Imagine a $700 Billion Bailout for the Environment

  • Published on October 1st, 2008

installing solar panels

(For a 2010 update, read “Tax Package Changes – Renewable Energy Programs are Back in Business“.)

The economic crisis currently facing the nation has caused a flurry of political action.  From McCain “suspending” his campaign to massive bailouts, the response has been immediate and serious.   Even though the $700 billion bailout for Wall Street was rejected by the House of Representatives, which would have been the largest US government financial market intervention in history, I can’t help but wonder what a $700 billion bailout would do for the environment.  What if the US government had responded to the twenty years of dire warnings by James Hansen in the same manner as the current economic crisis?  Such an aggressive response may have stopped climate change and saved our economy through green jobs and technology.

>> See also: Why Van Jones should be Obama’s Secretary of Prosperity

Government scientists, like James Hansen, have been muzzled for warning us that the Earth “is nearing… a tipping point beyond which it will be impossible to avoid climate change with far-ranging undesirable consequences.”  Sounds like the sky is falling to me, but when Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson says it, the government takes note. As Bruce Marks, founder and CEO of the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America (NACA) explains:

Paulson says the sky is falling, we have to bail out Bear Stearns, $30 billion; the sky is falling, we have to bail out Fannie and Freddie, $200 billion; the sky is falling, we have to bail out AIG, $85 billion.

I can’t fathom $700,000,000,000.  Jon Stewart told us $700 billion is equal to around 2,000 McDonald’s apple pies per individual American.  The investment could turn our economy green on a larger scale rather than fatten us up on apple pies. As Van Jones explains:

It’s time to stop borrowing and start building. America’s No. 1 resource is not oil or mortgages. Our No. 1 resource is our people. Let’s put people back to work — retrofitting and repowering America. … You can’t base a national economy on credit cards. But you can base it on solar panels, wind turbines, smart biofuels and a massive program to weatherize every building and home in America.

Former presidential candidate John Edwards and the NRDC proposed the April 2008 $100 billion stimulus package be spent on green infrastructure investments, such as “retrofitting buildings to improve energy efficiency, expanding mass transit and freight rail, constructing ‘smart’ electrical grid transmission systems, wind power, solar power, and next-generation biofuels.” The program was even proposed to be paid for by auctions of carbon permits and would have created two million jobs!

What could 700 billion do for the environment if invested in a green economy?  The economic crisis is real, and I don’t know the solution, but climate change is also real. I just wonder when the environment will get its bailout.

Image: My Hero

About the Author

Jennifer lives on 160 acres off-the-grid in a home built with her own two hands (and several more skilled pairs of hands) from forest fire salvaged timber. Her home is powered by a micro-hydro turbine, and she has been a vegetarian for 21 years. Jennifer graduated from Humboldt State University with a degree in art education and has been teaching art to children for over 16 years. She also spent five years teaching in a one-room schoolhouse before becoming the mother of two beautiful children. Jennifer has a Master's Degree in Early Childhood Education and is currently teaching preschool, as well as k-8 art. She enjoys writing, gardening, hiking, practicing yoga, and raising four akitas. Jennifer is the founder and editor of Eco Child's Play ( "I’ve always been concerned about the earth and our impact upon it. Now that I have children, I feel compelled to raise them with green values. From organic gardening to alternative energy, my family tries to leave a small carbon footprint." Please visit my other blog:


  • The discovery of the math errors is indicative of the small minded and erroneous thinking that often occurs in these flights of fancy. While being green can do many things to reduce energy use and cost it will never be the sole answer to our economic woes. Additional regulation will only add to the burden our economy faces. It is amazing how the freemarket itself has begun to correct our excessive driving. We drove 100 billion fewer miles this past year as prices rose and shortages appeared.

  • U.S. policies have manufactured more terrorists than eliminated (Iraq war for example). We do need to worry about the environment and not get sidetracked by possibility of terrorist attacks and financial meltdowns. If we truly have a capitalist system then the financial mess will take care of itself. The environment won't.

    Far more money is being poured into the ongoing financial crisis than the original problem demanded. And it isn't finished. The bailout won't cure the financial problems.

  • sorry the reply was for this guy 😀

    "sila Cornblossom said on October 1st, 2008 at 9:11 am

    What good is Obama’s #1 green policy if terrorists come over here and wipe out the people, they may even take out a few trees in the process, wouldn’t that be terrible?"

  • come on man…this is ridiculous, we shouldn't build anything because the "terrorists" are going to destroy them?! huh. Sounds to me that you're being ironical ..the thing is you probably hate Obama…that's your problem 🙂

    i think it's time u americans buy some normal cars and not tanks …(or at least some hybrids).

  • If we are forced to bail out Wall Street, we should at least make sure to prevent the next – ecological – subprime crisis from happening. The same banks which pushed imprudent mortgages also finance coalmine, deforestation and dam projects which rapidly draw down the planet's capital. And once they have depleted our ecological capital with their dodgy deal, no other planet will bail us out. See for a comment on bailing out environmental subprime lenders.


    In the article you say 10 million households.

    In the link to that quote it says 103 million households.

  • You're missing a zero in that census figure. According to your link, there were 105,000,000 households. That cuts the benefit rather sharply.

  • @Tsila: there might be terrorists out there, but not behind every door. With less military and more investment into civil projects there would at least be fewer US terrorists.

  • Irregardless of the math issues, the sentiment in this article makes it worth reading. It comes down to personal responsibility to be a good steward of our earth, and many people just don't care, or believe that environmental issues are someone else's problem.

    I wish that people of this world (it's not only Americans who have created this problem) would feel more responsible for taking care of our planet, and stop thinking that it will just "get better". It won't.

    It won't matter about whoever gets elected in November if we as individuals don't start doing our part to help this wounded planet. While it may not happen tomorrow, it WILL happen unless we stop our wasteful ways today.

  • All the talk about kilowatts and kilowatt/hours is apparently confusing many of you.

    For you non-engineering types.

    Bottom line for solar and wind equipment is a payback in the 6-12% range, depending on a host of factors.

  • You have no idea what you are talking about. If you have ever read one financial chart in your life or you had any idea about how banking and credit functions you would shut your mouth. And I would urge you to do so.

  • Photoshopped.

    "if America only had 10.5 million households each household would need to average around 30 people to make up the 300+ million population in America."

    …LOL. That would be crazy.

    "What good is Obama’s #1 green policy if terrorists come over here and wipe out the people, they may even take out a few trees in the process, wouldn’t that be terrible?"

    Tsila, you're statement basically implies that this country should just stick its head in the sand and give up and not worry about doing the right thing for the planet. I don't know about you but I don't plan my life around whether or not a terrorist is going to come destroy everything. You shouldn't watch that propaganda crap on Fox, Tsila.

  • YES! But it unfortunately will not happen until we can squeeze the very last drop out of our expendable natural resources. It's just how people are. They never put up that warning sign on the hairpin turn until enough people die on it. Same thing with everything else. Until it becomes a realized threat it won't get any worthwhile attention. Am I a pessimist? Nope. I just see things how they are.

  • Ugh. Fix your math. 6000 is still a lot, sure, but no where near as impressive as you false make it out to be. There are over 100 million households.

    I got a chain email that cited better uses for the AIG bailout (85 billion) and suggested every american could get $425000. When in actuality, it's $425.

  • Your numbers are wrong. It's about 2,000 dollars per person (or about $4,000 per taxpayer) so $66,666.67 per household you would have 30 people in your house! With interest, it could be up to $7000 per person. It IS a lot of money, but it's nowhere near THAT MUCH! This misinformation is why no one is supporting this bailout. Of course we can't afford 66,000 each household (or the ridiculous $400,000 I saw in an email). But $2,000 to $4,000 is something the country CAN manage. Get your facts straight – please! I'm an environmentalist myself, but this is ridiculous!

