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How Bitcoin mining saved Africa’s oldest national park from bankruptcy

The Virunga National Park’s Bitcoin mine in the Democratic Republic of the Congo monetizes surplus energy for conservation efforts.



The Virunga National Park's Bitcoin mine in the Democratic Republic of the Congo monetizes surplus energy for conservation efforts.

Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has become the first national park in the world to run a Bitcoin (BTC) mine in an effort to protect its forests and wildlife. Cointelegraph spoke with Sébastien Gouspillou, CEO of Big Block Green Services, and the man who introduced Bitcoin mining to the park. 

Speaking via video call, Gouspillou said with a smile: “Bitcoin mining saved the park from bankruptcy.”

Virunga is Africa's oldest protected park and a symbol of the continent's biodiversity. A report by journalist Adam Popescu, published in MIT Technology Review, explained that the region was plagued by issues prior to Bitcoin mining. From local militias that waged violent attacks on its animals and employees to outbreaks of Ebola to kidnappings, the emblematic national park has struggled for revenue in recent years. 

The COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent eradication of tourism was almost the nail in the coffin for the park, as visits to see the gorillas, other wildlife and waterfalls dried up. The article explained that tourism represented roughly 40% of the park’s revenue.

From left to right, JF Augusti Co-founder of Big Block Green Services, Seb Gouspillou and Emmanuel de Merode. Source: Gouspillou

When Gouspillou learned of the park’s strife, he felt compelled to help. He met with Emmanuel De Merode, the park’s director — and a Belgian prince by bloodline — at a chateau in France at the tail end of 2019. Gouspillou explained that he immediately recognized the tremendous opportunity the park presented. 

The park could monetize its abundant and untapped natural resources to preserve its existence. Gouspillou explained to De Merode how Virunga could turn to Bitcoin mining to generate income.

The conversation in the chateau was non-stop. “It must’ve lasted hours,” Gouspillou explained. The discussion, as well as follow-ups and a visit to Congo, eventually culminated in De Merode setting up the first portions of the mining operation in early 2020, which successfully mined the first coins in September of that year.

Bitcoin mines in Virunga set against the park backdrop. Source: Twitter

Almost three years later, the park earned significant income from Bitcoin. During some months of the 2021 bull run, the park was rewarded upwards of $150,000 a month — almost entirely offsetting lost tourist income. 

Virunga's Bitcoin mine is a unique solution to the problem of preserving the park's biodiversity while also generating revenue. Bitcoin mining is a highly energy-intensive process, but Virunga's mine is unique in that it runs on clean energy: It’s green technology surrounded by green rainforest.

The mine is powered by three hydro plants within the park, a sustainable source of electricity that was already being used to power nearby towns. The site has hired nine full-time workers, who work in rotating shifts operating the miners in the jungle, to staff the facility. Fearless rangers protect the site — a story that inspired a Netflix documentary, among other things.

Gouspillou and the rangers pose in front of the Bitcoin mine. Source: Gouspillou

The facility has 10 shipping containers, with each container holding 250 to 500 rigs. Virunga owns three of these containers, Gouspillou the remaining seven. Gouspillou purchases energy from Virunga as part of the arrangement, while keeping the mined Bitcoin.

Plus, as Gouspillou explains, the existing Bitcoin mining facility is part of a “global plan,” in which there will be further power-generating opportunities. Other power stations will be set up across the park, he explained, to connect local villages to electricity and, of course, mine more Bitcoin.

De Merode is steadfast that the project will be successful despite the ongoing bear market. Indeed, some Bitcoin miners fell victim to the 2022 bear market, but De Merode occupies a unique position: The park is not speculating on the value of Bitcoin, but generating Bitcoin using surplus energy to monetize something that otherwise has no value.

Virunga National Park is known for its gorillas. Source:

Plus, there is little risk of the Bitcoin (or private keys) disappearing if De Merode is killed in action. Over 200 of the park’s security, or rangers have been killed since 1996 — and De Merode was shot twice while traveling to Goma in 2014, so it’s a tragic but possible outcome that must be prepared for.

The park’s finance team manages custody of the Bitcoin wallet, and funds generated by the mine are sold regularly to pay for the park’s upkeep. In the MIT Technology Review article, De Merode is quoted as saying:

“It’s unlikely we sit on Bitcoin for more than a few weeks anyway, because we need the money to run the park. So if something happened to me or our CFO lost the password, we’d give him a hard time—but it wouldn’t cost us much.”

Similar to El Salvador’s treatment in the mainstream media, the “bet” that De Merode made has invited skepticism from experts who wonder what crypto has to do with conservation. Gouspillou explained that it took some time for De Merode to refer to the project as a Bitcoin mining project, preferring to use the term “blockchain mining,” as it’s more PR-friendly.

The hydroplant and Bitcoin mine are located among the dense rainforest. Source: Gouspillou

For Gouspillou, he hasn’t been able to find a downside to the story of how a Bitcoin mine has saved a national park:

“It’s really hard to find a negative side to this story. There’s nothing. The energy is clean, even the ASICS — we will recycle them when they come to the end of their lifespan by distributing them across African communities.”

ASICS, or application-specific integrated circuits, are Bitcoin mining machines. Every 10 minutes, ASICS take part in a digital lottery to guess the next Bitcoin block on the Bitcoin time chain. As Gouspillou explains, these machines will be broken down and recycled, avoiding e-waste. The miners use excess, clean energy, and De Merode uses that funding to protect wildlife.

Gouspillou (center) and park rangers pose in front of the Bitcoin mines. Source: Gouspillou

Buoyed by the success in the Congo, Gouspillou has his eyes on other Bitcoin mining projects in Sub-Saharan Africa. He was part of the delegation that visited the Central African Republic — the second country to adopt Bitcoin as legal tender. 

Bitcoin mining projects in Africa using untapped and renewable energy appear to be a growing trend. From the mountains of Kenya to the tropical climes of Malawi, Bitcoin mining is cropping up in incongruous areas of the globe.

Magdalena Gronowska, regular Cointelegraph contributor and and Bitcoin mining specialist, explained why:

“Miners are buyers of first resort (always want to run) and last resort for overproducing energy locations to become economically viable. As consumer demand grows in a community, Bitcoin mining can be decreased or removed entirely, but it enabled critical infrastructure to be built out.”

In essence, if a region offers stranded or abundant, overproduced energy, a Bitcoin mine could be financially appealing.

Nonetheless, the park still needs funds and investment. The Congolese government provides just 1% of its operating budget while tourism will remain low while conflicts threaten safety. As Gouspillou explains, Bitcoin mining is one solution to the park’s problems, as it provides a source of revenue that can be used to protect the park and its wildlife for years to come.

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Lower mortgage rates fueling existing home sales

To understand why we had such a beat in sales, you only need to go back to Nov. 9, when mortgage rates started to fall from 7.37% to 5.99%.



Existing home sales had a huge beat of estimates on Tuesday. This wasn’t shocking for people who follow how I track housing data. To understand why we had such a beat in sales, you only need to go back to Nov. 9, when mortgage rates started to fall from 7.37% to 5.99%.

During November, December and January, purchase application data trended positive, meaning we had many weeks of better-looking data. The weekly growth in purchase application data during those months stabilized housing sales to a historically low level.

For many years I have talked about how rare it is that existing home sales trend below 4 million. That is why the historic collapse in demand in 2022 was one for the record books. We understood why sales collapsed during COVID-19. However, that was primarily due to behavior changes, which meant sales were poised to return higher once behavior returned to normal.

In 2022, it was all about affordability as mortgage rates had a historical rise. Many people just didn’t want to sell their homes and move with a much higher total cost for housing, while first-time homebuyers had to deal with affordability issues.

Even though mortgage rates were falling in November and December, positive purchase application data takes 30-90 days to hit the sales data. So, as sales collapsed from 6.5 million to 4 million in the monthly sales data, it set a low bar for sales to grow. This is something I talked about yesterday on CNBC, to take this home sale in context to what happened before it. 

Because housing data and all economics are so violent lately, we created the weekly Housing Market Tracker, which is designed to look forward, not backward.

From NAR: Total existing-home sales – completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops – vaulted 14.5% from January to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.58 million in February. Year-over-year, sales fell 22.6% (down from 5.92 million in February 2022).

As we can see in the chart above, the bounce is very noticeable, but this is different than the COVID-19 lows and massive rebound in sales. Mortgage rates spiked from 5.99% to 7.10% this year, and that produced one month of negative forward-looking purchase application data, which takes about 30-90 days to hit the sales data.

