Mark Lapolla ’78 and Head of School John Palfrey Examine Importance of Intellectual Diversity in Conversations on Climate Change

When addressing climate change, Mark Lapolla ’78 discussed the dangers of accepting ideology as fact.

In a conversation about climate change, Head of School John Palfrey and Mark Lapolla ’78 touched upon the purpose of intellectual diversity and the ways in which Andover teachers can discuss climate change in the classroom.

The main purpose of the conversation, which took place on Tuesday, was to discuss the benefits and drawbacks of intellectual freedom in environments like Andover. Students and faculty who attended the event were invited to propose questions to Palfrey and Lapolla.

Lapolla said he believes that intellectual diversity is a key for students to know all sides of a story in the greater pursuit of truth.

“You have to develop a sense that if you’re not being fed something that sounds and feels agnostic, it’s very difficult to hone in on truth. But what [is] very easy to do is to accept ideology, which is the lowest form of belief that triggers emotion and affinity,” said Lapolla during the conversation.

The conversation shifted to discussing the benefits and disadvantages of opinions that are not completely fact-based. Then, in relation to climate change, the conversation explored whether or not it would be a beneficial experience to bring someone who did not believe in climate change to campus.

Jeremiah Hagler, Instructor in Biology, said he believes that a person with conflicting views should be allowed to come to campus, and that students should be able to confront that person, especially if it encourages an intellectual conversation.

“I think we are in a very bad position if we get into a point where we are afraid of confronting with a point of view that we don’t agree with and we shut them out of the intellectual conversation altogether,” said Hagler.

Hagler continued, “It could be a valuable intellectual exercise for people who feel strongly about climate change to actually have someone to talk to that isn’t a strong proponent of the issue, and the students will have to work a little bit to show their point of view.”

Andrew Wall, Instructor in Chemistry, who teaches the science of climate change in his chemistry classes, attended the conversation because he was curious about what both Palfrey and Lapolla had to say about the topic.

While he found the back and forth between Lapolla and Palfrey to be engaging and interesting, Wall said he would have preferred to listen to a discussion on climate change with a climate scientist. Wall, however, did agree with Lapolla on some points.

“Mr. Lapolla brought up interesting ideas about herding mentality and cautioned us about jumping on ideological band wagons. As a scientist, I couldn’t agree more. Our conclusions about climate change shouldn’t be based on opinion but by solid interpretation of data and observations,” said Wall.

Like Wall, Brendan Mackinson, Instructor in Chemistry, found some parts of the talk to be interesting and others frustrating.

“The format of the event was not one that lent itself to an evidence-based discussion of the science of climate change, and as a result, there were several instances in which the scientific process was mischaracterized and in which facts were presented without providing the proper context. I think the question of how to present opposing viewpoints effectively in the classroom is important and interesting, and I enjoyed the parts of the discussion that focused on that question,” said Mackinson.

According to Lapolla, people are less likely to comment on topics such as climate change because they fear social repercussions that may come with a difference in opinion. He refers to this as “the spiral of silence.”

“There becomes a cultural silence around things, such as people who were going to vote for [President Donald] Trump wouldn’t share that because he is such a polarizing figure,” said Lapolla in the conversation.

To repair this cultural silence, Lapolla suggests that people must look at the evidence in more depth, and not be afraid to challenge it.

“People don’t feel like they can talk about [climate change]…it is essential for people like you and me to be able to talk, and it is important for these young adults to know that it isn’t okay to just accept this ideology. There has to be hard belief from the parsing of what we do and don’t know,” said Lapolla.

According to Hannah Ono ’22, an attendee of the talk, Lapolla did a good job advocating for conversations around climate change and intellectual diversity.

Ono said, “I would definitely say that I didn’t agree with all of his points, but I would say that some of his points were valid. For example, about skepticism, he didn’t exactly deny climate change. The fact that we can’t predict the future is a big part. We can try to make predictions, but they won’t necessarily be true, so it’s hard to debate stuff that we can’t be 100 percent accurate about.”

Davis Barrow ’20 attended the conversation and thought it was insightful. According to Barrow, both speakers and students were passionate.

Barrow said, “The guest talked a lot about how even if classmates or teachers have opinions that are scientifically not as likely, it is still important that we listen to what they both have to say and hear both opinions,”

Allison Guerrette, Campus Sustainability Coordinator, attended the events because, as part of the global community she believes that it is their responsibility to find innovative and aggressive ways to address climate change.

Guerrette said, “I enjoyed the passionate discussion about climate change science, policy, and education, and I know we will continue to explore these topics with students on a deeper level moving forward.”

Editor’s Note: Kaela Aalto is an Associate Copy Editor for The Phillipian.