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389: Bitcoin mining as a saving grace for Virunga National Park with Adam Popescu

389: Bitcoin mining as a saving grace for Virunga National Park with Adam Popescu

Jan 18, 2023
TFTC Podcast

389: Bitcoin mining as a saving grace for Virunga National Park with Adam Popescu

In early 2022, Adam Popescu, a Journalist, traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo to meet with the team managing Virunga National Park, which is utilizing excess capacity at a recently built hydroelectric dam to mine bitcoin as a way to produce revenue. In this rip Adam details the recent history of Virunga, the warring factions that make life in the park risky, and how the mining operation has increased jobs, created the potential for descalation within the park, and provided Virunga with desperately needed revenue after its tourism revenue took a beating in the wake of an ebola breakout and the COVID lockdowns.


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o:oo Intro and sponsors

5:11 - Why Virunga?
11:51 - Importance of energy for improving human life
13:57 - Setting the scene
20:45 - Involvement of a Belgian Prince
25:46 - Jobs provided by the hydroelectric plant
27:55 - The Bitcoin mine
30:32 - Risk of violent threats to the Bitcoin mine
38:02- The lives in Africa improved by Bitcoin
39:53 - How the Virunga mine improves Bitcoin's image
44:38 - Disagreements on the value of regulation
47:51 - Fix the money, fix the world
51:17 - Plugs and wrapping


Marty: [00:00:00] It's your boy Marty here to introduce this rip of Tftc, I sat down with Adam Popescu, journalist reporter, who just wrote a piece for the M I T technology review highlighting the Bitcoin mining operation that is going on in Bara National Park in Congo. Fascinating story that highlights the benefits that Bitcoin mining particularly can provide to energy systems.
I'm not gonna explain everything here. Listen to the episode. Uh, it's fascinating, not only the Bitcoin mining aspect of it, but everything going on in Congo and the quagmire of a political situation, um, that exists there. Very provoking rep. It was brought to you by our good friends at River. River is a Bitcoin company built by Bitcoiners four Bitcoiners.
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This rip so there are no boost yet. So I'll read two episodes worth of boost, uh, next week. Enjoy it. Freaks sticky.
Adam: You've had a dynamic where money's become freer than free. Let me talk about a fed just gone nuts. All, all the central banks going nuts. So it's all acting like safe haven. I believe that in a world where central bankers are tripping over themselves to devalue their currency, Bitcoin wins. In the world of fiat currencies, Bitcoin is the victor.
I mean, [00:05:00] that's part of the bold case for Bitcoin. If you're not paying attention, you probably should be, probably should be, probably
Marty: should be. What's the freaks? Welcome back to Tftc. This is, uh, this is a rip that was put together last minute, literally in the last. I'm sitting down with Adam Popescu, uh, who wrote an incredible piece in the m I T technology review that dropped last Friday, I believe.
Is that correct, Adam? Mm-hmm. , yeah. On Friday. And you're telling the story of VAA National Park in Congo and how they're leveraging excess capacity at a hydro plant that they've been building to mine Bitcoin to help fund. The national Park, which has been hit by a wave of, uh, mis misfortunes in the form of Ebola and covid, which have restricted tourist revenue.
And so they've been leaning on, on Bitcoin mining to, to fund the [00:06:00] park. Um, before we get into the Bitcoin mining, I, I think it's important to learn more about Barunga, why you went over there and, and what you saw, Adam.
Adam: Absolutely. Um, first off, thank you for having me.
Good question. Why did I go over there? Why are we even talking about this place? I think that, uh, when you think of the word Congo, or when the average American hears Congo, they probably go, you mentioned Ebola. You know, they probably go in their mind to the book, uh, which was called Congo, by Michael Creighton, which is about a, basically a killer gorillas or before that, There's been a lot about transmissible diseases from this region.
There's a lot of misinformation. There's Joseph Conrad from Heart of Darkness over a hundred years ago or about a hundred years ago. It's always been a place that has a lot of mystery, a lot of [00:07:00] exoticism, uh, and a lot of misinformation At the same time, it's got a lot of wealth potential. So back in the day, it was, uh, rubber and ivory and timber.
and also just manpower cuz it was, part of, it was part of, uh, Belgium. In terms of like King Leopold who was, uh, the former king of, of Belgium in the late 18th century, or sorry, 19th century basically was his private country and the guy never even stepped foot there. So this is the past of, of this, of this region, a very complicated, many different languages, uh, country, the size of Western Europe.
Not many roads, not much electricity. And the last 20 years, lot of war over, um, lot of over minerals. So cobalt, Colton, a lot of the things that function will allow our technology to function are derived from here, from these rare earth mineral mines.
