Key Takeaways:

  • Art is a powerful tool to inspire emotions and invoke empathy, understanding, and connection.
  • A gap exists between young people and decision makers, Turn it Around Cards is a way to help bridge that gap.
  • Art is used as a universal language when communicating a message about climate change and climate policy.
  • Social media is a great way to get involved in the climate movement through the use of creative activism.
  • Awareness is the first step to get involved in the movement. Find ways to educate yourself.

Reimagining Climate Conversations

 At the intersection of art and activism is a powerful space to create meaningful change in the climate movement. Turn It Around Cards is a collective of artists, activists and educators focused on bridging the gap between policymakers and young people in the climate movement through their student-led art collection. 

Turn It Around Cards is a toolkit providing young people and aspiring climatarians with the paint brush to reimagine climate policy through a creative lens. The flashcards are used by educators and activists to explain environmental justice concepts to their audiences and challenge people to consider climate policy through poetry, inspirational messages, and calls to action. Their website features rows of painted flashcards, each with a personal message and climate impact that their team brings to global climate conferences and conversations. 

Recently, the Sustainable Earth team had the opportunity to speak to Saiarchana Darira, the inspiring youth engagement lead for Turn It Around. Adding many stamps to her passport, Saiarchana has been traveling the world attending world-renowned climate conferences and sharing the mission of Turn It Around Cards with delegates, climate activists, and researchers. Calling in from a local coffee shop outside the UNESCO Transforming Education Summit in Paris, Saiarchana shared her personal journey with sustainability, tackling climate anxiety, and encouraging young people to use their voice (or paintbrush) to inform the future of climate policy.

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Image from @turnitaroundcards on Instagram


Stormy: So just to start off the interview we can introduce ourselves and our role in Sustainable Earth. My name is Stormy Light and I am a rising junior studying Sustainability with a concentration in International Development. I just joined the Sustainable Earth team this summer. It’s been a really rewarding experience so far and in my role I help create content for our website like writing articles, strategizing social media ideas, and contributing to filming videos. 

Maddy: And my name is Madelynne Greathouse. I go by Maddy mostly. I just graduated with my Bachelor’s in Science in Sustainability, and now I’m going to be doing a Master’s in Sustainability Solutions. I started at Sustainable Earth when Stormy did at the beginning of the summer. And so we work on articles together, different guides, just creating content for the website and doing research. And I work a lot with social media as well with posting and organizing content.

Stormy: Saiarchana, if you could introduce yourself and explain your role in Turn It Around Cards and how you got started with this project, that would be great. 

Saiarchana: My name’s Saiarchana, I just graduated a few weeks ago from ASU. I studied Global Management Studies and Psychology. I’m currently the Youth Engagement Lead for Turn It Around Cards. My journey with Turn It Around Cards is actually kinda funny. It really happened in the most spontaneous way. A year ago I decided to sign up for this random class that talked a lot about climate change and how to navigate ecological anxiety and grief. After two professors came to my class and presented the Turn It Around Cards project, I was immediately interested. I joined the team last summer in June and was the assistant producer of the project, focusing on getting people to engage with the project. 

Now I work full-time for them as a youth engagement lead. I am focused on developing partnerships, getting funding and working on promotions. I also focus on giving speeches about the project and running their social media accounts. My main goal is to engage young people and to remind them that they have a voice in this movement, no matter who they are, and even if they’re not physically invited to these rooms.

Behind the scenes: looking at the card process

Maddy: Can you tell us about the flashcards and the progress that has been made on this project?

Saiarchana: So on one side of the card we have artwork and on the other side, we have a written message that either calls for reflection or action around climate change on the topics of either education or policy in climate initiatives. We got submissions from 42 countries. Recently a team of PhD students in educational policy analyzed all the artwork and writing and they turned it into a physical policy book with tangible policy suggestions for educators and policy makers. That policy book recently got published and we had a launch event at the UNESCO conference in Paris which was really exciting. This initiative was attached to the UNESCO Futures of Education Initiative. Currently, we are working with an organization called the Open Society Foundation and the Artist Literacy Institute in creating this project and implementing it. 

