Colorado man protests by setting self on fire

Protesting climate change, a man from Boulder, Colorado set himself on fire in April


Anna Sullivan from Unsplash

“This act is not suicide. This is a deeply fearless act of compassion to bring attention to [the] climate crisis,” posted Dr. Kritee Kanko on Twitter.

Melia Sloss and Samantha Cordero

Wynn Bruce, age 50, set himself on fire around 6:30 p.m. Eastern time on April 22 in front of the Supreme Court. He was airlifted to a hospital after the incident, but unfortunately succumbed to his injuries and passed on Saturday, April 23.

His motive for the act was never officially confirmed, but many of those close to him speculate that he was protesting climate change. His history of being an environmental activist as well as his self-immolation taking place on Earth Day supports those speculations. Before the incident, he edited a post on his Facebook page that was dated from October 2020 of an online climate change course. He posted a cryptic comment writing “4/22/22” with a fire emoji next to it.

There have been contradictory statements regarding Bruce’s self-immolation. Dr. Kritee Kanko, a friend Bruce met through meditation groups, said that Bruce had planned the action for at least a year, though other sources state that they had no knowledge of Bruce’s plans prior to the incident. Kanko told the New York Times his self-immolation was a planned protest, but then later stated she wasn’t certain of Bruce’s intentions.

She released a statement on Monday, April 25 with Rocky Mountain Ecodharma Retreat Center where Bruce used to attend. “We have never talked about self-immolation, and we do not think self-immolation is a climate action,” the statement reads. “Nevertheless, given the dire state of the planet and worsening climate crisis, we do understand why someone might do that.”

This isn’t the first time Bruce considered self-immolation. He attempted it in 2017 in front of the World Trade Center, but was quickly stopped by other people before suffering burns.

Douglas Bruce, Wynn’s father, spoke to him a few days before his death. He noted it was an ordinary conversation and that Wynn showed no warning signs of his plan. 

“I agree with the belief that this was a fearless act of compassion about his concern for the environment,” his father said. 

Wynn was his only child, and he says he’s deeply shaken by the nature of his son’s death. Bruce was from Boulder, Colorado and practiced Buddhism, enjoyed photography, and was, evidently, a climate activist. 

“His commitment and concern about the environment and climate issues are really heartfelt and central to who he is,” Douglas, his father, said. “There’s no question about that in my mind.”

Many were shocked about this incident. Major news outlets at the time weren’t making much acknowledgement to Bruce’s intended legacy. Some think of this as a protest and others a suicide.

As once said by Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh, “To burn oneself by fire is to prove that what one is saying is of the utmost importance.”

Extreme protests are now becoming more common among activists and climate scientists. The climate crisis is growing everyday, and it’s estimated that we have 11 or less years to try and avert the irreversible damage, hence these extreme acts of protest.