Marty: Yeah, that was so, um, [00:08:00] go ahead. I was gonna say co the cobalt mining particularly has been, been.
In the news recently, I know Joe Rogan interviewed somebody who went down there really trying to expose the, um, I can't think of a better word, atrocity of, of what's going on in those minds.
Adam: Well, yeah. There's a new book called Cobalt Red, which is all about this, uh, issue about supply chains and where we get the, the pieces of technology that to function or to allow our lives.
to move, really first clip. But these are the kind of places where, for lack of a better term, life is cheap. People are willing to do really heinous, uh, things to, to get what they want. I mean, there's a lot of gray area in terms of legality and, and what's acceptable ethically and morally. So all of these things are for a, for a writer, for a.
And for a reading audience, [00:09:00] uh, it's incredibly rich and visual and interesting, very rich palette to paint with, if you will. And, uh, I have a background where I have gone, uh, to sort of end of the workplaces and told stories that are a little bit counterintuitive or a little bit surprising. I. That will carry attentions.
Um, and that's everything from going to the Himalayas for various places, looking at manmade glaciers and tracking snow leopards to the Gala Galapagos, where the Chinese fishing armadas are fishing in the national park and exploiting that, uh, rich resource. So in, in Rogan National Park, which is known for a Netflix documentary about.
Rare mountain gorillas that are being threatened in a group of rangers who are like a law enforcement body who are risking their lives to protect them. That was what I knew. I didn't [00:10:00] know much beyond that. Mm-hmm. and over the course of many months, talking to the park and getting them to, to vet me and verifying me, what have you, I ended up going there in March, late March of last year, actually arrived in Congo, March 20.
Which is very symbolic because as you alluded to, M 23, a March 23 movement is the big militia group in this region. And when I was, uh, arriving on March 23rd, it was very auspicious, not really into that kind of, not su I'm not, uh, I don't look at neurology, any of that stuff. But at the same time it felt kind of, kind of weird.
And by the time I left, there was actually, unfortunately, uh, an attack by. that just coincided with me leaving. So I was very sobering and very real. And, um, my goal there, I heard about the hydro uh, power plants. I, um, I ended up doing a story for new scientists that magazines a bridge publication, which [00:11:00] mostly focuses on science and conservation issues.
We looked at the hydro. I also did a profile on the parks, prints, a manual den road from the New York Times that looked. him as a figure and some of the controversies and successes he's had. But when I was there, they said, you know, hey, we have something to show you that no one really knows about. And that's this, uh, the Bitcoin mine in the jungle.
And when I saw this, you know, basically a million different thoughts flooded my mind. But the, the, the big one for you, your audience, is that this is a credible story it needs to be told. And when I came home, , I started crafting it and pitching it to, uh, some of my contacts and, and here we are almost, uh, nine, 10 months later.
Marty: Yeah, I mean, I think. Uh, what it really highlights, number one, the importance of energy. Cuz I think the really interesting point that you make in the beginning of your article is [00:12:00] that there was a material amount of deforestation cuz it, it's a national park, but they're Congolese who actually live within the park and, um, try to.
Uh, try to go about their lives and there was a material amount of deforestation going on cause people were cutting down trees, um, to, to get energy in their houses. And so a solution to that is building. Uh, a hydro dam that would produce reliable, uh, electricity that they could use instead of cutting down the trees.
And so that's another topic that's been a reoccurring theme on this podcast is the importance of energy, particularly to uplift, um, people in the developing world out of poverty and to give them a. Base layer of , um, quality of life that they can then begin to build a better life on top of. And what we've come to find throughout history and more acutely over the last year, I would argue, is that reliable [00:13:00] energy is extremely important to, uh, uplift, trotting, uh, areas of the world out of poverty and bring them into the modern world and.
That's one thing that Bitcoiners have been talking about for quite a bit, and that's why I'm sure I'm not the only Bitcoin who, uh, is happy that you wrote your piece, but it, it validates something that we've been saying is that Bitcoin mining particularly, uh, can be this buyer of first resort to help incentivize either the, the build out of these reliable.
Projects or, uh, sustain them in times when demand is lower than otherwise would be like it has been in barga to, to the fact that they can't have tourists come in.
Adam: Yeah, I mean, it's in incredibly complicated and controversial theory or, or practice of development here. Uh, to give a little more backstory of what we're talking about, for those who haven't read the article, essentially there are a series of [00:14:00] hydroelectric power plants in this area.
Uh, like I said before, there's no power grid, so there's no way that someone can just connect to the country's grid. Roads are all pretty much all dirt, so incredibly undeveloped in terms of modern amenities. The, one of the issues here is that, um, having, how do I put this? Um, there's a, there's. , I'm searching for the right, the right words here because basically what I'm trying to say is it's not a zero something game.