Stormy: That’s really amazing. And congratulations on getting the Turn It Around Cards turned into a policy book. It’s pretty inspiring that a climate policy book was able to be created by such a young audience and will hopefully motivate policymakers to turn to the voices of young activists for guidance. 

Maddy: We have an icebreaker that we ask in a lot of our interviews, for individuals who work in sustainability fields. If you could fix one issue related to sustainability with the snap of your fingers, what would it be and why? 

Saiarchana: This is a very ambiguous answer, but I think it would be empathy. There’s a current deficiency in empathy around the world when it comes to sustainability. A lot of the people in the global north are very comfortable with their lives. And when they think about climate change, they think it’s just about the world getting hotter and the summer’s getting warmer, but people are dying every single day. There’s a lack of exposure and a lack of empathy towards these people. Not that many people know that we’re living in a very existential crisis right now. I didn’t know the extent of it until a year ago when I stumbled across this class because my education deeply lacked climate change awareness. 

Image from @turnitaroundcards on Instagram

The Key to Success: Collaboration 

Stormy: Absolutely. I think empathy is so critical in the environmental justice space and especially in the work that you’re doing with advocacy and encouraging people to become more involved in the climate movement in general. With the purpose of Turn It Around Cards, how does this project use youth voices to advocate for environmental education and policy? As the youth engagement lead, what does the collaboration process look like between your core team and contributing artists?

Saiarchana: So we’ve been using lots of crowdsourcing and mainly social media to reach out to these young people around the world. Right now we’re partnering with the ASEAN University Network and have been creating a new collection of cards that specifically highlight the voices of Southeast Asians. Oftentimes these people experience more natural disasters and issues surrounding climate change, so we’re creating a new project deck with them. As for the way we’ve been engaging with our audience, we’re creating a social media series, where we’re interviewing young leaders around the world who are fighting climate change to inspire other young leaders to show them that they can make a difference.

Something that our team did notice in the younger communities that we’ve worked with is that a lot of young people have so much energy and they want to make a change, but oftentimes they’re not given that opportunity to make that change or they feel like they don’t have that connection to those policy makers, but we need everyone in the movement. We need the artists, we need the writers, we need the poets, we need the visionaries. We need literally everyone. We especially need young people.

Recently, I was in Egypt for the Conference of Young Parliamentarians and the average age of these parliamentarians was 30 to 40. So they’re in their thirties to forties and this conference was titled the Global Conference of Young Parliamentarians. That seems strange. So what’s considered young in these fields? And oftentimes we can’t wait for 20 years to be in these positions of power to make change and to create policy, which is why we need to act now.

Creating your own seat at the table

Stormy: Can you explain the importance of art in this movement and how creative expression has allowed youth voices to inspire environmental policy? 

Saiarchana: Art is just so powerful at creating emotions and invoking empathy, understanding, and connection. A piece of artwork can communicate so much more than maybe a thousand-page document. Oftentimes when people make decisions about climate change, they make it without young people. And there’s a huge gap between young people and decision-makers, especially young people from the global south. And we as a team wanted to bridge that gap. We used artwork and writing to communicate with policymakers about what changes young people have around climate education and climate policy. One thing that is really cool about artwork is that art is the most universal language in the world.

Maddy: Yeah that’s amazing. I think your message about age across all ranges should be included in this conversation is really inspiring and it relates so much to environmental justice on its own. It’s inspiring for me as a younger person to hear that message and see that Turn It Around Cards can be a vehicle for students to use to have their voice heard. So that’s a good segway to transition into the card process. Are you accepting cards right now for a new collection?

Saiarchana: We are currently in the process of deciding how many cards we want to be in the new deck and to print. The ASEAN University Network is taking the lead on that and our goal is just to support them. We want them to decide what they want to do with this project. We’re also in the process of translating the cards. The cards are available in English, French, and Spanish, but because we’re working now on the ASEAN University Network project, we’re trying to figure out how to get translators.

Stormy: What has the response been like at COP26 and the UNESCO conference you are currently attending and have representatives and climate activists been supportive of this project?

Saiarchana: When I did have conversations with delegates, a lot of them communicated that they loved how we were trying to get the voices of very young people involved in this movement and how we were using artwork and writing in spaces that are often considered very serious. They expressed how they loved how it’s like an educational tool and how they want to also make sure that they create educational policies around the initiative. 

