Most people my age and older have some knowledge of, and may have the image (above) seared into their mind of when Thich Quang Duc, a Buddhist monk, set himself on fire to protest the police and Vietnamese army’s massacre of Vietnamese people during a celebration that turned into a protest. At the time Vietnam was 90% Buddhist but the current ruler, Ngo Dinh Diem, was Catholic and wanted to “westernize” the nation and so banned the display of religious flags. On May 8, 1963, they celebrated Phat Dan, or the day of the birth of the Buddha, religious flags were displayed, and the massacre ensued. A month later, on June 11, Thich Quang Duc, a Buddhist monk who was not at the massacre, sat down in the middle of the same street, began meditating, set himself on fire (doused in gasoline) and sat motionless as he burned to death.
An American photographer happened to be on the scent and got the iconic, jaw-dropping photos that exploded across the globe. Thich Nhat Hanh, another Vietnamese buddhist monk, prolific author and teacher, often brought him up in his writings, and while I never committed the man’s name to memory, I never forgot that image since I saw it as a teenager in the 1970s.
Recently, a blip in my online, 24-hour news feed, filled with stories of mass shootings, war in Ukraine, awful American (and worldwide) politicians and people, and the ongoing, ever-expanding destruction of the planet thanks in large part to human-induced burning of fossil fuels, was something about an American who did something similar in Washington DC. I’m appalled and embarrassed how little attention I paid.
Reading the obituaries in the local paper this morning I stopped cold when I saw: “on the steps of the Supreme Courthouse…”
“Bruce, Wynn Alan
Born in Green Bay WI Aug 25, 1971 and died on Earth Day April 22, 2022 on the steps of the Supreme Courthouse in Washington DC. His father, Douglas Bruce (Holly), mother Martha, stepbrother Eric (Jamie), extended family and friends in Minnesota and Boulder, CO and around the country are greatly saddened by his death but respect and honor his commitment to the issues of climate change and the environment.”
Unless you’ve got your head jammed straight up your ass and/or have been fooled by extremely effective but idiotic right wing media, you understand what is happening right now to our climate due to humankind. I’m human and not at all pretending I’ve been doing much myself. In fact, my passion for doing something about this has been washed away, shall we say, having watched the world (and more importantly, individuals like you and me) do absolutely nothing about it.
Scientists have been warning us for decades, and year after year, the climate has been proving them almost exactly right, but to pretty much no avail. So I’m now at this point hopeless we’ll do much about it and wondering what we’ll do about the consequences. How will we handle the flooding of coastal and inland low lying areas? What will we do about the incredible heat waves that will make many places currently filled with humans uninhabitable? How about the massive fires that will only get worse and worse? Who’s going to pay to rebuild after the super storms keep coming and damaging property, farmland, and infrastructure? And in the current pandemic of xenophobia what will we do with the mass migrations due to heat, flooding, fires, storms and water shortages?
Of course, we’re already paying for increasing storm damage, controlling and putting out growing fires, cleaning up and relocating people after massive flooding, but it’s that last one that I really worry about. Here in the U.S. people are filling their pants because there are 60,000 people at the southern border trying to get into our nation of 330 million people. What about when there are 10, 50 or 100 million people clamoring to get in? What big beautiful wall is going to stop them? How about when the entire population of Southwest U.S. starts running north and east? What happens then?
We’ll see. Then, by the way, is only a few decades out, maybe sooner. But here we sit, doing nothing and not even noticing, when Green Bay’s own, Wynn Alan Bruce, sits down in plain view and burns himself to death in an incredibly brave warning to all of us of what’s coming. Blip.