Mm-hmm. . It's not that this is all good or this is all bad and we, we tend here in the US or at least I'll speak for myself, uh, things work or they don't, you know, we, we tend to look at, we, you know, you call up nine one one, the authorities arrive in time or they don't, um, you turn on your tap, it either works or it doesn.
Your phone bill, et cetera, things like that. We come to rely on these [00:15:00] things and we take, come take for granted. In a lot of the developing world resources or, or amenities that we come to, to think of as second nature are really the purview of the wealthy and there's a lot of trickle down and there's, if one household has a hookup to the, to the electricity, for instance, maybe seven or eight people get it through extension and that can help.
a group of people, not everyone wins and it causes can cause a lot of jealousy, a lot of issues, a lot of corruption. So, you know, I, I say this because I don't think that this is a one size fits all. This is the solution to this region's problems or this is something we can replicate and other, uh, challenging de developing regions.
I think for the Bitcoin community, it's a great narrative because as you said, this says, you know, there's a lot of vilification of using. that, uh, pumps fossil fuels, um, [00:16:00] causes, um, issues within local communities, et cetera, corruption. This is, um, something that you, your folks can say, Hey, wait a second. This is clean energy and it's helping.
And I think it is. At the same time, what makes this compelling and what makes this controversial is who's benefiting, you know, if there's millions of people. , how many of them really get a piece? How many of them really benefit? Um, and my argument, argument or maybe my pers per perspective as, as an outsider when I come there, if a place is, is kind of neglected by the rest of the world, if it's too dangerous for foreign, an investment, If it's too dangerous that the UN has the biggest mission that, nope, most people don't even know this.
They've been there for 20 years. They have a billion dollar plus mission, thousands of troops, and they don't do shit that the [00:17:00] locals don't like them. And there's, it's complicated, but in a, in a quick, you know, one second synopsis. Um, they haven't really known what to do and they, that's caused a lot of traction and a lot of.
A lot of animosity with local communities. So, um, if only, you know, if, if, if this park and the resources are saved, if a small percentage of locals benefit, is that a win? Is that a positive? I mean, these are the kind of things that I'm trying to get out in the piece. Uh, there are a lot of gray areas that aren't as cut and dry morally as we might.
in other places with, with other endeavors.
Marty: What are some of the examples of things that may not be as cut and dry?
Adam: Well, there's a, there's, you mentioned the deforestation. Mm-hmm. , [00:18:00] um, there's still deforestation. You know, you can, if you're leaking in a lot of places. , you start to plug them up. You might not be leaking as much, but you're still leaking, you know? Yeah. Um, I, I think a lot of the problems here are political problems that caused by extension dominoes to happen.
You know, a lot of the people who become radical and by radical meaning picking up a weapon, it's the same conditions that can be happening in the middle. It's the same conditions that can be happening in inner city America. It's the lack of resources. It's trauma, and it's also feeling of desperation. So when you feel these kind of the weight of these things, and maybe you're really hungry too, you know, and you don't have a piece of land, you're willing to do [00:19:00] anything because you're in a position.
You don't have a lot of options. That's the scenario in this region. So by providing more stability, lighting, water, pumping stations, the potential for electricity, maybe not everyone gets it, but it's possible. And a lot of it is paid for by this operation, the Bitcoin mine. Well then you would, you could say, okay, these are beneficial.
Again, not everyone will get a piece, but it's moving the needle in a place where, The government itself and foreign actors are not. Yeah.
Marty: It's, it's a beautiful thing. It if complicated, right? Yeah. It's very complicated, but I, I do, it's why I really like your story I wanna highlight is because it, it paints a, an encouraging picture of Yes.
It's still chaotic. You mentioned towards the end of the article as you were getting out there was missiles being shot, uh, over the [00:20:00] park and, um, Hydroelectric dam, uh, was taking artillery fire, and that's unsettling. But through all that, there is a silver lining and a, a gleaming, uh, glimmer of hope that the, the, there does seem to be.
A, a workable model that is slowly iterated on and built on over time. It can provide locals with, again, a base layer of, of comfort and utilities that that would disincentivize 'em from picking up those guns or, or getting desperate or prevent them from getting to a, a place of desperation or at least lower the probability of it.
Um, and yeah, again, the story only gets more fascinating from here, considering the characters. That are involved. Um, right, there was, uh, a Belgian prince who took over, um, uh, right managing the National Forest. Uh, I believe a decade ago was 2012 or 2014. I [00:21:00] can't recall the date in my mind, but yeah,
Adam: again, here's another, depending on, on your, you know, we're all experts from afar and we all have, we all make an opinion about, so, Some of it is informed and some of it's not.
