09/19/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Drill Here, Drill Now, Get Nothing but an Opinion poll point or two


The Democrats are caving on offshore drilling.

As reported by the Christian Science Monitor (emphasis added):

"... In a shift on Saturday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that the House will
take up comprehensive energy legislation next month that includes
partially lifting the 1981 ban on offshore drilling...

"... On Friday, Senate majority leader Harry Reid said that the Senate will
also examine lifting the ban
, which now covers all but central and
western portions of the Gulf of Mexico and some parts of Alaska...

"... Until Saturday, Speaker Pelosi called the notion that more drilling
would lower prices at the pump a hoax
and said that there would be no
votes on this issue on her watch.

"With the US controlling some 3 percent of the world's proven oil
reserves, drilling in protected sites won't solve the problem of high
gas prices in the short term, if ever
, Democrats said.

"... In a bid to force an offshore drilling vote, GOP senators blocked votes
on all other elements of an energy plan, including a popular measure to
extend tax breaks for renewable energy

What's happened is that the Democrats are losing political ground on this issue and the Republicans are holding to ransom the rest of the Democrats' energy agenda. For reasons of politics, therefore, the Democrats have decided to let the offshore drilling slide.

Over on ClimateProgress, Joe Romm, for whom I have great respect, has written repeatedly about how offshore drilling is a crock and won't make gas cheaper, but he has also written that he thinks the Democrats may as well compromise with the Republicans on this point.

I disagree. And this is not a party political point I'm making. It's not even a savvy policy point. This is a plain old disappointed citizen's point.

The disappointment comes from the fact that politicians on both sides of the aisle still don't really get that climate change is a planetary time bomb. They still think it's a political football.

Republicans are using offshore drilling to score political points. The
Democrats are relenting in order to avoid those Republican points being

Neither party is exhibiting the type of leadership needed by the people of the United States and the rest of the world on this offshore drilling issue. It's a simple repeat of the gas tax pandering from earlier in the present election cycle--except that this time we can't be proud of the outcome.

Here's the thing. There is no question that high gas prices are killing people at the pumps and that this is awful. But what we absolutely don't need are false solutions that do nothing but perpetuate the illusion that we can continue to depend on fossil fuel.

When does a leader who cares about climate change draw a line in the sand? If not offshore drilling then where? Do we let the debate proceed next to shale oil extraction and coal liquification or do we begin the battle for hearts and minds now?

Instead of pandering to short term opinion trends, we need to expand on the vision of a better life for Americans and citizens of the planet that doesn't depend on oil.

A vision where our city kids don't suffer from asthma, where our lakes and rivers don't die of acid rain, where we preserve the great heritage of our beautiful land, where we aren't forced to spend upwards of 15 percent of our incomes on owning and fueling our cars, where we are independent of foreign oil and where we don't allow our planet to literally melt.

What would leadership towards that kind of vision look like when it comes to offshore drilling?

It would look like our Democratic and Republican politicians siding with the truth and with the people. It would look like leading from principle instead of leading from opinion poll figures. It would look like drawing the line in the sand on climate change now instead of later.

A principled political leader on this issue would say that high gas prices make life hard, but that offshore drilling won't help and explain why. A principled leader would do the right thing and use the opinion polls to help them figure out what needs to be explained to the people rather than what direction the policy wind should blow.

We are going to have to face some hardship on energy. And the reasons they are going to be difficult is that we didn't heed the warnings sooner which would have allowed us to make the transition smoother.

But the good news is that, if we don't get diverted by political hoaxes like trying to squeeze a small amount of oil out of our coasts and instead invest in renewable energy and efficiency, we will soon have an energy system that is clean, long-lasting, independent of foreign oil, and will save the planet for our grandchildren.

What's happening today, with Pelosi's decision, is that the politicians of both parties have exhibited their lack of faith in the people's ability to understand the issues and the possibilities.

If the politicians pander on offshore drilling then all they do is postpone the conversation. They allow it to move one step closer to shale oil and liquified coal. And they confuse the voters with their double-talk.

Photo courtesy of Socius in Daejeon.