Sam Burnham, Curator
It is doubtful that anyone would think less of you if you were unable to locate Bhutan on a map. Nestled in the eastern Himalayas between India and China, this Buddhist kingdom is noted for monasteries and fortresses, so seclusion and obscurity have kept Bhutan independent over the centuries.
In this age of globalism, however, there is almost no place that isn't susceptible to the all-seeing eye of modern opportunity. So I wasn't really surprised when the South Asian branch of the World Bank tweeted out an article on the profit potential of Bhutan's forests. The nation is currently estimated as being 71% covered by forests. The nation treasures these forests and has constitutional restrictions that set 60% as the minimum allowable coverage area for forests. Sure the article is peppered with terminology suggesting that the World Bank is wanting to help maintain the forests and protect Bhutan's natural beauty.
But I'm still skeptical. Really that's a conservative way of saying it. Honestly, I'm calling them out here. It is too easy to use the right words, say the right things, put on the right appearances, and then rob some good people blind.
Consider the way Atlanta markets itself as "the city in a forest." Anyone who has sat in traffic on the Downtown Connector anywhere between 14th St and University Ave knows that such a claim is a load of manure. Sitting in the Grady Curve with a blown AC unit on a hot sunny day, window down, choking on the fumes in the humid air will make you wish you were in a forest. No, Atlanta is a city in what used to be a forest. It might even be a city surrounded by a forest.
But back to Bhutan.
A nation that is 71% covered by forests remains a net importer of forest products. Is there something they could do to add economic strength with their forests? Of course there is. Wendell Berry talks a lot about the economic potential of the forests in his native Kentucky. But he champions truly sustainable ways of doing it. There are ways of managing the forest, of harvesting timber that is good for both the economy and the forest. It is also essential that Bhutan, rather than China, India, the United States, or the World Bank, determine the way in which their forest is monetized. They certainly don't need the forces of globalism tweeting out that they have untapped resources for every greedy industrialist waiting to make a quick buck at someone else's expense.
Bhutan might need some advice on how to develop this corner of the economy. But we should also remember that the most secure culture in the world is found on North Sentinel Island in the Indian Ocean where the people tend to be hostile to outsiders, eating the majority of the visitors who have appeared on their shores and usually trying to kill outsiders before they land. Just because we might think Bhutan needs our help, doesn't mean that they want it. Just as we don't want arrogant outsiders poking their noses in our business, it stands to reason that Bhutan feels the same way.
Sam Burnham, Curator
I recently had a chance to talk energy with an employee of Plant Hammond. Hammond is a coal fired plant in the Coosa community, west of Rome. I didn’t ask him to formally go on the record so I’ll treat him as anonymous but what he shared with me is accurate and easily verifiable.
I've discussed Hammond on the blog previously. It’s quite doomed. In fact, they are sitting on a remnant of coal that can either be used in case of an unforeseen need, such as a failure at another plant, or burned off during the peak times this coming winter. New regulations on the handling and storage of wet processed coal ash go into effect April 15, 2019. After that date, the boilers at Hammond will never burn another ounce of coal.
Hammond was built in the 1950s and has provided a more than adequate return on investment for The Southern Company and Georgia Power. But the plant is aging and the upgrades needed to sustain the plant are excessive and not advisable. It is far more cost effective for Georgia Power to replace the plant. So they’ll close and demolish it like they did with Plant Branch bear Eatonton.
But there is already talk of using the real estate for more energy options. The company is planning to build solar on the site. With the distribution infrastructure already in place, the site is already primed for use. Adding gas generators would require extensive pipeline construction. The sun is already shining on the sites so solar make sense.
We also discussed the fact that a few weeks ago, Georgia Power put a batch of solar from California on the grid. The amount brought in was in excess of the generation capacity of Plant Hammond. Solar isn’t just a rooftop hobby anymore. It is becoming a serious power option.
With possible solar options, the expansion of Plant Votgle, and new natural gas generators coming online, not to mention a respectable presence of hydroelectric facilities, Georgia will have a further diversified energy portfolio. We’ll be tapping sources closer to home. And that can mean cheaper, cleaner, more efficient energy in our state and in The South.
