WHO better to tell the stories of young people from Cork, than a young person from Cork?
To kick start this new Youth Matter series, I interviewed Alannah Wrynn, of Dunmanway, who is going into 6th year.
Alannah is both a climate activist and a farmer, two interests often pitted against each other in climate conferences and discussions and by the media.
Alannah is active with Fridays for Future Cork, of Cork County Comhairle na nÓg (Youth Council), was part of the ‘Future Generations Climate Justice Project’ with the YMCA, and is a delegate of the Irish National Youth Assembly.
She has always had farming in her blood but ‘climate justice’ was something she had to actually learn about over time, so how did she come to understand this term?
“I think even growing up on a farm you are conscious of certain elements of climate justice,” she said.
“Even from biodiversity and the importance of nature… but it’s connecting them then to things afterwards like social justice and equality and social justice movements.”
Alannah recalled a respect for the world around her, even as a child. She was also interested in history and this flourished into an interest in politics and learning about different social movements, e.g. the suffragettes’ fight for women’s rights and the civil rights movement’s progress towards racial equality.
Alannah explained that she hadn’t connected the environmental issues she understood to this social justice she was learning about, but that she began to see how they interlinked through conversation in groups like Fridays for Future and Comhairle na nOg.
The first time she ever heard the exact term climate justice was in the pages of Mary Robinson’s book, Climate Justice: Hope, Resilience and the Fight for A Sustainable Future. In a nutshell, she described climate justice as something very similar to sustainability. It’s about bringing environmental, social and economic justice together.
Alannah spoke to me so passionately about her climate activism. Yet, the agriculture sector in Ireland was directly responsible for 37.1% of national greenhouse gases alone last year. It is undeniable that this industry currently is not sustainable, but Alannah believes it still can be. She even has a few ideas of her own.
“It kind of comes back to economics in many ways because farming is first and foremost a business… I think the biggest challenge with farming at the moment and in terms of making those changes to sustainability, is actually the market system and the market structure.
“If you’re looking at your produce you’re buying in the shop, your beef or whatever else, and you’re thinking ‘Where are the profits from this actually going to?’ you’ll find that most of it isn’t going to the farmer, it’s going to factories and it’s going to the supermarket chain. After all, if small scale farmers are barely getting by, they won’t have the time or money to think about changing their work to protect the planet as well. If farmers can’t afford to make sustainable changes then they are not going to.”
Plus, altering an entire sector cannot be left to individuals. Farmers need support, to be listened to by the government and monetarily aided, to make these positive changes. This is where a ‘just transition’ comes in.
Alannah explained: “It’s this idea of leaving nobody behind. You’re looking at providing a future for those people who work their whole lives in a system that, in some ways, they are trapped in themselves and that is unsustainable in so many ways, environmentally, economically and socially. I think it’s making sure that those people have a future and they can see a place for themselves in this society that we’re trying to create, so that it doesn’t leave people out of it.”
At a very personal level, a just transition would mean that even though it isn’t her own dream, if one of her two younger brothers wanted to, that they could have the option to take over the family farm. The way farmers’ pay is going, she reckons it will only be possible as a part-time job and that it won’t keep them going alone.
I really feel her background has influenced the way she approaches all her climate activism now and has created a considered, necessary viewpoint we all can learn from.
“I was a farmer, or from a farming background, before I was ever a climate activist so that comes first in my mind a lot of the time.
“When I’m learning about climate justice, often you have to challenge yourself to think twice about certain climate justice principles and think about how exactly they apply to you and how exactly they apply to farming and how those changes actually work… it’s interesting to be able to bring those two sides of myself together and I think it’s something that gives me a unique perspective and a unique insight,” said Alannah.
She is honest in never claiming to know all the solutions, but what shone through was definitely her hope that there are solutions nonetheless.
“Looking at the changes that have to be made to agriculture, I’d like to be able to see a way that they could actually continue to farm and that it could be done in an environmentally sustainable way.”
She named wind farms, forestry, organic farming and so on, stating: “There’s definitely such a role for agriculture and I think there’s such an opportunity that can be taken out of it. I’d hate to see that waste, and I’d hate to see it lost.”
It was clear to me that it had taken time for her to reconcile the farmer and climate activist sides of herself, but now they are one and the same.
Alannah is spreading hope that farming can be a sustainable industry.
I asked her one final question: Do you think your voice is heard?
I was particularly intrigued to hear her answer - since she serves as Chairperson of Cork County Comhairle na nOg actually representing the voice of Cork young people.
She replied unsure: “I think it sometimes is.”
Yet, she went on to ask herself aloud if her voice is listened to because people think she has something worth saying, or is it because someone is assuming ‘Oh, look I listened to a young person, that’s kind of my good deed done for the day’?
She says she’d like to see much more active listening from decision- makers.
“I suppose active listening is very different to just saying you’re listening, a lot of times people can be standing in front of you but they’re not really listening to what you’re saying.”
Next week: Amy interviews Frankie Pyke Terrett, a 17-year-old based in East Cork who identifies as queer and uses they/them pronouns.