Climate Activist Dies After Setting Himself on Fire on Earth Day

A photo of Wynn Alan Bruce posted on his Facebook page in 2021
A photo of Wynn Alan Bruce posted on his Facebook page on March 5, 2021. Facebook

An environmental activist named Wynn Bruce died after setting himself on fire outside the Supreme Court on Earth Day, apparently to draw attention to the climate crisis.

Bruce, who was 50 years old and hailed from Boulder, Colorado, was airlifted to a hospital after his action, which took place around 6:30 p.m. on Friday. However, he sadly died the next day, the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, DC told The New York Times. 

“This act is not suicide,” Zen Buddhist priest and Environmental Defense Fund scientist Dr. Kritee Kanko, who described herself as Bruce’s friend, wrote on Twitter. “This is a deeply fearless act of compassion to bring attention to climate crisis.”

Kanko said that Bruce had been planning the act for at least one year. Bruce’s Facebook posts also reveal evidence of his concern about climate change and his plans to self-immolate. In October 2020, he posted a link to a free course on the climate crisis, The Denver Post reported. Then, on April 20, 2021, he added a comment to the post that just said, “4-1-1.” He edited this comment to include a fire emoji in October of 2021. Finally, he placed the date 4/22/22 after the emoji on April 2 of this year, in an apparent announcement of his plans. The final comment, which is still visible on his page, reads, “4-1-1🔥4/22/2022.” 

Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, DC spokeswoman Brianna Burch told The Denver Post that, as far as she knew, no note or manifesto was found near Bruce’s body and that the police were still investigating his motive. Kanko also told The New York Times that she was not certain of Bruce’s intentions but added that “people are being driven to extreme amounts of climate grief and despair.” 

 “[W]hat I do not want to happen is that young people start thinking about self-immolation,” she added.

Bruce, who identified as Buddhist, may have been inspired by the Vietnamese Buddhist monks who set themselves on fire to protest the Vietnam War. 

Bruce is not the first person to choose this form of protest in response to the climate crisis. Gay-rights lawyer and environmental activist David Buckel died after setting himself on fire in New York in April, 2018, The Guardian reported. 

“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 said in a note. 

An act of self-immolation also set off the Arab Spring protests, when Tunisian fruit and vegetable seller Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire to protest the confiscation of his scales, as Al Jazeera recounted. 

If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255. 

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