Prominent attorney David Buckel killed himself at age 60 by way of self-immolation Saturday morning. A suicide note he left behind alluded to fossil fuels and their impact on the planet.
Buckel’s remains were found early Saturday morning in Prospect Park in Brooklyn. While his suicide note was found nearby in an envelope marked “for the police,” in a garbage bag left inside of a shopping cart, Buckel also emailed the note to several media outlets.
“My name is David Buckel and I just killed myself by fire as a protest suicide,” Buckel wrote in the hand-written note with his business card stapled to it as a means of helping police identify the body. A longer typed note accompanied the handwritten note.
“My early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves,” Buckel wrote. “A lifetime of service may best be preserved by giving a life.
“Honorable purpose in life invites honorable purchase in death,” he continued. “I hope it is an honorable death that might serve others.”
In regard to his death by self-immolation, Buckel referenced Tibetan monks and others who have used the method of suicide as a way of drawing attention to a dire situation. A monk self-immolated as recently as 2016 to protest Chinese rule.
“This is not new, as many have chose to give a life based on the view that no other action can most meaningfully address the harm they see,” Buckel wrote in his suicide note. “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.”
David Buckel had a storied career as a gay rights attorney. As the New York Times reported, Buckel is perhaps best known for representing transgender man Brandon Teena, who was raped and murdered in 1993 in Falls City, Nebraska after local law enforcement failed to properly protect him. Teena was portrayed by Hillary Swank in the 1999 movie Boys Don’t Cry. Buckel was also the marriage project director for gay rights group Lambda Legal, arguing pivotal gay marriage cases in the states of Iowa and New Jersey before it was legalized nationwide in 2015.
In a public statement, Lambda Legal mourned Beckel, calling him a “beautiful human being” and “brilliant legal visionary.”
“The news of David’s death is heartbreaking. This is a tremendous loss for our Lambda Legal family, but also for the entire movement for social justice,” the statement read. “David was an indefatigable attorney and advocate, and also a dedicated and loving friend to so many. He will be remembered for his kindness, devotion, and vision for justice.”
The news of David Buckel’s death is heartbreaking. This is a tremendous loss for our Lambda Legal family, but also for the entire movement for social justice. https://t.co/SL9XZ2cYTR
— Lambda Legal (@LambdaLegal) April 14, 2018
Buckel’s self-inflicted death in protest of fossil fuels harming planet Earth, while extreme, reflects his commitment to environmental issues. The New York Daily News reported that Buckel was an active volunteer with the NYC Compost Project.
Even though it isn’t being taken seriously by the Trump administration, climate change may prove to be fatal to the human race without drastic action. As Grit Post reported earlier this year, Harvard University atmospheric chemistry professor James Anderson is warning that absent a worldwide Marshall Plan-level undertaking to stop using fossil fuels, humanity may not survive past the mid-21st century. Anderson, whose work led to the Montreal Protocol in 1987, said atmospheric ozone levels have already been depleted to levels dating back to 12 million BCE due to increased carbon emissions resulting from fossil fuels.
In his suicide note, Buckel condemned pollution that “ravages our planet, oozing inhabitability via air, soil, water and weather.” He implored humanity to cease the use of fossil fuels in order to preserve the future of life on Earth.
“A life of privilege requires actions to balance the harm caused, and the greater the privilege, the greater the responsibility,” Buckel wrote in an email to the New York Times. “For if one does not leave behind a world better for having lived in it, all that remains are selfish ends, sometimes wrapped in family or nation.”
Michael Boone is a freelance journalist and columnist writing about politics, government, race, and media. He graduated from Texas Southern University’s School of Communication, and lives in Houston’s Third Ward.