According to environmental activist Sophia Kianni, 40 percent of adults across the world have never heard of climate change.
When she was in middle school, Kianni, an Iranian American, visited her relatives in Iran and was shocked by the pollution she saw in the country. She tried discussing the issue of climate change with her relatives, but realized they had never heard of global warming due to a lack of available information in Farsi—a common language spoken in Iran.
Since her middle school visit to Iran, the 20 year-old has become an experienced environmental activist. By highschool, Kianni was involved in several climate advocacy organizations including Fridays for Future, the movement started by Swedish student Greta Thunberg. After learning how to effectively engage in climate advocacy through her work with these organizations, Kianni founded the non-profit Climate Cardinals in her senior year.
“After a few years of organizing with these different grassroots climate organizations…I decided in my senior year of high school to start Climate Cardinals, which is a international youth-led nonprofit working to make climate education more accessible to people who don’t speak English, and the way we do that is we translate [climate] resources into over 100 different languages,” Kianni said during her ASM presentation.
Sakina Cotton ’24, who attended the ASM in-person, appreciated the goal behind Kianni’s nonprofit. She added her appreciation for the way in which Kianni helps organize people to engage in climate advocacy.
“I’d say that it was really insightful to see how [Kianni] organized and mobilized people around her to start Climate Cardinals and the programs she pushed for on the U.N. Climate Council. The way she described her process with all the key steps, the drive it took, but also the importance and challenges of organizing was great. I think that this is a problem at Andover too: getting more people interested and involved, so others believe it is feasible to take action and make change… Overall, I think her energy and passion for mobilizing youth and spreading information was very clear in her presentation,” wrote Cotton in an email to The Phillipian.
Kianni addressed the political polarization of climate change, believing that it is more productive to focus on engaging what she called the “apathetic voter.” Attendee and PASC member Gauri Kumar ’25, found Kianni’s response to the issue of political polarization frustrating.
“In response to a student question, she said something along the lines of how climate change isn’t political, or at least it shouldn’t be, and she continued to speak about how she worked to remain apolitical in her climate work. In the current world of political polarization, at least in the US, climate change has unfortunately become political, and I had hoped to hear more from her about how to change that view and address the fact of how climate change has become a political issue,” wrote Kumar in an email to The Phillipian.
Kianni offered advice to young people on actions they could take to address climate change. Although Kianni emphasized institutional actions, she encouraged students to seek action on an individual scale as well.
“Ultimately, it’s me, its you guys, it’s our generation that’s going to be disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis…[we need to] bring out stories to the table and communicate this sense of urgency we feel, and why it’s so important for our world leaders to act on the climate crisis because we know that our generation is going to feel the brunt of the impact if action is not taken,” Kianni said.
Now, between her studies as a student at Stanford University, Kianni also represents the U.S. on the recently established United Nations Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change that advises U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. She believes increased climate awareness is crucial to moving forward.
Kianni said, “One of the most important [actions you can take] is educating yourself and others. That’s how this all started for me. If I hadn’t learned about climate change in my 6th grade class, how would I have been able to even recognize the signs of what was happening in Iran? And paying that forward by starting Climate Cardinals and attempting to educate hundreds of thousands of people, is how I have really seen I can play a crucial role in this dialogue by talking to people like you all and hopefully inspiring you to take action in whatever capacity that might be.”