But coal isn't dead. With a powerhouse like Plant Bowen, in Euharlee, near Cartersville, coal is alive and well. Bowen remains the one of the most powerful generation stations anywhere and it’s not going anywhere soon. The state also has other substantial coal plants. So those trains hauling in huge chunks of West Virginia will still be rolling through for the foreseeable future.
With all this in mind, the next episode of our podcast will feature a chat with Tim Echols of the Georgia Public Service Commission. He shares some ideas for the future as well as how the future is already well underway right here in the Peach State. We talk about some of the limitations on our portfolio and also other issues related to energy production. I hope you'll give the episode a listen. .
By Sam Burnham, Curator
One of the late evening conversations during the Cracker weekend was about the Agrarian Ideals that we hold dear. Of particular note is the economic theory that we wish to espouse. Capitalism is, by far, the best economic system ever conceived in the minds of mankind. The freedom and incentives built into the system make it efficient, competitive, and, most importantly, free.
But along with the liberty of capitalism comes a responsibility. While economic markets should not be weighed down with restrictive government regulations, it should still be regulated. But instead of the laws of the land, this economic system should be governed by things far more solemn and forbearing. It is this very regulation that we are missing in our society today. Our inability to implement this one principle is what is causing unemployment, wage stagnation, probably every economic shortfall in this nation today.The only way that free systems can survive is if we maintain them with the principles that must govern them. A system designed to work for good people must be maintained by good people.
These principles are driven by the intrinsic value of a human being. This value is not something that can be measured in dollars, rubles, or yen. In fact, if you reduce this value down to a measurable amount of money, you have just destroyed the value entirely. Money is always going to be one of the restrictions that business leaders face when operating. And a budget will always have limits on how much a proprietor can afford to expend in salaries and benefits. But if we address the value of a person in terms of currency alone, we are missing the point.
Mechanization and automation are both replacing people in commerce, industry, and agriculture. Banks use automated tellers, stores have self-checkout, factories employ robots, all in the name of lower costs, lower prices, higher profits. But what are the costs? Just the other day I saw a post on Twitter where someone was trying to communicate with their online bank - one of those new things with no branches, just websites. He wasn't getting much service. I had been in my local bank earlier that same day. Upon entering, two tellers greeted me by my first name, then they both greeted my coworker by his first name. They each helped one of us and in less time than it took for that other guy to send a tweet, we had both completed transactions and were on our way back out the front door. It's a human touch, a personal connection. That face-to-face transaction is backed by an interaction in a community, not a glint in a microprocessor.
When we cut this human interaction out, no matter how menial we think the task to be, we are taking from someone a chance to provide for themselves. We are taking from ourselves a chance to interact with another person. In doing this we take a bit of the humanity out of our society. We continue the pattern of dehumanizing each other and in doing so, we dehumanize ourselves. In that act of turning "Amy" at the bank into a button on a touchscreen we have made our community a little less valuable. Yes, the bank may have more money because they pay one less person. We may even benefit because the bank can afford to give us a higher yield on an account. But a member of our community lost her job to a machine. There may not be another job for her because of all the other machines coming on line. Then what? What happens once a machine can do our job?
A story I heard on NPR this past week was reporting on such technological advances and how these machines will free people up to do "more detailed" or "more important" tasks. But unless we eventually determine what these tasks are and how people learn to do them, all the advancements do is continuously replace people with machines. Another unintended consequence is that we devalue the art of manual labor. There are people who have an innate ability, even the desire, to work with their hands. These are people who don't withdraw from sweat and grime that come from physically handling their work. They don't take issue with being physically tired after an honest day's work. Who are we to determine that these tasks are better off done by machines? We have developed the erroneous, perhaps dangerous, assumption that everyone wants, even needs, to attend college and work in an office, that this is the way to wealth and enlightenment. That's not fair to a group of people who aren't wired that way, people we devalue and demean by suggesting their proclivity toward manual labor makes them somehow less of a human.
It is time for us to change. It is time to stop mechanizing or automating every job out there. It is time to return to the idea that the human factor has worth, that the bottom line is not the only value that business has to budget into the cost of operation. We have to once again understand that our human resources are exactly that - human. Until we begin treating people as people, rather than as expenditures, we will continue to live in a dangerous world where people feel like and therefore treat others as liabilities rather than assets,
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire