Posted by: ericgrimsrud | November 18, 2017

James Hansen seeks a new way forward

Dr. James Hansen has proven to be the father of the climate change movement in the USA. While his research in this area has been of primary importance for about four decades, his efforts to engage the public and our government has also been the most substantial of all scientists. Unfortunately, those efforts have not yet been sufficient to generate the responses needed in our legislative bodies – even as the time allowed for effective action is quickly running out. Therefore, Dr. Hansen is now changing his focus to a different branch of government – the judicial branch. For an up-to-date account of these efforts, see:

Dr. Hansen’s change in tactics – to get needed actions via our court systems – is driven by his acknowledgement that our legislative and even executive branch is strongly and perhaps entirely controlled by the deep pockets of special interests, which in this case are the fossil fuel producers and users. If the fossil fuel lobbies ever suspect that some member of our legislative branches is starting the grow a conscience with respect to the damage fossil fuel use is doing to our environment, an alarm is promptly sounded alerting those industries of the need to replace that legislator in the next election cycle. Thus, both legislative houses in WDC have been essentially useless in addressing the greatest problem of our time.

Whether he will be proven correct or not, Dr. Hansen’s hope is that our judicial branches will be less vulnerable to the lobbying efforts of the fossil fuel interests and will consider their case primarily on its legal merits. Dr. Hansen and a group of young Americans will be seeking redress against those who are most responsible for the relentless advance of global warming. A result such as this would, of course, strongly affect future actions and non-actions in this area.

The problem of finding advocates for strong action on climate change is even much greater than that caused by the absence of such people in our legislative bodies. Because of the long financial reach of the fossil fuel industries, it is difficult for the likes of Dr. Hansen to find sufficient support even in the leadership of the academic institutions of our country – out of which has come the bulk of our understanding of climate change. On this website, I have provided an excellent example of this phenomenon in several posts dealing with the leadership of my own alma mater, St. Olaf College of Northfield, Minnesota. Their actions, if not words, have been difficult to distinguish from those who deny the reality of climate change. Thus, it appears that even our institutions of higher learning need help from our judicial branch in order to tell right from wrong.

Thus, I encourage you all to keep your eyes on the efforts of Dr. Hanson and his youthful group of plaintiffs as they seek to bring badly needed long-term environmental reason and intergenerational justice to our country.  Hopefully, by this mechanism they will not be defeated by the deep pockets and scientific misrepresentations of the defendants.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | November 13, 2017

Annual carbon emissions reach 10 gigatons!

While we had recently hoped that annual global emissions of carbon had leveled in the last few years, that turns out not to be true. We now estimate that the emissions for 2017 will reach a new all-time high of 10 gigatons of carbon (equivalent to 37 gigatons of carbon dioxide). For more details of this news, see

The all-important figure showing the growth of annual emissions since 1990 is shown below.

Co2 emits

The annual emissions of CO2 by various sectors of the world is shown in the second figure below.  The sectors are China, USA, Europe, India and Rest of the World (ROW)



To put all of this into perspective, climate scientists estimate that the world can afford to emit no more than about 600 billion more tons of carbon dioxide if we are to have a chance of keeping warming below 2 degrees Celsius.  If we continue to emit about 40 billion tons of CO2 each year, we will reach that point in just 15 more years. Since only gradual cutbacks can be realistically accomplished, its is sobering to see that we have not yet even begun such cut-backs.

So what can we citizens of the USA do in order to help address this worldwide challenge? A good idea would be to set a good example for the rest of the world by drastically cutting our own emissions. A very poor idea would be to send our citizens to the four corners of the Earth by carbon intensive aircraft in order to teach other countries how to reduce their carbon footprints.  “In teaching, example is not the most important thing, it is the only thing” – Albert Schweitzer.


Posted by: ericgrimsrud | November 10, 2017

More silliness (not) coming out of science?

“According to former U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres, we have only three years left in which to “bend the emissions curve downward” and forestall a terrifying cascade of climate-related catastrophes, much worse than what we’re already experiencing. Realistically, is there anything that you or I can do as individuals to make a significant difference in the short time remaining?

