Burns—Alan Burns, 72, on November 11, 2018, in Slovenia, in his sleep, following a day of strenuous walking in a 950-mile Climate Pilgrimage from Rome to Katowice, Poland (the site of the United Nations climate talks). The oldest pilgrim on the journey, Alan was born on September 24, 1946, in Wednesbury, West Midlands County, England, to Liza and Harry Burns. He graduated in applied social services from Lancaster University in 1979 and became active with Quakers and with the disarmament movement. As a volunteer at the Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre in Scotland, he initially declined a request to lead the organization, later agreeing to the job despite its financial challenge when an inner voice kept urging him to. He later said, “I don’t know how others receive those messages, but for me it was more shouted than a quiet voice.” Afterward he found that Edinburgh Meeting would give him financial support. In 1983 he first encountered fasting to witness for social justice and joined the International Fast for Life (IFFL) and began coordinating the IFFL groups.
In 1984, he moved to the United States, where he married Elizabeth Dare Davis, whom he had met in Edinburgh when she stopped to watch a demonstration against nuclear weapons. He began attending Charlotte (N.C.) Meeting and continued for over 30 years. He worked as a courier for many years and then as a full-time activist, while Liz supported the family as a musician.
Working alongside Greenpeace and Clean Air Carolina, he organized efforts to try to get big energy companies to reduce their pollution and helped develop the North Carolina Green Party. He installed solar panels on his roof, dried his clothes on the line, avoided air conditioning, walked everywhere he could, and cleaned up streets and streams. In 2008 he launched ThinkGlobalGreen (thinkglobalgreen.org), a website to educate people on climate change.
In 2013, while watching the UN climate conference, he saw Naderev Saño, called Yeb, describing the devastation by Typhoon Haiyan, which killed more than 6,000 people. He pledged to fast for the rest of the conference. Fasting as a method of appealing to the world’s conscience spoke to Alan, as did the fasting of Gandhi, his hero. So he joined the Fast for the Climate movement, organizing local events in Charlotte. In 2014, he joined the 1,000-kilometer Climate Walk for Justice to honor the typhoon victims and urge transition to wind and solar power. He wrote A Walk for Climate Justice: A Westerner’s 40-day Pilgrimage in the Philippines. In 2015, Yeb, Alan, and others, to urge decisive action, participated in another People’s Pilgrimage from the Vatican to Paris ahead of the UN Paris Climate Change Conference. He continued to edit and maintain the ThinkGlobalGreen website through 2018. His steadfast commitment and gentle spirit inspired many. That kind of energy never dies. It just builds momentum.
It is a tradition that pilgrims who pass away while walking are buried where they last walked, and his ashes were buried in Mislinja, Slovenia, on November 21, 2018, with attendance by many pilgrims who returned there after completing their walk. Charlotte Meeting, grateful for his presence among them, held a memorial service on December 7, 2018.
Alan is survived by his wife, Elizabeth Dare Davis; his three children, Lorna Burns (Wright Thompson), Colin Burns (Grace Haynes), and Blair Burns; two grandchildren; a sister, Joan Richards (Dennis); a twin brother, Brian Burns (Dawn); and a niece and nephew.