Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Wake-Up Call from David Buckel

I have been profoundly shocked and moved this evening by the news of the death of David Buckel:
“I am David Buckel and I just killed myself by fire as a protest suicide,” read a hand-written suicide note left near the blackened circle of burned grass. “I apologize to you for the mess.” 
A second, longer note — left with the first inside an envelope marked “For the police” — said Buckel doused himself in “fossil fuel” before starting the fatal fire as a metaphor for the destruction of the planet. 
“My early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves,” he wrote. “A lifetime of service may best be preserved by giving a life . . . Honorable purpose in life invites honorable purchase in death. 
“I hope it is an honorable death that might serve others.”
I didn't know his name until today (more here from someone who did know him).  Perhaps there's more back story than we know at present.  But for now I just want to assume his death meant what he told us it meant.

Obviously his loss is a tragedy.  He was a very accomplished civil rights attorney for gay and trans rights, and since retiring from that, he had become an expert municipal scale composter.  He would undoubtedly have done a lot of good in the remainder of his life, had he not done this instead.  But, a google news search quickly reveals that his protest suicide was covered in just about every major publication in the US, and is spreading into the rest of the English speaking world.  I'm sure many of us tonight are thinking about what his example means.

Here's what it means to me.  I understand.  Working on climate change in any form is incredibly discouraging.  I accept the basic truth of Buckel's metaphor - that we are literally burning our civilization alive with fossil fuel emissions.  It's slow on human timescales - the damage is already noticeable, will be much worse in a few more decades, and will be completely catastrophic inside another century if we don't reform.  Even if we do reform, the damage that's already locked in is very great.  But it can get so much worse.

I know this intellectually.  But knowing that somebody literally burnt themselves alive to draw attention to the issue has made it visceral for me in a way it wasn't before.

Personally, I'm doing some good things to help.  My home is fossil-fuel free.  Viridius is worthwhile, and not easy.  But I could have done a lot more.  And I still do a lot of things wrong too.

So I resolve to try harder and do more.

At the end of my life, I'd like to feel that I'd been more effective in helping the earth, staying alive, than I would have been in the local park with a can of gas and a match.


pitbull friend said...

Something that makes his choice different from anyone else who would choose to do this IS his enormous contribution to society before. The Brandon Teena case, which he brought, was revolutionary. He brought one of the first cases involving anti-gay bullying, and he did an enormous amount to pave the way for same-sex marriage.

The very fact of his accomplishments made his death so much more shocking, and thousands of media outlets have noted it.

Despite your valuable work, you would not garner the same attention. I would garner even less. As Dorothy Parker said, "You might as well live."

BurningOurOnlyHome said...

I feel like that was his point... the author, I mean. Mr. Buckel's death was tragically under-reported and was also entirely in line with the severity of the issue. Unfortunately, Buckel incorrectly assumed that the weight of his professional career would overcome the much heavier barrier of gay men being seen as intrinsically mentally ill.

It's infuriating and scary that we looked at his suicide as an act of mental illness (in terms of media coverage) rather than being an act of true heroism that I'm not sure we deserved. Would we even think of framing the suicide of monks in Vietnam as a mental health issue?

We continue to consume unchecked and ignore science because the ultimate blame lies on us, and shame and self-reflection aren't qualities we seem to possess anymore.

The author of this piece is no more suicidal than I am. He is only articulating how this event made an ethereal issue entirely real. I agree with the author and am angered that the focus on this man's death is on mental health, as opposed to his life as a public servant and his sacrifice to draw attention to our glutinous consumption. "Suicide" is the wrong word for this act and has spun his sacrifice into some mentally unstable "fag".

David Buckel will hopefully be remembered for his courageous sacrifice and not as someone who committed suicide because of mental health issues. The rate of climate change is entirely worthy of such sacrifices and this man needs to be celebrated for leading the way... and i don't mean to encourage a rash of suicides, I mean real, personal sacrifice or at least a conscious reduction in emissions to honor this good man's life.