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CCU professor to cross S.C. in 30 days to shine light on state's wonders and conduct climate change survey

June 24, 2020
Changing climate and natural treasures feature in hiking journey led by CCU’s Tom Mullikin that will incorporate survey designed by the Dyer Institute of Public Policy.

How do you get South Carolinians on board with the importance of protecting the environment? First, show them how fantastic the South Carolina environment really is. Second, ask them what they currently think about our changing climate, and plan your campaign from there.

An interdisciplinary group of Coastal Carolina University researchers, along with state leaders in government, business, and industry, will come together this summer to highlight the beauty and grandeur of our state and, simultaneously, gather essential information on residents' opinions of climate change.

On July 1, Tom Mullikin, CCU research professor in the Burroughs & Chapin Center for Marine and Wetland Studies and director of the South Carolina Floodwater Commission, will lead a hike from the Blue Ridge to the Lowcountry. The group will complete the hike in 30 days, stopping at the "seven wonders of South Carolina," including the Catooga River, Jocassee Gorges, Congaree National Park, and the Cooper River in Charleston.

In his experience of lecturing on the changing climate over several decades and across seven continents, Mullikin has come to realize that public opinion is of more critical importance than scientific evidence.

"What we need now is not so much more natural science; we need social science to build public conviction that we need to address adverse consequences of a changing global climate," said Mullikan.

The wonders Mullikin and his group visits on this 500-mile journey will not be the highest or most exotic that he has visited. Mullikin is a former United States Army JAG Officer and also served as an Army fitness trainer before retiring as the Commander and Major General of the South Carolina State Guard. He has led private citizens and former U.S. armed forces on expeditions around the world. He has climbed mountains on every continent including Mount Everest and has summited more than 20 mountains around the world. But these locations in South Carolina, he says, are some of the most unique in the world -- and that is why they need to be protected.

At several points on this inaugural "mountains to the sea" journey, South Carolina congressmen, veterans, and industry leaders will join Mullikan for both the hikes and "fireside chats." These public talks will focus on how everyday social issues impact our perceptions of the changing climate and will connect environmental phenomena such as flooding and hurricanes to economic impacts such as crop yields and food shortages. Simultaneously, Mullikin and his crew will be gathering information from public audiences.

"Each leg of this trip, we'll talk about the natural beauty of South Carolina along with subjects associated with the floodwater commission, and in the process, we'll survey several hundred South Carolinians and begin a qualitative study to discover the degree of understanding of our South Carolinians and how we move this needle," said Mullikin.

Jacqueline Kurlowski, director of CCU's Dyer Institute for Public Policy, and Lillian Howie, Ph.D. student in CCU's coastal and marine systems science program, developed the survey and will work together to analyze the results that will lead to actionable plans for moving forward.

By sampling hundreds of participants in a cross-section of the Upstate, Midlands, and Lowcountry, the team hopes to have a more diversified sample of respondents, especially from communities below the poverty line, who are disproportionately impacted by the global and local effects of climate change.

"Along the way, we really can help paint a picture for our policymakers in the state," Kurlowski said, "and then we'll get that data in their hands." With Kurlowski of the Edwards College of Humanities and Fine Arts, and Howie and Mullikin of the Gupta College of Science, the South Carolina 7 project represents not only a diversity of minds, but a cross-university collaboration. The real-world applications of a variety of talents is apparent to Mullikin.

"We have the most brilliant academics and students at Coastal Carolina University," Mullikin stated. "We're very lucky to have Jacqueline and her team doing the analytics."

South Carolinians can participate in the project virtually or in person. On its website and Facebook page, the project will offer daily video updates to serve as a road map of the journey. In-person events include the hike's kickoff, on July 1 at Jocassee Gorges; fireside chats along the way, and a final celebration at the Charleston Aquarium on July 31.

For a schedule and updates, visit or