Author to Speak at Center for Environment on Local Communities Solving National Problems


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Author Francis Koster will speak Thursday, May 16, on his recently published book, Discovering the New America: Where Local Communities Are Solving National Problems, at the Center for the Environment building on the Catawba College campus.

The 6:30 presentation will be followed by a reception and book signing. His book will be available at a discounted price.

Koster received his doctorate from the Program for the Study of the Future at the University of Massachusetts.  He has served as a university administrator, designer of energy conservation and renewable energy programs and a pioneer in the application of information technologies in health care. He retired in 2008 as vice president for innovation for the Nemours Foundation, one of the largest children’s health systems in the country.

His website, “The Optimistic Futurist,” offers case studies of organizations and communities throughout the nation which have successfully addressed some of the most persistent problems facing America.  He shares those solutions and best practices in a bi-weekly column in the Salisbury Post. His book is a compilation of 63 of those columns.

His presentation is free and open to the public, but registration is required.

Book Offers Cost-effective, Creative Solutions to Problems

tl_files/cfte/images/Events/2013.4.30-fran_koster_book.jpgDr. Francis Koster, former university administrator, designer and implementer of renewable energy programs, and pioneer in the application of health care information technologies, has studied the future for decades.

His recently published book, Discovering the New America: Where Local Communities are Solving National Problems, offers creative solutions and best practices that communities across the country have implemented. The case studies he uses are documented on his website, “The Optimistic Futurist.”

Koster notes that people often don’t respond to warning signs that problems are ahead because they feel that those problems are insurmountable. Right now we have a very large percentage of the American population that does not know you can fix our country’s problems, so they’re not trying or they think the solution will cost a lot of money,” he says. “And in every example I cite, you actually make money.”

The book’s goal is to create a manual of best practices for civic volunteers and leaders.  “I want to empower people so that they can actually let scary news in because they know it can be fixed,” he says.

He offers four examples cited in his book that offer cost-effective solutions to environmental problems.

Good Design Pays Dividends

The Village Homes community in Davis, Calif., shares 23 acres of parks, common areas, orchards, vineyards and greenbelts. The sustainable design saved $800 per household in initial costs. The plan encourages a “sense of community, protects natural resources and conserves energy,” Koster writes.

The village’s layout fosters water conservation, using 1/3 less water for irrigation than surrounding developments. In addition, all the homes have some form of built-in solar design.

Finally, the design encourages a sense of community. A study revealed that residents at Village Homes know 42 people in the neighborhood, compared to 17 reported in a standard suburban neighborhood. The average resident identifies four individuals in the complex as his/her best friends. Crime is 90 percent less than the city average.

Local Investors Lower Taxpayer Costs to Heat and Cool Public Buildings

Wellesley College in Massachusetts invited local individuals to invest in their buildings in exchange for a share of the energy savings.  The private investment group funded the replacement of the college’s parking garage lights, saving more than $26,500 in energy costs the first year.

“The retrofit project reduced energy consumption by 57 percent, increased light levels by 32 percent, and doubled the fixture’s lamp life, which reduced maintenance costs,” according to the case study. “Light bills went down $26,536 annually, and maintenance costs were reduced almost $4,000. Because the private investor could take advantage of favorable tax treatment that the school could not, the actual net investment was less than $40,000, resulting in an 81 percent return on investment split between the investor and the school (which put in no money).”

“Every public building in America could do this,” Koster says.

Auto Roundabouts Reduce Fuel Use and Air Pollution

A study revealed that using roundabouts instead of traffic lights or stop signs saves as much as 20-30 percent on fuel and consequently reduces air pollution caused by idling vehicles.

A Vermont study “indicated that the installation of roundabouts in place of signals at 100 busy intersections would decrease total annual motor fuel use by approximately 1-2 percent of 1997 annual statewide gasoline consumption attributable directly to the roundabouts – and another 1-2 percent attributable to changes in land use density enabled by the roundabouts,” according to the chapter.

School System Makes Biodiesel to Fuel Bus Fleet

The Gaston County School System in North Carolina converts waste vegetable oil from its school cafeterias and other sources to run 209 buses on a 20 percent biofuel-to-diesel blend. Using biodiesel not only reduces air pollution; it also saves money. The school system produces biodiesel for 60 cents per gallon. Since the buses in the fleet travel an aggregate of 12,000 miles a day, the school system saves about $125,000 a year. The project also lowers asthma rates among students.

Citizens Submit Solutions

Koster hopes his website, “The Optimistic Futurist,” will continue to collect helpful examples of communities and organizations that have addressed the challenges that face America. “I hope citizens from all over the country will submit solutions that they have implemented in their own communities to my website so everybody can learn,” he says.

 “I don’t want to be the ultimate author of all the solutions to the problems facing America. I want to create a source that newly elected officials can go to and find success stories that they can bring to their own community to make it healthier while lowering taxes.”


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