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Natural Awakenings Charlotte

Charlotte Attorney Addresses Climate Change

By Lisa Moore As a senior environmental attorney with the Charlotte law firm of Moore & Van Allen, Tom Mullikin leads the firm’s Government, Policy, and Regulatory Affairs Team. His practice focuses on corporate compliance, regulatory relations and legislative representation.

Mullikin led a team of researchers and environmental experts on an expedition to Antarctica in late 2005 to study the effects of climate change on the polar regions. He produced a subsequent video documentary, entitled: Climate Change: Global Problems, Global Solutions. In October 2006, he led a second team to Namibia, Africa, to explore the impact of global climate change on the fragile Sub-Saharan environment.

Mullikin is the author of Truck Stop Politics: Understanding the Emerging Force of Working Class America and Global Solutions: Demanding Total Accountability for Climate Change.

Natural Awakenings:  Most of us see what global warming has done to our planet from afar, in films and photographs. What was it like to actually see first-hand the effects of global warming during your expeditions to Antarctica and Africa?

Tom Mullikin: Seeing what climate change is doing to our planet first-hand has been an eye-opening adventure, to say the least. People have been trekking to Antarctica for years giving detailed accounts of their trip, but you never quite grasp the magnitude of what they have experienced until you yourself make that voyage. During the first two days of our expedition, while we were crossing the Drake Passage, we saw icebergs the size of small states that until recently had been part of the Larsen Ice Shelf. Words cannot do this image justice, nor can any camera. It is simply astounding.

The same experience is true of Africa. I have been traveling there for the past 15 years and it never seems to fall short of anything but amazing. To see village after village terrified at the prospects of starvation, dehydration and malnutrition is heart wrenching, especially when linked to climate change. On my most recent trip, we traveled to the Namib Desert, the oldest desert in the world, which on average is pushing inland a foot a year. Again, how do you do it justice? That is the aim of all of these expeditions. To bring a little piece of what I've experienced to the average home. NA: Where did your passion for the environment come from?

TM: I don't know that I have ever told anyone this, but in the fourth grade I was elected President of the Ecology Club. At that time we organized to plant trees primarily long before some of the issues that have ripened today. My interest in the environment and has grown throughout my life as I have spent a great deal of time in the outdoors as a sportsman. Throughout my career I have had the pleasure of working on some of the most pressing environmental issues of our time. My interest in global environmental issues was sparked in the 1980's as a member of Al Gore's first Presidential Campaign, and has grown as I have sought to represent some of the most progressive recyclers and manufacturers in the world.

NA: As a nation, what are our biggest challenges in addressing global warming?

TM: The single biggest challenge we have in our country today is defining Environmental Leadership.  Leadership on the issue of global climate change is very different than previous challenges. James Gustave Speth, the Dean of the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies at Yale University and former advisor to Presidents Carter and Clinton, has stated “[O]ur national legislation was successful in curbing many environmental abuses domestically … [but] more of the same will not get us where we want to be in time to head off an era of unprecedented environmental decline . . .The current system of international efforts to help the environment simply isn’t working. The design makes sure it won’t work, and the statistics keep getting worse. In Dean Speth's words, "we need a new design, and to make that happen, civil society must take the helm.”

For the first time in the history of the environmental movement, leadership now involves creating meaningful constituencies and global partners. Air pollution knows no state or national boundaries. For example, on certain days nearly 25 percent of the particulate matter in the skies above Los Angeles can be traced to China. Some experts predict China could one day account for a third of all California's air pollution. According to UN research, around 53 percent of the world’s mercury emissions come from Asia, and 18 percent from Africa. For our generation to meet the profound challenges associated with global environmental and air pollution, we need to add global accountability into our problem-solving matrix.

NA: What do you think it will take to turn the global warming crisis around and are you hopeful that it can be?

TM: What it is going to take is making the critical leap to recognize the global nature of our challenges. We need all governments working in unison to meet our existing concerns - not just pockets of activity here and there. Modern technology has done two things that might appear to be at odds at first glance - it has enabled globalization and empowered the individual. So on the one hand we need to recognize that the impact of our actions - both pollution and regulations - are no longer just local. If our state, local, or federal governments take action without considering their role in the global regulatory scheme, they risk merely shifting pollution from one place to another.

On the other hand, we must recognize that each of us have the capability to make a tremendous impact just through our own behaviors. We need more residential solar at a local level, we need our state governments looking at enlisting the help of proactive companies who produce low-emissions fuel for mass transportation, we need to encourage greater recycling and we need meaningful world partners. When I see that nations like China, who have traditionally eschewed pollution controls in favor of economic growth, are starting to talk seriously about how to protect the global environment, then I am hopeful that our generation can come together and come up with a solution to our contributions to climate change.

NA: What are three atypical things you do to be eco-friendly?

TM: My wife and I recently purchased an electric golf cart to use as our transportation around town in order avoid air emissions. We are also in the process of moving to convert our home completely to solar energy which we hope to complete in the first quarter of 2008.

But my most atypical eco-friendly activity is probably my advocacy of environmental issues to hunting and fishing enthusiasts. Hunters and fishers represent about 38 million Americans. Unfortunately some of our traditional environmentalists view this demographic as not concerned with our environment. But this substantial block of Americans have become increasingly alarmed with environmental issues – including global climate change – in the last few years. Their concern is nothing new: hunters and fishers have a long history of taking measures to conserve and protect the nature they enjoy. It’s no accident that the early conservation icons – including Theodore Roosevelt, who founded the National Park system – were avid outdoorsmen. In the 1870s and 1880s, sportsmen lobbied for the nation’s first laws to protect wildlife. Unfortunately, sportsmen and environmentalists were not able to remain united. In the 1970s, a rift opened between the two groups, as environmentalists moved more to the left than most sportsmen.

I’m working to reunite these interests by reaching out to hunters and fishers to advocate responsible environmental positions. In fact, I have been working on a pilot television show, Sportsman Environmentalist, that is about promoting responsible environmentalism through the American sportsman. It will feature the most challenging, exciting and exotic hunting and fishing, coupled with informative environmental messages. Tom Mullikin can be contacted at 704-331-3580.

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