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US treasury secretary criticises Greta Thunberg

By Lawrence Gash

Steven Mnuchin tells teenage climate activist that she needs to study economics

Confused: treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin

The US treasury secretary has criticised the climate activist Greta Thunberg while speaking at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos.

Steven Mnuchin was asked at a press briefing what he made of the 17-year-old Swedish campaigner’s recommendation that both the public and private sectors should divest themselves from fossil fuels. He replied: "Is she the chief economist? Who is she? I’m confused.” After a short pause Mnuchin shrugged and said it was "a joke”.

The senior cabinet member added: "After she goes and studies economics in college, she can come back and explain that to us.”

Climate change has been the hot topic at this year’s WEF. Thunberg kicked off the debate this week saying: “Forget about net zero [emissions], we need real zero.” Such urgency was echoed by the Prince of Wales who called for a “paradigm shift” towards decarbonisation and sustainable markets.

The dramatic urgency espoused by leading advocates of the theory of anthropogenic climate change was not shared by the US President Donald Trump, who argued that “this is not a time for pessimism” and urged his audience to reject “the perennial prophets of doom”.

Mr Mnuchin defended the American President in his latest press briefing, arguing that Mr Trump “absolutely believes” in a clean environment as shown by the US joining the Trillion Tree Campaign.

The pressure on the Trump administration from environmental campaigners increased significantly throughout 2018 and 2019 with many activists dismayed at the White House’s decision to leave the United Nations Paris Climate Agreement.

Thunberg rose to prominence as this concern increased, publishing a bestseller and being named Time magazine’s Person of the Year in 2019.

With the likes of Goldman Sachs and the governments of almost every Western nation heaping praise on Thunberg, some have questioned her anti-establishment credentials. A recent Facebook glitch revealed that posts on her popular page were actually written by her father and Adarsh Prathap, two adult climate activists.

Speaking to CNBC at the WEF, the financial historian Niall Ferguson observed “a cognitive dissonance at the heart of Davos.” He stated: "Publicly, you have to agree with Greta Thunberg… Privately, you're quietly agreeing with Trump."

He added: “If you're serious about slowing CO2 emissions and temperatures rising it has to be China and India that are constrained. I don't see her in Beijing or Delhi."

FURTHER READING: Trump lauds US economy and pledges to plant a trillion trees

FURTHER READING: Global leaders head to Davos 2020

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