A climate activist and Buddhist from Colorado set himself on fire in front of the Supreme Court building on Earth Day to protest the current climate crisis. He died of his injuries the following day.
According to CNN, Wynn Bruce was standing on the plaza in front of the Supreme Court building which is across from the Capitol building, when he self-immolated at 6:30 p.m. and was airlifted to a hospital in Washington, D.C. minutes after. There were no other injuries reported and no threat to public safety, but police had closed off the area afterwards for further investigation.
Bruce was a 50-year-old photojournalist that, up until his death, had been very active on social media following the postings of Greta Thunberg, a famous environmental activist from Sweden, as well as Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and activist. Bruce was a member of the Boulder Shambhala Center and had a studio in Colorado called Bright and True Photography, HITC reports.
Kritee Kanko, a climate scientist and friend of Bruce, said his actions were an act to protest and bring awareness to the climate crisis, The New York Times said. Kanko also mentioned she was not completely clear on Bruce’s intent, but was aware of his despair in regard to the lack of action being taken to fight climate change.
The New York Times reported that Bruce may have been planning his self-immolation for at least a few weeks after finding an edited comment of his from 2021, which he had put under one of his posts from 2020 about irreversible climate change, to include the date of his self-immolation with a fire emoji.
“It’s all a mess. How are you going to have a climate movement when 75% of the activists are depressed? If you really step back and you look at what we’re doing, what are we actually doing? We are killing ourselves knowingly, right? We are wiping out the life on the planet,” Dr. Phoebe Godfrey, an associate professor in residence of sociology at the University of Connecticut said.
“It’s all a mess. How are you going to have a climate movement when 75% of the activists are depressed? If you really step back and you look at what we’re doing, what are we actually doing? We are killing ourselves knowingly, right? We are wiping out the life on the planet.”Dr. Phoebe Godfrey, associate professor in residence of sociology.
Dr. Godfrey has written and co-edited multiple published books related to sustainability and environmental justice and just recently received a small grant from the sociology department at UConn to create an Environmental Justice Leadership Training program, something that will give valuable leadership skills to students interested in climate activism this upcoming fall.
“I’ve grown a lot on this issue, and one of the things that has shifted for me is spending more time with the Earth, with Mother Earth,” Godfrey said. “Think in terms of the collective, Mother Earth would not want you to kill yourself for her. People are fighting to stay alive–quite the opposite. Killing yourself versus being killed by the oil companies are very different things. We need people to stay alive and fight and do it in a strategic and collective way.”
This is not the first time a climate activist has self-immolated as an act to bring awareness to the climate crisis. According to The Guardian, in 2018 an LGBTQ+ rights lawyer and climate activist David Buckel was 60 years old when he went to Prospect Park in Brooklyn, emailed media outlets about his plan and then poured gasoline on himself and lit himself on fire, later dying from his injuries.
The New Yorker reported that Buckel had written a note and typed multiple messages minutes before lighting himself on fire expressing his concerns and explaining the motivation behind his self-immolation. One part of Buckels message read “most humans on the planet now breathe air made unhealthy by fossil fuels, and many die early deaths as a result — my early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves.” Buckel sent this to multiple media outlets via email.
Godfrey says in order to mobilize and create climate-related change, activists must first focus their efforts towards respecting the earth and coexisting with it.
“You can’t solve the problem with the same thinking that created it. You can’t address climate change without completely letting go of desire for control over nature, over others,” Godfrey said.