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ACM Students Take to the Streets in India

ACM Students Take to the Streets in India November 12, 2009

“It was amazing! I didn’t realize that cleaning up trash could be so much fun!” said Sydney Parms, a participant on the ACM India: Culture, Traditions, & Globalization program. “We just all decided to go because we thought it would be a good cause.”

ACM students in India with bags of trash they picked up during the International Day of Climate Action.

The cause was the International Day of Climate Action, a worldwide effort on October 24 that organizers at 350.org called “the most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history” with 5,248 rallies in 181 countries.

The ACM students were part of the action, picking up trash on the street in front of the program’s offices in Pune. Later in the day, they posted their photo (at right) on the 350.org website, alongside photos posted by thousands of other groups from around the world, including other activists in Pune.

The students’ project drew some onlookers, as well as neighbors who pitched in to help. They were also a hit with the local newspapers, three of which published articles (see the links below) about the clean-up efforts. Several members of the ACM group visited the newspapers’ offices to talk with reporters.

Clips from newspapers in Pune about the students’ project.

“I’m pretty involved in these activities back home, as well, and knew about the 350 campaign well before I came to India,” said Nathan Grady, a Lawrence University student who provided the impetus that got the ACM group going. “I was planning on organizing a 350 event regardless of where I was this fall, but doing it in India made it especially exciting. Our event turned out to be a real success, everyone got into it, and we got a lot of press coverage. I was quite pleased.”

“The idea (of the International Day of Climate Action) was to represent the number 350 in an event in your local community,” Grady said. “350 is the recently agreed upon safe level for atmospheric carbon dioxide, measured in parts per million, with the goal of spreading awareness and sending a global message to world leaders to positively influence their decisions in Copenhagen this December.”

According to the 350.org website, the organization, which was founded by environmentalist and author Bill McKibben, is dedicated to building a movement to unite the world around solutions to the climate crisis. The activities on October 24 were part of the build-up to a United Nations-sponsored meeting on climate change that will be held next month in Copenhagen.

The ACM students said they have been struck by the differences in garbage collection systems between India and what they were used to in the U.S. – especially the amount of litter on the streets in India – and that motivated their choice of project for the International Day of Climate Action.

Megan Helseth, an anthropology/international affairs major from Colorado College, has gone a step further by tackling the topic of waste collection in India for her independent study project (ISP). Every student completes an ISP, on a topic of his or her choice, for the program’s curriculum. As part of her research, Helseth plans to talk with local officials about waste management in Pune.

“Essentially, what I’m learning is that India never had developed a large-scale waste collection infrastructure – not only landfills and such, but also city trash cans, dumpsters, and the actual collection in trucks – because they never needed it,” said Helseth, adding that Indians usually have not generated much waste because they used and re-used everything.

“America’s consumerism developed over decades, so we were prepared for the onslaught of packaging and other forms of waste that we eventually started to create, and the waste management system has grown to fit the need, for the most part,” Helseth continued. “India has really just started to bear the brunt of this excess in the past 20 to 30 years. In that time, it’s started to pile up very seriously. I’m working on researching feasible, sustainable efforts that people are putting into place to help solve some of the issues.”

In the meantime, for one day at least, she and her classmates got out their trash bags and helped make one street in Pune cleaner.


  • Newspaper articles about the ACM students:

Americans collect waste to spread the green messageTimes of India, Pune edition, October 25, 2009

350 degrees of changePune Mirror, October 25, 2009

US students broom lanes, collect trashDaily News & Analysis, Digital Edition, October 25, 2009

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