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Exclusive – Sophia Kianni on why knowledge is key to climate justice

Gen Z activist Sophia Kianni founded Climate Cardinals; a non-profit organisation dedicated to closing the climate translation gap. She believes that education is the most valuable tool in the fight to safeguard our planet’s future.

At just 20 years old, Sophia Kianni is both the youngest member on the United Nations Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change and the founder of Climate Cardinals, an international non-profit organisation that’s working to make the climate movement more accessible to non-English speakers.

‘By making sure the world is as well-informed as possible, we’re guaranteeing that everyone [involved in the fight] is able to present their solutions in a holistic manner,’ she says.

We spoke to the Iranian-American Gen Zer about Climate Cardinals and the importance of education when it comes to unified, global action against climate change.

 

What sparked Sophia’s drive to make a change?

Explaining the motivation behind her activism, Sophia tells Thred that regular trips to her parents’ homeland of Iran laid the groundwork for her involvement in bettering climate education.

On one of her recent visits, she was struck by how little her relatives knew of the ongoing crisis. Not by choice, but due to an absence of informative resources they were actually able to understand.

From this point onwards, Sophia would begin to examine why more than half of the global speaking population is being denied the opportunity to make sense of the data surrounding our planet’s largely uncertain future.

‘Those being disproportionately affected by climate change deserve to have access to the resources they need to make sense of the disasters that are destroying their communities,’ she says. ‘The more these groups of people are informed about the climate crisis, the greater chance we have to coordinate collective efforts in protection of the Earth. English cannot be the barrier to entry.’

So, how has Sophia gone about overcoming such a hurdle, one that’s resulting in a concerning amount of misinformation and low public interest towards tackling this issue?

The answer is Climate Cardinals, a website with an in-built database of environmental-orientated documents and agreements, all of which can be viewed in 100 languages and counting.

To date, the organisation has facilitated the translation of over 6,000 pages from various sources including local and major publications, official governing bodies, and scientifically-led studies.

It’s done so with the help of some 9,000 bilingual volunteers (most of them students who fall squarely within the Gen Z bracket), from 40+ countries.

In addition, Climate Cardinals has partnered with UNICEF and Translators Without Borders to spread their multilingual material.

As Sophia stresses, recruiting translators from a wide-reaching scope of locations has always been of the utmost importance to her.

This is because the ‘whole purpose’ of her work is to ensure that it is ‘breaking through echo chambers’ and ‘expanding outside of the typical White English-speaking demographic that tends to run the climate movement.’

Unfortunately, this is proving to be increasingly difficult in the age of 24-hour news which tends to focus substantially on stories that may trigger a sense of doom.

People are more likely to switch off when confronted with page after page of anxiety-inducing statistics and, in response, Climate Cardinals deliberately priorities short-form content.

Its goal is to provide readers with the most succinct, timely, current, research-backed summaries available so as to avoid deterring them with complex information that’s bound to have them turn a blind eye.

 

What can individuals do with the knowledge they’re given?

What good is convincing people of the real and pressing threat posed by climate change, however, if they aren’t able to apply the knowledge that Climate Cardinals is delivering?

This brings us to the second facet of Sophia’s approach to activism: amplifying the voices of those most disproportionately affected by providing a space to present solutions that will benefit them and, ultimately, us all.

‘I’ve always advocated for providing spaces at the decision-making table for the people who are being worst impacted,’ she says.

‘Especially young people, who I truly believe are so well-placed to influence change because of the vast array of tools at our disposal.’

Referring here to social media, Sophia deems online platforms like Instagram and TikTok the ‘great equalisers’ of our generation.

They open the door to an unlimited breadth of knowledge and allow us to communicate what we’re learning with others quickly and easily.

Not everyone has the facilities to champion non-violent civil disobedience, attend events like COP26, or even to vote, but digital platforms provide a virtual arena in which all can share ideas.

‘Those fortunate enough to have internet access should be compelled to become a more conscious individual, to educate themselves and, subsequently, their peers’ she says.

‘Leverage what you have to work with into the causes you care about. Identify injustices. If you’re able to change it on a micro level you should be able to change it on a macro level. Everyone has something to offer. Use your passions to your – and the Earth’s – advantage.’

On this note, Sophia strives to use her personal platforms to balance the scale. To educate the masses while pushing for tangible action from a top-down level.

 

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A post shared by Sophia Kianni (@sophiakianni)

Putting the latter into practice, her position as an advisor for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is her way of ensuring that young people are directly engaging with progress.

‘If our world leaders are working to design the future that we’re going to inherit, it makes no sense to talk about us without having formalised institutional structures that permit us to be included in those conversations,’ she urges.

‘I actually think it’s to the benefit of those decision makers to include Gen Z so there’s a transparent dialogue that’s solution-oriented. It’s important to synchronise these visions so we aren’t just tirelessly complaining about certain narratives and we’re actually getting the results we’re asking for again and again.’

The frequent dismissal of young people and minority groups from official conversation poses a risk of over exhaustion and over compensation. Until Gen Z are taken seriously, it can be very easy for young public figures to stretch themselves thin.

Sophia combats this by setting boundaries, she says.

‘People feel very entitled to your time when you’re an unpaid activist doing labour that you genuinely care about. When you’re in that position it’s so important to say “hey, this is something I really care about but I also have to be conscious of my mental health or I’ll burn out”.’

The same, she explains, applies to our information intake.

As she rightly points out, overloading our brains with reports about a situation we already know is getting worse by the day as well as placing immense pressure on ourselves to channel a specific form of activism is not constructive, which is why it’s essential we carefully filter what we consume.

Leaving us with a final piece of sage advice regarding how to navigate this, Sophia recommends we continue educating ourselves at our own pace, but educating ourselves, nonetheless.

‘We need many more imperfect activists than perfect activists,’ she finishes. ‘Raising public awareness in one way or another is always going to be better than nothing.’

 

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