If the energy plan unveiled by Donald J. Trump this week sounds a lot like right-wing talk radio — long on meaningless catch phrases and short on actual knowledge — we're guessing that's no coincidence. The billionaire New York developer with the undisclosed tax returns who is definitely-yet-still-inexplicably the presumptive presidential nominee of the Republican Party is these days flexing his conservative bona fides on an issue that he probably cares hardly a whit about (unless it involves one of his own properties, of course).
Here's Mr. Trump's plan in a 55-gallon drum: He loves petroleum and natural gas and wants the country to produce as much of those fossil fuels as possible, but he hates government oversight and would roll back federal rules to curb pollution — specifically the efforts of President Barack Obama and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions as well as last year's Paris climate agreement in which nations pledged to take similar actions. Oh, and he wants to revive the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada, and he plans to "deal with real environmental challenges, not the phony ones we've been hearing about."
That last bit is a "tell," as they say in poker, because it's as close as Mr. Trump came in his speech Thursday in Bismarck, N. Dak., to calling climate change science a bunch of bunkum. One suspects he wanted to say that (or use a more barnyard term) as he's said similar things in the past, but perhaps his advisers counseled against it this time around. As was reported widely this week, managers of the candidate's golf course in western Ireland are seeking to build a sea wall, explaining in their application to authorities that the property needs the extra protection from harsher storms generated by climate change.
Such obvious hypocrisy might give pause to a traditional candidate for office, but we doubt it will slow Hurricane Trump. He's too big a hot air generator himself to be concerned with how sea level rise and coastal flooding, melting glaciers, loss of farm land, shrinking fresh water supplies, rising risks of disease and political instability linked to climate change threaten not only the environment and human health but also the nation's security. Perhaps he's too busy holding rallies and mocking his opponents to trouble with all that.
It would be comforting to think that this was just bluster, but as it happens, the next person to occupy the Oval Office would be in a position to do considerable damage on this issue. He could nominate a Supreme Court justice who opposes existing federal rules. He might be able to ensure the Paris accords aren't ratified, and he could certainly turn the EPA toothless. There's much he couldn't do, like single handedly reopening coal mines (despite his recent promises to do just that), because they were closed more by the market forces unleashed by the present abundance of natural gas than by federal regulations. But sabotaging the Paris treaty alone would surely be costly enough.
And speaking of cost, Mr. Trump repeated another favorite mantra of the right — that the U.S. should be "energy independent." Sorry, but world energy markets don't work that way. The U.S. is already the biggest oil and gas producer in the world, yet energy prices are set by global supply and demand circumstances, not by executive order. Ask any economist; it wouldn't serve U.S. interests to halt imports from less expensive suppliers. That would simply raise domestic prices, and if OPEC does conduct an embargo or if similar disruptions take place, we'll still feel it as our trading partners suffer or a global recession hits or prices rise worldwide.
The threat of climate change deserves a serious debate during this political campaign, but somehow we doubt we'll get one. Hillary Clinton, Mr. Trump's likely opponent, has pledged to build on President Obama's legacy of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and expanding the renewable energy portfolio. But if Mr. Trump thinks climate science is "phony," where's the conversation going to go? It's a bit like talking to a toddler about the necessity of eating vegetables when he denies the existence of nutrition.