Mobilizing Young Conservatives to Act on Climate Change

George Behrakis promotes a carbon dividend plan that would impose fees on polluting companies and rebate the revenue to taxpayers

Earth Advocates is an occasional series featuring Tufts graduates working on climate change and sustainability issues around the world. Do you know others who are leading in their communities? Let us know at now@tufts.edu.

Former president of the Tufts Republican Club George Behrakis, A20, takes what he calls a free-market approach to the fight against climate change. Since April 2021, he has been the president of Young Conservatives for Carbon Dividends, a national nonprofit that promotes a plan that would tax polluting companies based on their carbon emissions and then rebate the revenue to taxpayers. Their mantra?  “Capitalism isn’t the problem. Capitalism is the solution.”    

Behrakis was one of 30 members of College Republicans chapters around the country who co-founded the group in 2019. Funded by individual donors and foundations, it had a $500,000 budget in 2021, he says.

CONSTRUCTIVE ENGAGEMENT Behrakis began his climate change efforts at Tufts. “I learned that if I wanted to have the Republican Club be a respectable force on campus, we had to be having constructive dialogue,” he says, recalling a tense political atmosphere on campus after Donald Trump was elected president. A jazz pianist, he manages his full-time job with Young Conservatives for Carbon Dividends between classes at the New England Conservatory in Boston. He plans to continue in the role after earning his master’s degree in jazz composition in May.

FOLLOW THE MONEY Through strategic planning, communications, and fundraising, Behrakis aims to mobilize young conservative leaders in support of what Young Conservatives for Carbon Dividends calls the “pro-growth, pro-innovation Baker-Shultz Carbon Dividends Plan." The references are to two former Republican secretaries of state, James Baker and the late George Shultz, who co-authored the proposal to tax companies for fossil fuel pollution and give Americans rebates in the form of quarterly checks, in equal payments per resident. Behrakis says the approach appeals to conservatives who want to address climate change but chafe at plans such as the Green New Deal proposed by some Democrats.

A TAXING ISSUE Behrakis calls the dividend plan “a market-based solution that would not only reduce emissions, but also grow the economy and protect American workers.” Putting a price on carbon, as has been done in many parts of the world, is intended to reduce fossil fuel use by raising its cost. Businesses are expected to pass the cost on to consumers in higher prices, which could reduce demand. Under the dividend proposal, most households would be expected to get more in dividends than they pay in higher fuel prices. The most affluent Americans, who consume more, would pay more than they receive.

“When paired with dividends and a regulatory rollback, this sort of policy framework strongly aligns with longstanding conservative principles of using the market instead of government regulations, and not growing the scope of government with a new revenue stream,” Behrakis says. “Quite a bit of economic research demonstrates how carbon pricing, especially when paired with a rebate program, would be good for economic growth, investment, household incomes, jobs, and U.S. manufacturing.” 

PROMOTING SOLUTIONS Behrakis sees more conservatives looking for ways to address climate change, and thinks carbon dividends may win their support. “My group is meeting with young Republicans on the ground across the country and having them talk to their leaders in Congress, urging them to support this kind of solution,” he says. “Things are moving in the right direction. There’s just a lot more engagement from conservatives now on climate generally and on this plan specifically.”

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