September 21st, 2019
Almost everything about my India experience has been somewhat contradictory. You come out of a nice mall or coffee shop to wild pigs wandering across the road, you spend hours making fresh meals and eat them with only your hands, and in the same instant you will see a sign that says “There is no Planet B” next to a pile of trash in the middle of the sidewalk with seemingly no plans of being moved anytime soon. Many Americans think of India as polluted and dirty, and although they aren’t entirely wrong, they aren’t seeing the entire picture.
I’ll be honest, when I first arrived here I was shocked to see the amount of waste left on the side of roads, in rivers and parks, and just about anywhere you can think of. I found myself comparing it to my usual “clean” streets in Ohio where littering can get you a $500 fine and a bad rep. But as I traveled through the city with my scarf over my mouth to avoid the air pollution coming from the thousands of two wheelers, cars, and rickshaws used heavily in Pune and dug a little deeper into the issue, I started to notice something else: The people are trying. There are numerous murals throughout the city painting Pune as a “green city” and a “clean city” and asking for change in response to the climate crisis. Climate change is an issue many people here seem to be not only aware of, but believe in. That’s more than you can say for many parts of the US. In Maharashtra, single use plastics are banned. You may be thinking, “Well, the US isn’t nearly as bad of a polluter as India, so we have time before we need to take such drastic measures like outlawing all single use plastics.” If you’re thinking that, you are wrong. Let me provide you with a fact said at one of our learning seminars during orientation week at Stanford: On average, the carbon consumption of someone living in India is about 1.6 metric tons per year. In the US, it’s about 15. Fifteen! Even with the difference in population, the US exceeds India’s carbon consumption and emissions by a large margin. The people in India are aware of their impact and how detrimental it will be to future generations and are trying to pass laws and policies to help reverse climate change. It makes no sense that India, a country on track to be the most populated in the world by 2028, can pass laws in response to the climate crisis and the US, a country with less people and the means to implement real reform, can not. Climate change is something no one can hide from and as Americans, we are largely at fault. The problem here is that the Indian government is seemingly passing these laws to put on a good face for the rest of the world, however implementation is lacking. Even with the single use plastic ban, they are still pretty easy to find, and Pune seems to be missing one very easy fix to the amount of trash: Trash cans. It is nearly impossible to find a public trash can on the street. So where else are people supposed to throw their litter if not in the river?
Fast forward to today and about half the India Cohort and I are sitting in a cafe making signs to participate in the Climate Strike in Pune, a movement going on around the world. Our sign slogans range from “Stand up for the planet you’re standing on” to “If not now, when?” We use cardboard from the recycling of a shopkeeper and markers from the friends we made one table over. We chat and laugh, but silently get angrier and angrier about actually having to protest for this. Climate change spares no one. It doesn’t matter where you are from, how old you are, or how wealthy you are, the climate crisis is a race humanity will not win. So, we leave for the march, and walk on the same street I initially thought would never not have trash on it, but today that wasn’t the focus. I had my camera around my neck and felt that this was something I needed to remember, trying my hardest not to be that white girl with a canon rebel T3. It was something I needed to show the people at home. Reform can happen and it is happening all over the world, so why not in the US? We aren’t doing good enough. We aren’t doing enough. And likely, as Americans we are not the ones who will face most of the consequences. That isn’t fair. The climate crisis will disproportionately affect people in developing countries, people in warmer climates like India where 260 million people live below the poverty line, and those who do not have the means to adapt to an unforgiving world. Today, I and everyone pictured stood together to fight those who block progress, those who ignore the problem, and those who will not make an effort to change for the sake of our home and our humanity. I choose to stand with them everyday onward.