In October 2012 I submitted a paper to the 4th biannual conference of the International Association of Ecology and Health, held in Kunming, Yunnan, China. This was shortly before the appointment of the new Chinese head of state, Paramount Leader Xi Jinping, and thus an unusually sensitive time. My rejected abstract proposed a link between public self-immolation — suicide and protest by burning — and “eco-social” distress. It was scored as 0/5 – not warranting presentation even as a poster. As a co-editor of the journal (since 2010) and as an invited keynote speaker at the second annual conference (held in Mexico in 2008) this score was certainly unusual.
My chapter outlines links between ecology (including dreadful reduction in its once vast wildlife) and human well-being, Chinese oppression of ethnic Tibetans, and the pathways of despair and hope that drive self-immolation, including for Tibetans. It documents Chinese indifference to their desperation and predicts the practice will decline as Tibetans realise it's not changing anything. It argues that this tragic issue is a legitimate part of social medicine and also EcoHealth, including through the legacy of Rudolf Vichow.
I also lament the collective (if perhaps understandable) timidity of the International Association for Ecology and Health, who despite proclaiming a concern for social justice and oppressed people, instead bowed before the powerful East Wind, at least on this occasion.
PS In an interview published on June 17, 2016, His Holiness the Karmapa clearly recommended against the practice of protest self-immolation in Tibet. I strongly support his opinion.