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© Andrew Markowitz

Meet Sophia Kianni, an 18-year-old climate activist who plans to change the world for the better. Between finishing high school and staying safe during a global pandemic, this climate hero is inspiring activists everywhere to get involved.

During middle school, Sophia Kianna was blown away while visiting her family living in Iran. The lack of light pollution illuminated every star in the night sky, but more than that, her immediate family members were unfamiliar with her talks of pollution and climate change. Sophia shared what she learned in the classroom with her family and quickly realized they had not been exposed to the same information, simply due to language barriers.

Upon her return home, Sophia devised a way to help her family and the families around the world who may not be aware of how pollution and climate change affect them. At first, she translated climate information into Farsi, the language her family speaks in Iran. Thus began Climate Cardinals, a nonprofit organization, now with over six thousand worldwide volunteers, all of whom work tirelessly to translate hundreds of thousands of words of climate information into over one hundred languages. People worldwide can use that education to empower themselves to make changes in their communities to combat climate change.

Climate Cardinals expanded dramatically during the pandemic and garnered the attention of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, who named Sophia the youngest member of the newly-created Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change. While managing Climate Cardinals, being an active member of the UN Youth Council and studying for finals, we were lucky enough to sit down with Sophia for a couple of questions.

Looking at your resume and what you have accomplished, you’re not a typical 18-year-old.
With everything you have going on, how do you find the time to be a normal teenager?

I always try and build time into my schedule just to have fun with friends and family. Coronavirus has definitely made it more difficult to be a typical teenager, with being quarantined and socially distant, but I have been able to go on socially distant walks and hikes with friends and family. Right now, however, school is my biggest priority, so sleep has been almost non-existent. In that sense, I seem like a typical teenager.

As a GenZ-er, you have used your platform to reach thousands of youth through social media, including TikTok, Instagram, etc. How do you plan to resonate with GenX and Boomers who may not all be “connected”?

Speaking with many of my family members, especially the older generations, having conversations can be really effective. I can express my fears and concerns about my future and use direct, emotional appeals to make compelling arguments for the need of climate change. I find that in-person conversations or panel discussions are more impactful for the older generations than social media because dialogue helps to demonstrate information in a way that resonates.

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© Cheryl Jacobs Crim

Despite your age, you’ve collaborated with the older generations. How do you help blend the gap between the generations—those who inherit the climate change problem and the older generations who greatly contributed to it without truly knowing the ramifications?

The younger generations have demonized the older generations for creating this climate movement; however, my older mentors have taught me so much and have helped me not to subscribe to that narrative. I believe there has to be a certain level of respect between both generations. Still, it is also important that the older generation leave a seat at the table for us to express our feelings and fears of our future, and collectively, we have to think of solutions without pointing fingers of blame.

In 2017, the United States withdrew from the Paris Agreement. How have global policies shaped your role and understanding of politics as a voting citizen, and what advice do you have for the upcoming voting generation?

Working with the UN, I have learned that climate change is truly a global issue that requires multilateral cooperation. Something like the Paris Agreement is leading by example, where wealthier nations take responsibility for their disproportionate contribution to carbon emissions. Thankfully, President-Elect Joe Bident will be re-entering the USA into the Paris Agreement. Similar global policies can help keep nations accountable and are important for global participation. Young voters need to be aware of candidates and their platforms, and for many, this requires research into policies and being an informed voter. Climate change is a policy issue and can only be resolved if people are voting for the right candidates.

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As a part of the UN Youth Advisory Council on Climate Change, how do you think your role can help elicit global change?

Using my role at the UN to work on issues that I am passionate about is what I’ve been trying to hone in on. My primary responsibility is managing Climate Cardinals, my international nonprofit. My biggest passion has been increasing access to environmental education, especially to non-English speakers. I’ve been working with UN entities, like UNICEF, translating materials to make information accessible to non-English speakers. Also, I plan to use my role to increase youth involvement within the UN and hear their feedback about what is important to them and bring their perspective into our UN policies. Finally, by working with the Secretary-General to ensure a social-justice orientated approach to tackling the climate crisis, we will be able to tackle other related issues such as environmental racism and climate justice.

Sophia plans to continue using Climate Cardinals as a vehicle to combat climate change around the world. From its humble beginnings to worldwide notoriety, Sophia is in awe of the success and is excited to see its impact in the years to come. At such a young age, this global hero has made huge ripples throughout the global community; the world is a much better place with Sophia Kianni in it.

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