And, um, it's easy to throw, throw dirt at somebody who appears to not belong in a place. Um, this character you're talking about, his name is Emmanuel Demo Road. Uh, yes, he is, uh, Belgian Prince by blood or by by birth. Um, he's also a guy who's lived in the Congo and slept in a tent for the past 20 some odd years.
you know, a guy who survived an assassination attempt and took several bullets in chest, survived the surgery, translated the surgery to doctors who didn't see a common language, sacrificed his family in a, in a, uh, made [00:22:00] many personal sacrifices in order to to, to see this through. And when you look at that big picture of this, this character,
What, what really comes out is, um, is I think a, a, a, a belief that he has for change. Some of his detractors would say that it hasn't worked at the same time, you know, we don't know what would've existed without it in terms of, could have been some kind of power vacuum that it could have been worse. It's so hard to say in these places, but you need people who.
also you have, when you're in a leadership position, it's very, it's inevitable to have enemies. It's inevitable to be seen as an outsider, which he is. You know, can you, can you be an outsider? Can you be an extension or symbolic of the past, and yet be a good person in this capacity? , um, you know, those are, these are [00:23:00] the, these are like the heavy stuff to, that I tried to, to wrestle with in the article.
And I think that, you know, it's easy to, again, it's easy to have a, you know, think about these, okay, Belgian prince and country with a dark colonial pass from Belgium. He's gotta be a bad guy. You know, he's gotta be, uh, he's gotta be all the, the boogeyman type stuff you think? And then you meet him and you see how this guy lives.
You see his morals, you see his values, you see some of the change. I mean, it's like pushing a boulder uphill. It keeps coming down. But he keeps fighting and you have to, it's hard not to have respect for the guy and it's hard not to, uh, wanna root for him, which is something you're not supposed to maybe say as a reporter.
But again, you're, we're, I think if you are. You know, it's, it's like [00:24:00] pretending to, to, to be this, to not have an, to not have a emotional reaction to a situation or a character. But we all do, you know what I mean? You try to give someone the, the, the benefit of the doubt, and you try to do right by them at the end of the day, no matter how you feel about them.
But, uh, you, you have to admire his tenacity, whether or not you believe in it. The fact that he's sticking with so, Uh, under incredible challenges. You, you, it's, it's impressive.
Marty: Not really. I mean, like you mentioned, he's literally taken bullets, uh, for this national park and, and kept chugging and That's right.
Trying to innovate and improve the quality of life for people living in the area and obviously protect. , the gorillas and, and the rainforest. Um, and it's really
Adam: interesting, he would say, but he would say, here's, here's this. So we would think of it as protecting the, the, the gorillas in the rainforest. He would say, [00:25:00] well, what we really gotta do is protect the people.
Mm-hmm. . And we really gotta give them an incentive. And that's where this is all about. Because, you know, again, maybe this project, it doesn't put money in the pocket of every single. But if it moves the needle to create some level of stability or improves upon it, then that's a net positive. Yeah, it's, it can't be the only thing, but you know what I mean.
Like you have a neighborhood that's a bad neighborhood and you have that one anchor business and you have something developed next to it and it's over time it starts to grow. And, and if you can look at it, that kind of simplified analogy, you know, maybe that's helpful to understand what we're, we're talking.
Marty: Yeah, one step at a time. Slowly but surely. And I think in the article you mentioned that this hydro electric dam, via the electricity will provide to the market, could provide something like 12,000 jobs in the area, which is, well, it,
Adam: it's already provided. Yeah. Th those are, um, and it's a rough [00:26:00] estimate, but yeah, I went and visited some of these jobs, I mean, basic stuff, but soap factory, you know, vegetable oil.
Uh, chia seeds, chocolate. A lot of chocolate. We didn't, I didn't know this. Tons of chocolate comes from this area. They also have a, the park has a project with, um, with Ben Aflac actually creating a, a chocolate company to bring it to the us, the, the, the chocolate's already in stores in the eu. But I mean, it's a good, it's a good business idea.
It also provides a stable market for the local chocolate farmers. Um, , you know, like chia seeds, coffee, like lots of these kind of things show that there's a lot of potential for the kind of grassroots community businesses we're talking about. Um, and that those are all, again, you know, when you think of maybe like a Yellowstone, if you would hear, you know, Yellowstones helping ranchers and farmers with soybeans or whatever, uh, or cattle, you might think, well, that sounds odd, [00:27:00] but if Yellowstone didn't have.
If Yellowstone rangers were being shot at every day by the guys from, you know, the local ranch or whatever, I mean, then you kind of have to frame it, okay. They're being forced into building some of this stuff by circumstance. Um, and again, you know, this becomes so utterly fascinat. That, that's why I think people are, I think that's why, why we're talking, you know what I mean?