The answer is yes, and the good news is it won’t cost us a penny. It will actually save us money, and we won’t have to leave home to do it. Staying home, in fact, is the essence of making a big difference in a big hurry. That’s because nothing that we do pumps carbon dioxide into the atmosphere faster than air travel. “

The above is the introductory statement in a recent Jack Miles editorial in the Washington Post entitled “For the love of Earth, stop traveling”.  See it at

I can already hear the laughter. This guy, Jack Miles, must to be nuts, right? His suggestion is completely ridiculous and impossible to implement, right? Doesn’t he know that most of us have places to go and people to see, as well as well earned vacations to take? And in the case of St. Olaf College, for example, they cannot pull the plug on their Studies Abroad Program, can they? After all, that program has been in place for 50 years and is now enjoyed by most of their students and many of their alumni. And think of all the good that Studies Abroad program does for its participants.  Come on, Jack, get real!  Don’t you know the difference between ethical CO2 and harmful CO2?

The question then arises – who is driving these silly recommendations for such drastic changes in our modern lifestyle?  Don’t blame me – the major driving forces are not the likes of Jack Miles, me, or even the USA’s top climate scientists, such as James Hansen or Michael Mann. The primary culprit here is simply Mother Nature or, if you prefer, Science itself.  It is mainly Science that tells us about the horrible downsides of our business-as-usual lifestyles and preferences.

I suspect that most of us, just like St. Olaf College, will not listen to Mr. Mile’s advice and will continue to bet against science by enjoying the short-term benefits of going with the flow of business-as-usual.  After all, its only the single field of Science that tells us that our children are in danger of inheriting a dreadful +4 to +6 degree C  warmer world.  The numerous other basic disciplines of mankind, such as the history of human civilization, economics, theology and the arts tell us nothing of the sort.  So, why not just do what we have previously always done on this issue – don’t take Science too seriously and live in any Pretend World that is more to our liking.  Many of us are also comforted by the notion that if and when the shit really does hit the fan, that “something will come up”.  And then there is always the possibility that St. Olaf College knows more about the “Lord’s almighty hand” than we scientists do.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | October 31, 2017

With friends like these, who needs ………

For several years now, I have observed that the issue of climate change is not the top concern of those who consider themselves to be social liberals or progressives. Instead, this issue typically rises to no higher than about 3rd or 4th place on their list of priorities – usually behind those related to civil rights, economic inequality, health care, racism, sexism, war, or our nation’s economy.

I believe that this is not as it should be. The issue of global warming is hands down the most important one on the table today.  All of the others, including those listed above, will quickly worsen beyond repair if the warming of our planet continues to progress as it has in recent decades.  If we don’t happen to solve some of those other important, but secondary problems, we will still have the opportunity and time to do that on another day.  Only the climate change problem needs to be addressed with FULL FORCE, RIGHT NOW.  If we don’t, there will be no point in addressing the others.

To make my point clearer I could go on (and on, and on, and on) but will not at this time because I just noted an article by Jeremy Hance, who feels exactly as I do and makes our case exceedingly well. Please have a look at it at

As I hopefully made clear in my previous two posts concerning St. Olaf College, those of us who consider global warming to be the greatest of all problems facing humanity today need to change appearent friends into real friends.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | October 28, 2017

The leadership of St. Olaf College needs to be changed

In order to appreciate where my comments here are coming from, it would be helpful to also inspect my previous posts on this website that involved my alma mater, St. Olaf College of Northfield, MN. These posts can be found in the May of 2015, April, September, November of 2016 and February and October of 2017 archives of this blog. I should also point out at the onset, what has been happening at St. Olaf College has also been happening at many and perhaps most other colleges and universities in the USA. That is, over the last ten years our colleges have provided more lip service than real action against the relentless advance of global warming and, as a result, have not provided appropriate leadership for their students and alumnus.

With all due respect to the specific example of President David Anderson of St. Olaf College (StO), I believe that he should be moved to some other position at that college – one that suits his keen interest and accomplishments in the humanities – but one that does not require so much knowledge of and interest in the sciences and the physical world in which we are now so desperately challenged to preserve.

The present state of affairs at St. Olaf College is as ironic as it is sad. Last week, I received that beautiful publication from StO labelled its “Global Issue” that was discussed in my previous post in which our “Pretend World” was described. While relating many wonderful stories concerning the personal experiences of StO students who have recently taken advantage of their Studies Abroad programs, there was no mention at all of the extremely high carbon footprint of such programs and how they could be reduced. Therefore, this particular international studies program seeks to understand the challenges of the world while it simultaneously adds to one of its greatest.

If President Anderson had been able to follow the scientific news on that subject over his 10 years at StO, he would realize by now that the entire world, including StO, must stop using all fossil-driven technologies as soon as possible. This would include, of course, high carbon footprint transport by aircraft for which non-polluting sources of energy are not yet readily available. In StO’s “Global Issue,“ there should have at least been some discussion of how StO students could get to and from these far off places without adding to the already overpowering greenhouse gasses of our atmosphere. The fact that this question is not easy to answer does not mean it should be ignored.

In his recent messages to the StO community, President Anderson has embraced the slogan “Oles can and Oles will”. The emerging problem at St. Olaf College, however, in taking appropriate and courageous action against global warming is that “their President won’t”. He has failed to give the greatest problem before all of mankind the attention, actions, and leadership it requires. It is relatively easy today to replace outdated methods of electrical power production on one’s campus with the renewables and to divest one’s resources from the non-competive coal industries. This is because both of those actions are financially advisable. To go the rest of the way towards a fossil fuel free world, however, takes both wisdom and more courage than St. Olaf College has shown.

Therefore, at this point, I think President Anderson should be thanked for his decade of service at St. Olaf College and replaced by a leader who better understands the primary importance of both the humanities and sciences in the retention of and improvement in the human condition on this planet, including that of future generations. Hopefully, other colleges and universities will follow suit.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | October 16, 2017

The “Pretend World” in which so many now live

I was reminded recently of the existence of this Pretend World by the arrival of a publication from my alma mater, St. Olaf College of Northfield, Minnesota. This beautiful publication was labelled the college’s “Global Issue” and related many wonderful stories concerning the personal experiences of StO students who have recently taken advantage of StO’s Studies Abroad programs. These interesting stories and illustrations left little doubt of the programs’ value – they are, indeed, first class and very educational. Also made clear in this publication is that one of StO’s President David Anderson’s greatest interests is in enlisting as many more StO students, faculty, alumni, and friends as he can into these programs. President Anderson, who actually leads some of these educational adventures himself for StO alumni, claims that StO has the most extensive Studies Abroad program of any institution its size.

All of that sounds great and would, in fact, be great if it were not for that proverbial 800-lb gorilla that resides in the back of every room today – that is, very high carbon footprint programs such as these add significantly to the greatest problem now facing all people and places of the world. Our continuously increasing levels of greenhouse gases simply must be curtailed before we lose all control over future conditions on our planet. While there is no question that great personal benefit can be derived from carbon intensive activities, they must now be avoided if they simultaneously harm our overextended planet.

If either President Anderson or any of his scientific acquaintances at StO College had been an atmospheric scientist (as I happen to be) and had followed the latest research on that subject, they would have realized by now that the entire world, including StO, must do its best to stop using all fossil-driven technologies, including those of transport. This would especially include transport by aircraft for which non-polluting sources of energy are not yet readily available. In spite of this, there is not a word in StO’s “Global Issue” addressing this most profound of all global problems.  A question they should have included in that publication is “how can our StO students get to and from these far off places without adding to the already overpowering greenhouse effect of our atmosphere?” And even if the answer to that question is, “there is no way at this time”, that fact should be acknowledged and seriously discussed – rather than ignoring it and pretending it does not exist.

In view of this, President Anderson’s unconditional and unrestrained promotion of StO’s exceedingly high carbon footprint Studies Abroad Programs – along with his refusal to divest the considerable financial resources of StO College from fossil-fuel-intensive industries sends a distinctly inappropriate message to the students and alumni of StO who need to modify their own lifestyles just like all other people of the world.

For these reasons, I have done my best to explain to President Anderson and the entire science faculty of StO that their college does not have a free pass from participation in this enormous battle against the relentless advance of global warming (see previous posts in this website’s archives of May 2015, April, September and November 2016, and February 2017). Is it not apparent that there is no such thing as “good” or “ethical” carbon emissions? The emissions of StO’s travel programs cause just as much damage to the planet as do all other carbon emissions. And, the bill for the environmental damage caused by such travel programs is not being paid for by their present users (by the use of more expensive biodiesel fuels, for example). Instead, they are being deferred to future generations who will have to deal with the problems caused by the extra carbon now being added to our biosphere. Thus, the global warming problem is no longer so much a scientific issue as it is a moral one.  And, the fact that many other colleges and universities are also developing similar “Studies Abroad” programs makes the shining example of StO’s apparent success in this area additionally problematic with respect to future emissions.

