Sam Burnham, Curator
The Corona Virus (COVID-19) is the new panic that is sweeping the planet. While narratives range from this being the common cold to it becoming a global pandemic causing the end of all life on Earth. The important story is not really about the disease itself. The important story is going to be buried because it doesn't fit nicely into the modern narrative. The important lesson here is about globalism and the dangerous place it has carried us.
Let me start by saying that trade is not our enemy. Pure isolationism is not the answer to all of our problems, including the Corona Virus. Trade, when engaged properly, is a good thing. It adds variety to our economy and opens new markets for our products as well as provides us with products we might otherwise never see. Healthy trade benefits the economies and citizens of all the nations involved.
But an honest glimpse at Southern history gives us a story of mismanaged trade. In the antebellum South almost all manufactured goods were foreign-made or at least made outside the South. As late as 1889, when Henry Grady addressed the Bay State Club of Boston, the situation had not changed much. His comments about attending a funeral in Pickens County related the fact that Georgia had plentiful resources but very few manufactured goods. Items needed for the funeral were all brought in from the cities of the North. "The South didn't furnish a thing on earth for that funeral but the corpse and the hole in the ground." Grady's point showed a hole in the Southern economy. Something was seriously missing.
Balance is important and I certainly am not calling for Grady's New South or suggesting that the South look to heavy industry to solve its problems. Trade helps create a balance. Industrial centers can trade with resource centers and both can benefit. But balance is key.With too much reliance on industry we risk damaging the very resources we rely on and even altering our culture. With too little industry we become dependent on other locations to provide us with manufactured goods.
This very morning (2/28/20) I heard from a health specialist appearing on the radio program 1A that between 80-90% of the ingredients for American generic pharmaceuticals are produced in China. So when there is an upheaval in China such as the Corona Virus or, God forbid, they go to war with us, our ability to produce medicine screeches to a halt. Keep an eye on the news, not for the stories designed to stir fear to drive ratings, but for the side effects. Notice all the products that are affected by the slowing of economic productivity in China. Well-balanced, healthy trade does not do this. Too many eggs in one basket does. Too few eggs in our own basket does. Again, balance.
While we cannot possibly produce everything we need locally, the more we do produce locally, the more balanced our economy will be. There is certainly no excuse for any foreign nation to be producing 90% of anything as vital as medication. We have to produce more of this in our own country. Entrusting entire segments of the economy to other nations while merely assuming they will stay productive, stable, and solvent is a recipe for disaster. As China remains in quarantine and their productivity continues to drop, domestic businesses reliant on that productivity continue to suffer and our stock markets will continue to drop as a result. It is ridiculous that nations with smaller economies than ours drag our markets over their epidemics. We've benefited from cheap Chinese production but now we're paying the price for that. We'll survive this and they will to. But if we don't change the way we do things the next pandemic will just put us back in this same spot.
Anything we do produce locally - food, clothing, furniture, electricity, you name it - will be independent of the downturns elsewhere. This is economic strength that we can build ourselves. We can build our local economies, improving the loves of our friends and neighbors, insuring economic security in hard times, and keeping our needs from being capsized in ships on our shores. A productive local economy is good for us, our neighbors, future generations, our local environment, and our planet.
When you are in the market to purchase something, put a higher value on things that are produced locally, in your state, or in your region. Value should matter more than cost. Local products may cost more but they will usually be of a higher quality and will have a give more economic benefit to your local economy. Reward makers who are working to provide us with these options. Like I said, it won't always work. There are things we must import but you might be surprised at how much you can find that was made just down the street.
Sam Burnham, Curator
By now I’m sure you’ve heard this term being slung around. The mystical, magical plan in which all proven sources of energy and economy are discarded for unicorns and glitter and the Federal Government saves the world from menacing onslaught of “cow farts.” Leave it to a New Yorker to blame cows for climate change.
This proposal is the handiwork of the freshman member of Congress from New York City, the amazing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She argues that the deal will reverse climate change while revolutionizing the economy and creating mind blowing prosperity.
But, as is to be expected, the plan is as silly as it is ignorant. For one thing, she cuts out air travel. Then she tweets advice to kids on how to reduce their carbon footprint. One of her points is to give up eating meat and dairy, recommending instead her go-to breakfast of banana and peanut butter. At home in NYC that means opting for peanut butter trucked in from Alabama or Georgia and a banana flown in from South America or maybe even Indonesia instead of a dairy product produced within 100 miles of her home. According to the EPA, ranchers and dairy farmers account for about 2% of all greenhouse gases while transportation accounts for about 28%. So a relatively short truck or train trip could bring her dairy produced in state but she opts for a banana flown in from the other side of the planet and some peanut butter from over 1000 miles away.
The trick to a greener, more sustainable, more ecologically friendly future is with local and regional sources for food, energy, water, goods, services, etc. The more products we use that are locally sourced or at least regionally sourced, the less transportation is required and we cut into the 28% and never mind the 2%. Quit straining at gnats.
As the South continues to develop cleaner, more sustainable energy solutions, and broadband internet services connect our region better, options will arise that will cut those transportation and energy emissions more and the bovine emissions will matter even less.
If Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is really interested in fixing emissions, she should find sustainable methods to heat homes in and travel through that wretched city she lives in. She should deal with the Sasquatch sized carbon footprint of New York before pointing at the ant sized one in rural areas. As the flora in rural areas, especially trees in forests and farms, continues to consume the infinitesimal greenhouse gas emissions from rural sources, the cities continue to make far more than their flora can contain. If greenhouse gas emissions is the conversation she wants to have, then her town needs some greenhouse Beano first.
Regardless of any legislation or action in Washington, a localized grass roots economy will always be the greenest option. The closer we are to the goods and services we use, the more our sources of energy match our climate and topography, and the more walkable sour communities, then the greener our environment, the more prosperous our towns, and the healthier our people will be. We can never have a green economy so long as our small towns are cluttered with shuttered workplaces. We need Washington to step out of the way so we can rebuild this nation on our Main Streets.That would be a Green New Deal.
Sam Burnham, Curator
i read a recent article in the New York Times.Times writer Glenn Thrush was in Camilla interviewing farmers who lost so much, some everything they had, in the storm. His article didn’t focus on the losses, the recovery efforts, or the work of farmers. No, he chose to focus on climate change.
I’ve done several rebuttals to the arrogant work of East Coast elite “journalists” over the years. This time I’m not wanting to just vent off my frustrations with an angry reply because I think there’s too much at stake this time. This time it’s not just a typical New Yorker looking down his nose at the “dumb Southerners” who don’t understand science. As the political and social divide continues to grow in America and we inch ever closer to whatever cataclysm awaits us at the end of this bumpy road, somewhere the chorus of a Greek tragedy is crying out “this is how they got Trump.”
At some point there has to be a realization. I’m sitting in Georgia, an advocate for the defense in this case. So my position is admittedly biased. But I’m also a writer and I know a bit about that craft as well. Let me just say that a person who can take a woody shard of genetic material, shove it in a hole in the ground, and allow the sky to provide the needed hydration and photosynthetic energy and thereby derive a living for himself and his family is either a scientist or a witch doctor. Either way, his livelihood requires much more understanding of science than a newspaper writer needs.
And that is where the realization must happen. Mr Thrush May have spent the decade of tropical silence between Katrina/Rita and Harvey attending cocktail parties but the farmers in South Georgia were busy trying to turn seeds, dirt, rain, and sunlight into money. While Thrush was rubbing elbows with celebrities, the farmers were looking at late frost dates, finding days that were dry enough for planting, planning crop rotations, timing fertilizers or defoliants, setting traps for boll weevils, planning irrigation, paying property taxes, researching breeds of hogs to determine which will be most profitable. You know, science stuff.
But the biggest realization that needs to be made is that what happened in South Georgia when that storm ripped through wasn’t political. It wasn’t about climate change. It wasn’t even about the $2.5 billion in agricultural losses. What happened was bigger than all that. It was a human tragedy on a colossal scale.
Farming is a ridiculously difficult job. Yes, there are some factory farms raking in subsidies and turning massive profits. But there are far more that are covering expenses and maybe a little more. Many of these farmers are working the land their parents, grandparents, and perhaps further generations worked before them. Many hope to pass down the land and the livelihood to their children. Recovering from this disaster is the only way such a cultural and familial heritage can be passed on because there is presently nothing to hand down to the next generation.
I'm sure part of the article's bourgeois tone was Thrush's own frustration. He was the NYT's White House correspondent until several of his female coworkers brought allegations of unwanted sexual behavior against him. I'm sure he'd rather be reporting on policy in Washington than covering the ruination of some backwards hayseeds in Mitchell County. So instead of covering the human tragedy, he made it all about politics. It says a lot that his employers think covering a human tragedy in South Georgia is a demotion worthy of sexual harassment. Why are these people the ones reporting this story in this way and telling the world it is All the News That's Fit to Print? How is this worthy of a newspaper of record? How can we ever expect to change the tone of this conversation when human tragedy isn't fit to print but the writer's ideas about the role of climate change in the tragedy is?
As it is becoming increasingly clear that big city journalism is trending toward caring less and less about what goes on in places like Nashville or Alapaha, Georgia, Southerners need to be trending more toward small journalism to tell the stories about what is really going on. Support your local papers and other journalism. We need better regional options as well. Maybe if the New York Times wants to cover a story like the hurricane and agriculture they should partner with the Valdosta Daily Times rather than send a Washington-based Times writer who doesn't understand farming or rural life.
Mostly, we need thoughtful reactions. We need to be more and more self-sufficient, more and more regionalist and localist in how we operate. Perhaps instead of giving an out-of-town big city writer a chance to try to make us look stupid in the Times, we need to throw him off the property as soon as he shows up.
To their credit, the New York Times did open comments to farmers and others in the area to add input through a comments section on a follow up to the original article. But what did that prove other than admitting, after the backlash, that sending Thrush to Georgia was also a disaster? So I offered the Times my advice on the matter in the form of a comment I'll add here:
My name is Sam Burnham, I’m the Curator of All the Biscuits in Georgia (allthebiscuitsingeorgia.com) and an advocate and supporter of agriculture and the people who make it happen. Rather than sitting in Manhattan waiting for responses, you need to send people down here to look and see. They need to know some farmers and the local businesses who depend on the success of an agricultural economy. Get off the paved road, get your hands dirty, be real journalists. More importantly, be a real humans. You want to understand why what you printed was so wrong? Come see for yourself. Come open minded and ready to learn. Oh, and come hungry.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire