Illustration of Al Gore and James Hansen boxingPhoto illustration by Tom Twigg / Grist[Updated: June 1, 2009]

The Waxman-Markey climate and energy bill, now moving through the House, is polarizing the environmental community. Longtime climate crusader Al Gore says we should do all we can to get the legislation passed; top climate scientist James Hansen says we should demand a different, better bill. Activists and environmental groups are picking sides or staking out positions in the middle.


In this corner, Al Gore!

“I think they’ve maintained the integrity of the bill. In its current form as I understand it, I have no doubt that it will accomplish the result we need to begin this transition toward renewable energy, conservation, efficiency, and renewed U.S. leadership in global negotiations.”
Al Gore

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Gore says the bill is a good starting point, and that efforts to reach compromise on it have boosted its chances of passing both the House and the Senate. “The key role of the legislation is to begin that shift [to lower emissions],” he said. “Once it begins, it will be unstoppable.”

On Gore’s team:

Arguments in favor of the bill:

… and in this corner, James Hansen!

“The revised Waxman-Markey climate bill is too watered down to qualify as a positive step for avoiding catastrophic climate disruption.”
James Hansen

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Hansen proposes instead a “tax and dividend” approach that would tax fossil fuels at the point of extraction and distribute the revenue from that tax to citizens. That’s just one of many approaches being promoted by bill opponents.

On Hansen’s team:

Arguments against the bill:


The middle ground: Make it stronger

Many environmental groups are calling for lawmakers to “strengthen and support” the bill — but if the bill isn’t strengthened, or if it’s actually weakened further, it’s unclear whether they’ll support it. (Some organizations are simultaneously saying “vote yes” and “fix it,” so we’ve listed them as both on Gore’s team and in the middle; we welcome clarification from any group on its team of choice.)