By Emma Connolly
‘A TOUGH act to follow’ is how former US Secretary of State John Kerry referred to a Skibbereen student who movingly addressed a conference of over 750 people on climate crisis.
Alicia O’Sullivan, a 17-year-old student from Skibbereen Community School, is a youth activist, climate striker and the Lions Club Youth Ambassador for Ireland.
She was invited to speak at Monday’s prestigious ‘Our Ocean Wealth Summit’ in City Hall which addressed issues such as the health of our oceans, climate change, sustainability and Ireland’s blue economy.
Alicia, who took to the podium before Mr Kerry, said: ‘At the age of 17 most teenagers will worry about school, exams, relationships. But I am worried about something far greater, my future.’
She pointed to two projects of concern to her in West Cork. ‘In the town where I live there has been planning permission granted for a 4,800sq/km thermoplastics factory. I have recently joined the campaign to attempt to stop this happening. Our fishermen here in Ireland have cleaned up 330 tonnes of marine waste of mainly plastics from our oceans since 2015 under the BIMS Fishing for Litter Scheme. We are talking about trying to reduce how fast the earth is heating, how much plastic we consume and how much toxicness ends up in the ocean and we are then going to build a new plastics factory?’
She also spoke about the extraction of kelp in Bantry Bay: ‘In Bantry there has been the granting of a licence to mechanically extract 1860 acres of kelp. Kelp absorbs five times more carbon than any land-based plant. We are trying to reduce and stop our carbon emissions and we are going to get rid of something that naturally helps us to do that.
‘But this is not just about my town, this is about the global problem we have. I don’t want a plastics factory built in my town or any other town, I don’t want kelp extracted from Bantry bay or any other bay, I don’t want towns, cities, nations submerged, whole towns being wiped out from storms, families suffering severely from droughts, lives lost. Our home does not deserve any of this.’
Alicia, who will next year sit her Leaving Cert, hopes to attend September’s UN Climate Change Summit in New York where the focus will be on giving young people a voice.
John Kerry, who referenced Alicia several times in his speech, said that climate does not have the time to deal with “presidents and prime ministers” who deny the truth about climate change.
Governments, he said, need to face up to the truth and act faster.