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Author Francis Koster Shares Simple Solutions to Big Problems

05/19/13 by Rebecca Rider

Fran Koster noted that people need alternatives to change.

Author Francis Koster told audience members May 16 that the way to get people to change is to provide them with an alternative.

He spoke at the Center for the Environment at Catawba College on his new book, Discovering the New America: Where Communities are Solving National Problems, stories of proven cost-effective solutions that communities and organizations have adopted to address challenges.

Koster received his doctorate from the University of Massachusetts in the Program for the Study of the Future. He has served as vice president of the Nemours Foundation and as a university administrator as well as a research associate with the Center for the Environment, advising the Center on various initiatives such as the Campaign for Clean Air and Energy Corps.

At the lecture Koster explained that many health risks and energy crises are not immediately visible. Unless a solution is offered along with a warning, he said, many people will not take action. “We’re all human,” he said. “We all want things to go on as they’ve always gone on.”

Carson High School students attended Koster’s presentation.

Koster presented the audience with a series of case studies from communities that successfully overcame challenges. Some of his examples were close to home: Kannapolis managed to decrease its energy bill by replacing a water supply pump, and schools in Greensboro started a life-goals program to decrease the rate of teen pregnancy. 

There were other success stories further afield: schools in Massachusetts that built more energy-efficient buildings; towns that saved 20-30 percent of fuel by installing roundabouts rather than stoplights or stop signs; and public buildings that installed motion detectors to control lighting or replaced old heating equipment. 

He also applauded the effectiveness of “sweat-time” labeling—marking packaged food with the amount of time it will take to burn off the calories it contains, instead using of a content label.

Koster signed his newly published book for attendees.

The problem remains that there aren’t many financial incentives for not-for-profit-organizations—schools, churches, etc.—to implement such changes. “It’s not that we don’t know how to do this,” Koster said, “It’s that we have unfavorable leadership—and that falls on your shoulders.” 

As a solution Koster urged a marrying of the private and public sectors, with the one investing in the other. This method, Koster explained, is more profitable in the long run while allowing investors to see the physical outcomes of their investments. Initial building or retro-fitting is often performed by local contractors as well, which returns money to the community. 

“My hope is that you’ll realize that there are a lot of scary things out there, more than we know about . . . and there are simple solutions to each one,” Koster said. 

After the presentation, attendees were invited to a book signing and reception.

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