Peter C. Frumhoff honored as 2022 Richman Distinguished Fellowship in Public Life

By Kennedy Ryan

Peter FrumhoffPhoto/Mike Lovett

Peter C. Frumhoff spoke to a full audience on Wednesday afternoon.

Ecologist Peter C. Frumhoff, the recipient for the 2022 Richman Distinguished Fellowship in Public Life, discussed the desperate need for climate-based advocacy during his Richmond Fellowship presentation in the Goldfarb Library Rapaporte Treasure Hall on March 30.

With the Earth’s average temperature only 1.5 degrees Celsius away from irreversable climate impacts, Frumhoff explained that all elements of life will be affected by a lack of policy change. Coral reefs will die, ocean levels will rise, and populations will face devastation. “Everything we love will be affected if we continue at the same rate we are currently at,” said Frumhoff.

Starting with experiences from his childhood, Frumhoff described the United States’ long history of denying fossil fuel related concerns. He recalled being out of breath in gym class, not from being out of shape, but from the pollution in the air. “I felt like I couldn’t breathe,” said Frumhoff. “I just thought that was what happened when you exercised.”

Drawing as far back as the 1960’s, Frumhoff highlighted the government’s lack of response to climate scientists’ call for action. Sharing a 1965 document from President Johnston’s time in office, he highlighted the statement “time is running out.” While decades have passed, the United States is still slow to create policies to address climate change in the present day.

Frumhoff urged the Brandeis community to take matters into their own hands. He illustrated the impact individuals make by voting in elections, pushing for policy changes, and pressing local and national government legislatures to make change.

While the tasks at hand may feel overwhelming, Frumhoff explained that every action has an impact. “It’s better to engage than to watch the world go by,” said Frumhoff.

In celebration of the upcoming Year of Climate Action, Frumhoff was brought to the Brandeis campus as the 2022 Richman Distinguished Fellow in Public Life. He praised the university’s current green initiatives, pushing Brandeis to continue to put climate-advocacy at the forefront. “This isn’t the year of climate action. Make this Brandeis University’s decade of climate action.”

The fellowship featured a two-day residency during which he engaged with the university community and delivered his Richman presentation, which included a question and answer session with Colleen Hitchcock, associate professor of ecology, and an award presentation from Brandeis Provost Carol A. Fierke.

“We are honored to have Peter C. Frumhoff here as we prepare for our Year of Climate Action,” said Hitchcock. “We all need to sprint on climate action as fast as we can in this crucial moment, so we are beyond excited and privileged to have Peter here today.” 

The Richman Fellowship was created by Brandeis alumna Carol Richman Saivetz '69, and her children, Michael Saivetz '97 and Aliza Saivetz Glasser '01, in honor of her parents, Fred and Rita Richman. The fellowship recognizes individuals active in public life whose contributions have had a significant impact on improving American society, strengthening democratic institutions, advancing social justice or increasing opportunities for all citizens.

The fellowship is hosted by the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life on behalf of the Office of the President.

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