Speaking at a press conference before departing the World Economic Forum, the American president suggested the 17-year-old Swede “ought to focus on” other countries than the US, which he insisted was “clean and beautiful” and where “everything is good”.
“Our numbers are very good, our environmental numbers. Our water numbers, our numbers on the air are tremendous. We have to do something about other continents and other countries,” he said, despite the US being responsible for more cumulative carbon emissions than any other nation.
“We have a beautiful ocean called the Pacific Ocean where thousands of tons of garbage flows towards us, put there by other countries, so Greta needs to work on them,” he added.
Ms Thunberg, who is also at Davos, launched a scathing attack on the US president’s climate record on Tuesday, saying in a speech at the Swiss ski resort: “’Unlike you, my generation will not give up without a fight. Our house is still on fire. Your inaction is fuelling the flames.”
Asked at Wednesday’s press conference about those “strong words” and whether his administration was doing enough to tackle the climate emergency, Mr Trump responded: “How old is she?”
After journalists told him Ms Thunberg’s age, the president: “Oh, that’s good. She beat me out on Time magazine.” The teenager was named Time‘s Person of the Year for 2019, ahead of the US president, who was on the shortlist.
Pressed further on the activist’s climate message, Mr Trump said: “I would have loved to have seen her speak. I did not.” He suggested Ms Thunberg's call for urgent climate action was "unrealistic to a point you can’t live your lives".
The president, who has previously dismissed climate science as a "hoax" and whose administration has rolled back Obama-era environmental policies, had earlier criticised the teenager's "pessimism".
“Fear and doubt is not a good thought process because this is a time for tremendous hope and joy and optimism and action," he said at Davos on Tuesday. "To embrace the possibilities of tomorrow, we must reject the perennial prophets of doom and their predictions of the apocalypse.”
Ms Thunberg, speaking later at a panel discussion, responded by referring to “empty words and promises” by world leaders.
“You say children shouldn’t worry... don’t be so pessimistic and then, nothing, silence,” she said.
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