Today's college students face challenges

Published: Sunday, April 7, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 5, 2013 at 6:52 p.m.

There are plenty of reasons to feel bad for today's college students.

They grew up during a time of war and terrorism, only to enter college just as the economy was collapsing and their job prospects disappearing.

They'll graduate into a world facing monumental problems such as climate change, yet mired in political gridlock that makes it seem like solutions are impossible.

But Ron Sims doesn't see things in such a bleak way. He told a University of Florida audience Wednesday that he'd like to be young again for the very fact that there are so many challenges ahead.

"Whether it's disease, whether it's climate change, whether it's food, whether it's water, all of it rushing down on us at one time," he said. "Oh, to be young. What a rush! You wake up every morning and you wouldn't have to think of a problem. It would already be there."

Sims spoke at the close of a UF symposium on sustaining economies and natural resources in a changing world. It's a big topic and Sims — a 64-year-old former federal housing official and King County, Wash., executive — delivered a sweeping speech on the scale of the challenges that will confront the country in the years ahead.

It's a depressing list: China will overtake the U.S. as the world's largest economy by 2020. India will pass us by 2030. Wars will be driven by a lack of food and water.

The world population will grow by 2 billion, and there won't be enough clean water for everyone. Dense populations living under bleak conditions will be cauldrons of infectious diseases that spread around the world.

Sims recited those problems as a call to action "in a world that will show no mercy to anybody that waits.

"In a world where there will be definitive winners and losers," he said, "those communities that do not embrace change — particularly on the sustainability side of it, organizing themselves to have high qualities of life — those communities will lose."

Sims also spoke about academic disciplines getting out of their silos and working together, something that UF has been pushing. The same idea could be applied to the barriers between UF and the rest of Gainesville, which have been eroded through efforts such as Innovation Square but haven't been entirely removed.

Sims recalled his experience in King County, home to Seattle and the University of Washington. He said the university's researchers project that climate change will create more flooding there due to runoff from snow melting in the mountains.

He flanked himself with those scientists in announcing an effort to create a single flood district in the county to rebuild all levies to a 2050 standard. Gainesville needs to similarly take advantage of UF expertise in planning for the effects of climate change here, such as an influx in population moving from the coasts.

Keeping the best and brightest UF students here also will help. They may have been dealt a bad hand in the defining events of their formative years, but that should make them ready to deal with anything in the years ahead.

Contact Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or

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