LOS ANGELES, CA ( – A desperate 33-year-old man attempting to set himself on fire to protest rising gas prices abandoned his demonstration today after he was unable to afford the gallon of fuel needed to douse himself and light a match.

James Whynatt sits unlit in L.A., where he awaits lower gas prices before trying again.

James Whynatt, an unemployed truck driver from Los Angeles, said he wanted to make the “ultimate sacrifice” to let oil companies and the government know, “how desperate and upset Americans are with fuel costs.” But when he went to his neighborhood gas station this morning, he found the price had jumped to $4.98 a gallon.
“Just last week it was $4.69, and frankly that was cutting it close,” said Whynatt. “Five dollars a gallon is outrageous. Even if I could afford to set myself on fire, I wouldn’t do it now on principle. I may have mental health issues, but I’m not crazy.”
While agreeing it was a wake-up call, Whynatt’s plight immediately set off a fierce debate among environmentalists, industry lobbyists and consumer groups as to who is at fault for keeping the self-styled activist from achieving his goal.
“We should open up wildlife reserves to more drilling and lower prices so that brave young Americans like James Whynatt can afford to set themselves on fire,” said Richard Balkirk, chief lobbyist for the American Fossil Fuel Council. “We need to break our dependence on foreign oil, and if the administration had listened to us when we asked for this three years ago, that man would be a proud pile of ashes right now.”
Jane Peloral, director of the American Environmental Union, called that solution “unworkable.”
“Studies show it would be a decade or more before new drilling made an impact on the domestic market, and by then Mr. Whyatt could have a job and a family and a reason to live,” she said. “If this is a wake-up call, it should open our eyes to the need for renewable sources of energy so that Mr. Whynatt’s children and grandchildren can live in a world where they can afford to set themselves on fire.”
Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, however, said those alternative sources of energy already exist.
“Right now, today, Mr. Whynatt could rub himself all over with clean, affordable coal,” Santorum said. “Not only would he burn more slowly and evenly, but just think of the number of American workers he would be supporting.”
Though fairly rare in the United States, self-immolation is a more common, if gruesome, form of protest in the Middle East and Asia. While no one has suggested Whyatt go overseas to achieve his aim, the Gulf Coast Tourism Board has extended an invitation.
“Since Katrina and the oil spill, we’ve really turned things around down here in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama,” said BP spokeswoman Mavis Couttier. “Gas is cheaper, the people are friendly, and you only have to dip your toe in the ocean once to be highly flammable.”
Whyatt, however, said he’ll stay in L.A. and wait until gas prices come down before trying again. Until then, he will protest by pointing out that he can’t afford to protest.
“Nowadays, the only people who can afford to set themselves on fire are the rich, and they’re very people who don’t want to set themselves on fire,” Whynatt said. “That right there tells you how messed up the system is and how much we need to change it.”
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