Obama’s rhetoric says we should see climate action as the ethical choice

US President Barack Obama’s rhetoric on climate change and the need to act is increasingly smouthered in ethics with a nod to the moral pressure of securing a liveable world for future generations.

I’ve written a piece on this and Obama’s simpler framing of the need to act over on my Planet Oz blog at The Guardian. Basically, it’s just right versus wrong. If you haven’t seen Obama’s recent climate change speech in full, it’s well worth a watch.

Don’t get too carried away with the rhetoric though, which is no substitute for solid policy responses. But here are a couple of excerpts.

Our founders believed that those of us in positions of power are elected not just to serve as custodians of the present, but as caretakers of the future, and they challenged us to make decisions with an eye on a longer horizon than the arc of our own political careers.

Some day our children and our children’s children will look us in the eye and they will ask us, did we do all that we could when we had the chance to deal with with this problem and leave them a cleaner, safer and more stable world? I want to be able to say yes, we did. Don’t you want that?

One thing that jumped out at me after hearing that bit, was the similarity to a poem by US-based writer Drew Dellinger (we shared a beer once.. actually, we had one each.. but anyway) called Hieroglyphic Stairway. Here’s a bit of it

My great, great, great grandchildren ask me in dreams

What did you do when the planet was plundered?

What did you do when the Earth was unravelling?

Surely you did something when the seasons started failing

As the mammals, reptiles birds were all dying

Did you fill the streets with protest when democracy was stolen?

What did you do, once you knew?

Incidentally, Dellinger’s work was once quoted by another US Democrat, then Congresswoman for Wisconsin Tammy Baldwin.

Back in 2009 during a congressional hearing, Baldwin offered part of that Dellinger quote above to Al Gore to try and explain some of the moral questions of acting on climate change. Baldwin made history last year as the first openly gay candidate to be elected into the US Senate.

Dellinger Poem in Congress from Drew Dellinger on Vimeo.

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Heartland Institute climate sceptic author has “no status” with Australian university

Bob Carter, formerly an adjunct professor at James Cook University, appearing on Andrew Bolt’s Channel Ten television show

The Heartland Institute, a climate science denying fossil fuel-funded free market think-tank in the US, recently put the noses of the Chinese Academy of Sciences firmly out of joint with a spectacular piece of overreach.

Get the full and sorry tale over at my DeSmogBlog post, but the short story is that a library service of the academy took two of Heartland’s climate publications produced by its Non-Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) project and translated them into one tome.

Ahead of time, the translators pointed out to Heartland that this didn’t mean that they in any way endorsed what the reports said, but was simply a translation exercise.

This message didn’t register prominently enough with Heartland, who made a right old song and dance about the affair quoting its President Joseph Bast as saying this was a “a historic moment in the global debate about global warming”.

The academy and its library division, which carried out the translation, both issued strongly-worded statements.

Heartland’s implication that CAS was endorsing their report was groundless, misleading and “went way beyond acceptable academic integrity”.  An apology followed and much deleting of Heartland web pages ensued.

One of the NIPCC co-authors is Australian scientist Bob Carter. When Heartland announced the “news” about the Chinese translation, it described Bob Carter thus:

Robert M. Carter, Ph.D., a marine geologist and research professor at James Cook University in Queensland, Australia and author of Climate: the Counter Consensus

Now this description of Bob Carter’s affiliation with James Cook University in Townsville, Australia, might have been in the ball-park of being accurate back when he co-authored the reports in question, but it certainly isn’t now.  Bob Carter had been an adjunct professor at James Cook for at least two years. Adjunct means he isn’t paid.

Professor Paul Dirks, head of school at JCU’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences where Bob Carter’s affiliation was held, has told me that since 1 January 2013, Bob Carter has had “no official status” at JCU. He said Bob Carter’s previous adjunct status ceased on that date.

When  internal Heartland documents were released in 2012, they showed that Heartland was intending to pay Bob Carter about $1667 per month for his work on the NIPCC project. He told me at the time:

Heartland is one of a number of think-tanks and institutions that I work with. Sometimes I’m paid an honorarium, sometimes expenses and sometimes I do it pro-bono.

As well as working with Heartland, Bob Carter has a long string of affiliations with think tanks and organisations which promote climate science denial or advocate a “do nothing” position on climate change. Some also promote sceptism and scare campaigns against renewable energy. Some have been set up or have accepted cash from fossil fuel corporations.

For example, Bob Carter is the Science Policy Advisor at the Institute of Public Affairs in Melbourne, the chief science advisor to the International Climate Science Coalition, a director at the Australian Environment Foundation, a member of the academic advisory council of the UK’s Global Warming Policy Foundation, an adviser to the Australia-based Galileo Movement, science adviser to the Science and Public Policy Institute, a patron of the UK’s anti-climate legislation group Repeal The Act, an advisor to the European Institute for Climate and Energy (EIKE), an advisor to the Australian Climate Science Coalition and an inaugural founder of the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition.

Perhaps there’s more, but these 10 groups – all with pretty similar positions on climate change –  will do for now.

Several of these groups still describe Bob Carter as having an affiliation with James Cook University, which, as I’ve just clarified, ended six months ago. I’m sure they will all be diligently edited to reflect Bob Carter’s actual non-status with James Cook University.

I mean, we wouldn’t want anyone being misled now would we?

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New blog Planet Oz gets a slot on The Guardian

YOU might have seen or even read already that I’ve got a new blogging gig with The Guardian.

As you can see it features a lovely little banner and a picture of me which, I’m being told repeatedly, looks like it was taken by a police officer shortly before  charges were laid.

Anyway, the blog is called Planet Oz and it has a little homepage and RSS feed all of its own in the maelstrom of information that is The Guardian’s web-beast. There are already a couple of posts for you to chew over.

One – “How climate scientists are being framed” – looked at how some climate science mangling columnists and conservative opinistamakerpeople are trying in their writings to get us to associate climate scientists with things like sick children and totalitarian regimes. I sneaked onto the site’s front page with that one.

Another post – “Great Barrier Reef is at risk even if it doesn’t make Unesco’s danger list” – reviewed some of the recent research on the future of the reef. I argued that even if the United Nations does put it on its World Heritage “danger list” as it is threatening to do, the evidence suggests the reef is still facing a pretty dire future.

I’ll be hoping to cover a whole bunch of issues on the blog related to climate change, climate science denial, the environment, energy, sustainability and other such stuff. I’m still freelance so I’ll keep contributing to DeSmogBlog and hopefully I can keep writing for places like Green Lifestyle magazine and ABC Environment.

Planet Oz is part of a network of environment blogs which The Guardian has created in the mould of its science blog network project. In the same way that the science bloggers can write about “what they want, when they want” – within the boundaries of The Guardian’s own Editorial Guidelines – the environment bloggers should be given the same freedom once we’ve got our heads around the content management system and how not to fill our posts with garbled html code and pictures that don’t fit the screen.

Despite some confusion, Planet Oz and the blog network is separate from the approaching launch of Guardian Australia (hopefully though the very nice people at Guardian Australia will feature the posts).

The venture was actually announced back in December 2012 and I’m told about 800 people applied to be environment bloggers. Before the launch, some of the prospective bloggers had a little try out. I wrote about Australia’s love of exporting fossil fuels.

There are some cracking blogs already launched as part of the network and I’m kinda chuffed to be in their company. There’s Nafeez Ahmed’s Earth Insight, Jenni Duggan’s China’s Choice, John Abrahan and Dana Nuccitelli’s Climate Consensus – the 97%, Kavitha Rao’s Terra India, Canadian journalist Martin Lukacs’ True North, Emma Bryce’s World On A Plate and Africa Wild by Paula Kahumba. I think there are one or two more still to launch (I’ll add them here when I get them). UPDATE: Also now launched, fellow Aussie Alexander White’s Southern Crossroads, Peru-based David Hill’s Andes To The Amazon and  New York-based Sputh African film maker Adam Welz’s Nature Up.

Please go off and check them all out and share the posts if you like them. Even if you don’t like them, share them anyway and keep the comment threads healthy.

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The Australian Brings You The Climate Science Denial News From Five Years Ago

“EXPERTS warn of a coming ice age” declared the headline in a story which appeared in last week’s The Australian newspaper.

In reality, the headline should have read something like this “One solar physicist in Russia who is a member of a climate science denial organisation says we’re heading for global cooling but all the other people we spoke to say he’s dead wrong”.

Not as catchy though, eh?

The story “Emissions debate heats up while experts warn of a coming ice age” was written by the newspaper’s environment editor Graham Lloyd and there are some very curious aspects to it.

Lloyd’s only “expert” warning of global cooling is Dr Habibullo Abdussamatov, a Russian solar physicist who has been claiming for at least four years that we’re heading for an ice age and we should all rug up. Abdussamatov says that climate change is all down to solar cycles and that the sun is in a quiet phase that will plunge us all into a deep freeze. Skeptical Science explains why this climate myth – one of the most popular – is wrong.

Lloyd tells readers that he is quoting Abdussamatov via an interview given to Principia Scientific International (Lloyd doesn’t say who they are, but I’ll have more about them in a moment). Here are Lloyd’s quotes

“Mars has global warming – but without a greenhouse and without the participation of Martians,” Abdussamatov said. “These parallel global warmings – observed simultaneously on Mars and on the Earth – can only be a consequence of the effect of the same factor: a long-time change in solar irradiance.”

Here’s the real news. The quotes which Lloyd uses from Abdussamatov are actually more than five years old and come originally from this interview given to the National Post in Canada in January 2007.

Lloyd quotes Abdussamatov as “the head of space research at the Russian Academy of Sciences Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory in St Petersburg, and director of the Russian segment of the International Space Station”.

This wasn’t accurate either. Principia Scientific International has already issued a correction saying that in fact “Dr Abdussamatov is actually head of space research of the Sun Sector at the Polkovo Observatory and head of the Selenometria project on the Russian segment of the International Space Station.”

Not quite so impressive as being the head of space research or the head of the Russian bit of the International Space Station.

Lloyd then goes on to provide some “balance” on his story leaving the reader with the impression that genuine experts actually are discussing the possibility of a coming ice-age, when they’re not. All they’re doing is responding to crank theories.

Lloyd quotes Frank Hill, a scientist at the US National Solar Observatory in Arizona. Lloyd writes that the quotes from Hill are from “last June”. This is also wrong. The quotes Hill gave were from June 2011 (here they are).

Irrespective of this, Lloyd quotes Hill like this

“We are predicting the behaviour of the solar cycle,” he said. “In my opinion, it is a huge leap from that to an abrupt global cooling, since the connections between solar activity and climate are still very poorly understood.

“My understanding is that current calculations suggest only a 0.3 degree C decrease from a Maunder-like minimum, too small for an ice age.”

Lloyd left out the beginning of Hill’s original quote, perhaps because it was so unequivocal. “We are NOT predicting a mini-ice age,” Hill pointed out, just in case anyone was wondering.

Hill’s understanding on the impact of a low point in the solar cycle reflects a paper published in 2010 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, which found that if solar activity did drop to low levels, this would only take 0.3C off any global warming which we will have experienced by the end of the century. Several reports are now saying global average temperatures could be 4C higher or more by the end of the century.

Lloyd also gets a quote from Peter Stott of the UK’s Met Office.

“It is misleading to the public that other theories, such as that most of the warming is caused by solar changes, carry equal weight,” he says.

Except Lloyd probably didn’t get the quote from Peter Stott. Instead, it appears he took it without attribution from this article in April from the UK website Carbon Brief. The article explains just why the claims that we’re heading for a “mini ice-age” are misleading tosh.

Remember the headline at the top of Lloyd’s story? The one about how “experts warn of a coming ice-age”? Even though the first “expert” Lloyd cites does claim this, the other people quoted in Lloyd’s story say exactly the opposite. I should point out that Lloyd would likely not have written the headline.