  • I don't think anything can or will be done about it and we will all live to regret that mistake. A lot of the technology to help the environment existed for quite some time. The government just let their greed and gluttony rule their choices. Unfortunately the world we know as earth will pay the price and we will all just sit and watch the consequences that come from it knowing it's too late to do something about it. It all starts at home. If you ever walked on Coney Island board walk you will notice that the waste baskets are virtually empty but the ground surrounding it has nothing but trash. We can't even teach our children a simple thing like how to use a waste basket. What makes you think they'll conserve water or electricity or any of the multiple things that will help the environment.

  • 10,500,000 US households? No, it's 150,000,000 US households. Your math is off by a factor of more than 10. Very careless — ruined what could have been a good point.

  • Don't worry, Psycho Sarah and grandpa McBush will rescue us by delivering millions to the rich and billions to China. When the rest of us can't afford power we can cut down the trees and burn them for heat and make room for more McMansions maybe?

    A lot of the republitards don't even believe the earth is more than 6,000 years old, they also believe Armageddon is just around the corner and that the earth was given to them to lay waste to.

    The real irony is that the average blue collar republitard will end up with his job overseas and his house being foreclosed on him.

    Vote Democrat and cross your fingers, at the very worst they can't be as bad as 4 more years of this pestilence. If Obama can create a new green economy and actually work on the power grid it would be a good thing. We have $10B per month for nonsense now, why not for our own country?

  • What good is Obama's #1 green policy if terrorists come over here and wipe out the people, they may even take out a few trees in the process, wouldn't that be terrible?

  • Interesting, but what does 3.4kW per day really mean (and is that 3.4 kW each, or combined)? how much energy does the average house use?

  • You really need to check your math and your sources

    The census data you link to says that their are 105 million households not 10.5 million. This is an error that should have been caught, given the fact that if America only had 10.5 million households each household would need to average around 30 people to make up the 300+ million population in America.

    Having made this change you would realize that each household would get approximately $6,600, with each household averaging around 3 people. While still a lot of money it helps to put things into better perspective. I completely agree with you that America should invest money into alternative energy sources, but it should not be done at the exclusion of fixing our current credit problem. If we do not fix our credit problem green technology wont work, because the companies who research and produce these amazing technologies will be unable to get the money they need to function. This is a sad and simple FACT of business. If we dont try and actively fix our credit problem it will eventually resolve itself but it would take far longer and most likely end up costing average Americans more.

    Hopefully we will see a new improved plan from congress in the coming days, one which will free up credit for businesses both big and small. While making sure that companies and brokerage firms that do use the government plan are forced to put wage limits and a moratorium on bonuses for the their executives.

  • Your math is wrong

    200 billion divided by 10.5 million households is only 19,047 per household.

    If there are 200,000,000 adults in the country it is $3500 per adult. $7000 per couple.


  • I have been thinking/talking about this for a while and this article just re kindled my enthusiasm.

    I think that this could actually help the economy a lot.

    It saves money from the consumer, creates jobs producing/installing solar panels, and most importantly takes the main load(electricity) off of coal power plants.

    Even if it isnt fully subsidized making alternative energy easily available to people who actually need would be great for this country/world.

    Thank you for making this post.

  • Sorry, but you've made a mistake that is disturbingly common in this economic mess. 700 billion divided by roughly 100 million households is 7,000 dollars per household. That's not the worst error I've seen. One commentator actually said that each adult could get 2.5 million each. Sorry to be the wet towel.

  • I like the thought, but according to your link there are 105.5 million households in the US, not 10.5 million. That adds up to $6,635.07 per household. Thats still quite a bit of money though.

    Similarly, a $100 billion investment in renewables would cost $947.87 per household, which is a fraction of the annual energy cost of an average household these days. Seems like a good investment to me considering what we could get for that money (the renewable energy part, not the financial bailout).

  • Sounds like one of the best ideas I've read in ages – a far better use of $700 billion than making sure Wall St carries on – filling their pockets – as normal!

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