Economic Stimulus

Here are stimulus-related story ideas from a climate perspective that can be done fairly easily

Updated February 2021

These story recommendations—scalable and adaptable for every publication’s needs, regardless of medium and location—will be updated regularly to reflect the latest developments in the climate story.


The amount of money governments and central banks are spending on Covid-19 economic recovery is so massive that it will inevitably shape humanity’s chances of climate survival. If those trillions of dollars are invested in shoring up the industries and infrastructure of the incumbent fossil fuel economy, it will lock in rising temperatures for decades to come, ensuring climate catastrophe. If those trillions are instead invested in transforming the world to a zero-carbon economy, they could rescue millions of people from unemployment and poverty and open vast investment opportunities for businesses, while perhaps also preserving a livable planet in the bargain.

Important as this story is, there’s no getting around that it can be wonky. So, help audiences by framing it in simple terms. What is a green stimulus? How would a green stimulus be enacted at the national, state, and local levels? What menu of policy and economic options might one entail for leaders in your area? And why, again, are aggressive green policies important in the place?

A Green New Deal. In policy terms, a green stimulus will often align with the proposals set out by Green New Deal advocates. Draw this connection for audiences and ask Green New Deal advocates how this economic crisis presents an opportunity to enact Green New Deal reforms. Don’t neglect the climate justice angle: most versions of a Green New Deal stress the benefits of favoring workers from communities of color and from phased-out fossil fuel industries for the jobs being created.

Past recessions and stimulus programs. The current recession is still unfolding, so its full scope remains unknown. Millions are affected directly—out of work, or worse—but audiences likely still do not have their heads around just how radically the coronavirus has altered the economic landscape, and how unlikely a quick fix is. Help audiences by drawing comparisons with the 2008 financial crisis and the Great Depression of the 1930s. Then, observe the green lessons that stimuluses passed in their wakes taught us.

A recent study by some of the world’s top economists, for example, shows that the stimuluses programs enacted in 2008 and 2009 that yielded the best monetary returns were also those that paid climate dividends. And to help dig the US out of the Great Depression, it was in fact the original New Deal that established the Civilian Conservation Corps and otherwise injected funding into the National Parks Service—which by all rights would be called “green spending” today.

Examples and Further Reading:

The Local Angle

Many states and localities are already “going green,” and this moment is an opportunity to monitor their progress and offer lessons that might help others follow their lead. How might a green stimulus transform your locality?

Will local powers invest in mass transit, including bike lanes, or will highways continue to account for most spending? Will new construction favor transit-smart growth—will new homes, schools, and commercial centers be built near transportation hubs, or will we build ever outwards into the suburbs and exurbs at the expense of the environment? What role will ubiquitous local utilities, such as ConEdison in New York and PG&E in the Bay Area, play? Will traditionally underserved communities get their fair share of green stimulus spending?

Energy efficiency. The cheapest and cleanest energy is the energy you never have to create. Energy efficiency is therefore a key ingredient in reducing both greenhouse emissions and customers’ monthly bills. How could a green stimulus contribute to renovations of residential and commercial buildings to lower emissions and energy costs for decades to come—all while creating jobs?

Examples and Further Reading:

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Just as green stimulus spending is the most lucrative, it is the best for jobs—and at a time when millions of Americans are out of work due to recession, jobs are essential. Studies have shown that per $1 million in stimulus spending, conventional energy including oil and natural gas creates about five jobs; wind, solar, and energy efficiency create more than a dozen. These jobs are often skilled, union jobs, and what’s more they last: you can hardly outsource the installation and servicing of solar panels, wind turbines, and energy-efficient windows.

Look at how green spending could create jobs in your local area. Talk to local authorities, unions, and the chamber of commerce. And look at how energy efficiency and green energy production have benefitted other states and localities. (You’ll find evidence in perhaps surprising places; Texas, for example, is the top wind producer in the country and ahead of most countries globally. The economic benefits mean wind enjoys strong bipartisan support in the state.)

Examples and Further Reading:

The Unsung Saboteurs

There will be many actors fighting tooth and nail for stimulus packages to benefit the status quo. We expect powerful politicians, lobbyists, and big oil and gas. But who else will be working to slow or upend a climate-friendly stimulus, especially at the local level?

Speaking of local utilities, are they functioning as part of an economic and climate solution or digging in on the status quo? What about their regulatory agencies, such as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which despite its great power receives vanishingly little attention in the press. The highway lobbies?

Some leaders might dismiss a green stimulus out of hand, for political or ideological reasons. But given the proven financial incentives, it’s worth posing the question to them: Why leave money and jobs on the table for your locality?

Human Interest

All of the above stories—transportation, construction, and jobs—are human stories at their roots. But they are likely also to be policy-heavy and probably won’t tug at the heartstrings. Don’t forget the profound impact a green stimulus could have on people’s lives amid this stinging recession.

As Covid-19 lockdowns lift, consider visiting a job training center. Would people out of work consider taking part in a green recasting of the economy? (Pre-coronavirus, the story would seem to have been yes. Green energy jobs were booming.) And what about recent classes of high school and college graduates, who as a group are hurting for job opportunities and, as a result, face long term economic hardship. What could a green stimulus mean for them, nationally or in your locality?