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Climate Activist Sets Self on Fire, Dies on Earth Day

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U.S. Supreme Court building | Image by Tinnaporn Sathapornnanont

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A climate activist died on Earth Day after lighting himself on fire outside the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.

Wynn Bruce, 50, from Boulder, Colorado, lit himself on fire on Friday, April 22, at around 6:30 p.m. in an apparent Earth Day protest against climate change. 

Bruce was airlifted to a hospital and died on Saturday from his injuries, according to the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, D.C.

The Metropolitan Police say they had not uncovered a manifesto or message detailing Bruce’s motive.

In late February, the Supreme Court heard arguments on a critical environmental issue that could limit or possibly eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency’s pollution-control jurisdiction. The court’s majority had expressed doubts about the agency’s power to regulate carbon emissions, implying that the justices’ ruling may be devastating to the Biden administration’s climate change initiatives.

Bruce had recently modified a 2021 comment under his Facebook post in 2020 warning of “irreversible” climate change to include the date of his intended self-immolation, along with a fire emoji, roughly three weeks before his act.

He also hinted at his planned suicide in a Facebook comment.

A friend of Bruce, Dr. Kritee Kanko, a climate scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund and a Zen Buddhist priest in Boulder, said the self-immolation was a deliberate act of protest that Bruce had planned “at least one year.”

The man executed the act in apparent homage to Vietnamese monks who burned themselves to death in protest of the Vietnam War. His Facebook account commemorated the death of Thich Nhat Hanh, a prominent Zen Buddhist monk and antiwar leader who died in January, according to Dr. Kanko.

On Twitter, Kanko described the incident as a “fearless act of compassion” to the global climate crisis and that it was not a suicide.

In an interview with The New York Times, she subsequently said that she did not know Bruce’s true intentions but that “people are being driven to extreme amounts of climate grief and despair.” She added, “what I do not want to happen is that young people start thinking about self-immolation.”      

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