Wynn Alan Bruce, a photographer from Colorado, died after setting himself on fire on Earth Day.
A friend of Bruce’s said his actions were meant to call attention to the climate crisis.
People close to Bruce discouraged tactics like self-immolation as climate activism intensifies.
A Colorado man died from injuries after setting himself on fire outside the US Supreme Court on Friday — the day the world was celebrating Earth Day. Those who knew him said he was protesting inaction on the climate crisis.
Wynn Alan Bruce, a 50-year-old photographer and Buddhist from Boulder, self-immolated on the court’s plaza at about 6:30 pm on Friday, a court representative told NBC News. The police said he was airlifted for treatment and died from his injuries the following day.
On Sunday, a friend of Bruce’s said the action was a planned protest. “This act is not suicide. This is a deeply fearless act of compassion to bring attention to the climate crisis,” Kritee Kanko, a senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, fellow Buddhist, and friend of Bruce’s, said in a tweet. “We are piecing together info but he had been planning it for at least one year.”
In an interview with The New York Times, Kanko clarified that she was not completely sure of Bruce’s intentions. “People are being driven to extreme amounts of climate grief and despair,” she said, adding: “What I do not want to happen is that young people start thinking about self-immolation.”
Kanko declined a request for comment from Insider and pointed to a statement from Rocky Mountain Ecodharma Retreat Center, where Bruce often attended meditations and retreats. “We want to emphasize that none of the Buddhist teachers in the Boulder area knew about his plans to self-immolate on this Earth Day,” Buddhist leaders from the center wrote in a statement.
“We have never talked about self-immolation, and we do not think self-immolation is a climate action. Growth, given the dire state of the planet and an increasing climate crisis, we understand why someone might do that,” they wrote, adding: “We hope we can hear Wynn’s message without condoning his method.”
Bruce shared his passion about the environment on social media and seemed to allude to his plan once, in a cryptic Facebook comment under a 2020 post of his, where he added a fire emoji and what turned out to be the date he self-immolated, 4/22/2022.
This is not the first time someone has set themself ablaze in the context of a climate protest. In 2018, David Buckel, a prominent gay-rights lawyer and environmental activist, set himself on fire in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. In a statement sent to the media the morning of his death, he wrote: “My early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves.”
As extreme weather events such as hurricanes, floods, storms, and wildfires intensify, say have been ramping up their calls for climate action. Earlier this month, hundreds of climate scientists staged protests in cities around the world, engaging in civil disobedience by chaining themselves to banks, blocking traffic, and throwing red paint on the steps of the Spanish Parliament. Some were arrested.
These efforts follow a slew of concerning reports, including those of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In an assessment released earlier this month, UN scientists warned humanity had less than three years to curb greenhouse-gas emissions to avoid catastrophic climate effects.
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