You can help the environment by helping yourself

May 30, 2017

A German official warns of lasting damage to America's relationship with European allies if the U.S. withdraws from the Paris agreement aimed at slowing climate change. At home, President Trump seeks a 40 percent cut for the EPA division that studies climate change.

But here in the Cape Region, people are taking climate change and sea level rise seriously. We don't have much choice. Delaware has the lowest mean elevation of any state in the union.

A May 22 forum sponsored by Delaware Interfaith Power & Light, the Citizens' Climate Lobby and Epworth UMC highlighted not only climate change but also what people are doing about it. Given the faith-based sponsors, it's not surprising that some of the speakers emphasized the moral imperative of protecting our planet. But for many people, that may not be enough incentive. According to a recent New York Times story, "Most people think climate change will harm Americans, but they don't think it will happen to them."

That's where John Sertich comes in. Sertich is president of Clean Energy USA, a local company that sells and installs solar panels. You might expect the president of Clean Energy USA to emphasize his products' environmental benefits. But Sertich tells his salespeople to concentrate on the economic advantages. As Sertich put it, he could try to guilt people into buying solar by emphasizing our responsibility to the planet and future generations. Or he can give homeowners real, tangible ways they can help themselves now. He makes the same pitch to businesses, whose main focus, naturally, is to make money. With solar energy, he said, businesses enjoy more certainty. They don't experience the often wild swings of energy costs, allowing them to concentrate on other aspects of their business.

"It's not just a way to do the right thing," Sertich said. "It's a way to invest in their business, to stabilize their costs."

Probably the industry most tied to the environment is agriculture. Charles Smith of T.S. Smith & Sons, the oldest peach, apple and nectarine operation in Delaware, talked about how his approach to farming has evolved.

"As a farmer, my interest in climate change should be fairly obvious," said Smith, a part-time musician and full-time, fourth-generation Bridgeville farmer. "I get up every morning and walk through the same house my great-grandfather walked through. And I walk through the same fields every day. And if he hadn't been a steward of the land, I certainly wouldn't be doing that today."

Smith said he wants his grandchild to have the opportunity to follow in his footsteps. That's why he's working to reduce his carbon footprint. In 1982, he switched from a large overhead irrigation system to trickle irrigation, which uses much less fuel and water. He also burns as little fuel as possible while tilling his land and spraying his crops. But the biggest change came in 2012. That year, he invested in 178 solar panels to power the farm's cold-storage building. The system, he said, has performed even better than promised. It was "the smartest thing I ever did in my life."

The public also has a role to play. Representing the League of Women Voters, Sue Claire Harper called for the public to get involved on the issue of sea level rise.

"If you have concern about these issues, I cannot stress strongly enough that you need to speak to your elected officials," she said.

And don't forget the appointed officials on the county's Planning and Zoning Commission, who are now drafting the 2018 Comprehensive Plan. That plan will guide land-use policies for the next 10 years.

"At the present time," Harper said, "there is nothing in that plan on sea level rise. Nothing. Nada. Zip."

But there is still time to voice your opinion. The Planning & Zoning Commission meets twice a month, on Thursdays. On June 8, the public will have an opportunity to speak at the beginning of the 6 p.m. meeting. On June 22, the public session will be at the end of the meeting.

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The key is for citizens to speak up. As that night's moderator, Rick Grier-Reynolds, put it, "This is a bottom-up issue."

Don Flood is a former newspaper editor living in Lewes. He can be reached at

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