Monday, March 1, 1999

Name: Jeffrey Mikulina
Age: 24
Education: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Hobbies: Hiking, backpacking, playing drums

Defense against 'progress'

While cruising down an Oregon expressway, Jeffrey Mikulina spotted some box turtles crossing the road.

He pulled over to help but saw in his mirror a semi-truck barreling down, headed for the last turtle in the group.

Mikulina -- the new executive director of the Sierra Club's Hawaii chapter -- put on his hazard lights and drove back onto the expressway, between the turtle and the truck.

After much honking and swearing, the truck driver went around them.

Mikulina then picked up the turtle, easily 25 pounds, and admired how well shells had served turtles for 240 million years.

"But I realized it was no good against the wheels of progress," Mikulina said.

The metaphor was seared onto his mind.

"There's a real disconnect between the modern world and the natural world," he said. "We're destroying it. In America, it's so easy to disconnect because of our lifestyles. And I'm afraid it's getting worse."

Mikulina, 24, grew up in LaCrosse, Wis., reading doomsday headlines about the vanishing ozone layer, receding coastlines and expanding landfills.

Volunteer work took him to places like the Texas-Mexico border. There, he educated immigrant field hands about the hazards of pesticide spraying, linked to a high leukemia rate in the area, he said.

He learned about the weaknesses, potential and beauty of Hawaii's environment during an internship at an Oahu firm, Unitek Environmental. The company cleaned up fuel and chemical spills.

"We're the most oil-dependent state in the nation. We rely on oil for 90 percent of our energy, when we're one state that could rely on solar energy," Mikulina said.

His priorities for the Sierra Club include lobbying to get homeowners breaks on their electric bills if they use solar or wind-powered energy converters.

Mikulina wants to continue raising consciousness of the state's pristine land and animals locally and nationally, so they are conserved for future generations.

The chapter also plans to unveil a campaign targeting the seven coastlines in Hawaii most in jeopardy of being lost or degraded.

"We've been mindless stewards of this Earth," Mikulina said.

"It stirred in me a desire to speak for things who don't have a voice of their own."

Lori Tighe, Star-Bulletin

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