It had all the hallmarks of an instant classic: a teenage environmentalist denounces the world’s richest nations for their climate inaction; richest nation’s treasury secretary attempts a misguided slap on a teenager; The Treasury Secretary’s wife takes to Instagram to support not her husband but a teenage environmentalist.
This is what happened on Saturday, when Scottish actress Louise Linton, wife of US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, posted an Instagram post in response to her husband’s scornful remarks about the Swedish environmental activist. Greta Thunberg, stating: publish. (I don’t have an economics degree either) We need to drastically reduce our use of fossil fuels. Keep up the fight @gretathunberg. The message remained in place for 30 minutes before disappearing.
Let’s go back a bit: on Tuesday, Thunberg blasted the leaders gathered at the World Economic Forum in Davos in Switzerland, saying that “almost nothing” had been done by rich countries to reduce their carbon emissions. Properly chastised, these world leaders bowed their heads in shame and continued to do next to nothing.
But at a press conference at the event on Thursday, the US Treasury Secretary referred directly to Thunberg, saying: “After studying economics in college, she can come back and explain this to us. “
Shooting at Thunberg has apparently become normalized within the Trump administration, in the context of the US President’s recent history of mock the 17 year old.
Thunberg hit back at Mnuchin on Twitter, posting a @CarbonBrief graph showing that, under current global subsidies and investments in fossil fuels, the ‘carbon budget’ stipulated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will be exhausted in just eight years, and signatories to the Paris Agreement will have failed in their goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Mnuchin’s sarcastic comments generated the kind of outcry to be expected whenever a powerful man attempts to publicly demean a young woman. But what he probably didn’t expect was that his wife would line up behind Thunberg. While Linton’s post didn’t stay in place for long, with 17,500 subscribers on the platform, it didn’t take long for screenshots to make the rounds of Twitter. The message was all the more remarkable as Linton tended to remain politically ambiguous, even to support her husband’s work. In her Instagram biography, she describes herself as, “Not a Republican. Not a democrat. Humanitarian and animal welfare activist. Pro-Environment. Vegan ”
In the aftermath of the post, Internet wheelchair marriage counselors speculated that it could indicate tensions within the power couple’s relationship; others have suggested it was a cynical ploy by Linton to reinvigorate his career in a Hollywood that generally sees itself as antithetical to anything Trump-related. There have been many comparisons to the ongoing political schism between former Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway and her husband George Conway, a Washington duo who are not afraid to voice their disagreements in public.
Additionally, disbelieving posters asked if it was hypocritical of Linton to support Thunberg, given his well-known penchant for private jets.
In all likelihood, we won’t know if Linton is ready to swap his Valentino shoes and Hermès scarves for sandals and hemp. keffiyeh until it happens. But amid the somewhat lascivious gossip and hot shots, the Thunberg-Mnuchin-Linton tiff indicates that climate talk – or rather, climate discord – has increased weight to create divisions even among the cream of the world elite. Where will it take us next? Watch this place.