It's like it's, there's Bitcoin mines everywhere. There's national parks all over the place, but there's all these confluence of, of factors together that just makes a kind of, you know, how is this possible? What does it mean? What's going on here and what's the long term sustainability? Can it be replicated elsewhere that it's just, you know, some of it's a hand scratcher too.
Marty: Yeah. And so let's dive in, like get like more into the specifics of the Bitcoin mine. What did you observe? I mean, you tell the story [00:28:00] of, of there's a, a rich French, uh, Bitcoin or crypto person that has decided to go in on this. They have a number of containers. Some of which Vaga owns, and the other of which this French, uh, Bitcoin owns and pays electricity, um, to, to the, uh, electricity, to the, excuse me, the, uh, hydroelectric Dam and Bara National Park.
And so they're not only mining themselves, but they're also producing electricity revenues from, uh, this French gentleman who's mining alongside them. Mm-hmm. .
Adam: So to actually look at the, the operat. . So you have to fly in. You can take a, you can drive on the road. It's incredibly dangerous and it takes a long time.
It's dirt, roads, and jungle. So when it gets muddy, it's also . Better have some, some backup tires and whatnot. But, um, we flew [00:29:00] in. It's a very sh short, steep runway. Either you're gonna be freaked out or it's exciting and it's so, it like it's, You, you're flying in the middle of nowhere and you, you're battling altitude and then there's this little strip of patch between the trees comes out and you land there.
And I felt, you know, for me, like this is, I'm like a, like a kid, you know? I'm just, I'm wowed by this. I'm, I don't need to know what to expect. And the actual, the actual hydro plant, it, it's, it. Very clean and like, actually beautiful, if you could say that about a piece of machinery. But because it, it just, um, it's such a stark contrast to the relative underdevelopment in the, in the area.
People have, there's a lot of people who ride around on these bicycles, turned me outta, [00:30:00] um, wood that looked like somebody from the flin. , you know, like, uh, I'm not trying to to, to, to be insulting to them, but it is just, you know, very basic kind of stuff that, that don't have the, they don't have tires that they can go to the local store.
They don't have a lot of stuff. So there's a lot of very, I guess, bootstrap type stuff. So to see this piece of modern machinery or modern, the modern world. and the level of professionalism, again, it's just like, it's very Wow because not too far away. Um, you have level groups who are not cool with this shit, you know?
Yeah. Rightly so. I mean, they, they're, they're, you know, It also is a bit of a hard to, to wrap your head around because you think, okay, well this is a very professional operation. They have, there's 10, 10 containers and they look like shipping containers and inside, um, again, very clean. [00:31:00] Um, you could step inside and you could be anywhere.
You know, there's engineers and people are certified and they know what they're doing, and then you see when you're looking around, well, there's. , there's got a lot of guys with guns. There's a lot of guys who look very serious and, um, are providing security for this to, to, to run. And it's kind of hard to, you know, there is an excitement and there is, um, a feeling of something special is happening here.
And it's also tempered by the notion of, well, how tenuous is this? Mm-hmm. you. What's stopping the local Mimi Rebels or the M 23 coming and taking this, uh, is that on their radar? If they took it, and this is something I actually asked, um, Emmanuel, if they took it, do they have, could they get the password?
Could they [00:32:00] then get the wallet? Can they, you know, how at risk is this another commodity in this area with full of commodities from diamond to gold to cold? , is this something else that's, that's now dangerous and, you know, that makes it just, that makes it, when you think about it, you know, how do you get an investor to invest in this, you know, how do you get someone to come and spend three months as a foreigner?
Um, what do they tell their wife or, or husband or what do they, what kind of insurance is there? Uh, how safe are they? And essentially you're putting your, your safety in the hands of someone else. You know, even me just being there, I have to trust to a degree that these people know what they're doing and they have a secure location that if something happens that, that you [00:33:00] know, that they know what they're doing and that it that, so that in of itself, I mean, you think about all these things.
there is a level of risk that is higher than other bitcoin mining operations in other undeveloped countries, whether it's Central Asia or Central America, which both of them can be extremely dangerous. Extremely volatile. Um, but what they don't have here is just so many different groups trying, and that's.
You know, makes this ultimately the, the detractors and the people who say, wait a second, is that, how can, even if this does provide stability, um, for this little, let's say even a, this area, well, you have 5, 10, 20, some people even say a hundred different militia groups. So how do you, [00:34:00] how do you possibly.
mitigate all these different risks. Time. Yeah. Sounds like such a, like such a, a, a, like, I don't wanna call it a headache. Sounds exhausting. Sounds almost untenable.
Marty: Excuse me, something to my throat. Yeah. No, it's, it's, it's very high risk. And we've seen this actually, um, with Bitcoin mining, particularly in Bitcoin's history, Venezuela. Specifically where, um, it wasn't rebel groups or anything, but it was the MEO regime identified Bitcoin mining operations and the confiscated the, the asics and began mining themselves on behalf of it, the MEO government.
