South Carolina against the tides

The Tribune (SLO) (Sunday) - - Opinion & Obituaries - BY KATH­LEEN PARKER

Tom Mul­likin is that guy – you know, the one who fin­ishes Christ­mas din­ner, then takes off to scale Mount Ever­est, con­duct­ing busi­ness by satel­lite phone to check progress on his plan to build an ocean reef upon his re­turn.

Yes, a reef.

But first, Ever­est. If Mul­likin suc­ceeds in reach­ing the sum­mit, he’ll have met his “mod­est” goal of be­com­ing the world’s only hu­man both to dive the planet’s five oceans and scale its seven high­est peaks. Why not?

Mul­likin him­self is re­mark­ably mod­est given the breadth of his in­ter­ests and goals – the afore­men­tioned reef not the least of them. The idea, he ex­plained to me over a re­cent lunch, is to cre­ate a coast­line buf­fer that would help di­min­ish the ef­fects of flood­ing dur­ing se­vere weather. Any­one fa­mil­iar with South Carolina’s seashore and hur­ri­cane his­tory knows that some­thing ought to be done. But what?

To an­swer that ques­tion, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster au­tho­rized a state flood com­mis­sion last Oc­to­ber and named Mul­likin its chair. In ad­di­tion to be­ing an ad­ven­turer, Mul­likin is an avid en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist and eco-lawyer, a pro-busi­ness Repub­li­can (for­merly a Rea­gan Demo­crat), as well as a for­mer U.S. Army JAG and the re­cently re­tired com­man­der of the South Carolina State Guard. He’s also the cre­ator and leader of Global Eco Ad­ven­tures, a non­profit ed­u­ca­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion through which Mul­likin takes students and pol­i­cy­mak­ers to eco­log­i­cally frag­ile ar­eas for a close-up per­spec­tive on global warm­ing.

If you’re ex­hausted, you’ll find lit­tle sym­pa­thy from Mul­likin – a bald, cherub-faced, gung-ho straight-talk doer who long ago worked for then-Sen. Al Gore and later was a con­sul­tant to pres­i­den­tial can­di­date John McCain, whom he brought to Cam­den. When I men­tioned Gore’s apoc­a­lyp­tic vi­sion of global warm­ing in the doc­u­men­tary “An In­con­ve­nient Truth,” Mul­likin re­sponded with the ti­tle of his own doc­u­men­tary – “The Whole Truth,” based on his cli­mate-change re­search ex­pe­di­tions to Africa’s Namib Desert, Peru’s Ama­zon River Basin and Aus­tralia’s Great Bar­rier Reef.

Mul­likin is that rare con­ser­va­tive who knows that cli­mate change is real and that hu­man con­tri­bu­tion is part of it. He also knows that there’s no way to tackle the prob­lem with­out a global ap­proach. “We only have one at­mos­phere,” he says. That China’s toxic emis­sions have ef­fects else­where may be an ob­vi­ous ob­ser­va­tion. Less ob­vi­ous, per­haps, is the State Depart­ment’s find­ings that 70 per­cent of the mer­cury de­posited in the U.S. comes from global sources.

Although cli­mate change isn’t within his im­me­di­ate purview, the state’s in­creas­ing wa­ter prob­lems are most cer­tainly re­lated to the in­crease in se­vere weather ow­ing to ris­ing tem­per­a­tures on land and sea. Thus, it isn’t sur­pris­ing that Mul­likin brings a global per­spec­tive to local prob­lems. Rather than tackle only the state’s 187-mile coast­line, the Flood­wa­ter Com­mis­sion com­posed of 10 task forces will ap­proach the wa­ter prob­lem com­pre­hen­sively, ad­dress­ing every­thing from shore­line plant­ings to ditches, ca- nals, rivers, es­tu­ar­ies – any place where wa­ter ac­cu­mu­lates – as well as beau­ti­fi­ca­tion and de­vel­op­ment ad­just­ments, such as per­me­able sur­fac­ing ma­te­ri­als.

The pro­posed ar­ti­fi­cial reef sys­tem is the most dra­matic part of the mis­sion, in­volv­ing the sink­ing of de­funct naval ships, among other ram­parts, that would be­come the foun­da­tion for ocean ecosys­tems, while also re­duc­ing flood events through wave break­ing and wave-en­ergy dis­per­sion.

But the real mak­ers and break­ers of this par­tic­u­lar deal are ev­ery­day peo­ple whose ideas and con­tri­bu­tions will be sought by may­ors and task-force lead­ers. All hands are needed on deck, says Mul­likin, if the state is, in­deed, to shift the tides – or at least tame the waves.

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