Mnuchin at Davos Pushes Back on Thunberg Climate Warnings

DAVOS, Switzerland (CN) — The Trump administration continued to belittle 17-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg at a summit in Switzerland, with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin becoming the latest U.S. official to do so Thursday.

Mnuchin said Thunberg lacked a sophisticated understanding of economics as evidenced by her recent call for all public and private investment firms to divest from fossil fuels.

Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland,  on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

“After she goes and studies economics in college, she can come back and explain it to us,” he said during a Thursday press conference at the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland.

Before that, he said: “Is she the chief economist? Who is she? I’m confused.”

He later said he was joking.

Thunberg is also in Davos for the event, speaking twice on Tuesday, once immediately before a speech delivered by President Donald Trump. She is also set to speak again at a press conference on Friday, where she will likely be asked about Mnuchin’s remarks.

Thunberg said “pretty much nothing is being done” about climate change and accused world leaders of selling out the next generation for their own short-term greed.

“We need to start listening to the science, and treat this crisis with the importance it deserves,” she said Tuesday.

The young Swedish activist has an enormous global following and is considered one of the most important voices in the raging global climate change debate.

In December, Thunberg was named “Person of the Year” by Time magazine, drawing the ire of President Trump, who has long coveted the honor. At the time, Trump said Thunberg needed to work on her “anger management” and again called her “very angry” during a side session at the World Economic Forum on Wednesday.

In his keynote speech, where Trump did not once mention climate change, he very clearly alluded to Thunberg and other activists whom he call “the heirs of yesterday’s foolish fortune tellers” and “prophets of doom.”

“These alarmists always demand the same thing – absolute power to dominate, transform and control every aspect of our lives,” Trump said Tuesday.

Trump’s message diverged substantially from almost every other major political leader who spoke during the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. Climate change was the dominant item on the four-day event’s agenda, and the organization itself released a global risk assessment and named climate change-related items as the top five risks.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel devoted the majority of her speech to climate change, touting Germany’s ability to wean itself off of coal and other fossil fuels while its robust automotive industry continues to its efforts to go electric.

“The question of whether we attain the goals set forth in the Paris Accord may well be one of survival,” she said.

Ursula von der Leyen, the newly elected president of the European Commission, spoke in equally stark terms about the urgency of dealing with climate change and said Europe must take a leadership role on the issue.

Even China’s Vice-Premier Han Zheng mentioned climate change, albeit only in passing and only to say it would honor the 2015 Paris Agreement — seemingly more of an effort to present China as a reliable global partner rather than any national devotion to the environment.

For some, Europe’s leadership is direly needed as the Trump administration, presiding over an energy boom sparked by the shale natural gas revolution, gave far more attention to economic numbers than atmospheric ones.

Trump did talk up clean air and water in the United States, while saying he was committing to conserve parts of “God’s majesty” and agreed to join the 1 trillion trees initiative unveiled at the forum.

But he encouraged European countries to buy fossil fuels from the United States, turning the focus back to business. He also made an analogy to the city fathers of Florence, who embarked on the construction of the magnificent cathedral Il Duomo without fully possessing the engineering technology to compete it. They developed the technology along the way and the cathedral still stands, Trump said.

The president was likely referencing emergent technologies in the fields of geoengineering and other technologies that allow the extraction of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere to be stored underground.

Thunberg and other activists argue such technologies do not currently exist at the scale needed to make a difference, but Trump implied only a vibrant free market unburdened by excessive regulation can unleash the innovation necessary to get there.

Ultimately, at a World Economic Forum where climate change dominated the conversation, there were two very different solutions presented.

Europe talked of a transformation away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy while the United States positioned fossil fuels as an indispensable element of energy generation, arguing technological innovation rather than regulation will mitigate the dominant problem of this moment in time.

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