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Spruce trees on the slopes of the once-lush Harz Mountains in northern Germany are rapidly dying from climate-change related drought, severe storms and bark beetle infestations. Photo by Bodo Marks/picture alliance via Getty Images

What One Is Saying Is Of the Utmost Importance: Climate Activist Dies After Setting Himself On Fire

Abby Zimet

Emulating the Buddhist monks he admired who burned themselves to death to protest the Vietnam War, a Colorado activist died this weekend after setting himself on fire in front of the Supreme Court to protest federal quiescence on climate change. Wynn Bruce, 50, of Boulder CO., died Saturday from his injuries after being airlifted to a hospital. Bruce's self-immolation pointedly took place on Earth Day as hundreds of thousands railed against an accelerating climate crisis with signs like "No Planet B," "Stop Ecocide," "Don't Burn Our Future." He also acted at what could be Ground Zero for the planet as a right-wing-controlled SCOTUS weighs a possibly disastrous case that could restrict or eliminate the EPA's authority to regulate carbon emissions. "This act is not suicide," wrote Kritee Kanko, a friend, climate scientist and Zen Buddhist priest. “This is a deeply fearless act of compassion to bring attention to climate crisis." She adds that "people are being driven to extreme amounts of climate grief and despair" - a despair California environmentalist Cody Petterson mournfully echoes when he cites "a truly holy save the whole of life from ourselves."

Bruce's action, incongruously first reported in the MAGA-themed New York Post, got startlingly little press coverage - no shoot-outs - but was carefully planned. A photo-journalist by trade, Bruce often posted political commentary on social media, quoting MLK - "A riot is the language of the unheard" - mourning George Floyd, and blasting Trump, "war profiteers" and collective inaction before "irreversible” climate change. Last year, he posted a cryptic message that, as it turned out, named the date and method of his death: "4/22/2022," with a fire emoji. Bruce, who identified as Buddhist, also commemorated the January death of Thich Nhat Hanh, a renowned Zen Buddhist master and anti-war activist who wrote admiringly about Vietnamese monks who decades ago protested the war by setting themselves on fire. "To burn oneself by fire is to prove that what one is saying is of the utmost importance," Nhat Hanh wrote. "There is nothing more painful than burning oneself. To say something while experiencing this kind of pain is to say it with utmost courage, frankness, determination and sincerity." Also, tragedy. May Bruce rest in peace and power.

Abby Zimet

Abby Zimet

Abby Zimet has written CD's Further column since 2008. A longtime, award-winning journalist, she moved to the Maine woods in the early 70s, where she spent a dozen years building a house, hauling water and writing before moving to Portland. Having come of political age during the Vietnam War, she has long been involved in women's, labor, anti-war, social justice and refugee rights issues. Email:

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