Perhaps taking a page from the bad old days of the petroleum-influenced George W. Bush administration, Donald Trump's cabinet nominees aren't denying the science behind climate change, they're just trying to cast doubt. Asked about mankind's impact on global warming, they've collectively shrugged their shoulders and waxed philosophically about the uncertainties involved in the matter.

Take, for example, the man nominated to be the next EPA administrator. Quizzed closely on the subject by Sen. Bernie Sanders during his confirmation hearing Wednesday, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt dodged and weaved and restrained himself. He even suggested his thoughts on the subject weren't "relevant." After all, he explained his job would be to follow the will of Congress on the matter.


"I believe the ability to measure with precision the degree of human activities' impact on the climate is subject to more debate on whether the climate is changing or whether human activity is contributing to it," he said at one point.

Rep. Ryan Zinke took a similar tack in his hearing one day earlier. The Interior Department nominee told Senator Sanders he didn't believe climate change was a "hoax," as Mr. Trump has suggested, but he also expressed skepticism over how much human activity had influenced it. "I think where there's debate on it is what that influence is. What can we do about it?" he said.

Ah, yes, the modern Pharisees who cloak their opposition in a veneer of reasonableness, who emphasize the "theory" in scientific theory and are content to fiddle while Rome — or, in this case, the whole planet — burns. They are like 21st century racists who know not to use certain words outside their most intimate allies. It doesn't mean they've been converted or put aside their prejudices, it only means they know that some people find their views objectionable and use code phrases instead.

Here's a little reminder of where things actually stand. Last year was the hottest on record, according to the latest NASA and NOAA data, following two other record-hot years. The danger posed by this threat is alarming — last year's most destructive weather events cost the United States more than $46 billion and took the lives of 138 people. The adverse impacts on freshwater supplies, human health, rising sea levels and crop yields are all profound.

Under President Barack Obama, the U.S. has been inching toward a solution and has now come closer to setting international standards on greenhouse gas emissions than ever. It is not the time to abandon those efforts. And the American public agrees — seven out of 10 Americans believe the U.S. should adhere to the Paris climate accords, according to the most recent Gallup polling. Trump election or no, public concern over climate change is at an all-time high.

That's what makes the parade of climate-deniers-who-won't-admit-it so frustrating. From Rex Tillerson, the former ExxonMobil CEO nominated to be secretary of state on down, there hasn't been this much public tongue-holding since the mouthguard challenge went viral. They aren't being open-minded, they're just keeping it on the down low. It may be one of the few examples where Mr. Trump's nominees appear to be following a consistent, perhaps even rehearsed pattern of behavior during the confirmation process. Whether it's at the president-elect's direction or simply a matter of instinctive self-preservation is another matter.

Unfortunately, it's unlikely they will remain so cautious once in power. Mr. Trump and the GOP leadership in Congress have generally been on the same page in their desire to cripple the EPA, boost domestic coal production, turn away from renewable energy, withdraw from the Paris agreement and generally do the bidding of the fossil fuel industry.

That makes the real "hoax" not climate change but the parade of Trump nominees acting like they are deeply (or at least moderately) concerned about greenhouse gas emissions when their past behaviors demonstrate over and over again that they are not. Under Mr. Tillerson, ExxonMobil sought to hide the company's knowledge of climate change; Mr. Pruitt has fought EPA regulations at every turn while accepting Big Oil's money; Mr. Zinke's lifetime League of Conservation Voters rating is a puny 3 percent while former Texas Gov. Rick Perry's pledge Thursday to use science as his guide rings a bit hollow coming from a Department of Energy nominee who admits he advocated for abolishing the agency without actually knowing what it does.