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The Thorny Side of Going Green

By Samuel P. Jacobs

First it came for my light bulbs, and I said nothing. Then it came for my roommates’ food, and I said nothing. Now it’s coming for my bathroom, and I have to say something.

Campus activism in Cambridge has taken many forms through the years: Those brave young viri of 1961 confronting President Nathan M. Pusey ’28 over his decision to remove Latin from their diplomas (“Latin, Si! Pusey, No!”); their successors, eight years later, occupying University Hall (“Fight! Fight!” they yelled, calling for ROTC’s ejection); last spring, nine students holding a nine-day fast to protest the working conditions of the University’s security guards. And yet, through the silly and the serious, our politics have mostly been kept out of our rooms, away from the halls of Wigglesworth and crowded doubles of the River Houses—brushed off at the threshold like February snow and March mud.

Sometime last winter, that all began to change for me. A friendly fellow Adams House resident showed up at the door, promising better lighting. Getting up at 10 a.m. in January allows for little more than six hours of sunlight a day. How could I resist? Off went my old light bulbs, in came the new—strange, corkscrew-shaped compact fluorescent lights. Under the guise of warmer lighting, I had taken my first, unknowing step towards ending global warming. Like that, an insidious green monster snuck into our unguarded two-room triple on Bow Street. My bedroom became a front in the environmental war.

This fall, the green monster made itself even more at home. Upon arrival in September, my two roommates entered into to a contest to see who could keep vegan—that is, abstain from all meat and animal products—for the longest time. After a week, the less resolute of the two, the one who enjoyed a sprinkling of cheddar cheese on his plate of soy beans, black beans, and pinto beans, backed off, jumping ship for vegetarianism. Months later, I’m now the only one in our dining club who has the pleasure of enjoying either fowl or four-legged friend.

Why the sudden switch away from the comfort of swallowed creatures? Neither had rediscovered his dog-eared copy of Charlotte’s Web this summer. Both city-born kids decided to eschew real chewing because of the environmental damage caused by the transportation and raising of animals. Sitting at the meat-free table, I’ve learned some pretty interesting things. Did you know that vegans can’t eat honey because of the unnatural condition in which bees are kept? Or that the waste produced by one cow each day can equal that produced by 40 people?

My room is eerily dark when I return to it—the new light bulbs are only to be turned on when I’m home. Still, I’m the reluctant, thorny plant in our thriving green house. “Sam, what do we do with batteries when we throw them out?” my roommate asks about once a month, sounding like a worn-out mother. The message: Environmental disasters can strike at any moment. They’re as near as the Duracell sitting in the hallway waste bin. Certain regular acts have now taken on a criminal thrill. Who knew that sneaking a plastic bottle of water up to the room—40 million of the little terrors are thrown out everyday!—could feel so good?

I’m pretty sure that a former Dunster House resident and Oscar winner (okay, Nobel Peace Prize winner, too) is to blame for the fact that this green monster has become my fourth roommate. I hold the former Vice President and his nifty PowerPoint presentation responsible for it all: for the pile of recycling-bound newspapers that now towers over my desk; for a national college magazine recommending that I shower with a friend to save water; for making me, a proud Massachusetts moderate (read: deep-blue liberal) feel like a reactionary; for my roommates asking me to “let it mellow.”

Yes, let it mellow.

One night this fall, they came into my room with a question. “Would it be okay if we let it mellow?” one asked. Let it mellow? “Yeah, you know, not flush the toilet after you pee. It’s kind of a waste of water.” Habits developed over years of training at home—the automatic reach for the flusher after every bathroom trip—are now being broken. Some mornings I wake up to a bright yellow puddle down the hallway. It twinkles in the bathroom light, almost smiling. I frown. When I hear a visitor give a startled shout, I have to tell her, it’s not that we’re disgusting frat boys, unable to clean up after ourselves. No, in fact, the opposite. That slight stench coming from the toilet bowl says we care. It is the smell of a cleaner planet.

Now that is an inconvenient truth.

Samuel P. Jacobs ’09, a Crimson news writer, is a history concentrator in Adams House.

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