Youth activist and environmental campaigner Alicia Joy O’Sullivan from Skibbereen has been fighting for change on many different issues from a young age. The inspiring 18-year-old student says that climate change is the most pressing issue to her generation – a generation afraid for their future.
The Young Ocean Ambassador for Ireland believes that now has to be the time for change. “There is going to be change; it’s going to be difficult, our whole system is basically against us but that doesn’t mean we can’t fix what we’ve done. We have time and that time is now – not in another 25 years when we won’t have time!”
As a climate striker, Alicia is involved and fully supports TheFridaysForFuture campaign and The Extinction Rebellion.
#FridaysForFuture is a movement that began in August 2018, after 15-year-old Greta Thunberg sat in front of the Swedish parliament every schoolday for three weeks, to protest against the lack of action on the climate crisis. She decided to continue striking every Friday and her protest went viral. As a result, students and adults began to protest outside of their parliaments and local city halls all over the world.
The Extinction Rebellion is a socio-political movement with the stated aim of using civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance to protest against climate breakdown, biodiversity loss, and the risk of social and ecological collapse.
Closer to home, West Cork is fighting its own climate battle. “In meeting with The Save Our Skibbereen (SOS) campaign and The Save Our Kelp campaign, the seriousness of the impact these two ‘developments’ could have on our planet are detrimental,” says Alicia. “Recently Greta Thunberg has recognised the efforts of both these campaigns and climate strikers in Cork attempting to prevent both the plastics factory and kelp extraction from happening in West Cork.
She continues passionately “This is my town, my home. We are responsible for what is happening to this planet and we need to start taking action. How do people expect to get out of a climate emergency without making change to the system that brought us to declaring it in the first place? It’s ignorance.
“I hear a lot of people talking about this so called ‘employment’ the plastics factory will bring, but what a lot of people need to understand is the science behind a thermoplastics factory and the impact it will have on our local fishermen here in West Cork. More will be lost and ruined than ever gained from this.
“Why don’t the government care that we as a community do not want this, we are fighting, vocalising and raising thousands to go to court to fight against it.”
According to John Kerry – 68th US Secretary of State “There is insanity in the way governments are behaving in various parts of the world, and some businesses too. And Alicia (O’Sullivan) and Greta (Thunberg) and a bunch of people understand that. They see it clearly as you should too.”
Even throughout Primary School Alicia was aware of the environmental concerns facing our planet and was very involved in running the Green Schools committee, an environmental programme. However, it was on joining Cork County Comhairle Na nOg, a nationwide youth council in 2017, that her passion for advocacy really grew and she became more determined to fight for change in many different areas. Alicia was also chosen to also be on the National Executive for Comhairle Na nOg.
Cork County Comhairle Na nOg is one of 31 government funded youth councils in Ireland. Every youth council chooses and votes on a topic to work on for two years regarding young people on their area or nationally. For the year Alicia was involved, the group worked on sexual education reform in Ireland, as it is currently 20-years-old in Ireland. Their input will be used for the sexual education curriculum being created currently in Ireland. “This will be a holistic approach and will have major impacts on the mental, emotional and physical effects on the future young people of my country.,” says Alicia.
For the past year Alicia has been working on Equality Within Schools. “At the moment we are developing resources for Student Voice engagement at post primary school level and also developing a campaign for Individuality. This will all be rolled out nationally in Ireland and help students have a valued and respected voice and also to be able to express their individuality too.”
Following on from her work at national level, Alicia felt it was important that the students in her own school have a voice. After a vigourous campaign, Alicia and a fellow student got permission to set up a student council in Skibbereen Community School.
As part of her involvement with the Erasmus+ Project ‘Changing Minds’, Alicia travelled to Romania with the Aurelia Trust, where she worked with Irish and Romanians in spreading awareness of the history of orphanages and the political history and fundraising and working with Romanian students to learn about their culture. “The aims were to break the stereotype of people with disabilities in Romania and the stereotype of the Roma community in Ireland. It was one of the best things I’ve ever been involved in,’ says Alicia, who volunteered there again this year in June.
In 2018, she was named Techspacer of the Year and won a year mentorship with the ESB. Her digital creativity project ‘I Care’, reflecting her passion for social advocacy, was selected from over 300 projects submitted for this year’s awards, which celebrate the creations, inventions and inspirations of young people across the country in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths) and digital creativity.
This year, Alicia won the Lions Club Ireland Youth Ambassador Award 2019. As part of her project for the Lions Ireland competition, the young ambassador set up Generation Z, a project aimed at helping to support parents and guardians of teenagers and young adults.
Alicia will be representing Ireland, and Skibbereen Lions, in the European final of the same event in Tallin in Estonia in October.
“Young people today were born into the age of technology, which has made every sort of social issue much more vocal, obvious and sometimes more difficult,” explains Alicia. According to the results of a survey conducted by Alicia, some of the topics concerning young people include sex education, climate change, LGBTQI+, school life, eating disorders, body image, social media, pressure on Leaving Cert students and mental health.
“Connecting takes work on both sides,” she says “but I believe parents must take the lead on opening up the communication for understanding.
“It can be difficult for parents to do this especially because the information they might need to feel confident discussing these topics is not given to them.
“Hopefully with the development of Generation Z it will be a useful resource for parents to get the information they want and need. From what I’ve witnessed parents don’t understand a lot about our generation and are somewhat oblivious to the realities and pressures that young people face these days. This is why Generation Z is important, to facilitate the learning and help communication.”
It’s no surprise that Alicia doesn’t believe she’ll end up doing the same thing for the rest of her life. After school, she hopes to get her law degree while continuing to travel, volunteer and meet people from around the world.