So this report is too old and slow, but if you follow the tracker, you’re not slow. This is the wild housing action I have talked about for some time and why the Housing Market Tracker becomes helpful in understanding this data.

The last two weeks have had positive purchase application data as mortgage rates fell from 7.10% down to 6.55%; tomorrow, we will see if we can make a third positive week. One thing to remember about purchase application data since Nov. 9, 2022 is that it’s had a lot more positive data than harmful data. 

However, the one-month decline in purchase application data did bring us back to levels last seen in 1995 recently. So, the bar is so low we can trip over.

One of the reasons I took off the savagely unhealthy housing market label was that the days on the market are now above 30 days. I am not endorsing, nor will I ever, a housing market that has days on the market at teenager levels. A teenager level means one of two bad things are happening:

1. We have a massive credit boom in housing which will blow up in time because demand is booming, similar to the run-up in the housing bubble years.

2. We simply don’t have enough products for homebuyers, creating forced bidding in a low-inventory environment. 

Guess which one we had post 2020? Look at the purchase application data above — we never had a credit boom. Look at the Inventory data below. Even with the collapse in home sales and the first real rebound, total active listings are still below 1 million.

From NAR: Total housing inventory registered at the end of February was 980,000 units, identical to January & up 15.3% from one year ago (850,000). Unsold inventory sits at a 2.6-month supply at the current sales pace, down 10.3% from January but up from 1.7 months in February ’22. #NAREHS

However, with that said, the one data line that I love, love, love, the days on the market, is over 30 days again, and no longer a teenager like last year, when the housing market was savagely unhealthy.

From NAR: First-time buyers were responsible for 27% of sales in January; Individual investors purchased 18% of homes; All-cash sales accounted for 28% of transactions; Distressed sales represented 2% of sales; Properties typically remained on the market for 34 days.

Today’s existing home sales report was good: we saw a bounce in sales, as to be expected, and the days on the market are still over 30 days. When the Federal Reserve talks about a housing reset, they’re saying they did not like the bidding wars they saw last year, so the fact that price growth looks nothing like it was a year ago is a good thing.

Also, the days on market are on a level they might feel more comfortable in. And, in this report, we saw no signs of forced selling. I’ve always believed we would never see the forced selling we saw from 2005-2008, which was the worst part of the housing bubble crash years. The Federal Reserve also believes this to be the case because of the better credit standards we have in place since 2010. 

Case in point, the MBA‘s recent forbearance data shows that instead of forbearance skyrocketing higher, it’s collapsed. Remember, if you see a forbearance crash bro, hug them, they need it.

Today’s existing home sales report is backward looking as purchase application data did take a hit this year when mortgage rates spiked up to 7.10%. We all can agree now that even with a massive collapse in sales, the inventory data didn’t explode higher like many have predicted for over a decade now.

I have stressed that to understand the housing market, you need to understand how credit channels work post-2010. The 2005 bankruptcy reform laws and 2010 QM laws changed the landscape for housing economics in a way that even today I don’t believe people understand.

However, the housing market took its biggest shot ever in terms of affordability in 2022 and so far in 2023, and the American homeowner didn’t panic once. Even though this data is old, it shows the solid footing homeowners in America have, and how badly wrong the extremely bearish people in this country were about the state of the financial condition of the American homeowner.

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SVB contagion: Australia purportedly asks banks to report on crypto

Australia’s prudential regulator has purportedly told banks to improve reporting on crypto assets and provide daily updates.



Australia’s prudential regulator has purportedly told banks to improve reporting on crypto assets and provide daily updates.

Australia’s prudential regulator has purportedly asked local banks to report on cryptocurrency transactions amid the ongoing contagion of Silicon Valley Bank’s (SVB) collapse.

The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) has started requesting banks to declare their exposures to startups and crypto-related companies, the Australian Financial Review reported on March 21.

The regulator has ordered banks to improve their reporting on crypto assets and provide daily updates to the APRA, the Financial Review notes, citing three people familiar with the matter. The agency is aiming to obtain more information and insight into banking exposures into crypto as well as associated risks, the sources said.

The new measures are apparently part of the APRA’s increased supervision of the banking sector in the aftermath of recent massive collapses in the global banking system. On March 19, UBS Group agreed to buy its ailing competitor Credit Suisse for $3.2 billion after the latter collapsed over the weekend. The takeover became one of the latest failures in the banking industry following the collapses of SVB and Silvergate.

