polar bear reading newspaper sitting on melting ice in middle of ocean

“Here’s a challenge for anyone who really believes anthropogenic global warming exists: prove it,” wrote Steve Singleton in a December 2011 letter to the editor published in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin.

Several Whitman students and Walla Walla residents took Singleton up on that challenge, opening up discussion on the portrayal of science in local media and local attitudes toward the issue of climate change.

Singleton made the claim that “CO2 – a byproduct of civilization – is beneficial to the planet, not detrimental.” A retired Walla Walla native, he has been writing letters to the Union-Bulletin questioning the anthropogenic causes of global climate change for years.

Whitman students were encouraged to write in to the Union-Bulletin as part of an environmental studies course earlier this semester.

John Masla ’14, whose letter rebutted Singleton’s claims, said the exercise was beneficial to Whitman students.

“Especially in an environment like Whitman, where most people think pretty similarly, to have to clarify your views to other people can be really helpful. [Writing the letter] made me clarify what I actually believe in more concrete terms,” he said.

Senior Lecturer of Environmental Humanities Don Snow said members of the Whitman community could have a valuable role to play in local discussions about global issues.

“The question for us in environmental studies becomes, to what extent could our program and any of the people involved in it contribute to a fuller, more thorough and more robust public debate on the pages of the local paper?”

Walla Walla Mayor Barbara Clark agreed.

“Climate change affects all of us, and its impacts are going to increase … It’s been very encouraging to see increasing numbers of U-B letter-writers taking up the challenge,” she said in an email.

Even Singleton appreciated the back-and-forth. “I’ve been writing letters on this subject for over a decade and no one’s ever challenged them, so I appreciate that there are people who are interested enough to write back,” he said.

—Emily Lin Jones ’15

The story is from the April 19, 2012, issue of The Pioneer. The excerpted version here is reprinted with permission.