And so that the risk certainly does exist and, but there are, if you can protect the site. And then you mentioned like the bitcoin. And if [00:35:00] they show up, can they get the wallets? And that's the, I think that's one of the most beautiful parts of Bitcoin is you can set up in a way where, yes, you can, excuse me, you can be mining physically in Varunga at this hydroelectric dam, but since bi Bitcoin's digital, you can have your wallet somewhere else protected, maybe even in Belgium or somebody you trust.
In other parts of Congo that's better protected and you can store it there and send it from there. But yeah, no, all these, these variables add up. It does come with risk, but again, I, I do think it does highlight a glimmer of hope where yes, it may be happening in this extremely volatile area, but hopefully, It proves to be a model that is replicable.
And maybe, again, going back to the dis incentivization to actually pick up a gun and steal somebody, something from somebody. Maybe this [00:36:00] paints a picture for others, like, oh, maybe I don't need to pick up my gun and go take their resources. Maybe I could spin up a mining operation over here with this hydroelectric capacity and do the same thing.
Just join them peacefully in this market. Not saying that's gonna happen. . Um, it does again, create that glimmer of hope.
Adam: Yeah. I mean, again, if, if in other places without electricity, for instance, can create hydro projects and one of them from an extension from those projects would be a a, a crypto mine, they can then create basically passive income once you've already paid it off.
If that can then be distributed, then that is totally uh, um, It's totally a model. It could be a model. Yeah.
Marty: And that's, I mean, even at this VGA facility, right? It's not even fully built out yet. They have capacity from where, like how much more energy could they bring on? [00:37:00] Um,
Adam: I don't know exactly how much more they can bring on.
Um, I think, you know, I'm sure the volatility of the currency is a factor. Um, I think there's, there's other things at play here. , I think that you might be seeing stuff like this in other places in Africa regionally
Marty: sometime soon. Yeah. Um, there's a company grid list out in Kenya where they're spinning up mini hydro dams about that in Kenya too.
Yeah. Yeah. So there's a great thing where like electricity from these hydro dams typically would be like 15, 16 cents a kilowatt hour. Since they have so much excess capacity and Bitcoin miners can come in and suck up that excess capacity. Um, it provides enough revenue to use micro dams that they can lower the cost for the locals, the residential consumers of that electricity.
Um, which is a beautiful thing. And that's another thing. We mentioned [00:38:00] jobs earlier, but you were interacting. with the individuals actually running this mining operation. Uh, and there were younger Congolese gentlemen who mm-hmm. may not have been aware of, of Bitcoin or how it worked Exactly. But they've been learning and they seem pretty passionate about what they're working on.
What, yeah, I think,
Adam: I think, yeah, go
Marty: ahead. I was just gonna say, what, what was, what's your perspective on what their, their lives are like?
Adam: I think the. , if you get an opportunity to, to do something that is so different than what your peers get to do, it's, it's a big positive for one, you know, it's inspiring. It makes it feel like it's possible to have change. You know, again, it's, if only about, I think there's 10, roughly a dozen, uh, full-time Congolese staff at this location.
Again, it's quite small there. , I may be fudging this, but I [00:39:00] believe several hundred temporary workers, you know, uh, building this, this facility. And so it's not, it's not the masses, but these are the kinds of questions in that gray area that from earlier we discussed, is that for those who who get it to benefit and then maybe by extension family or people who hear about it, then these are incredible opportunities to to, to change a.
and to, to really dream big in a way that it's not like selling your, your startup or, you know, getting acquired. It's a chance to, to really break out of, um, break out of some of these poverty cycles in a real way. That, that is incredibly inspiring. .
Marty: And so for you personally, I know you mentioned on when we talked on the phone earlier, , you don't consider yourself a Bitcoin expert.
Um, but I I we didn't dive [00:40:00] into like your notions of Bitcoin, if you had any before making this trip out to vga. Um, compared to your, your perspective on Bitcoin now, like how, how do you think about Bitcoin? Did this trip change your mind at all? Well,
Adam: you know, I'll tell you this. There's a lot. , there are a lot of enthusiasm and there's a lot of real excitement from Bitcoiners.
Um, obviously there's been some blows in the narrative in the last year. Plus I think that there's a tendency sometimes people want to, uh, some of the notion about. Pollution has been a sore point for Bitcoiners who are very defensive sometimes about it. [00:41:00] And I'll say this, a project like this, these kinds of projects, uh, could really help that narrative.
