Eminent Lawyer Burns Self to Death to Protest Burning of Earth by Fossil Fuels

The NY Times and New York Daily News reported yesterday that David S. Buckel, a 60-year-old lawyer in good health who had a major hand in achieving the right for same-sex couples to marry, burned himself to death in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, to protest the burning of the Earth by fossil fuels. He sent several newspapers a suicide note:

 “I am David Buckel and I just killed myself by fire as a protest suicide. I apologize to you for the mess.

“Pollution ravages our planet, oozing inhabitability via air, soil, water and weather. Most humans on the planet now breathe air made unhealthy by fossil fuels, and many die early deaths as a result — my early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves.”

 “Honorable purpose in life invites honorable purpose in death.

“Here is a hope that giving a life might bring some attention to the need for expanded actions, and help others give a voice to our home, and Earth is heard.”

The Daily News reported that Adam Aronson, a legal colleague of Buckel’s, said,“He put his heart and soul into everything he did in life. He obviously decided to put his heart and soul in the way he died…. There are other ways to fight for what you believe in. I wish this hadn't been the way that he had chosen to do it.”

David Buckel, Presente!


May his memory serve as he hoped, to stir others into fuller action. May his burning passion to heal our burning Earth indeed “help others give a voice to our home,” so that the outcry of our Earth is heard.

What “other ways” could there be to fight for what David Buckel and many of us seek to make real? --  an Earth restored to health; our children and grandchildren able to live amidst a climate as life-giving as the climate in which our parents and grandparents lived.

Some possibilities, in descending order of risk:

(1)  On February 18 of this year, the New York Times Magazine carried a thoughtful, fascinating article entitled “ ‘I’m Just More Afraid of Climate Change Than I Am of Prison’: How a group of five activists called the Valve Turners decided to fight global warming by doing whatever it takes.”

The article interviewed the “Valve Turners” who actually turned the shut-off valves for five oil pipelines that cross the Canadian-US boundary, including “the 2,700-mile-long Keystone Pipeline, which carries crude oil from the tar sands of Alberta to refineries on the Texas coast. Together, the pipelines carry nearly 70 percent of the crude oil imported to the United States from Canada.”   

The article described who they were, what they did, why, and what the consequences were for them --  different in the different states where they acted. All of them risked prison sentences, and some received them. Not all.

(2) Perhaps “next lower” on the risk scale: Last Tuesday, I took part in a rousing and powerful gathering in Washington DC of several hundred organizers from a broad coalition of national sponsors (including The Shalom Center) to renew, recreate, and expand the Poor Peoples Campaign that Dr. Martin Luther King was planning when he was murdered 50 years ago.  

One of the major goals of the new Poor Peoples Campaign is a wave of life-affirming nonviolent civil disobedience in state capitals all across the country and then in Washington. One of the crucial issues of the campaign will be ecological devastation. The civil disobedience envisioned is far less risky than what the Valve Turners did, but still involves putting bodies on the line.  Even less risky, some may choose to be present in support without risking arrest.

The new Poor Peoples Campaign sees itself as “A National Call for Moral Revival” on the growing edge of a deeply moral, ethical, and prayerful “fusion politics.”  It has already begun to unite  “tens of thousands of people across the country to challenge the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the nation’s distorted morality.”

For 40 days, beginning on Mother’s Day (Sunday, May 13), the Poor People’s Campaign will launch a campaign of coordinated protests, including civil disobedience in 30 state capitals. On June 23, they will organize a mobilization in the nation’s capital, just as the 1968 campaign did only a couple of months after the assassination of Dr. King. <>

To learn more about the new Poor Peoples Campaign and if you choose,  sign up to take part, click here.   In the next days and weeks, the Shalom Report will share with you more information on what you can, if you choose, do to take part in your own state and then in Washington.   

3. Requiring a continuing investment of time and energy but no risk of  body or arrest:  organizing a neighborhood-based or congregation-based solar coop.

This effort has the special value that it can save a household money on electric bills, reduce the danger of asthma epidemics in neighborhoods by ending pollution from coal-burning power plants,  reduce the CO2 emissions that are endangering the world,  build real neighborliness in face-to-face work on something that is crucial to our children; and create a political base for continuing action to change government and corporate and labor union policy toward healing our climate crisis.  The most advanced work along these lines is being done by Solar United Neighbors

4. Finally, an effort that could take considerable time and energy for about ten weeks, and even in that limited time could have enormous value toward healing the Earth: Putting energy into the election campaign this fall.

The Shalom Center is planning a campaign to -- 

Share Sukkot:

Grow the Vote!

That is, giving an election-oriented flavor to “Sukkah parties” during the Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot, a celebration of Earth’s abundance that involves gathering in open-air huts called “sukkot.”  

This coming fall, the festival begins Sunday evening,  September 23, and continues for a week –- five weeks before the election on November 6. Sukkah parties could – as Jewish tradition encourages -- invite as guests grass-roots leaders of what the tradition called “the seventy nations of the world.”  The hosts could be synagogues and other Jewish community organizations, multireligious and interfaith bodies, and individual households. With some preparation by the hosts, the guests could  learn both the sacred values of Earth and sharing that underlie Sukkot , and the sacred practices that empower the disempowered by easing their path to voting.

On  Share Sukkot: Grow the Vote! -- more later.

So this is a range of actions that we encourage our members and readers to explore. Without imitating David Buckel’s choice of death to warn us that the Earth is being burned and our children threatened, we can be moved by his action to take the danger far more seriously and to act with far greater commitment – with our lives, not our deaths.

 With blessings that we devote our lives more fully to bringing justice and healing to ourselves, each other, our children, and the Earth --  Arthur



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