A Sit Down with Climate Change Activist Sophia Kianni


Courtesy of Yearbook

Sophia Kianni visited Dominion High School for the Loudoun International Youth Leadership Summit to discuss climate change with students and delegates from around the globe.

Sophia Kianni is the founder and executive director of Climate Cardinals, an international nonprofit with 9,000 volunteers in 40+ countries working to translate climate information into over 100 languages. She represents the U.S as the youngest member of the inaugural United Nations Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change, and has been honored as a Forbes 30 under 30 honoree. Kianni came to Dominion today to talk for the Loudoun International Youth Leadership Summit, and I had the honor of sitting down with her for a Q&A. 

Describe to me “Who is Sophia Kianni?” What do you do? 

“I’m a 21 year old Iranian American climate activist. I’m the founder and executive director of Climate Cardinals, an international youth led nonprofit working to translate climate resources into over 100 languages. I also work with the UN as their youngest climate advisor.”

How has your journey to advocacy for climate change developed?

“I first started out by working with my mom to translate climate resources into Farsi after realizing my relatives in Iran didn’t know anything about climate change, and has now really ascended into a global movement of championing climate education and empowering young people to get involved in solutions.”

What roles have you undertaken throughout your fight for climate change?

“I have been both on the side of being a student and learning about climate change while at Stanford, but then also being a leader and an educator and trying to help other young people identify what role they can play as well.”

What is it like to be the youngest member of the UN Youth Advisory Group?

“It’s been a really humbling and incredible experience, because it has shown me really the power that young people can have by being given a concrete seat at the decision making table and the fact that our generation deserves to have our voices heard.”

How does it feel to lead the country as well as Gen Z in advocating for climate change?

“It’s been really amazing to think about how my voice has been able to have such rippling tremendous impacts, solely because during the pandemic I was in my childhood bedroom, and I thought that it was audacious enough to think my opinion mattered, and my voice deserved to be heard. It’s been really incredible to watch my platform grow, and to really have the avenue and the opportunity to have my message heard by people who I think can hopefully be inspired.”

What is “Climate Cardinals”? What are your goals in developing this organization?

“We are an international youth led nonprofit working to make climate education more accessible by translating resources into over 100 languages. We’ve now grown to over 9000 student volunteers in over 40 countries, and have translated over a million words of resources into over 100 languages. We just recently onboarded 50 or 60 additional directors to help us run the day to day operations, and our average team member is just 18 years old.”

How does it feel to be honored in such immense ways, such as Forbes 30 under 30, Teen Vogues 21 under 21, as well as Vice Media’s youngest Human of the Year?

“It’s been really incredible and really humbling. I remember in high school, everyone would talk about what a big deal being a Forbes 30 under 30 was, it was like the definition of ‘making it.’ It was such a crazy moment, because I didn’t even know I had been selected for the list. I woke up at like 5am to go to the bathroom, like a literally random day a few months ago, andI just checked my phone, and one of my friends texted me ‘congratulations.’ I literally texted her ‘Congratulations for what?’ And she was like, ‘you’re on the Forbes Under 30 list.’ I was like, no way, shut up, there’s no way. I was the youngest person on the social impact list this year. It’s been really amazing. I think, obviously, we don’t do this work for accolades, but to have my work recognized, I think it really just helps to reaffirm that I’m making an impact and that people are being helped and resonate with the work that I’m doing.”

Why have you chosen to come speak for LIYLS?

At only 21 years old, Kianni became the youngest person on the United Nationals Youth Advisory Board on Climate Changes, as well as the youngest person on the Forbes 30 under 30 list. (Courtesy of Yearbook)

“You guys live just a few miles away from my hometown, from my childhood home. I think it’s so important for me to do work like this. I love speaking to high school students, I really, really do. I see myself and all of you like, and like I said in my presentation, I was literally sitting in these bleachers three years ago. When I was given the opportunity, I thought that it would be awesome and that hopefully I could help to inspire you guys to see that you could do the same thing. We came from the same place.”

How can youth attempt to fight and advocate for climate change?

“I think that getting involved in climate organizations like Climate Cardinals, Friday’s for Future, or Extinction Rebellion, or looking at your local area, seeing what opportunities there are to get involved there, like within your school club. I think there are so many different ways to make an impact. It first starts with thinking like “we your best positions are and where do you think you can have the largest splash according to your individual interests and what you identify as key main points in your local area.”

Is there anything else I should know?

“We live in an age where social media has really democratized access to making an impact. Take full advantage of that is what I would say and take full advantage of the the ease at which you can reach really important really high level people through simple messages.”