DAVOS, Switzerland — U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin sharply criticized the financial credentials of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg on Thursday, saying the 17-year-old should study economics at college before lecturing the U.S. on fossil fuel investments.
Speaking at a press briefing at the World Economic Forum, Mnuchin was asked whether the world's largest economy needed to completely and immediately divest from fossil fuels.
"Is she the chief economist or who is she? I'm confused," Mnuchin said, before adding this was "a joke. That was funny."
"After she goes and studies economics in college she can come back and explain that to us," Mnuchin said.
Thunberg, alongside 20 other young climate activists, has called on global leaders attending the forum to stop the "madness" of ongoing investments in fossil fuel exploration and extraction and "completely divest" from fossil fuels.
In response to Mnuchin, Thunberg said Thursday that "it doesn't take a college degree in economics" to understand ongoing fossil fuel subsidies and our remaining carbon budget "don't add up."
"So either you tell us how to achieve this mitigation or explain to future generations and those already affected by the climate emergency why we should abandon our climate commitments," Thunberg said.
An intensifying climate crisis is top of the agenda at the forum, following a 12-month period that saw the hottest year on record for the world's oceans, the second-hottest year for global average temperatures and wildfires from the U.S. to the Amazon to Australia.
The event, which is often criticized for being out of touch with reality, has said it aims to assist governments and international institutions in tracking progress toward the Paris Agreement and the U.N.'s Sustainable Development Goals.
Addressing participants of WEF on Tuesday, Thunberg scolded political inaction over the climate emergency.
"I've been warned that telling people to panic about the climate crisis is a very dangerous thing to do," Thunberg said.
The world "in case you hadn't noticed, is currently on fire," she added.
Thunberg was catapulted to fame for skipping school every Friday to hold a weekly vigil outside the Swedish Parliament in 2018.
It sparked an international wave of school strikes — also known as "Fridays for Future" — with millions of children taking part in rallies around the world last year.
Speaking at a separate event on Tuesday, President Donald Trump appeared to launch a thinly veiled attack against the teen-ager. "To embrace the possibilities of tomorrow, we must reject the perennial prophets of doom," Trump said.
The U.S. president did not name anyone directly during his speech, but he did encourage those in attendance to ignore environmental "alarmists" and their "predictions of the apocalypse."