Dickinson Welcomes Armond Cohen, Rose Walters Prize 2020 Recipient


Armond Cohen. Photo courtesy of the Dickinson College website.

Amanda Wampler '24, Staff Writer

Armond Cohen, this year’s recipient of the Rose-Walters Prize for Global Environmental Activism, gave his first presentation during his short residency at Dickinson on Monday, October 11. His talk, entitled “Hedgehogs and Foxes: Toward Climate Pragmatism,” focused on the benefits of using multiple approaches to slow the effects of climate change. 

As founder and executive director of the Clean Air Task Force (CATF), Cohen’s leadership has prompted the discussion of climate change to focus on a multi-approach solution. According to Dickinson’s website, Cohen pioneered the idea that we must take multiple approaches to slow climate change to achieve the best outcome. Though his idea was perceived obscure at first, it has become “widely embraced by advocates and decision makers alike.” 

During his presentation with the Clarke Forum for Contemporary Issues, Cohen opened with a discussion about Isaiah Berlin, a philosopher and political theorist, and his idea of pluralism. Berlin’s essay, “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” expands upon a simple idea from the poet Archilochus. This idea states: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Cohen uses this phrase and the ideas of Berlin to show that we should think like foxes when thinking about the issue of climate change. 

Cohen’s presentation focused on the positive possibilities the future can bring if changes are made on a large scale. One thing he said that has helped push the agenda on climate change has been public opinion. “Public opinion really has shifted on this issue. Over the years, we have seen much more agreement, even across political parties, on the need to deal with climate change,” Cohen said.  

During his talk, Cohen mentioned some practical solutions on this issue, including: an increased use of renewable energy, an increased use of nuclear energy, and a reduction of fossil fuels. As Cohen stated, energy usage over time will be increasing, not decreasing, as more countries develop and integrate energy usage into their society. That being said, it will be important to find other sources of energy that are less harmful than fossil fuels. 

Haleigh Keil ’24 found it interesting that Cohen did not fully dispute the use of fossil fuels. He, instead, said that they would still be used in the future, just not at the extent that they are being used now.  

“That is not something you hear often from climate scientists, usually they say that we need to completely move away from fossil fuels. So it was interesting to hear this perspective that was totally new to me,” Keil said. 

While Cohen progressed through his talk, he spoke about the benefits and pitfalls that come with the many proposed solutions to climate change. This discussion culminated to prove his culminating point, which was that we must use many means to have a better chance of getting to the end. 

Ariel Levin-Antila ’21, a behavior change intern with Dickinson’s Center for Sustainability Education, was excited to hear Cohen speak on his experience and ideas as someone in the energy field.  She noted that Cohen had a perspective that was uncommon in the climate sector—an optimistic view. 

“Oftentimes, climate scientists can paint a very dire portrait of the future, which is healthy in some ways. But the talk reminded me that a more sustainable future is possible, we just have to work a little harder as humans to get there, and work in a timely manner,” Levin-Antila said.

As he neared the end of his talk, Cohen revised his original point: It is not better to be a fox or a hedgehog. It is best to be both. “We must all be hedgehogs and we must all be foxes. The hedgehog part of it is that we must all keep our eye on the ball, which is not in good shape right now, but we need to be very focused on preserving the planetary ecosystem as it exists. To do that, we also have to be fox-like in the way we approach it,” Cohen said.