So who are you?
Zagoria: Hi, I'm Tom (he/him). I'm a third year studying History and Politics at St Anne's College.
Do you consider yourself an environmentalist? Why?
Zagoria: I absolutely consider myself an environmentalist. We live in a society where our social and economic systems are creating a massive ecological crisis, and we need to shift this immediately if we're going to avoid the loss of significant natural habitats and the humanitarian crises and resource wars that will go with this. I also quite like the woods.
What have you done to reduce your own environmental impact?
Zagoria: In terms of my personal environmental impact, at home I try and compost and recycle, and I'm a vegetarian, both for environmental and ethical reasons.
Why do you think environmental campaigning is important work for a Student Union?
Zagoria: The SU is in a vital position to campaign on the environment. As a union of over 23,000 students, it has weight. Not only can it resource campaigns to make it easier for students to reduce their own environmental impacts, but it can challenge the more significant environmental impact of our university and established institutions. Students, as a whole, care about the environment, and the SU is the organisation with the democratic legitimacy and clout to push for real change where the uni and its colleges have failed to respect environmental concerns.
In terms of environmental work, what do you think Oxford SU has been good at?
Zagoria: I think the SU has done a lot of good work with respect to allowing student to make personal more environmentally friendly choices easier. Veggie Pledge and the SU's work around making cycling easier and safer in Oxford are good examples of this.
On the other hand, what do you think the SU has failed to do in environmental terms?
Zagoria: Last term I helped organise a protest outside the endowment office when the Paradise Papers emerged, demonstrating that the uni and many of its colleges were investing their funds through tax havens into oil extraction and exploration. Considering that the vast majority of currently known fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground if we are to avoid a catastrophic rise in temperatures, the uni investing in further oil exploration showed a breathtaking lack of conscientiousness. This is the sort of area the SU needs to be leading on - pushing for real, systemic change to force our institutions to look up and take notice.
How do you plan to press for strengthened centralised efforts within the university to reduce its own emissions?
Zagoria: At that protest, a number of different student organisations and local councillors were brought together, representing diverse interests. Climate justice and reducing carbon emissions is for everyone - it challenges neocolonial exploitation, it attacks a society which allows the poorest to bear the brunt of environmental crises, and it protects all of us from long-term environmental disaster. In order to effectively challenge the uni to reduce its own carbon emissions, therefore, we need to be bringing together the diverse stakeholders (ie effectively everyone) to push for immediate action. I'd hope to work with the university, as I'd work with the city council to ensure the success of its programme to progressively make most of Oxford Carbon neutral. But I wouldn't be afraid to coordinate student protest and action when the uni's failure to reduce its carbon footprint wasn't the result of honest mistakes, but rather a form of injustice. Long-term, the way to ensure that our university can become carbon neutral and invest sustainably is to press for greater transparency and democratic accountability, and this should be a fundamental goal of the SU.
How do you intend to work with Environment and Ethics reps within the university?
Zagoria: From speaking to E&E reps, one of the complaints I've heard has been that there is, or at least was until very recently, a lack of coordination. When one college rep wanted to pursue a recycling project, the only way to find out whether it had been done successfully before and discover best practice was to ask the JCR president, who then went to PresCom to ask other JCR presidents to ask their own E&E reps. I'd want to work closely with E&E reps and allow them to work more closely with each other, through setting up a facebook group and face to face meetings between reps. I'd also, while respecting their autonomy, hope to at least give them the option to expand their roles where necessary from one of making personal environmental and ethical choices easier to campaigning for change within college (such as fossil fuel divestment). I'd do this by linking reps with groups like the Climate Justice Campaign, holding trainings, and assisting with JCR motions.
How do you plan to support the Climate Justice Campaign and the efforts for divestment in Oxford?
Zagoria: Ah I've sort of covered this haven't I. Basically, as I've done before getting elected, I'd unequivocally back the campaign. Its SU policy already to push for divestment, and I've included supporting divestment in my manifesto. As I've said, this campaign can bring different activists together, and the SU is in a very good position to facilitate this. I'd connect the campaign with E&E reps to campaign for change within colleges, and properly advertise the problems with the university. Finally, given the fact that the uni had previously promised to divest from fossil fuel industries and failed to deliver, the SU needs to be pushing in a more general sense for transparency with regard to endowments, and real democratic accountability for the university.
How do you intend to improve VeggiePledge? What other efforts are you going to make to reduce the consumption of animal products?
Zagoria: I'm very pleased to have received the endorsement of VegSoc in this campaign, and I'd like to include them more in the planning of Veggie Pledge at every stage. While I think the current SU did an excellent job overall, there are small errors which I'd hope to rectify (last year badges weren't sent out in an environmentally friendly way, for example). In general, while looking at ways to make Veggie Pledge more attractive - a 'veggie pledge come dine with me' was suggested - I'd hope to take my cue from other groups like VegSoc as to how to make Veggie Pledge both successful and ethical. I'd also take part myself by going from vegetarian to vegan.
How do you intend to support the NUS Student Switch Off and Green Impact schemes?
Zagoria: A lot of these will be about coordination between colleges and departments, to ensure that reps can get best practice across colleges to make them successful. I'd hope to help with JCR motions, provide support and properly advertise these campaigns, and host workshops.
What other environmental programs or efforts do you want to start?
Zagoria: I guess I would like to help e&e officers regularise more ambitious recycling programmes by facilitating coordination, as well as allow them if necessary to challenge environmentally damaging college policies or investment choices with the backing of a larger student union.
Finally, how do you intend to support environmental societies and eco-volunteering groups that work in Oxford?
Zagoria: I think the most effective thing I could do to help societies and eco-volunteering efforts is to link them up with colleges, so E&E reps can properly advertise opportunities and environmental societies can help with training and workshops for the different colleges.
Voting closes this Friday! Big thank you to Rosanna and Tom for taking part in this.