Now back to our Russian physicist and the source of Lloyd’s story – the article on Principia Scientific International.  Graham Lloyd doesn’t say anything about who this group is, so allow me. PSI promotes some of the most widely debunked theories on climate change that exist on the internet (behind, possibly, magnetism) and it’s chief executive John O’Sullivan does not even accept that CO2 is a greenhouse gas that warms the planet.

Terri Jackson, who is credited with writing the story about Abdussamatov, has also written a pamphlet in which he claims that the greenhouse effect is bogus and that carbon dioxide “cools the earth”.

Principia recently got into a row with climate science denial pin-up boy Lord Christopher Monckton. Monckton does at least accept that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, which was seen as a step too far for Principia.

When you are sourcing information from an organisation too fringe even for Lord Monckton that promotes positions which only the dark corners of the internet could sustain, then you know you are in trouble.

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The Australian publishes James Delingpole’s call for climate “alarmists” to face court with power to issue death sentence

James Delingpole

I IMAGINE only a small percentage of people reading this have had any journalism training, but don’t let that stop you from pondering the following ethical question.

If you read a newspaper story that included a direct quote from someone – let’s say, for instance, UK climate scientist Dr David Viner – would it be acceptable to put quotation marks on the headline of that story and claim it was a quote from Dr Viner? You can have a minute to think about it.

It might help you to know that the headline was not written by the reporter who interviewed Dr Viner and wrote the story, and certainly not by Dr Viner himself. In short, a third person – a sub-editor – wrote the headline.

You don’t need a minute? Of course not: it would be unprofessional, unethical and factually wrong to pass off a sub-editor’s made-up words as Dr Viner’s.

The Australian newspaper has just published a column from UK-based climate science mangler and anti-wind farm activist James Delingpole that tries to argue that Australia’s recent unprecedented heatwave and hottest month on record wasn’t all that hot and that global warming “alarmists” should be answering to a court with the power to issue a death sentence (no, I don’t exaggerate, but we’ll get to that at the end).

In the story, Delingpole says that Dr Viner had “famously declared” in 2000 that “Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past”.

But here’s the thing. Dr Viner never did utter those words. He was indeed quoted in a story in the UK’s The Independent newspaper which carried the headline “Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past”. But the headline was a gross over-statement: the first paragraph makes the  far more modest claim that a trend to warmer winters meant that  “snow is starting to disappear from our lives”.

The reporter, Charles Onians, quoted Dr Viner as saying that within a few years winter snowfall will become “a very rare and exciting event”. Note the absence of quote marks on the time frame being within a few years – they were Onians’s words, just as the headline was the sub-editor’s.

So Dr Viner’s actual prediction was that at some point in the future snow could become “a very rare and exciting event”. As well, the story paraphrases him as adding an important qualifier – that heavy snow will return occasionally and catch people unprepared. But Delingpole leaves this bit out.

Delingpole then uses the non-quote that Dr Viner didn’t say as a launchpad to ridicule him. “Viner has since become a legend in his own lunchtime, frequently quoted on the internet, sometimes having his name joshingly used as a synonym for snow. This isn’t because he got his prediction right, of course. It’s because, like Flannery, he got it so spectacularly, hilariously, hopelessly wrong.”

Hopelessly wrong, Mr Delingpole? What, like hopelessly attributing a quote to someone who never said it?

Delingpole is of course “reporting” from an unseasonably cold and recently snowbound United Kingdom, which the BBC reports has just experienced its second coldest March since records began.

Scientists are now reporting a link between the loss of sea ice in the Arctic – driven by human-caused climate change – and cold snaps in the northern hemisphere like the one experienced by the UK. A recent scientific paper in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences explained the link.

Delingpole also says in the column that Australia’s recent record-breaking summer heatwave wasn’t that hot. “The thermometers were higher when the First Fleet arrived in the Sydney summer of 1790-91,” writes Delingpole, presumably having travelled back in time to check that the First Fleet thermometer was positioned within something resembling a Stevenson screen to ensure sunlight or incorrect air flow didn’t corrupt the reading.

It’s possible that Delingpole based his statement from this guest blog post by Australian MP Craig Kelly on Watts Up With That, where Kelly wrote that on December 27th 1790 one of these First Fleet thermometers near Observatory Hill in Sydney recorded a temperature of 42.8C.