Mm-hmm. , you know, that, that it, that in a way that it's not a stretch, it's not, you know, if it's really running on clean power, uh, a hydro electric. Power plant that uses a dam. It's called a river run. So it doesn't actually, uh, change the flow of the water too much and it's very minimally invasive. Um, again, passive ba basically becomes passive income once it's paid off.
Those are whether or not you believe in Bitcoin. Those are positives and those are, um, even not even positive. That's not a negative. You know what I. It that's something that it's, that's not harming. Um, if we wanna go the climate route, it's not adding to that. Um, so that's, that's something that I [00:42:00] wanted to highlight, um, as opposed to my feelings.
I mean, and this is not the first time I've, I've written about blockchain stuff. I've written about some of the operations that Tesla's doing in Nevada with, um, one of their big facilities. sometimes the story that of Bitcoin for, for good. Sometimes it's a marketing tool, you know, sometimes I think there is real potential for, for good, for, for, for positive stuff.
I think this is ver good is one of those examples, but it can be very easy to, to make it seem like hot air. And I think that's why there's also skepticism of something like this project in Africa because there. been a lot of, unfortunately it's attracted a lot of kinda showboats and Grifters and a lot of folks who maybe go so lean so far in that they turn off the [00:43:00] masses.
Marty: Yeah, there's certainly been a lot of scammers out there who have, um, uh, really drawn bad attention to the space. I mean, particularly in the last year, things like FTX Celsius block. , Tara Luna, all that crap. But when you get down to the fundamentals, like you mentioned at Varunga, really highlighting that it can bring, uh, reliable, abundant energy to pl can help bring reliable, abundant energy to places.
And then, yeah, on the narrative front too, like actually am part owner of a mining company. If we go a bit the opposite direction, we use natural gas to mine Bitcoin, but, um, we find stranded natural gas wells with no pipeline connectivity. They're just leaking methane into the atmosphere. So Bitcoin mining in this context acts as, um, an economic incentive to go clean up these stranded wells that are just sitting there rotting away, and over time leaking methane into the atmosphere.
So you show up, throw a generator on, on the well. [00:44:00] Create electricity to mine Bitcoin, use the gas in a very efficient way, prevent that methane leak and, and yeah, prevent that, um, methane from getting to the atmosphere, which is a way, so it's not incentivizing, uh, quote unquote renewable or clean energy, but it's cleaning up this energy that already exists and is just sitting out there so you can help with the development of hydroelectric projects and then help clean up.
Some of the NA gas projects that are already in existence today. Mm-hmm. .
Adam: Yeah, I mean, I think that, you know, it's the end of the day. This is, um, this is somewhat of a speculation and we're gambling. This is what it is. I mean, it. If people wanna make money on this, that's, that's their business and they're perfectly allowed to.
And that's what the pro, this is what this is about. [00:45:00] Um, I, some of the questions of whether or not decentralization makes sense, I don't wanna turn off you or your viewers, but like, you know, um, I'm not. , I, some of these questions are continuing to be asked regulation. Um, the need for not having, um, things be totally identifiable.
Um, as you allude to ftx, there's, there are real questions here. If there is more transparency, maybe that helps. Um, maybe it's also not the, it doesn't replace the dollar or maybe it's another currency within. within the financial space that, you know, that it has more of a legitimacy at the table, um, questions that remain to be seen and are quite interesting.
Marty: Yeah, no, I, I think, um, I mean, I'm What do you consider, I mean, what many would consider, I don't know. I don't like to label myself for [00:46:00] probably like an anarcho capitalist that, um, I think regulation is bad. I think governments only make things worse. . Um, and I think Bitcoin's really proving that in its distributed nature.
Um, can help me go back to the transparency point. Like think of individuals, Congolese individuals who may want to get out of the country and take their little amount of wealth with them without being able to be identified. Like Bitcoin is a perfect tool to enable that, whereas the native currency or the dollar even would make that significantly harder, especially if you're moving physical.
Uh, units of those currencies. Um, yeah, I think that's what, and that's the thing with like centralized control, uh, and transparency. Like you can't, um, you can't, you can't have this token that's worth accumulating if you don't have the distributed network that that provides inherent [00:47:00] utility that doesn't exist.
Elsewhere, uh, particularly in the form of being able to send transactions in a pseudonym, peer-to-peer fashion without the prospects of, uh, despotic government or a corporation that may not like what you're doing, telling you no, you can't make that transaction.
Adam: I dunno what to say. , I'm, I'm, I'm thinking about the crypto an, what did you say? Crypto anarchist. I'm just, I'm still, uh, fumbling on
Marty: that one. Anar. Anar, sorry. An Arco capitalist. Yeah, I,
Adam: I, I tried, I tried to warn you before we went on that. Uh, I'm just a regular guy. Oh, nice. I still have some, some, I still have some paper money in my pocket over here.
