Flipping The Switch: Becoming Environmentally Conscious

This post was written by Kaethe Selkirk.   Kaethe recently graduated from the University of Redlands in Southern California and has been interning with EDF's Climate and Air program over the summer.  She currently lives in Austin, Texas.

It started with the bathroom light. I would leave it on in the morning and my college roommate, Katie Decker, would flip it off on her way to class. Shortly after I would receive a text message, “You left the bathroom light on again. Stop wasting electricity.”

This continued for several weeks. One afternoon I came home and a message was printed in bright green block letters on the bathroom mirror: “Hit the switch or I’ll punch your lights”. A light bulb with a half dome smile and cartoon like eyes was pictured next to it.

When Katie returned that evening we opened a bottle of red wine. After sharing the bottle between all four roommates we congregated in the bathroom to evaluate the apartment’s newest artwork.  In addition to the absolutely genius word play, we were impressed with light bulb’s life-like features. As the critique ended I reached for the light switch. Katie smiled and turned towards me, “Good work Kaethe. Now, where do empty wine bottles go?”

Something clicked. After this experience I began to understand that my actions had a direct impact on the environment. Like a rock-paper-scissors game, once favored choices needed to change. Biking beats driving, paper over plastic, dish rag trumps paper towel.

I clipped a newspaper article out of my university’s publication in November of my senior year. It was written by a boy named Sam. We shared a government class but rarely spoke. Sam’s article discussed his personal evolution at the University of Redlands.  How his passion for drama transformed into a love for foreign affairs. He spoke about his frustrations and pleasures, his past and future.  I kept this article because I identified with his story and wanted to remember the choices that I saw him make. I would often see Sam pulling plastic bottles and aluminum cans out of the garbage and moving them to the recycling bins. He never drew attention to himself, acted in search of glory, or compromised his values. I still admire Sam very much for this. And when I don’t feel like sorting my recycling in downtown Austin, I think of him.

I don’t believe that being environmentally conscious is hardwired into our society. It’s a learned skill that is best taught by those around you. Both Katie and Sam have demonstrated the value of environmental consciousness to me. Now it’s my turn to teach. Working at EDF is one small step toward that goal.

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