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Camden attorney combines environmental passion with adventure

Posted: June 11, 2013 3:40 p.m.
Updated: June 12, 2013 5:00 a.m.

Cutline: Camden’s Tom Mullikin (right) and fellow diver Benjamin Buchanan come up from under the ice in Antarctica in December 2011.

Brick walls are there for a reason. Not to keep us out but to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. In this instance, the brick wall was in the form of a physical challenge. For Tom Mullikin, being born with what were then described as bone abnormalities in both feet would prove to be a source of strength and perseverance in both his life and career. At first, doctors told Tom’s mother he might never walk. He would face multiple surgeries, orthopedic casts and years of physical therapy. Mullikin spent much of his childhood maneuvering obstacles most children never experience.

“Challenges like I had will begin to shape who you are and who you will become,” he said.

Mullikin values physical capabilities and fitness.

“I appreciate the ability to climb, swim, and dive. The greater the challenge, the better.”

As president of Camden-based Mullikin Law Firm and deputy commander of the S.C. State Guard, it’s a fair assumption Col. Thomas Stowe Mullikin has not been stopped by the brick wall -- or many mountains for that matter.

Born in North Carolina and having lived all over the East Coast, Mullikin’s father “Charlie” would move his family to Camden in 1976 as plant manager of DuPont’s May Plant. But more than 30 years prior to arriving in Camden, the elder Mullikin would land in a much different place. He would land at Normandy and fight his way across Europe as a member of a special reconnaissance unit in World War II known as “Rogers’ Raiders.” He would receive the Purple Heart for wounds suffered from an enemy grenade, and a Bronze Star for heroism. Mullikin says his father “never considered himself a hero. Modestly he would tell us he was simply doing his job.” Mullikin believes his father’s accomplishments protected our freedoms and way of life we know today. And just as his father did, Mullikin would serve his country in the military with the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General Corps, U.S. Army Reserve.

Mullikin’s physical challenges as a child fueled his desire for adventure and for pushing the envelope in a very large way. Mullikin paired his love for adventure with a passion he holds for the environment and global climate change. As an attorney specializing in energy and environmental issues and a veteran adventurer, Mullikin has been able to formalize Global Eco Adventures, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to leading expeditions to the most fragile eco-systems around the world to study the environment.

Tracing Mullkin’s influences that led him to a career in environmental advocacy dates back to 1986 when Mullikin was asked by Al Gore, then a senator, to run his South Carolina campaign for his 1988 presidential bid. Mullikin credits Gore for planting the seeds of his interest in climate change and other environmental issues.

Mullikin believes the study of policy is important in the spectrum of science education and believes there is a tremendous gap between good science and good politics.

“We need scientists who understand policy, and we need policymakers who understand science,” he said. “Right now these are two worlds that operate in large measure all unto themselves.”

He also believes the U.S. must bring more countries on board.

“We have one atmosphere; we have to make climate change a global issue,” Mullikin added.

In merging adventure and environmental advocacy, Mullikin has been able to lead a number of expeditions in to many of the world’s fragile eco-systems through Global Eco Adventures, including Antarctica, the Amazon, Namib Desert and the Great Barrier Reef. These experiences have greatly influenced his viewpoint on environmental issues. Mullikin believes whole-heartedly that, in the environmental arena, you have to communicate with people.

“Being there in the environment versus sitting behind a computer can reshape your optics. Immersing a person in the environment is always going to positively influence them,” Mullikin said.

On his first trip to Antarctica, Mullikin crossed Drake’s Passage, and Larson’s ice shelf had broken off -- icebergs containing pieces of the continent that were as big as the state of South Carolina.

“If you have any sensitivity to what’s going on with climate change, these are the kinds of experiences that will rock your world,” he said.

While taking a group down the Amazon to study carbon sinks, he was “unprepared for the kind of slashing and burning going on.”

“Whatever your politics are, when you see something so wasteful and damaging, it has an impact,” Mullikin said.

Seeing these things makes Mullikin want to dig deeper, push harder, and gain as wide a perspective as possible.

“By traveling to some of the most fragile eco-systems in the world, I have had the opportunity to study first-hand the impacts of a changing climate on the local landscape and its indigenous people. Many of these sites have left an indelible impression on my thinking and have created passion and awareness that is hard to describe,” Mullikin said.

Through all the adventure, Mullikin has set a personal goal. He wants to be the first person to dive all the world’s oceans (scuba dives certified by PADI) and climb the highest mountains on all seven continents. Mullikin had never really climbed mountains for the sake of climbing mountains; it was always associated with an environmental angle.

“I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro three years ago to study its receding glaciers. But I decided at the urging of friends to give this thing a run,” Mullikin said.

Presently, Mullikin has climbed the highest peaks on three continents -- Kilimanjaro (Africa), Mt. Elbrus (Europe) and Mt. Kosciuszko (Australia). In December, Mullikin and his son plan to climb Mt. Aconcagua (South America) at 22,837.3 ft. and, in the summer of 2014, Mt. McKinley (North America). Mullikin has performed certified scuba dives in all five oceans (Southern Ocean/Antarctica, Artic Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean) and is a certified polar and master diver.

“That’s three down, four to go. We’ll see. It’s not the most important thing in my life, but I enjoy the challenge and learn a lot at the same time. Diving under ice or reaching the summit of tall mountains are religious experiences for me. Thoughts are on family, friends, those who have gone before me, and God. I love it in a way that is probably impossible to adequately describe.”


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