A sad case of self-immolation with fossil fuels, to protest fossil fuels
A green activist who was a pioneering lawyer for gay and transgender rights — including in the infamous “Boys Don’t Cry” murder case — committed suicide by setting himself on fire Saturday morning in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.
In a gruesome protest against the ecological destruction of the earth, David Buckel, 60, left behind a charred corpse and a typed suicide note that said he was burning himself to death using “fossil fuel” to reflect how mankind was likewise killing itself, police sources said.
He left the note behind in a manila envelope marked “To The Police,” recovered from inside a black metal push cart he discarded at the scene.
Passersby were horrified to see Buckel’s blackened, prone remains.
David Buckel’s life could have been saved if he paid some attention to science. Let us first say that his fight against the CO2 emissions was ironic. A human body contains some 18.5% of carbon. That may translate to some 15 kg of carbon in his body. That carbon, if fully burned, is combined with the oxygen in the atmosphere to produce some 55 kg of CO2. One ton of carbon dioxide indulgences is around $10 these days so Al Gore is likely to demand some $0.55 for carbon permits from Buckel’s partner.
In his e-mail sent to the New York Times and a few other outlets shortly before he set himself on fire, he wrote
Pollution ravages our planet, oozing inhabitability via air, soil, water and weather.
But CO2 isn’t a pollutant – in the sense that it doesn’t reduce the inhabitability of air, soil, water, and weather. More specifically, Buckel 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.
Too bad. These are exactly some of the misconceptions about the basic science that I should clarify during a Science Café talk in three days. I should have invited him and saved his life.
The CO2 concentration went from 280 ppm before the Industrial Revolution to some 405 ppm today. Plants love that because CO2 is their food. The crop yields have grown by some 15-20 percent because of that. Meanwhile, the animal kingdom including humans is OK with CO2. We exhale air with 40,000 ppm of CO2. When we inhale air with 10,000 ppm or less, even sensitive people feel OK. Only above that threshold, some people may start to feel dizzy. And only around 50,000 ppm (5% of the volume), most people’s lives are threatened. In similar situations, however, the shortage of oxygen and not the excess of CO2 is the actual reason for the problems.
Are there early deaths caused by CO2 in the atmosphere? I don’t think so. In fact, the opposite claim seems to hold statistically. There are many graphs one could post here but let us choose one:
The relationship between the energy consumption and life expectancy is somewhat more noisy than the Energy-GDP relationship but the correlation may still be eyeballed. The 2006 CEI video summarized the importance of CO2 poetically:
There’s something in these pictures you can’t see… It comes from animal life, the oceans, the Earth and the fuels we find in it. It’s called carbon dioxide. The fuels that produce CO2 have freed us from a world of back-breaking labor… enabling us to produce the things we need and move the people we love.
Some politicians are trying to label CO2 a pollutant. What would our lives be like then? Imagine if they succeed.
Amen to that.
Finally, I must address the last part of the sentence above:
[M]y early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves.
That’s not really true at all. What we’re doing with the fossil fuels is very different than his early death by self-immolation. We use the fossil fuels to make our lives longer, more pleasant, more entertaining, more convenient; he used the fossil fuels to terminate his life. If you think about it, these two usages of the fossil fuels aren’t the same. They are pretty close to being opposite to each other.