His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.
— James Joyce, Dubliners

A little over a week ago, a lawyer named David S. Buckel killed himself in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. In an email to the New York Times, he wrote: “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.”

To the bleakest extent, Buckel’s medium was the message — the 60-year-old chose to self-immolate. It was a message received clearly by novelist Nathan Englander, who wrote in The Times, that climate change is “an emergency that seemed personally and deadly urgent to David Buckel,” unlike other Americans who mentally distance themselves from its effects.

Elsewhere in the world, these effects are unignorable. Englander writes of his time in Malawi, “The most religious Christians I have ever met — so few of whom had access to quality education, to climate data or weather.com — told me without pause, or conflict with their deep faith, that global warming had destroyed their crops.”

In 2011, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the twentieth-century’s unflinching course toward environmental destruction a “global suicide pact.” So what is global warming, if not collective self-immolation?

“Environmental catastrophe provides what a political unconscious totally colonized by neoliberalism cannot: an image of life after capitalism,” writes Mark Fisher in his book Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures. Fisher brings up a scene in Patrick Keiller’s film Robinson in Ruins — a ‘film essay’ about the state of the British countryside — which alludes to another death in a park: “Robinson in Ruins returns to landscapes where antagonism and martyrdom once took place: Greenham Common, the woodland where Professor David Kelly committed suicide,” writes Fisher.

David Kelly killed himself in 2003 after being outed as the anonymous source for a BBC report on whether the British government exaggerated evidence of Iraq’s nuclear capabilities. (Thom Yorke’s song Harrowdown Hill is about these events.) That the Iraq War will be remembered among its opponents as a thinly veiled bid for fossil fuel is the ultimate irony. The twenty-first century will be defined (for as long as our species shall persist) as an era which weaponized unproven nuclear fear for access to the oil by which we are verifiably poisoning ourselves.

The men of the Manhattan Project must have known they invented a new way to die. Perhaps they thought it would be the last ‘new way to die’ of human history. They were wrong. Rather than disrupt the global order, nuclear anxiety has been fully incorporated into globalization in the service of capitalism — in fact, as evidenced by the Iraq War, it has deepened our attachment to neoliberal principles.

In Robert J. Lifton’s Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima (1967), he writes of the residents of Hiroshima: “People remembered saying to one another, ‘Will it be tomorrow of the day after tomorrow?’” In 2004, Roland Emmerich titled his climate disaster blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow. A phrase that in 1967 was mistaken for clairvoyance, or the ‘nuclear uncanny,’ (how did they know to be afraid?) by 2004 was nearly too on the nose.

On April 14th, 2018, writer Mary Pilon jogged past the body of David Buckel. In Runner’s World, she recounts how other bystanders mistook the gruesome sight for a mannequin or a movie set, some explanation that would allow them to mentally cordon the scene from Prospect Park on a pretty day. Events had transpired, but only on the plane of fiction where it is easy to ignore the veracity of inconvenient truths.

Pilon had previously written to her editor about running and death: “Has anyone ever considered Law & Order: SVU? I’m a fan of the show, but why do so many episodes open with joggers finding bodies in the park?”

In the popular imagination, the urban park oscillates between bucolic escape and dark, untamable force. New Yorkers have a disingenuous impulse to treat the park as a public square, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. Practically, the park is reflective of the values of the city planner. In 2014, I wrote about Seneca Village, one of Manhattan’s earliest communities of African-American property owners which was evicted to make way for Central Park in the mid-1800s. In 2011, Occupy Wall Street protesters were forcibly evicted from Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan.

The week after Buckel’s suicide, Mayor de Blasio announced that Central Park will be going car free, “returning the park to its original use as an urban refuge and recreation space,” said the Mayor. Which begs the questions: A refuge for whom? With Donald Trump in the nation’s highest office, could we be expected to forget that Central Park was part of the moniker given to five youths of color convicted for, and later exonerated of, a heinous 1989 crime?

Trump’s full-page ad calling for the death penalty for the Central Park Five

Bring back the death penalty! Donald Trump implored in a full page ad about the fate of the Central Park Five. In dismantling the EPA, our president has achieved his wish: The death penalty is back, this time for all of us.

America is a park planted with the seeds of the world’s destruction.

The iconic 1970 AP photo.

In 1970, an AP photographer captured a photo of college sophomore Peter Hallerman which has now become a favorite of environmentalists. Smithsonian explains the story behind the photo:

In a dramatic flourish, Hallerman strapped on a gas mask that he believes his mother, Edith, had saved from her service with the Red Cross during World War II. (Though gas masks were a common Earth Day accessory, this long-snouted beast looked particularly awful.) The AP photographer posed Hallerman in front of a blossoming magnolia tree, then changed his mind. “Try leaning over and smelling those flowers,” Hallerman recalls the photographer saying. Hallerman bent his six-foot frame over a short fence surrounding the tree so that the mask’s proboscis touched the pink-white blossoms.

The WWII mask represents an inherited fear — something past. But the image is an ongoing specter: past, present and future collapsed into what Fisher would term hauntology. Hallerman looks like a skull stripped of its flesh. The flower petals could very well be flakes of falling ash.

It’s 60 degrees in Prospect Park, one of the most temperate days yet this year. Yet, we no longer know what makes a temperate day when any deviation from the norm is interpreted through the lens of a climate uncanny.

This fear leads to distrust of the average. Is it usually this warm this time of year? Has it always snowed so much and so fast? Did you hear about the death in the park?