Barrenjoey analyst Jonathan Mott reportedly told clients in a note that the situation “remains stable” for Australian banks but warned confidence could be quickly disrupted, putting pressure on bank margins.

Related: Silvergate, SBV collapse ‘definitely good’ for Bitcoin, Trezor exec says

“Our channel checks indicate deposits are not being withdrawn from smaller institutions in any size, and capital and liquidity buffers are strong,” Mott said, adding:

“But this is a crisis of confidence and credit spreads and cost of capital will continue to rise. At a minimum, this will add to the margin pressure the banks are facing, while credit quality will continue to deteriorate.”

The news comes soon after the Australian Banking Association launched a cost of living inquiry to study the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and geopolitical tensions on Australians. The inquiry followed an analysis of the rising inflation suggesting that more than 186 banks in the United States are at risk of a similar shutdown if depositors decide to withdraw all funds.

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Delta Move Is Bad News For Southwest, United Airlines Passengers

Passengers won’t be happy about this, but there’s nothing they can do about it.



Passengers won't be happy about this, but there's nothing they can do about it.

Airfare prices move up and down based on two major things -- passenger demand and the cost of actually flying the plane. In recent months, with covid rules and mask mandates a thing of the past, demand has been very heavy.

Domestic air travel traffic for 2022 rose 10.9% compared to the prior year. The nation's air traffic in 2022 was at 79.6% of the full-year 2019 level. December 2022 domestic traffic was up 2.6% over the year-earlier period and was at 79.9% of December 2019 traffic, according to The International Air Transport Association (IATA).

“The industry left 2022 in far stronger shape than it entered, as most governments lifted COVID-19 travel restrictions during the year and people took advantage of the restoration of their freedom to travel. This momentum is expected to continue in the New Year,” said IATA Director General Willie Walsh.

And, while that's not a full recovery to 2019 levels, overall capacity has also not recovered. Total airline seats available actually sits "around 18% below the 2019 level," according to a report from industry analyst OAG.

So, basically, the drop in passengers equals the drop in capacity meaning that planes are flying full. That's one half of the equation that keeps airfare prices high and the second one looks bad for anyone planning to fly in the coming years.

Image source: Getty Images.

Airlines Face One Key Rising Cost

While airlines face some variable costs like fuel, they also must account for fixed costs when setting airfares. Personnel are a major piece of that and the pandemic has accelerated a pilot shortage. That has given the unions that represent pilots the upper hand when it comes to making deals with the airlines.

The first domino in that process fell when Delta Airlines (DAL) - Get Free Report pilots agreed to a contract in early March that gave them an immediate 18% increase with a total of a 34% raise over the four-year term of the deal.

"The Delta contract is now the industry standard, and we expect United to also offer their pilots a similar contract," investment analyst Helane Becker of Cowen wrote in a March 10 commentary, Travel Weekly reported.

US airfare prices have been climbing. They were 8.3% above pre-pandemic levels in February, according to Consumer Price Index, but they're actually below historical highs.

Southwest and United Airlines Pilots Are Next

Airlines have very little negotiating power when it comes to pilots. You can't fly a plane without pilots and the overall shortage of qualified people to fill those roles means that, within reason, United (UAL) - Get Free Report and Southwest Airlines  (LUV) - Get Free Report, both of which are negotiating new deals with their pilot unions, more or less have to equal (or improve on) the Delta deal.

The actual specifics don't matter much to consumers, but the takeaway is that the cost of hiring pilots is about to go up in a very meaningful way at both United and Southwest. That will create a situation where all major U.S. airlines have a higher cost basis going forward.

Lower fuel prices could offset that somewhat, but raises are not going to be unique to pilots. Southwest also has to make a deal with its flight attendants and, although they don't have the same leverage as the pilots, they have taken a hard line.   

The union, which represents Southwest’s 18,000 flight attendants, has been working without a contract for four years. It shared a statement on its Facebook page detailing its position Feb. 20.

"TWU Local 556 believes strongly in making this airline successful and is working to ensure this company we love isn’t run into the ground by leadership more concerned about shareholders than about workers and customers. Management’s methodology of choosing profits at the expense of the operation and its workforce has to change, because the flying public is also tired of the empty apologies that flight attendants have endured for years."

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