Climate activist dies after setting himself on fire at US Supreme Court

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) – A Colorado man who set himself on fire in front of the Supreme Court on Friday (April 22) in an apparent Earth Day protest against climate change has died, police said.

The Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, D.C., said that Wynn Bruce, 50, of Boulder, Colorado, had died on Saturday from his injuries after being airlifted to a hospital following the incident. Members of his family could not be reached immediately for comment.

Kritee Kanko, a climate scientist at the Environmental Defence Fund and a Zen Buddhist priest in Boulder, said that she is a friend of Bruce and that the self-immolation was a planned act of protest.

“This act is not suicide,” Kritee wrote on Twitter early on Sunday morning. “This is a deeply fearless act of compassion to bring attention to climate crisis.”

She later added that she was not completely certain of his intentions, but that “people are being driven to extreme amounts of climate grief and despair” and that “what I do not want to happen is that young people start thinking about self-immolation”.

Bruce had set himself on fire at the plaza in front of the Supreme Court at about 6.30pm on Friday (6.30am Saturday Singapore time), police and court officials said.

A video posted to Twitter by a Fox News reporter showed a National Park Service helicopter landing in the plaza to airlift Bruce to a nearby hospital.

The court had heard arguments in late February on an important environmental case that could restrict or even eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to control pollution.

Bruce, who identified as Buddhist, set himself on fire in an apparent imitation of Vietnamese monks who burned themselves to death in protest during the Vietnam War. A Facebook account that Kritee identified as Bruce’s had commemorated the death of Thich Nhat Hanh, an influential Zen Buddhist master and anti-war activist who died in January.

Other posts from Bruce’s Facebook account going back to April 2020 criticised “war profiteers”, then-president Donald Trump and collective inaction in the face of a worsening climate crisis.

He also praised young climate activist Greta Thunberg, quoted King, and as recently as March spoke of the “compassion” of Ukrainian refugees.

Kritee said if she or any other Buddhist teacher in Boulder had known of his plan to set himself on fire, they would have discouraged him from doing so.