An interview with military and environmental expert Thomas S. Mullikin
By Olen Davidson, guest contributor
Having just returned from the Republic of Fiji (where he was and is leading an international group of 52 attorneys in a review of proposed mineral and seabed mining legislation for that island nation), environmental attorney Thomas S. Mullikin is not your typical attorney. In fact, there’s nothing typical about Tom Mullikin.
A former U.S. Army officer who has been tapped to command the S.C. State Guard later this month, Mullikin – founder and pres. of the Mullikin Law Firm and Global Eco Adventures – is on a quest to become the first human to have climbed the world’s seven great summits and logged dives in the world’s five oceans. He has already climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro (Africa’s highest peak), Mt. Elbrus (Europe’s highest peak), Mt. Kosciuscko (Australia’s highest peak), Mt. Aconcagua (the highest mountain in the Western Hemisphere), and summits across the North American continent. And he has recorded SCUBA dives in every ocean on earth. In each-and-every adventure, the issue that is foremost on his mind is the environment—why and how it is changing, and how best to preserve it.
We recently discussed global climate change and America’s dangerous dependency on foreign sources of energy with Mullikin. Both are vital issues says this environmental expert who points to a way out of this dependency and also argues that neither issue should ever be politicized.
QUESTION: You urge veterans to speak out in support of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of shale oil to lessen our dependence on foreign oil. Aside from the obvious (less dependency on Middle East oil), what are some of the other ways that increasing our domestic energy production would affect our military and national security?
THOMAS S. MULLIKIN: It is understandable for Americans to think first of the Middle East when we consider the negative consequences of depending on other nations for our energy needs. Decades of reliance on Middle Eastern nations, particularly the Persian Gulf States, have allowed these nations to become awash in American dollars – some of which ended up funding terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda and Hezbollah.
While enhanced energy security will allow us to begin to become less entangled in that part of the world, there are sure to be benefits in other difficult relationships across the globe. America has relied heavily on nations with volatile governments that are not responsive to their own people and work to thwart American efforts to promote democracy.
Our support for the governments of these nations through their state-owned energy companies is shrinking, courtesy of the shale energy boom in this country.
For example, we will become less beholden to nations such as Venezuela (a country that is currently in turmoil following the death of strongman Pres. Hugo Chavez in 2013) that have sought to oppose our efforts in the Western Hemisphere and even friendlier nations such as Nigeria that are beset with violence and terrorism (such as the kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls in that country by the Boko Haram group).
Simply said, developing our own resources will allow us to stop putting bullets in the guns of our enemies and lining the pockets of those who bankroll those who would do us harm.
Also, I think that the revival of American manufacturing is vital to our national security interests. Wars are different now than they were in generations past, but a robust manufacturing sector would allow the U.S. to be the “arsenal of democracy” as President Roosevelt dubbed this nation during World War II, if we ever found ourselves engaged in another global conflict as we did in the twentieth century.
QUESTION: Like climate change, the debate on fracking has become so politicized. Industry tells us one thing and environmentalists tell us the opposite, and it can be very difficult to tell what the truth is. How did you, an environmental lawyer and global expedition leader, come to the conclusion that fracking is beneficial?
MULLIKIN: As with climate change, I have arrived at my conclusions on shale energy through my own research into the central issues. I have also taken a long look at the objective science on the issue that has been conducted by those who do not have a stake in the matter.
Environmentalists are quick to decry any energy industry statements on the safety and environmental responsibility of shale energy, but the fact is that much of the anti-fracking “science” that is often cited by radical environmentalist groups (and repeated by the media) comes from a handful of researchers who are dependent on grants from fracking opponents.
The case of the Park Foundation is instructive on this point. The well-heeled foundation (they have awarded over $6.4 million in grants in the first quarter of 2014 alone) has been generous to fracking opponents. Josh Fox, the filmmaker behind the “documentary” film, “Gasland,” received $175,000 from the Park Foundation. Robert Howarth, a Cornell University professor whose research seems designed to generate more headlines than sound data, is also among the prominent activists who have benefited from the Park Foundation’s support.
Unfortunately, the lure of the anti-fracking movement has been too much for some groups to resist. In the early 2000’s, the Sierra Club was a leading advocate for natural gas, recognizing the climate benefits of this source of energy which has markedly fewer emissions than coal. However, the group’s position on the issue changed and supporters are greeted with a donate button on the side of the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Natural Gas” webpage.