When I was in Egypt a few weeks ago for the Global Conference of Young Parliamentarians, I was the youngest presenter there which is heartbreaking cause I’m 22 and I feel like there should be younger people there.  A member of parliament from South Africa gave a statement, towards the end of the conference saying that she loved our movement and that it inspired her to want to create more climate education policies when she comes back to South Africa. Turn It Around Cards definitely allows people who look at the project and connect with the project to realize, wait, there’s literally a whole generation looking at us, making decisions and depending on us with their lives.

Stormy:  It’s great that you’re giving young students the microphone, so to speak, to advance their own education and, and placing them in these opportunities to really learn from delegates. And speaking of some of those opportunities, I saw on Turn It Around’s Instagram that you were at a summit in Idaho presenting and talking to other climate activists. Can you just talk about some of the conversations you had there and what that experience was like? 

Saiarchana: The summit was called the Sun Valley Forum in Idaho and I went with Elizabeth Quigley, who is a sustainability student at Arizona State University. We talked about how we hope to see more young people invited to those conferences and have those opportunities and Elizabeth spoke about how she hoped to see more mentorship in the environmental justice movement. 

Many of these jobs in the climate space require people to have five to ten years of experience, but a lot of young people don’t want to wait five to ten years to be involved in these areas of leadership to create change. They want to be invited to these tables now. Many people were very receptive and open to our conversations about making space for intergenerational dialogue at climate conferences. 

What I love about the work I have been doing is meeting people who are older than me, but gone through that journey of climate change and hearing their like stories and their ideas and visions for the year. A lot of them are still so hopeful and I feel like it’s just beautiful to see because climate change can be very terrifying sometimes. These conversations have been very invigorating. 

Interested in climate activism? Use creativity as an asset

Maddy: How can younger generations get involved in the climate discussion today? Is there more ways beyond the Turn It Around Cards mission that you know of? 

Saiarchana: I think there’s so many different ways for young people to get involved and literally any way is monumental. Right now there’s a new form of activism called creative activism where people have been using social media to get more involved in the climate movement. I got exposed to these eco influencers on Instagram and that’s what actually inspired me to get involved in the movement. There’s lot of other cool organizations locally and globally that work with young people that want young voices at the center of these conversations. Oftentimes young people want to get involved, but they don’t know where to start and these organizations have tangible tools and ways to recruit young people. A lot more people are creating scholarships and internships for young people around the world to wanna create a change. So I think there needs to be more awareness. That’s the first step, if anyone wants to get involved in the movement. It just all depends on what they wanna do and what brings them the most joy because there’s always a way to contribute to the climate movement.

Maddy: That’s a really great message and really inspiring for any youth that there are opportunities out there if you go looking for them. As well as avenues that you can have your voice heard, especially with social media, like you mentioned, I love that. But, we won’t keep you too long. So I think we can close it out here.

Stormy: We just wanted to congratulate you on all of your efforts with Turn it Around. It’s really inspiring and you’re doing really great things so we would love to support you and cheer you on through all of your efforts. And thank you so much for joining us for this interview. It’s been a really great interview.

Saiarchana: Thank you so much for having me. I think it’s so important to create more communication and awareness about sustainability so I feel like communication is really one of the most powerful ways to mobilize people, to fight for climate change or against climate change. And so I just love what you’re doing.

Maddy: Thank you so much again, and enjoy your night! 

Saiarchana: Bye!

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Image from @turnitaroundcards on Instagram

Calls to Action:

  • Visit the Turn It Around Cards Website and flip through the variety of cards that they have featured with artwork from around the world. These cards may provide you with inspiration to submit your own artwork and support their mission by becoming a contributor! Turn It Around is a collaborative network of students and educators who are looking for young people that are passionate about climate action to contribute as writers and artists. 
  • Many of the Turn It Around Cards feature a variety of social justice, environmental and political issues that can be tackled through widespread education of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Take a look at the SDG goals featured on our site to learn more about how you can make an impact on any one of the 17 SDGs. 
  •  If you are an educator interested in boosting environmental awareness in your classroom, share these flashcards with your students as a tool for understanding how individual actions affect climate change. These flashcards are currently available for use in English, Spanish, and French.