Next week we have a special guest coming to our office, author Bill Carter. 20 years ago he helped to end the Bosnian war when he teamed up with Bono & U2 during their Zoo TV tour, bringing concert goers face to face with the normal, everyday people trying to survive the conflict, and inspiring the famous Pavarotti/U2 collaboration “Miss Sarajevo” in the process.
Carter has written a new book titled “Boom, Bust, Boom” that is a thorough exploration of the worldwide copper industry, and puts the spotlight on a proposed copper mine near Bristol Bay, Alaska that affects thousands of commercial fishing families in the Pacific Northwest. Sebastian Junger (“The Perfect Storm”, “War” and the film Restrepo) says “Boom, Bust Boom” is “the best sort of journalism: beautifully written, rich in detail and impossible to ignore.”
If you’d like to join us for the exclusive event next Thursday, please comment below with your contact information to RSVP. Space is limited.
In the event you can’t make it, we asked Bill to discuss his work and why he’s talking about this proposed mining development.
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Bill, first off, what did you do to bring world attention to the Bosnian War, and how did you do it?
My first jolt of harnessing some world attention to the Bosnian War was when I arranged satellite link-ups between Sarajevo and U2 concerts. These link-ups were live and unedited and could have gone horribly wrong. A true risk when beaming live into a show of 75,000 fans out for a night of music. But, in the end, all the link-ups were successful. I would credit that to the people I found to speak live. They could have started yelling in anger at the European audiences that were watching them on 90 foot screens, but instead they were always polite, respectful and fully understanding that the kids at the show were their potential allies in getting politicians in Europe to do something.
Then I made Miss Sarajevo, a documentary that vividly shows the alternative life in the besieged capital of Sarajevo. The life of the artist, teenagers, school kids. It is a story of the spirit of survival in the face of utter death and humiliation.
I also helped organize the U2 concert held in Sarajevo in 1997, a promise kept by U2 from the day I first met them. A promise I suspect not many others would keep. They spent their own money and got 50,000 people to come to a rock show, with 4,000 NATO troops guarding the event. It was the craziest single event I have ever been a part of.
And finally I wrote “Fools Rush In“, which tells an epic story of love, grief and redemption. It offers up a great deal of hope in a sea of hopelessness. And why this is true for any situation in our personal lives. There is always a way to see out of something, even if it looks incredibly dark at the moment.
There were many international media agencies present in Sarajevo during the war, how is what you did different, and why did it seem to have a deeper impact?
Quite simply, I didn’t know what I was doing! This is important. Professional journalists and newscasters have a formula they are required to crank out everyday, in a war or working the sports beat at the local college. It really doesn’t matter. They hit their marks, like actors on a stage. The only thing to look forward to is the possibility of the unexpected. So, they fail to actually connect to the human side of us, the side that reflects. Worse yet, as news sources continue to expand, the news now tends to be not even that good at giving us the “news.” I think what I was doing was completely based in the human aspect of the war. My motto was not to inform you to the “facts” of the war, but to make you actually care about the person on the film, the screen, the satellite enough to stop and listen. If empathy can be conjured up in a person, we are very powerful creatures. This is when we are able to actually make differences in our world.
Have new technologies like Twitter, Facebook, Kickstarter and YouTube made it easier or harder to make the same kind of social impact?
In some ways easier, and in some ways harder. Easier if you think of the Arab spring or Wikileaks. Impact can be dramatic and instant. At the same time there is no filter and we have quickly become overwhelmed with too much information about every thing on earth. This sensory overload can make it difficult to ascertain which cause to focus on, or who to believe. There is just so much information.
Do you have any advice for young social activists?
First and foremost, you must be a curious person – a naturally curious person. This will help a lot. Then, follow your gut and your heart to get to what you care about. Then add some strong dashes of common sense and a pinch of perspective. Now, go for it. I have found blind heartfelt activism usually leads to a bleeding heart, which leads to activism dead on arrival. On the flipside, too many facts and no heart leads to the same empty grave. The key is a mixture. Or in the language of writers, the key is a unique voice. Hit them from an angle they didn’t see coming.
Your new book “Boom, Bust, Boom” is about copper. Why did you decide to write this book?
Like all my books, it is the topic in which I suddenly realized I was actually living. I lived in a copper town, in a copper state, in one of the largest copper belts in the world. Then I was poisoned by my own soil and realized I don’t know a thing about the place where I live. This triggered a curiosity in me, which led to a book.
What are some of the bigger copper-related issues facing America today?
The biggest issue is getting the message across to people that we are massive consumers of copper, and thus directly responsible for the highly toxic open pit copper mines throughout the Southwest and beyond. We are dependent on copper to maintain our current civilization and yet copper mining is highly destructive and has real damaging effects on our lives and water.
What should ordinary Americans know about the proposed Pebble Mine project near Bristol Bay, Alaska?
They should know that this mine, if built, will sit 14 miles from Lake Iliamna, the single largest natural hatchery of sockeye salmon on earth. The headwaters that flow from Iliamna carry up to 50 percent of the total sockeye salmon run of Bristol Bay, which is the world’s largest salmon run. There are no large-scale copper mines that don’t somehow pollute or ruin the surrounding groundwater. The scale they operate at is too large.
How will it affect people living outside of Alaska?
If built this mine will adversely effect the water and thus seriously threaten or kill the fishery. To threaten this fishery in any way should alarm anyone, in Alaska the lower 48 or the world. No one is making the argument that the mine will destroy a beautiful landscape, which it would. They are specially saying this mine will destroy one of the last great sustainable fisheries. A fishery that provides thousands of jobs, feeds millions and has been at the heart of a native culture for 8,000 years. And for what? Copper. For me this battle is not just about this mine, or this fishery. This fight to stop this mine addresses a question we must ask ourselves going forward for the next 50 years: what is more important to us as humans, minerals to sustain our civilization, or water and food we need to actually live. This will become the heart of a battle fought around the world for the next 100 years. When do we say no to mining when it threatens a vital source of water or food. Pebble is this fight. And it is now.
What are people doing to fight this development?
There are many organizations joined at the hip in the battle against the mine. Many bed partners that normally don’t speak to one another. Fishermen joined with environmentalist, Republicans joined with Democrats. This is one of those issues that unites those wanting to salvage a great resource against those that see our natural resources as something can be forever extracted for our consumer driven society and maximize shareholder profits. Enough is enough and it is time to say no to big business and keep the fishery alive and well.
Bill Carter will be speaking at the 16th Annual FisherPoets Gathering in Astoria, Oregon Feb. 22, 23. Friday he will read at Clemente’s Restaurant during a fundraiser to support Trout Unlimited’s efforts to spread awareness about the proposed Pebble Mine. For a full schedule of events, visit: http://www.fisherpoets.org/fisherpoets-gathering-2013.html
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