In line with his all-consuming ego, President-elect Donald Trump has exhibited a craving not just for affirmation but for adulation in his interactions with the outside world.
Perhaps that is why he tailors his message, contradictory if necessary, to suit whatever audience is at hand. Where he will ultimately end up is anyone's guess.
Ironically, his fickleness provides environmentalists with some hope. Could Trump's newfound hesitation to follow through on his campaign pledge to withdraw from the international climate change Paris accord foreshadow a reversal in the wings? How firm is his vow to engage in a full-throated rollback of environmental regulations (especially those governing energy production)?
A leader fixated on being revered is psychologically ill-equipped to handle public excoriation in capitals around the world. Yet that is precisely what Trump faces if he spurns the climate change pact signed by 196 nations. Failure to modify his hard line stance would isolate us when international cooperation appears increasingly integral to survival.
On the home front, recent polling disclosed that eight out of 10 Americans, regardless of political affiliation, support the Paris accord and believe that human-generated global warming is cause for concern. Being at odds with the majority of his countrymen certainly would not play into Trump's obsessive pursuit of widespread public acclaim.
To top it off, hundreds of American corporations have formally urged Trump not to abandon the Paris agreement and withdraw from the international effort to transition to an eventual clean energy economy.
Does Trump want to be viewed as a pariah in the business community populated by many of his contemporaries? His ego demands allegiance and stiffens at rejection.
What of the environmental regulations that Trump has vowed to rescind in relation to energy production? These rules are health-based, and the Environmental Protection Agency disputes that they are hurting the coal industry's economic bottom line. Indeed, there is ample evidence that competition from cheap natural gas, not the presence of environmental regulations, is sending the coal industry into a tailspin.
What if a major health crisis occurred and could be linked to environmental laxity under Trump's watch? Consider a major asthma outbreak associated with weakened air pollution standards. How much of a hit would Trump's image take if relaxed regulations led to a massive offshore oil spill likely to pollute coastlines and fisheries for generations? Would Trump dare risk being blamed for contamination of municipal water supplies as a result of easing curbs on industrial outflows?
Climate change-denier Trump is quoted as saying with confidence that no one is concerned about weather extremes because they are natural phenomena. Tell that to the coastal residents of his home state of Florida if hurricanes meet governmental do-nothing projections and strike with increasing intensity and frequency. Trump would be pilloried.
There is another aspect to his dilemma. A public backlash against Trump for eviscerating environmental protection would make it much more difficult to attract the supportive crowds that he drew on the campaign trail. If his favorability ratings plunged, would he beat a hasty retreat and sequester himself in the White House where he would create his own reality?
One thing is for sure. Trump displays a proclivity to say whatever his audiences want to hear. The question for environmentalists is just how much this justifies optimism for the stormy months ahead.