Some saw my former student’s actions as a climate protest. As I examined the years leading up to his death, I found his grief for our planet was undeniable.

By Michael Kodas, Inside Climate News

Most journalism teachers would be thrilled to see their student’s name in the New York Times, but I shouted a curse and pushed my laptop away. The sobs didn’t come until later, and they returned often over the past year.

Wynn Alan Bruce

Three days earlier, on April 22, 2022—Earth Day—a Buddhist environmental activist sat down on the steps leading to the U.S. Supreme Court, stretched his legs out in front of him, folded his hands at his chest and, without saying a word, lit himself on fire. He was a photojournalist from Boulder, Colorado, the Times reported, and had died the following day. His father and friends believed he was protesting the U.S. government’s failure to confront climate change. His name was Wynn Bruce.

Eleven years before that, Wynn sat at the front of my classroom in a Colorado Community College on the first day of that semester’s photojournalism class. While the other students chatted and played with their phones and computers, he sat stock straight with his hands folded in his lap and his gaze focused on me as I plugged in my laptop. He was older than my other students—pushing 40—but was slender and looked fit, with horn-rimmed glasses between his dark, thinning hair and goatee. He had already done some homework—he knew that I focused my work on environmental issues and was excited to learn how to do that kind of photography. But he also wanted us to know about him.

“I have a brain injury,” he told the small class during our introductions.

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