The week before last, at the Republican National Convention in Minnesota, chants of "drill, baby, drill!" broke out in enthused response to John McCain's recent reversal from opposition of expanding oil drilling along America's coastlines to support of it. In the convention's aftermath, the calls to drill more domestic oil have continued, and gathered momentum. The movement's supporters claim that it would lower gas prices and decrease America's reliance on foreign oil. In Congress, a bill is forthcoming to authorize expansion of offshore oil drilling, along with expanding funding for other, "alternative" energy sources, such as solar and wind power.
Americans are caught between wanting to protect environmentally sensitive, beautiful coastal areas that are homes for all kinds of wildlife and an important source of biological diversity, and wanting to pay less for gas. Or are they?
As geologists and oil company workers have known for years, the amount of oil that could potentially be drilled from America's offshore areas is so minimal compared to the amount that we use that it wouldn't have an appreciable effect on lowering our dependance on foreign oil. Nor would it lower gas prices. Those will only continue to rise, as worldwide supplies dwindle and demand increases. As has been pointed out by numerous experts, higher fuel efficency standards would have a much greater effect on both of the above factors than opening more offshore areas to drilling.
What is most troubling about this situation, beyond simply the short-sightedness of sacrificing natural resources for short-term, is the complete absence of science from the conversation. To the extent that scientists are able to convey the results of their research to the public information sphere, those results can inform people's knowledge of the world, as well as public policy.
In cases like this one, if science were brought into the "debate," there would be no debate.