Bill Carter pens this excellent book (Boom, Bust, Boom) from the perspective of a parent and resident of a former mining town on the intrinsic value and many vices of copper and its enormous impact on our everyday lives. We, as consumers may note the importance of copper’s impact on the everyday products we utilize (cell phones, laptops, cars, solar panels, plumbing, refrigerators, wiring, wind turbines, etc.), but compared to the long-term consequences for those who live and work near the mines it is trivial.
Mr. Carter’s book will inform you, open your eyes, make you angry, and literally shock you at the audacity of it all. Any Pollyanna notions of how the world operates in the 21st century will soon be dumped onto your personal slag heap of lost innocence. Frankly, after reading this book, many aspects of modern mining sound no different from how it was conducted were during the California Gold Rush of the mid-19th century – get in, get rich, and get out.
Because Mr. Carter lived in Bisbee, Arizona at the time he was writing this book, his analysis starts and most often focuses on the Grand Canyon State. But it soon encompasses places as far afield as Alaska, Mexico, Congo, Indonesia, Chile, and Peru. Personally, I plan to visit Bisbee soon, partially based on this book. First to see this fascinating town that has reinvented itself from a dusty mining town to an avant-garde arts hub and second to do so before it is irrevocably altered/destroyed if the copper mine that gave it birth is to be re-opened.
As an introduction to the book’s theme and tone and to avoid revealing too much from the text, here are some quotable gems (bad pun) from early portions of Book, Bust, Boom.
- “Bisbee’s mining operation was relatively small by today’s standards. The pit looks like a fishing hole compared to the ocean-sized pits of today’s mines.” (page 8)
- “Every small town possesses certain intangibles that manage to unite its people. In the case of Bisbee, it is the aforementioned crater on the southern edge of town simply known as the Pit. It sits at the edge of town like a cancerous tumor that no one wants to talk about.” (page 16)
- “Most people don’t live in a town sitting atop thousands of miles of tunnels. Nor do they have five million tons of copper worth tens of billions of dollars just beneath their front yards, waiting to be mined.” (page 20)
- “Copper has proven itself the perfect metal…copper is known as the eternal metal for a simple reason. It does not decay or rust.” (page 32)
- “In most countries, the central government collects a royalty on any mineral extracted from its soil. In the United States, the government collects exactly zero dollars.” (page 39)
- “In 2000, the EPA reported that hard-rock mining, which does not include oil, gas, or coal, released 3.4 billion pounds of toxins – that’s 47 percent of the total released that year by all U.S. industries.” (page 43)
- “No large-scale copper mine has eve not had an adverse effect on the surrounding groundwater.” (page 45)
- “It’s hard not to realize that I am a hypocrite, for I don’t want the mine to reopen in my town, but I do desire all the benefits that come from the copper mined in other people’s towns.” (page 46)
As the last quote above clearly states, must of us are hypocrites when it comes to copper and other metals. We use them (perhaps unwittingly at first) in so many facets of our lives, but then we are somehow appalled by the environmental damage and long-term health impacts that such mining can cause. Even as more information is known about the impacts of hard-rock mining, the data doesn’t seem to quench societies insatiable thirst for gold, silver, platinum…or copper.
Quite frankly, I am astonished that with all our modern technologies, we humans have not come up with better ways to mine hard-rock. It is my hope that one day very soon, some enterprising and intelligent researcher will discover an efficient, healthy, and environmentally sound method for separating these metals from the earth without leaving such devastating after/side-effects. As stewards of planet Earth and consumers of products flush with these vital metals, each and every one of us should not only expect this, we should demand it!