It’s a shame that Delingpole didn’t check this figure. Four days after Kelly wrote that story, Sydney recorded its hottest day ever with 45.8C at Observatory Hill on 18 January – a full three degrees hotter than Kelly’s favoured First Fleet thermometer. Even The Australian reported it.

But in any case, Australia’s recent record breaking heatwave wasn’t a heatwave confined to one temperature reading in one place. As a Bureau of Meteorology special climate statement pointed out, “maximum temperatures over the period 1–18 January have been 6 °C or more above normal over a wide area of interior central and southern Australia and 45 °C has been reached at least once during the event over 46.9 per cent of Australia.”

You might think that The Australian would be wary about using Delingpole, after a recent Australian Press Council upheld a complaint about one of his previous contributions to Australia’s only national newspaper.

In that story in May last year, Delingpole quoted an un-named sheep farmer as saying that the wind farm industry  was ”bloody well near a pedophile ring. They’re f . . king our families and knowingly doing so”.

The APC said this was “highly offensive” and “the level of offensiveness is so high that it outweighs the very strong public interest in freedom of speech”.

But rather than heed the blunt-toothed press council’s finding, Delingpole was given more space by The Australian to respond. He wrote: “I stand by every word of the piece – especially the bit about pedophiles. I would concede that the analogy may be somewhat offensive to the pedophile community.”

How could even Delingpole top this statement for offensiveness?  He has a prime contender at the bottom of his most recent column, where he writes: “The climate alarmist industry has some very tough questions to answer: preferably in the defendant’s dock in a court of law, before a judge wearing a black cap.”

To those not au fait with the traditions of the English courts, black caps were only worn by judges when handing out death sentences.

By continuing to publish such low-grade and offensive polemics, in my view the only things hanging limp from the gallows are The Australian‘s credibility on climate change and its professional standards.

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Australia’s new energy minister Gary Gray – a brief climate history

Resources and Energy Minister Gary Gray on ABC’s Lateline

AUSTRALIA has a new energy and resources minister in the form of Gary Gray, who was elected to the Federal Parliament in 2007 after six years as an adviser and corporate affairs director for gas company Woodside.

This is a piece of Gary Gray’s history which is uncontested, given that it appears on his biography on his ALP home page.

But one aspect of Gray’s history which has been contested, are his views on climate change and an apparent association with a climate science denial organisation.

Just minutes after Prime Minister Julie Gillard announced Gray’s appointment, a handful of people I follow on Twitter were pointing to claims that Gray had been a founder member of the Lavoisier Group.

On Climate Spectator, Tristan Edis also reported that Gray was a founder member of the “Lavoisier Institute [sic]“.

But after looking into the Lavoisier archives and reviewing some documents sent to me by journalist Bob Burton, it’s pretty clear that Gray wasn’t even a member, never mind a founder member

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Climate Scientists Pursued By Sceptics Through Courts Of Law And Public Opinion

THE climate science denial industry doesn’t like Penn State University’s Professor Michael Mann very much.

Mann is the scientist behind the famous “hockey stick” graph that first appeared in the journal Nature in 1998.

Mann and two other scientists Professor Raymond Bradley and Professor Malcolm Hughes had reconstructed temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere from the year 1400 to present day using data mainly from tree rings, ice cores and modern temperature readings.

The following year, the same three scientists extended their study to reconstruct 1000 years of temperatures and published this in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Each time the team plotted their data on graphs and each time the plots showed what is the now famous “hockey stick” shape with a sharp uptick in temperatures towards the end of the century.

What really got the ire of the climate science denial industry and its cheerleaders was that this second study showed that modern day temperatures were likely hotter than they had been in the so-called Mediaeval Warm Period.

This negated a key argument from sceptics – which they continue with today – that it’s been warmer in the recent past before the industrial revolution caused the westernised world to fall in love with fossil fuels.

Incidentally, it was never a very convincing argument anyway. Even if it was warmer in the past, it doesn’t challenge the multiple lines of evidence which point to burning fossil fuels and deforestation as the main cause of the rapid warming, ocean acidification and sea level rises we see now.

