It is impossible to know all the reasons a person commits suicide. Mr. Buckel suggested one: He was trying to call attention to pollution and global warming. “My early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves,” he wrote in his email.
His suicide is one of the few known cases of political self-immolation in the United States since the 1960s — when demonstrators set themselves on fire to protest the war in Vietnam — and perhaps the first one anywhere in the name of climate change.
But his political message still left Mr. Buckel’s friends and family at a loss: Why would someone in his position resort to such a drastic measure to make his message heard? Why would someone who was committed to the quiet, daily work of making change — and who was notoriously private — stage a dramatic public suicide? He told no one of his plan, not his husband and partner of 34 years, Terry Kaelber, nor the lesbian couple with whom they raised their college-age daughter. He did not say goodbye to them.
David Lindsay: I am deeply pleased to see this piece about David Buckel, emphasizing, the main reason for his protest suicide: “His suicide is one of the few known cases of political self-immolation . . . since the 1960s — when [Vietnamese Buddhist] demonstrators set themselves on fire to protest the war in Vietnam — and perhaps the first one anywhere in the name of climate change.”
The first article in the NYT was clumsy, and buried this revelation in the end of what was a sad pondering about whether the man was mentally ill, since he must have been. It completely missed the sad but powerful part of his turning to Buddhism, and becoming an admirer of the Buddhists in Tibet and Vietnam, who used self-immolation, because of their deep desire to communicate their distress over government policies that they despised. As I recall, the Buddhist monks who used self-immolation in Saigon were mostly protesting against how the South Vietnamese government was persecuting members of the the Buddhist community.
Though apparently depressed, David Buckel was more to the point, a saint and a martyr. Saints and martyrs are often people who grow so impatient with their contemporaries, that they are willing to sacrifice their lives for their beliefs.
It would be useful to get a copy of David Buckel’s letter to the press, so we can learn more about his thinking at the time of his sacrifice.