjoy Van Gogh, Mucha, and Monet and I love listening to Billy Strings, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Earth Wind and Fire, Outkast, Holst, Vivaldi, and Handel.
What is your favorite bird? Cardinals, flamingos, the bird outside my window that sings to me every morning.
What is your most treasured possession? Either a piece of an asteroid or my petrified tree knot
What is the dumbest way you’ve been hurt? An (all things considered) fairly gentle fall during a Mongolian wrestling tournament.
What’s the best type of cheese for you? I love me a good feta. But it totally depends on the dish! Maybe my most divisive favorite cheese is bleu. Give me the stinkiest one you got!
What’s the worst color that was ever invented? All colors have their time and place! But, I’m not a huge fan of chartreuse.
Which talent would you most like to have? I would live to be able to play a musical instrument to some proficient level
What do you consider the most overrated virtue? I’d say I struggle the most with patience, but I still think it’s important!
What takes a lot of time but is totally worth it? The 12-hour drive back home to Cleveland.
What topic could you give a 20-minute presentation on without any preparation? “Hello, I’m Ben, and in my TedTalk I will be discussing the highs and lows of the Taco Bell menu.”
What’s the most amazing natural occurrence you’ve witnessed? The total solar eclipse in 2016 – looking forward to the next one in 2024
Which words or phrases do you most overuse? “I heard on NPR/a podcast that…”
What is your motto? “A journey of ten thousand miles starts with a single step.”