Meet the Stanford student advocating for the climate one language at a time

The vast majority of climate resources and information are only available in English. Sophia Kianni ’24 is trying to change that.

Aug. 10, 2022, 10:19 p.m.

Sophia Kianni ’24 was visiting her family in Iran one summer when she knew something was wrong — a thick blanket of pollution covered the whole sky in shades of gray. Hoping to help her family learn more about climate change, she did a quick Google search. But to her surprise, there was almost nothing written in Farsi, Iran’s native language. 

What would later become the organization Climate Cardinals started with Kianni and her mother translating English resources on climate change into Farsi for their relatives. During her senior year of high school years later, Climate Cardinals was born with the goal to translate information on climate change into different languages, expanding access to non-English speakers. 

From the start, Kianni’s family was heavily involved in her work. Sabrina Kianni, her sister, said that being in Iran “propelled” her to want to help with Climate Cardinals because of their shared experiences there.

Soon, though, the organization’s translators expanded from friends and family to other volunteers recruited through social media. Climate Cardinals now has a network of 8,000 volunteers across 41 countries who translate climate information into over 100 different languages. 

“Sophia’s drive to advocate has really emphasized the importance of accessibility in educational efforts and in advocacy efforts,” said Rohan Arora, a senior director at Climate Cardinals. “The passion that Sophia leads with is very apparent.”

Because of her work with Climate Cardinals, Kianni was selected as the youngest member of the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General’s youth advisory group on climate change to represent the U.S and Iran. Along with the other members of the advisory group, she meets with the Secretary-General quarterly to give feedback on his climate strategies.

“Concretely, being able to give feedback and to share inputs from all of the young people from around the world and to relay their feedback to these decision-makers has been such an enormous opportunity to uplift the voices of youth,” Kianni said.

For Kianni, this collaboration with other young climate activists has helped her hold on to hope for reaching a more sustainable and healthy planet.

“It has shown me that there are people who care about our planet and making our world a better place,” she said. “Working with them has inspired me to do all that I can to live with impact oriented values.”

While climate change is at the center of Kianni’s activism, she also emphasized the importance of tackling and raising awareness on other issues, such as racial and gender inequality. According to her, a healthier planet can only come from a multi-faceted approach.

“The climate crisis is an intersectional issue,” Kianni said. “It intersects with so many different issues like racial justice and how environmental racism is such a huge issue. And for me, the issue of language accessibility is so huge, where 75% of the world doesn’t speak English, but 80% of the scientific world is only available in English.”

At Stanford, Kianni balances her work with being a full-time student as well. Last winter, she decided to take a step back from her activism, dedicating more time instead to her academics and social life on campus.

“I tried to enjoy myself and take advantage of Stanford’s amazing resources, people and professors,” Kianni said. “At the end of the day I’m going to Stanford to get me the tools to change the world and further my activism.”

Maya Bhatt is a high school student writing for The Daily's summer journalism workshop.

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