I encourage those who are interested in shale energy to take a step back and examine the studies and statements from neutral parties. For example, Pres. Obama’s first EPA Administrator testified to Congress in 2011 that there was “no proven case where the fracking process itself has affected water.”
Numerous state regulators have made similar statements over the years as the body of research regarding shale energy has grown and grown.
QUESTION: Most Americans have never seen first-hand the effects of climate change on locations like Antarctica or the Namib Desert. What conclusions have you drawn from your expeditions that the general public is not aware of?
MULLIKIN: My expeditions have led me to appreciate the global aspects of energy and environmental issues and the way that our ecosystems are all part of an interconnected whole. Pollution knows no international boundaries and this is abundantly clear when you are sloshing around off the coast of Antarctica or traversing the desert in Southern Africa.
The connected and unified nature of our environment has shaped my thinking on broader issues and encouraged me to look at tough issues as someone might halfway around the earth.
All too often, Western environmentalists have assumed that developing nations will jump at the chance to slow their economies in the name of climate change action plans sent down from the United Nations or Western capitals. It is instructive to think about how these sentiments are perceived by someone living in a Rio de Janeiro favela or a Mumbai slum. Developing nations are not interested in handicapping their own economic growth and development to satisfy our demands for emission reductions and we need to be mindful of this fact when developing our energy and climate plans.
Also, it is equally unrealistic to attach all of our hopes to plans such as the Kyoto Protocol that call for unilateral economic disarmament by Western nations along with larger wealth and technology transfers to developing nations (including many nations such as China and India that are developing rapidly).
My experiences have led to me to an understanding that the best environmental program is economic growth and innovation. The boom in shale gas usage in electricity generation across the U.S. over the last few years reduced our carbon emissions to their lowest level since 1994. Government controlled cap and trade schemes could never dream of these type of results!
The U.S., Canada, Western European nations lead the way in sustainability because we have economies robust enough to think beyond mere subsistence. Healthy economies allow for the development of clean and responsible industries and the good governance that is essential for enforcing any environmental regulatory regime.
QUESTION: Looking a few years ahead, and aside from dependence on oil from sources hostile to the U.S., what challenges do you foresee climate change having on our national security? For instance, rising sea levels and expanding deserts.
MULLIKIN: Potential rising sea levels are of great concern to military strategists. It is anticipated that in coming years rising sea levels could displace millions of people who reside in coastal and low-lying areas across the globe.
From Central America to the Asia and beyond, residents are threatened by rising seas. The nation of Kiribati, comprised of small islands in the most regions of the South Pacific, is often cited as the potential source of climate refugees. Kiribati has purchased land on nearby Fiji to grow food and potentially relocate displaced citizens. I recently visited Fiji as part of a United Nations program to assist that country with the development of their own environmental laws, and I would be very concerned if that low-lying nation was my backup plan in the face of climate change.
Beyond the obvious humanitarian aspects of these possible refugee situations, many of these residents who will be displaced, live in regions that are already primed for conflict before the creation of millions of refugees seeking relief from a changing environment. Bangladesh could face food shortages and civil unrest that could spill-over to neighboring counties in South Asia and restart old conflicts.
QUESTION: While we don’t have billions of dollars to spend on political lobbying, there are more than 20 million veterans or military members in the United States. How can the veteran community impact the political process when it comes to achieving energy independence?
MULLIKIN: It is important for veterans to understand that Americans, and by extension our elected officials, have a deep-seated trust in veterans. Americans have seen that veterans, by their very nature, are used to acting selflessly and in pursuit of the greater good.
However, by virtue of their training and out of respect for their civilian government counterparts, veterans have often avoided weighing in on controversial domestic issues upon their return to civilian life.
In order to promote shale energy development and energy security, veterans should be comfortable organizing and stepping out in the public sphere to express their opinions on these issues.
If veterans take the lead on these issues, I think that they will find a great majority of American voters falling in behind them. Americans care about our veterans (you need only look at the public outcry over the recent problems with VA hospitals to get a sense of these sentiments) and would be moved by their opinions on these critical energy and national security issues.
Featured image: Fiji/CIA World Fact Book