Via Basel: Interview with Kyra Woods, Sierra Club


The offices of the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club, headquartered in Chicago on the 15th floor of 70 East Lake Street, are ordinarily a beehive of activity with workers and volunteers all over the place. But on Friday morning, May 25th, 2018, around 10 a.m. it was quite sedate as if the volume was turned down. It turned out to be the perfect background of my interview with Kyra Woods in her office, where a small round wooden table separated us. Starting my first assignment as a journalist (to add to a long list of other jobs), I placed my smart phone equidistant between us and started recording. I found Kyra a well informed, dynamic, and articulate young woman with an unbridled enthusiasm as we engaged in a whole variety of subjects, the environment being the central issue. I thoroughly enjoyed the 55 minutes we spent together, her mostly answering my questions and me listening intently and commenting from time to time (difficult for me to completely shut up). Here are a few excerpts from that interview.

Basel: Why don’t you start by telling us a bit of your background and how you ended up working for the Sierra Club. 

Kyra: My name is Kyra and I am a very proud Chicago native, grew up on the South Side in Beverly, also a proud CPS graduate, eventually ended up going to Northwestern University in Evanston and studied Environmental Engineering. I was involved in a lot of activities on campus but then I went to a volunteer expo held at Peggy Notebaert Museum one year, looking for a way to engage in environmental issues related to my major, and stumbled upon the Sierra Club and became a volunteer which eventually got me more involved and now I’m on the staff here.

Basel: I also know that did something abroad, can you elaborate?

Kyra: Sure. I am a recently returned Peace Corps volunteer, working in the world food program in West Africa. I lived in Guinea, the city of Kankan in the interior of the country, very dry, but it was a beautiful experience that I was fortunate to have had.

Basel: So what actually is your title or job here now, tell us more about it.

Kyra: It’s a little long, Clean Energy Organizing Apprentice. The position is designed to give experience and learning in how the Sierra Club really works, to engage with volunteers and staff as well. Also a great opportunity to develop administrative skills and relationship building. We are fortunate here in Illinois to have some really great campaigns that we are working on, such as RF100 which is my heart and soul. 

Basel: So out of all the multitide of activities by the Sierra Club we will focus today on this one , please tell us more about it.

Kyra: So “Ready For 100,” which is affectionately known as RF100, is a national campaign, spearheaded by the Sierra Club in conjunction with many other partners in an effort to catalyze a clean energy transition by centering equity and justice work in venturing this movement in cities all over the United States. Understanding that federally there is a lack of leadership as it relates to clean energy and other environmental issues in general, Ready For 100 is saying, “Hey, we need cities to step up to insure that we have a clean energy future and we want to make sure it is done through a lens of equity.” That is how I would encapsulate it.

Basel: So the ultimate aim it to get clean and sustainable energy for all and to do it equitably. Now is there a timeline or is it open ended?

Kyra: Sure, so the Ready for 100 commitment we are seeking from mayors and other municipal leaders is that transition to 100% clean energy for their cities or their towns happens by 2050 at the latest. 2035 is our target year for transition of all electrical needs. There are a variety of energy sources and needs, and it can get complicated, but the RF100 commitment is also customizable to each municipality or city, so we want to be mindful and sensitive to their needs and how much time they require for a smooth transition. Not everybody may be on board for 2035 or even 2050, and how they get there may be different from city to city. As of yesterday 68 cities across the US have made that commitment officially. We recognize there are challenges and that is why all parties have to be included from the power and energy companies to the the communities they serve, especially the ones on the front line and most disadvantaged. We want to do it right.

Basel: Is Chicago currently one of them?

Kyra: Chicago is not one of the 68. We are one of the 150 campaigns, though, that is making our way towards that, and last year Mayor Emanuel did make a municipal building commitment that by 2025 all city-owned buildings will be 100% clean-energy sourced. There are other cities that are not having these conversations, so here we need to encourage our mayor and leaders to go even further  and make the full commitment and we believe they will listen and act if enough citizens make their voices heard. Chicago also is unique and diverse being a commercial and industrial hub, in an agricultural state and the Great Lakes are so special, this large fresh water body right on our shores. So we have issues related to water, land and air pollution, land rights, privatization of water etc. These are all embedded in the RF100 campaign, local problems that start a conversation about social, economic, and health aspects of energy sources and of course this leads to the political dimension and here the Sierra Club in partnership with other like minded oganizations can help a lot because of its size and experience.

Basel: I  may be dreaming but looking forward 10 or 20 years can Chicago become a model of what such a campaign can accomplish?

Kyra: Oh, yeah, totally (laughing). Chicago would actually be the largest city to make this commitment if we become #69 soon. It is known all around the world and people will listen and say, “Wow, Chicago is actually going to make this happen.” Also, internationally Chicago is part of C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, whose leaders are talking about the need to go beyond fossil fuel for our energy. Also remember these commitments will encourage technological advancement in solar panels, wind turbines, and other forms of clean energy.

Basel: So, Kyra, there is a lot going on in Chicago in these areas of clean energy, environmental justice, as well as political involvement, and so maybe you can guide our audience how to get involved. In addition I want to hear a story from your childhood related to this subject…….

That’s all for now, but please tune in the next 2 weeks for the 2nd and final segment of this interview.

Sierra Club Illinois Chapter

Ready for 100, Sierra Club

Peace Corps

Mayor Rahm Emanuel Renewable Energy Commitment

C40 Cities

Basel Al-Aswad, father of EIL founder Christopher Al-Aswad, is a yogi trapped in an Orthopedic Surgeon’s body. His loves in life include reading, hiking, enjoying nature, meditation, and spending time with his large Iraqi family, and now, retired, he will have more time for that. And for the next adventure.