But anyway, enough of the climate science history lesson. Back to Michael Mann.

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Greg Hunt’s unusually cool US winter that wasn’t

OPPOSITION spokesperson on climate change Greg Hunt has been quoted across the news wires today as saying that while Australia has experienced its hottest summer on record, it’s been unusually cold elsewhere.

The story is based on an interview with ABC Radio, where Mr Hunt is commenting on a new report – The Angry Summer – from Australia’s Climate Commission. The report points out the role that climate change is playing in heatwaves, bushfires and floods.

The report comes just a week after the Bureau of Meteorology declared that Australia’s summer of 2012/2013 was the hottest on record. January 2013 was also Australia’s hottest month on record.

If you listen to the interview, Mr Hunt makes a point of saying that when considering global warming, we need to look at the long term trends rather than pick single events. Quite right.

To demonstrate this, he said that “we have had record cold temperatures in Russia, parts of the United States and China” over a similar period to Australia’s hottest summer on record.

Even in a warming world, you’ll still get record cold events – it’s just that the hot ones are outnumbering the cold ones. In Australia, for example, for every record cold temperature there’s three record hot ones. In the US, a 2009 study found record high temperatures were outstripping record colds by two to one.

I had a quick look at this unusually cold US winter which Greg Hunt alludes to. The government’s National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration has all the figures. Incidentally, January 2013 is the 335th consecutive month where global average temperatures have been above average.

Final rankings for the US winter are not expected to be out for a week or so yet but, so far, the chilly winter turns out not to have been that chilly after all. In fact, the period November 2012 to January 2013 ranks 109th (with a rank of 1 indicating the coldest and 118 the warmest) in a record going back 118 years.

So there you go. As Mr Hunt says, best to check with the experts.

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Climate change, the New World Order and spam-weary journalists

BEN CUBBY, the environment editor at the Sydney Morning Herald, admits he has an unusual problem – “how does one critically analyse a pile of horse shit?”

The horse excretion in question is a report – CSIROh! – Climate of Deception or First Step to Freedomsent to Cubby by one of Australia’s most tireless – and some might say tiresome – climate science deniers, Malcolm Roberts. But more of Ben Cubby’s response later.

Malcolm Roberts is the volunteer project manager for the Galileo Movement - a climate science denial organisation whose patron is popular Sydney radio shock-jock Alan Jones who himself thinks human-caused climate change is a “hoax” and “witchcraft”.

Roberts’ “report” appears to have been sparked by an email from ABC Brisbane radio presenter Steve Austin back in February 2010.

“For some time now I have been receiving a barrage of your unsolicited emails about climate change and your analysis of IPCC flaws,” wrote Austin, who attached a copy of a CSIRO report on climate change and suggested Roberts respond. Austin promises he’ll send that response to the CSIRO and provide any feedback he gets.

Roberts is a former coalface miner and management consultant and in a declaration of  interests writes: “For extensive work performed in the mining industry I was paid money by mining companies (including three government-owned coal mining companies)….”

He claims to have foregone more than a million dollars in earnings for his unpaid work researching climate change. Part of that involved him travelling to the US to attend the Heartland Institute’s climate skeptics conference in New York in 2008, co-sponsored by Australian free market think-tank the Institute of Public Affairs.

Well, three years pass since the exchange with Steve Austin and finally Roberts sends him the report, which he must have been hanging out for. But here’s a prediction. Whatever the CSIRO or any other reputable research institution says to Malcolm Roberts about human-caused climate change, Roberts will not accept it. Why?

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Carbon bombs scrubbing Australia’s emissions cut

I’VE got a blog post up at The Guardian having a look at Australia’s current and future arsenal of “carbon bombs” – those massive multi-billion dollar projects to extract and mainly export fossil fuels.

But before you go off and lose yourself in The Guardian’s website (it’s got electric bees and Mark Hamill for goodness sake), I thought it worth dwelling on a load of numbers about CO2 (you’ve all gone already haven’t you?).

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