Fall of 2016 marks my fourth year in Houston. To me, becoming a senior international student does not only mean being able to laugh at John Oliver’s jokes about Donald Trump or start singing “The Duck Song” as soon as I saw grapes in the servery, but most importantly, being a lot more conscious about sustainability and the environment. College has been the best opportunity for me to learn to be green from the people around me.
The beginning of college demonstrated to me the availability of energy rather than the lack of it. I remember being amazed by all buildings on campus that were lit 24 hours, frozen by the overpowered AC in Herzstein Amphitheatre and thrilled by the unlimited amount of food in the servery that does not require you to finish one plate to get another. When I saw the low oil price on the billboard while driving on the massive and extensive freeways in Houston, I thought, ‘Maybe this is what an ultimate developed country should be — convenient, comfortable and powered by easily-accessible energy.’
Yet as I adjusted to this whole new sense of convenience, I noticed my friends going out of their way to avoid it. I first noticed my coding partner’s persistence in reusing paper cups. When she gets a paper cup, she uses it throughout the day even when going to Coffeehouse. And she keeps that cup in her backpack whenever it is empty. I still recall, after we finished our final project demo and feeling relaxed and accomplished, she suddenly realized something and biked back to ask the teaching assistant for the paper cup she left at the site. I was confused and amused by her effort, pondering how much change one paper cup can do, not lying in the landfill.
Luckily, she is not the only one around me conscious about the environment. As I started to pay more attention to my lunch conversations, I learned more about the damage we had done to our earth when my friends talked about their environmental studies classes. I realized my roommate, a chemical engineer, developed a genuine resentment toward the energy industry because they keep contaminating our environment despite being aware of the threat many years ago. Furthermore, once my conversation with a friend who just pulled an all-nighter steered towards whether Fondren turns off the heater for less popular hours, and she actually emailed firstname.lastname@example.org to ask about it.
The list goes on.
In fact, as I composed this list and asked my friends for more examples, one of them said, “The reiteration of knowledge or collective grumbling about how things aren't as good as they could or should be” is how we make people aware of the environmental issues.
I was made aware that way. When my hometown Shanghai’s air pollution was featured once again in the news, and when I just experienced the warmest winter in my life, I connected the dots of our daily energy consumption to these dramatic changes in our environment. I started recycling my water bottles and packing cardboard seriously. I started finishing my plate of food even when there was more to get in the servery. I also joined the rant on how the servery should not switch to paper plates during the weekend, and how the disposable utensils and plates should be compostable. With these efforts I compromise the convenience that so amazed me when I first got here, but they assure me a little more that I am contributing to this collective effort to harm our environment less.
As a senior, I often think about what I would have done differently if I were a freshman again. Aside from actually making an effort to get a lower purity score, I really would have wanted to take the opportunity to learn more about sustainability than I have: taking an environmental science class, participating in the green dorm challenge or even joining solar decathlon. I would like to devote more action toward sustainability. My college experience so far has given me the awareness of the environmental issue. I hope yours will empower you to make a green change.