boxing gloves - flickr - mrkalhoonSides are lining up in the debate over how to best gain control of high gas prices. Like we’ve said, the prices we’re seeing today are bad for working families. When costs rise so rapidly, consumers just don’t have enough time to adjust. Of course, people are stepping into the ring with solutions. A major point of discussion has been offshore drilling, setting California as one arena for the match of the summer.

A number of news articles have come out in the past few days referencing a new poll that says Californians are shifting their transportation habits because of high gas prices. From the Mercury News:

Seventy-eight percent of those polled report doing less driving, and healthy percentages are driving smaller vehicles [59%], carpooling [28%] and – gasp! – taking transit [25%].

The flip side of this is that they are also rethinking their views on offshore drilling, nuclear energy, and liquefied natural gas:

Fifty-one percent of Californians oppose new oil and gas wells in state tidelands, a drop of 11 percentage points from peak levels and the slimmest majority opposed to offshore drilling in 27 years.

Back to our boxing match: In one corner are those asking to step up domestic oil production through offshore drilling and opening ANWR. They claim quick price relief and a steady supply of domestic crude oil. Backed by public demand for immediate solutions and moving with the force of the status quo—decades of reliance on fossil fuels, they are surely a heavyweight contender. Their lead fighter: the Bush administration, recently repealing a presidential ban on offshore drilling, arguing that Congress is the only thing standing in the way of cheaper gas.

In the other corner, proponents of clean energy policies are calling foul. According to this team, drilling would take at least 10 years, and even then only reduce the price of gas 4-5 cents per gallon. Their solution is investing in a future of clean energy supplies and investing in ways to cut consumption and transition away from oil.

And these experts aren’t in the ring alone. In California, the Governator has become a local prizefighter on the side of a real energy plan, arguing that offshore drilling only follows our dead-end tradition of dirty energy:

“Anyone who tells you this would bring down gas prices any time soon is blowing smoke. Working together we can create a comprehensive, innovative energy policy that helps consumers, protects our planet and builds a stronger and more secure America.”

(He was Mr. Universe in a former life, after all.)

In the national arena, Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer, and Harry Reid are taking on the White House. Pelosi:

“The Bush plan is a hoax. It will neither reduce gas prices nor increase energy independence. It just gives millions more acres to the same companies that are sitting on nearly 68 million acres of public lands and coastal areas.”

Coaching them through the bout, Al Gore has challenged the presidential candidates to put energy and climate at the top of their campaign platforms and called on America to put forth the same kind of national spirit and innovation that put us on the moon. He’s asked America to switch our energy economy to renewable sources within ten years:

“This goal is achievable, affordable and transformative. It represents a challenge to all Americans in every walk of life: to our political leaders, entrepreneurs, innovators, engineers and to every citizen.”

Backing them up are dozens of local and national leaders. Breaking the partisan divide, several republicans placed their bets and voted against drilling in Florida and further resource “exploration” in national monuments.

Both sides have some key punches in their repertoire. Public opinion in California suggests that the offshore camp could put clean energy up against the ropes. But the crowd is sure to recognize a sucker punch when it sees one. We all might ask exactly whom the drilling side is fighting for.

Nonetheless, the clean energy side will have to hold itself up against a flurry of jabs and swipes as consumers feel the pain in their wallet. But behind the gloves they’ve got a couple heavy roundhouses: the path of dirty energy is what got us into this pinch; continuing down that road isn’t the solution. As its contenders argue, there are a host of viable alternatives to explore and implement including solar, wind, geothermal, and others. Even oilman T. Boone Pickens has told us that we can’t drill our way to energy independence and must invest in renewable sources.

The bell has rung. We’re waiting for a new energy policy to be declared a winner. Sure, it’s easy to root for the fighter with the flashy smile and fancy PR team, but when the ref raises the arm of clean energy, consumers can declare a win too.

Picture courtesy of Flickr user mrkalhoon under a Creative Commons license.