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Bridging the Conservative Gap on Climate Change

By Bridget Shirvell

The divisive nature of U.S. politics often stymies efforts to address the climate crisis. George Gemelas ’18, '21 MEM, however, is working to make climate change a bipartisan issue and foster consensus around market-based policy solutions.

“In my experience, there's a lot of interest by the average citizen, who may happen to be conservative, for pragmatic solutions. That's why I believe there's great potential for organizing around a carbon dividends framework — a market-based approach with an element of equity because the money raised by a price on carbon would be given back to the American people,” Gemelas says.

“In my experience, there’s
a lot of interest by the
average citizen, who may
happen to be conservative,
for pragmatic solutions.”

George Gemelas ’18, '21 MEM

Over the past seven years, Gemelas has worked to educate people, chiefly young Americans, about climate, clean energy, and carbon dividends. He has helped launched bipartisan coalitions and statements — including the Economists’ Statement on Carbon Dividends, the Student Government Leaders’ Statement on Carbon Dividends, and High Schoolers for Carbon Dividends. He also has set up direct educational meetings and field trips with Republican members of Congress, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Sen. Mike Braun (Indiana; co-chair of the Climate Solutions Caucus), and former Rep. Trey Hollingsworth (Indiana).

“The climate crisis is the defining challenge of our era. If we are to address it successfully, we need people from across the political spectrum to bring their ideas, talents, and unique perspectives to the table,” says Indy Burke, the Carl W. Knobloch, Jr. Dean. “George has already done such remarkable work in advancing bipartisan solutions and engaging young conservatives on climate change. I can’t wait to see what he does next.”

Gemelas started this work while an undergraduate at Yale when he helped to found Students for Carbon Dividends, a national coalition of college students that came together around the policy of putting a price on carbon emissions and returning the money directly to the people, and later continued it after YSE with the Climate Solutions Fund, an organization he co-founded to help provide education and coalition building around climate action. 

“George represents a new generation of conservatives who are serious about action on climate change and environmental protection more generally — offering the promise of future policies that might have bipartisan backing and thus prove to be more enduring,” says Hillhouse Professor of Environmental Law and Policy Daniel Esty. "Of course, George and his colleagues' work might be seen as bringing the Republican Party out of the wilderness, or maybe it is into the wilderness, and reconnecting with the great tradition of Teddy Roosevelt and the conservationists of his era.”

Gemelas credits his time at YSE for helping him consider and develop his passion for bipartisanship policymaking.

"I'm grateful for the ideas, insights, and scholarship YSE offers us, which provided us with a blueprint for making climate change the bipartisan issue it deserves to be."

Beyond his congressional focus, Gemelas also is working to change the conversation in Indiana, where he returned after graduating from YSE. As a fellow at the Mitch Daniels Leadership Foundation, a development program for young professionals named after the state's 49th governor, Gemelas launched Build Clean Indiana to help better inform Hoosiers about the opportunities of the clean economy and accelerate the transition in Indiana.

“While, to some, our state’s qualities might seem to put us at odds with the issue of climate and the environment, it is precisely these attributes that position us to be a leader — in our own unique, Hoosier way — to tackle these important challenges,” Gemelas says. “Our strong business environment, our pragmatism, and our excellence in agriculture and industry will be needed to meet our country’s environmental challenges.”