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?