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Activist Sophia Kianni on climate literacy and education

April 20, 2021By Francine Heath

Climate literacy and environmental education are key pillars of EARTHDAY.ORG’s mission, so what better time to meet the founder of an international nonprofit that’s translating vital climate information into 105 languages?

It’s hard to know where to start when it comes to introducing Sophia Kianni. At just 19 years old, the Iranian-American climate activist has already achieved so much. She represents the United States as the youngest member of the inaugural United Nations Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change. She is a Senior Partner at JUV Consulting, a Gen Z marketing agency that works with clients to authentically engage young audiences. As a journalist, she’s penned articles for the likes of Teen Vogue and Refinery 29. She has been named VICE Media’s youngest Human of the Year. The list goes on.

Today, we’re here to talk about Climate Cardinals. Its purpose? To make the climate movement more accessible to those who don’t speak English.

The idea for Climate Cardinals came about seven years ago following a trip to Iran, where both Kianni’s parents are from, “I was really struck by how horrible the pollution was and I started to research the climate in the Middle East. I discovered that the temperatures there were rising more than twice the global average,” she begins. Later, while chatting with her relatives about the topic, she was surprised to learn that they didn’t even know what climate change was, “I realised that it’s because there’s very little information available in Farsi, which is their native language, so I started translating some of it with the help of my mom to try and teach them.” And there it was: the lightbulb moment for Climate Cardinals. “I decided to start Climate Cardinals because of that experience. I wanted to replicate my success on a larger scale.” 

It was in October 2019 that Kianni really started to work on the idea and she began by securing a fiscal sponsor (March On) so that Climate Cardinals could have 501c3 status. Next, she assembled a small team and tasked them to help create a logo and a website. Then came TikTok – “the way we really got off the ground is we had a viral TikTok video that reached over 100,000 people on the first day. It drove people to sign up with us,” she explains, revealing that the team still uses social platforms like Instagram and TikTok to recruit volunteers. Currently, over 8,000 volunteers in 41 countries are working to source and translate science-based climate information.

Social media had a role to play in the start of Kianni’s journey as a climate activist, too. “I saw people like Greta (Thunberg) and other young people in the US really starting to come together and organise events. I wanted to be a part of what they were doing because I thought it was so important and they were being so effective in raising awareness,” she reveals. That’s why she sent DMs to a bunch of organisers for various groups on Instagram – like Extinction RebellionFridays For Future and Zero Hour – and simply asked how she could get involved. She credits those experiences with helping her to launch Climate Cardinals.

The accomplishments don’t stop there. Kianni is also thrilled to be the host of The New Fashion Podcast. “My interest in climate action means there’s a natural connection to sustainable fashion, and hosting the podcast is something that I really love doing,” she admits. “I see myself continuing to do things in the sustainable fashion space as I now buy all of my clothes secondhand and it’s something I’m very interested in.”

So, what advice would she give to someone who wants to shop more consciously? “It’s all about making the small changes that you feel you can, and that fit with your lifestyle. I look at it through the lens of owning your privilege. If you’re in a position of socioeconomic power – where it’s not hard for you to go out and buy all of your clothes from a more sustainable retailer – then you should totally do that. But I also understand that, for some people, all they can afford is fast fashion and I’m not going to shame them.” Kianni adds that she doesn’t believe climate change will be solved solely through individual action. Instead, it’s something that the government needs to pass policy on.

This leads us nicely onto the topic of Biden’s Earth Day summit. “I hope that with Biden now in office we’ll see that the climate crisis is being taken more seriously,” she divulges. “The US has re-entered the Paris Climate Agreement and I really hope that we can go beyond that to engage in conversations with other countries and make sure that they’re also committing to taking action. I hope for us to see climate progress.”

Find out more about Climate Cardinals and Sophia at www.https://www.climatecardinals.org/

Donate to Climate Cardinals here.