Marty: do as well. I do as well. And I think, um, I'm, I'm under the purview that Epic Bitcoin's an imperative moving forward, obviously. I've erected this media company. Um, I've dedicated my life to it, so that's, , [00:48:00] let's just explain my perspective to you. But I think, uh, absolutely no, I think again, even though like extremely happy that, um, you took the effort to get over to VAA and write this story, because again, like Bitcoin, like the bitcoin mining is just, um, an interesting variable and overarching incredible hu human interest piece and highlighting some very.
very important problems that we need to face as a society, particularly around energy generation. These resources that we're taking out of, uh, Congo, um, leveraging, um, child labor or bordering on, um, slave labor to a certain extent, um, in highlighting ways in which this area is China better itself through electricity generation is extremely important.
Adam: Yeah, we're, we're at [00:49:00] a very strange time and a very dangerous time in so many ways. And you know, unfortunately everything is so interconnected and we're all, so we're all kind of at the mercy of everyone else in a sense. , everything from our day-to-day lives to the supply chains and the way the economies work and the climate and everything else.
I, I want to be hopeful, but it's, it's sometimes if it's challenging to challenging given the, the state of things that we're in. And, you know, that's the flip side of being a, a reporter. Being a journalist is seeing so much of that up close. .
Marty: Yeah. I can't imagine what it's like seeing, seeing what you've seen on the ground.
Um, but again, you don't wanna belabor the point, but you going back to Bitcoin like we have, fix the money, fix [00:50:00] the world, and big neon lights right outside our studio here. And that's what I think a lot of people like to focus on, uh, the political taste of the day and blame politicians. Red, white, excuse me, red, blue, whatever it may be.
Um, where I think the core and the root of the problem globally is that we have fucked up the money everywhere. And money is the most important tool to coordinate economic act activity to allow people to pull themselves out of poverty and make better lives for themselves. And, um, I think what's going on in Baru is an example for that, being able to monetize this open monetary network.
You able to utilize it to, to monetize your wasted energy?
Adam: Um, absolutely. If it's excess energy, it's a, it's a great way to, to, to use that. And, um, you know, I'm believe that I'll probably be going back there at some point. I hope it gets a little safer. I'm not gonna go until it [00:51:00] does. Um, and I think that this operation there will be growing and you'll see similar.
Marty: models in the region. Oh yeah. It's incredible to hear. Um, before we wrap up here, is there anything, uh, any final thoughts you'd like to leave the audience, um, places to, to look into maybe, uh, is there any way they can help out with what's going on in Bara?
Adam: Yeah, that's a good question. Um, I believe the park does accept, uh, crypto donations.
I believe they accept Bitcoin donations. . I think if, if you're interested and you, and you're, and you're interested in, in, in this topic and what these people are doing, you know, I encourage people to see the, the Netflix film vga. I encourage them to, um, you know, visit the website and, and take a look at some of my reporting on this.
Um, but just to. , it's, it's very [00:52:00] easy right now in today's world to just look at a tweet or a headline or whatever, and, and you kinda keep it moving. Cause we have so much stimuli we're, we're all bombarded with. Um, but maybe take a second and, and, and read a little bit more on it. Because this place, like so many other, uh, fascinating regions is so far beyond that just headline or that tweet or what have you.
And, um, another, it's almost a forgotten place and. full of people who matter just as much as those suffering in Ukraine or wherever else, or your, you know, your own stuff from the, um, Ralph and Donut don't see or don't care about what doesn't impact us. But again, in this interconnected world, you have a cell phone.
If you have technology, good chance that it, it's coming from a place like this. Mm-hmm. . And, um, it is, uh, it's an eye opener when you see we're all really connected in a lot of the ways that we don't even.
Marty: Yes. Completely agree. Um, the Cobalt, [00:53:00] I haven't read the book yet, but watched the interview and it's, it's pretty, um, jaw-dropping.
Yeah. helmet. People don't think of the front end of the supply chains. They just see their iPhone. They, yeah. Life's better. Yeah.
Adam: Cobalt. Cobalt Read is a fascinating book. King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Oak Shield. Fascinating book. Um, and then dancing in the shadow of monsters. By Jason Sterns, who I interviewed for my piece, and I also interviewed Adam O Shield.
All fascinating geopolitical, uh, non-fiction that set up some of this, some of this, uh, scenario that I've been writing about and just are ultimately fascinating. Yes,
Marty: go check it out. Freaks Adam. We put this together last minute. I appreciate you, um, being nimble here. Thank you. And hopping on in short notice.
Again, I think it's a very important story to highlight and, um, I'm very humbled that you agreed to come on and, and talk about your experience.
Adam: Thanks for having
Marty: me. [00:54:00] That's all we got today. Freaks. Peace of love, the key.


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