There are two candidates running for VP (Charities and Communities) at Oxford SU this year, votes are open and there are only a few days to vote. As one of their main responsibilities will be to run the environmental aspects of the SU we at OCS thought it would be best to interview the two candidates about their policies!
So who are you?
Greenwood: Hey! I’m Rosanna, a third year English Student at Somerville!
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?
Greenwood: I would definitely consider myself an environmentalist! To be honest, I first became aware of the importance of looking after the environment when watching Blue Planet as a young person, and David Attenborough managed to infiltrate my brain - ever since becoming aware of the tiny effect that I, personally can have on the environment I began to try and make my lifestyle more sustainable. Everyone can be an environmentalist in the smallest of ways - even just using a KeepCup - and that’s why I want to make it easier for students to be more sustainable.
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?
Greenwood: As a Yorkshire lass who drinks a lot of tea I always ensure that I carry around my KeepCup and reusable water bottle. I also reduced my meat intake in second year, take part in Veggie Pledge, and am now a vegetarian!
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?
Greenwood: There are 20,000 students at this university. However large or small a change you make, that has the potential to make a massive impact. The SU is a central way to instigate that change, rising above the bubbles of autonomous Oxford colleges and reaching the entire student body.
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?
Greenwood: Obviously, Veggie Pledge has a widespread outreach, and this is something people know about even if they don’t necessarily get involved. Student energy saving campaigns such as Student Switch Off and Snap it Off have also been successful, though not nearly enough people know about these.
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?
Greenwood: One of the biggest problems the SU faces across is disinterest and lack of knowledge - so I want to help publicise the sustainability resources they offer. There are so many different SU schemes, but people simply don’t know. It’s fantastic that Oxford SU are hoping to get a gold award in Green Impact, but outside of small circles of people who are engaged, no-one’s ever heard of this.
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?
Greenwood: Colleges are autonomous, but that doesn’t mean we can’t lobby for change. My own college, Somerville, is relatively sustainable - we grow our own veg, really push for recycling, and recently passed a motion to ban single use straws in our college bar. We can spread this to other colleges: as C&C Officer I want to create skeleton motions for JCRs to enact these changes, and push for the University to stop investing its endowment in fossil fuel companies.
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?
Greenwood: Using my experience of working with charity reps through RAG, I understand that each rep becomes involved for their own personal reasons. I want to meet with E&E reps individually to support their individual goals, and provide them with resources to help them to lobby their respective colleges.
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?
Greenwood: I want to encourage the University to invest in local, environmentally friendly companies. As an individual, my voice is only so loud - but as C&C Officer, I want to publicise the Climate Justice Campaign to get more students involved. It’s as a result of the cumulative effect of many voices that we can get heard by the University.
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?
Greenwood: Veggie Pledge 2016 was absolutely fantastic, and college rivalry prompted more sign-ups. Last year, the badges that were given out for signing up were delivered to some people in envelopes with printed out name sheets - an incredible waste of paper. I want to revamp the online presence of Veggie Pledge, expanding it beyond a Facebook group, and make it more sustainable by omitting the paper waste that happened in 2017.
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?
Greenwood: Yet again, publicity is our downfall. I want to organise E&E reps into a cohesive group and share with them my RAG experience of how to get others involved. I want to personally recognise the work that E&E reps do, and potentially organise an inter-college competition similar to Veggie Pledge.
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?
Greenwood: I want to set up an official University second hand bookshop. Freshers often get a substantial reading list before having access to the university libraries, leading to them feeling obliged to spend a lot of money on books before they even arrive. Not only is this not feasible for many students but also not environmentally sustainable. I would like to set up a university wide system where students can easily and affordably buy and sell used books. As previously mentioned, I would also like to draft skeleton motions to make it easier for people to bring motions to their common rooms, and make their colleges more sustainable in small ways that have a large impact.
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?
Greenwood: There are two main areas that I want to support societies and groups in: social media presence, and accessibility of information. I want to help in terms of comms: providing online and social media training and helping projects to spread the word online. I also want to make the SU website easier to navigate, making it easier to find these projects in the first place. I also want to compile a database of environmental societies and eco-volunteering groups, inside the university and out, alongside contact details for each of them. Finally, I want to ensure that E&E groups are briefed on all of these projects, so that they can help to encourage others to get involved.
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.
You can vote and find the candidate manifestos here: www.oxfordsu.org/annualelections2018/
Voting closes this Friday! Big thank you to Rosanna and Tom for taking part in this.
OCS Media and Research Team
The latest in climate science and policy from the OCS team.