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The Weights of the World

Her name was Ashley Atkinson. She held with her the experience of compassion, hardship, and hope of communities in the worst of economic times as she paced in front of the classroom. She had seen families with no access to healthy food. She had shaken the hands of those that worked tirelessly to bring not only food to their communities, but hope and celebration too. She passed her eyes along the classroom as she explained the severity of agricultural uncertainty the future held. She let lose the burdens of her mind; the scarcity of future water, the uncertainty of climate change and drought. “Only one percent of the United States population farms” she said, “and of that one percent, forty percent is fifty five and older”. She looked to us with a half humorous, half melancholy smile and asked “am I scaring you guys yet?” The head of the horticultural department at the college was sitting in the middle of the classroom. She raised her hand and it peaked into the air above the crowd. Her face was mild and soft, but weights from worry had been pulled down at the crevices of her smile. “Last summer was so severe, we were told to throw out the books on agriculture” she spoke. “We literally had never seen anything like it before”. 

It is here I realized the weights of future uncertainty the world bears. And I realized we mustn't forget the burden of worry researchers, academics, construction workers, and linemen alike bear for our future. When my father was a lineman (someone who maintains and fixes the electric lines when they are down. A job which involves climbing up electrical poles with nothing but heel spikes and a rope holding you up to restore power to communities which lost it), I realized the immensity of that job. It was his burden when a community was powerless. They were able to shrug off the worry because they knew "someone would fix it". It was he that worked tirelessly in the night to restore their power, he that worried of how to get their power back so that they didn't have to. 

The work of academics is not much different. When speaking of climate uncertainty, I often hear from people that "things always work out", "we will find a way", or "technology will save us". But the truth is, that it is thousands of researchers and academics who worry every day about this issues that begin to process ideas for solutions. They bear the burden of worry so the nation can rest. It is not without the countless hours of research, writing, and meetings that innovations for change come to fruition. I have learned enough of climate change to start to bear the burden myself, for I cannot rest that we will find a way, because I know we have not, and so with my knowledge is the responsibility to fix it. As I delve further into the world of agriculture, I am beginning to realize the immensity of their burden. "How will we feed the world?" "What will we do when water dries up?", "how will we replace the aging farming population in order to feed people", and "what will we do when we have no more futile soil because it has all eroded?" These are serious and life threatening questions the world of agriculture faces every day. I never realized how much worry there was in agriculture. I never had to shoulder the burden. It makes me realize how many small weights are compounded upon the shoulders of every american. What are the burdens of astronomists, conservationists, oceanographers? I will never have to bear the burden of all of these fields, because I simply cannot. But I can learn to have a deeper appreciation for the weight these people carry around every day to work on a better future we can all share. It is with all of these people, like ants solving little pieces of a puzzle, that we start to patch together a future solution. We mustn't lose ourselves in egoism that our particular field is the one to save the world, but rather all of the people in society work collectively, each holding a chunk of the burden. 

Each side, the academic and blue collar worker, mustn't forget the weight the other bears. We cannot, as academics, deafen ourselves in our egoism to the weights working class Americans bear for us everyday. And likewise, we need to appreciate the ways in which academics worry of our future so that the majority of Americans can rest comfortably that it will be okay.

I hope we can get to a day where academics and working class Americans see their synchrony. See that each weight of burden they carry are building blocks for the same construction of our future. 


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