Why Is Almost No One Talking About the Climate Activist Who Set Himself on Fire?
Climate change is still a majorly overlooked topic
His name was Wynn Bruce.
He was a 50-year old climate activist. A photojournalist. And a devout Buddhist.
This past Earth Day, Bruce set himself on fire in front of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC. He died the following day in the hospital.
While no suicide note or manifesto was located after his death, his friends stated that he was protesting inaction about the climate crisis:
This act is not suicide. This is a deeply fearless act of compassion to bring attention to climate crisis.
I can’t help but feel this should be much bigger news.
But it doesn’t look like it is.
Sure, some climate activists on social media applauded Bruce’s bravery and dedication to the cause and even called him a ‘hero.’ But many mainstream media outlets either didn’t cover the incident at all or did but took a rather callous approach when reporting the activist’s death.
Like The Daily Telegraph in Australia, which went with the headline ‘Global Warming Activist Dies from Local Heating.’
So why isn’t this more widely discussed? And why do we keep ignoring or underplaying all dire climate change warnings, not only from activists, scientists and other experts but also from nature itself?
We’re sleepwalking to a climate catastrophe
Look, I’m not going to get into the ethics of what Wynn Bruce did. Or whether his self-immolation was an effective way of protesting against climate change or not.
The point is, it happened.
And given the dreadful state of the planet and worsening climate crisis, I can understand why someone might do that. Sort of.
However, what we should be more concerned with than the death of one man is how many people are dying or suffering already because of climate change. And how many more will inevitably die in the near future if we don’t do something about it.
According to a recent report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), if urgent action isn’t taken now to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and cut them at least in half by 2030, it will soon be too late. We won’t be able to stave off global warming and reduce its most harmful effects on our planet.
Many of which we’re already experiencing today.
Climate catastrophes and their resulting conflicts are currently mounting all around the world. From heavy torrents of rain, floods, storms, heavy snowfalls, wildfires, volcanic eruptions, record-breaking heatwaves, tsunamis to powerful winds.
And they affect many lives and livelihoods globally.
Because they lead to mass migration. Fights over water. Power outages. Expansion of the geographic range of vector-borne diseases. Destruction of homes, crops, and natural structures. Food insecurity. And they result in the deaths of thousands and thousands of people.
And it’s not going to get any better later on.
Unless, of course, climate-choking corporations and governments that enable them stop turning a blind eye and finally take responsibility and necessary action to get us out of the mess they put us in.
But how much easier and convenient it is to appeal to individual virtue rather than do that, right?
Climate change isn’t a crisis individuals can overcome on their own
Earth Day this year was… disappointing, to say the least. Like most years, it was essentially just a parade of corporate greenwashing.
My email inbox was full of it as well.
Full of brands telling me to buy their new lipsticks with eco-friendly tubes to help drought-stricken countries. To check out their new sustainable shopping platform. To not miss their flash sale on reef-friendly sunscreens. Or discounts on tote bags made from recycled bamboo.
To buy this.
And support the ‘climate revolution’ by buying a shit-ton of products I don’t need to buy.
Huge corporations encouraging people to buy and consume responsibly on Earth Day while simultaneously shoving down advertisements of a gazillion of products that most likely weren’t manufactured in a sustainable way down our throats is just peak hypocrisy.
Sure, sometimes it might be better to buy an ‘eco’ product than not. And it makes us feel good about ourselves, too.
But that’s precisely what the marketing departments of these companies are aiming for. And in the end, they win because they managed to sell you a product and make themselves look good in the process without actually doing much. And you win because you feel good about buying their eco-friendly, sustainable, recyclable stuff.
Everyone wins. Except for our planet.
It slowly dies in the process.
Because we can’t purchase our way to a cooler climate.
Which is why we shouldn’t let all that greenwashing deflect attention from who is really to blame — high-emitting corporations. They are the ones that play an outsized role in driving global climate change, not consumers. And they’re not exactly doing enough to offset its impact either.
According to a recent study by the New Climate Institute, many big companies routinely fail to meet their own targets on climate change and even tend to exaggerate or misreport their progress.
Of course they are.
We should point the finger at corporations and governments instead
All of this is not to say that individuals shouldn’t change their behaviour where possible. Every little contribution helps. Like limiting our meat and dairy consumption. Recycling. Reducing our energy use. Etc.
But the point is that failing to do so shouldn’t be considered morally blameworthy.
And we shouldn’t get so obsessed with the actions of the individuals and policing each other’s behaviour that we fail to hold the primary perpetrators of global warming responsible. In particular, when it comes to individuals living in poorer countries who have contributed close to nothing to climate change and deserve the most support and the least guilt.
Because it’s the world’s wealthiest nations and the powerful global corporations led by ultra-rich elites based in them that are to blame for the situation we’ve found ourselves in today.
They are the ones that emit the most carbon. That evade responsibility for their actions time and time again. That lie about their progress because they want us to see them as the ‘good guys.’
And then have the audacity to ask us to change.
Or try to avoid this issue altogether.
Which is probably why Wynn Bruce setting himself on fire to protest this shitshow wasn’t covered by many mainstream media outlets owned by the said ultra-rich elites.
Because why would they want to talk about it, especially right after announcing all the mostly meaningless corporate greenwashing initiatives and giving uplifting speeches about their love for this planet on Earth Day?
The more information the public is exposed to, and the more frequently, the more apparent it becomes whose fault it really is, who has the power to change it and who isn’t doing enough.
But the bottom line is that this is a planetary-scale threat.
And as such, it requires planetary-scale reforms that can only be implemented and pushed by the world’s governments. We can’t just hope that profit-hungry corporations will do what’s right and stop avoiding this issue.
Most likely, they won’t.
Climate change doesn’t have to be an overlooked topic. We might not have the power to do what the legislators or huge companies do, but we’re not entirely powerless.
We can pay attention to what the scientists and climate activists are saying. We can vote for politicians that actually promise to do something to stave off global warming.
And then we can urge them to do it.
To further regulate the fossil fuel industry. To make sure other industries adhere to sustainable emission limits and environmental protection standards. To make renewable energy more affordable through subsidies. To aid climate-vulnerable communities. And so on.
Wynn Bruce’s goal to draw international attention to the issue might have failed, but hey — you’re still here.
You’re reading this.
So maybe not all is lost just yet.