2020 ROSE-WALTERS PRIZE FOR GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVISM
Armond Cohen is the founder and executive director of the Clean Air Task Force (CATF), a leading force in reducing air pollution and climate pollutants from the nation’s power plants, industries and cars and trucks since its founding in 1996.
Cohen conceived CATF’s first national campaign, which identified and documented through rigorous scientific analysis America’s coal-fired power plants as a major cause of respiratory illness and death. That campaign led to rules that have helped spur the closure of a third of the nation’s coal capacity, and has resulted in more than an 80% reduction in the power plant emissions that cause smog and soot; more than 96% reductions in air toxics including mercury, other toxic and carcinogenic metals, acid gases and carcinogenic organics.
Additionally, CATF’s campaign to curb health-damaging pollutants from America’s heavy diesel engines led to the retrofit and retirement of dirty engines nationwide and bolstered tight emission controls for new engines. Under Cohen’s leadership, CATF’s work led to the first-ever federal “price on carbon” that provides a tax credit for capturing and storing carbon dioxide underground. In addition, CATF helped revive interest in next-generation nuclear energy for electricity and zero-carbon fuel production and advocated for increased support for “firm” renewable energy such as superhot deep geothermal energy. Cohen also founded the Nuclear Innovation Alliance, which brings industry, environmental and research organizations together to spur advances in this field.
Cohen’s roots as an environmental lawyer led him to continue CATF’s work in regulating global warming pollutants as well as spurring clean technology. CATF has led state efforts to enact “clean energy standards” requiring power companies to provide 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050, now the law in seven states, and pushed major power companies to make voluntary pledges to do the same where the law does not require it. CATF also initiated a successful national campaign to curb emissions from oil and gas production and contributed major elements to former President Obama’s proposed Clean Power Plan, requiring deep carbon reductions.
But his peers would say that Cohen’s greatest contribution to the field is his thought leadership on climate. For decades, Cohen has been a leading advocate of a technologically inclusive approach to solving climate change. He has been a key figure in reframing the strategy from a focus on a single group of technologies to include a wide portfolio of zero-carbon technologies needed to decarbonize the entire economy across all sectors — power, industrial, transportation, agriculture —while supporting growth in global energy demand as the Global South becomes richer. While once an outlier view among climate advocates, this approach has now been widely embraced by advocates and decisionmakers alike.
Cohen serves on numerous boards and panels, including the Keystone Energy Board, the Bank of America Community Advisory Council, Nuclear Innovation Alliance, the Center for Responsible Shale Development and Ice 911. He is also the former Chair of the Electric Power Research Institute’s Advisory Council. He writes and speaks frequently on the topic of climate and energy, and is a frequent witness before Congress, state legislatures and regulatory bodies.
As a recipient of the Rose-Walters Prize, Cohen will present a variety of lectures and discussions with Dickinson students and community members during a virtual residency this fall.
About the Lecture, Oct. 12, 7 p.m., via livestream
Hedgehogs and Foxes: Toward Climate Pragmatism
Climate change is the consequence of the uncontrolled use of fossil fuels, providing 80% of our energy, burned in billions of machines. It took us two centuries to create this complex global industrial system. Now we must replace it in a few decades with zero carbon machines while providing much more energy for the world's poor. The philosopher Isaiah Berlin once cited a fable about two kinds of thinkers: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Hedgehog thinkers embrace single solutions to problems, while foxes see complexity, contingency, and risk. Climate pragmatism embraces multiple strategies and technologies, and a variety of market and policy approaches, to find what works. This is the moment for foxes, not hedgehogs.
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About the Rose-Walters Prize
The Sam Rose ’58 and Julie Walters Prize at Dickinson College for Global Environmental Activism awards $100,000 each year at Commencement to its recipient who returns to campus for a short residency during the academic year. Learn more.