Please be aware of the fact that I do know all about the recent efforts at StO Collge to make their campus more fossil-fuel free by the use of wind and solar power. They now provide all of their electrical needs (not heating) by these renewable sources. Please also note, however, that while these changes are to be commended for environmental reasons, they were also driven by financial considerations (the “payback time” for the initial costs of wind and solar facilities is now typically down to less than a decade). Also note that reductions in the carbon footprints in one aspect of our lives does not earn us “free passes” for increased footprints in others. If we are to have a chance of maintaining conditions on this planet that are amenable to its future residents, we must bring ALL emissions of carbon dioxide down to near zero within the next couple decades. This exceedingly difficult task has been thrust upon us by the world’s lack of effective action in the past and is now being made worse by those who choose to remain in a “Pretend World” such as that so beautifully portrayed in the recent “Global Issue” of the St. Olaf College Magazine. Our institutions of higher learning should not be a part of deceptions that hide the new realities of the 21st Century – no matter how very unpleasant the needed adjustments to those realities might be.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | September 15, 2017

The great nutrient decline

For many years, the deniers of man-caused global warming have claimed that our increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere is a good thing – because it will “fertilize” the production of plant life and thereby increase the production of food for our increasing world-wide population. Even before needed experiments were performed to test this claim, however, there was considerable doubt that it would hold up because of the recognition that increased plant growth does not necessarily mean increased nutrient growth. The needed experiments referred to above are now beginning to be reported and the news, indeed, is not good: see

Turns out that the protein content of our staple crops, such as rice, wheat, barley, and potatoes have been continuously decreasing in inverse proportion to the rise in atmospheric CO2. That is, the atmospheric CO2 level has increased by about 40% over the industrial age starting in about 1850, and the amount of protein nutrients in our staple crops may have decreased roughly by that same amount. This would mean, of course, that unless a person is eating greater quantities of these basic foods, the nutritional value of his or her diet would be decreasing.  At the same time, the extra CO2 in our atmosphere appears to be causing the sugar content of our plants to increase.  Stated another way, our staple crop foods are increasingly moving towards “junk food” whereby the ratio of calories to nutrients in increasing.

Thus, a favorite, but bogus claim of the deniers of global warming should now finally be laid to rest and my condolences go out to the many of our elected officials in Washington DC and elsewhere who loved to make it.  It was, indeed, a simplistic claim that could be understood by simpletons. But like so many other things in life it required careful scientific investigation in order to verify it and that test is failing.

So, I am now wondering what our President and the jolly band of scientific retards in his cabinet are thinking. Probably something like “Damn those scientists! We do our best within our departments to shut them up and replace them with our own stooges – but peer-reviewed science still manages to get through! Perhaps we need a new Department of Scientific Journals in which our stooges could regulate and “correct” all information coming out of them. If Russia, our President’s model for effective governance, can do that, why can’t we?

On a more serious note: aren’t there some grownups left in our controlling Republican Party who could call out the numerous scientific clowns who remarkably find themselves in key leadership positions today.  Since when did Mother Nature care an iota about the political preferences of human beings?  Do Republicans think that Ronald Reagan sits at Her side?

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | September 7, 2017

Second 500-year weather event now upon us

As Hurricane Irma is about to arrive in South Florida, it is instructive to reread my comments on this blog posted about one year ago (see  In that post, the encouragement of the State of Florida for continued and even enhance residential construction in South Florida is related. Since the Governor of that state has been a hard-core denier of the detrimental effects of global warming, it will be interesting to see what spin he places on the effects of Irma.  I expect his response will be that the extraordinary strength of Irma was due entirely to natural causes and was not affected by mankind’s emissions of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere.  Assuming he cares about any other states in the USA, I suspect he will say the same about the origin of Hurricane Harvey in Texas.

Oh sure, Mother Nature caused these two 500-year extreme weather events in less than two weeks from each other without any assistance from the distinctly unnatural emissions of CO2 by human beings, right?  Going forward, Americans should beware of Florida’s snake-oil salesmen, such as Governor Scott.  They might soon be trying to sell you one of their state’s multitude of bridges, for example.  After all, they will soon become “bridges to nowhere” and Florida will need the proceeds of such sales for payments to the contractors who are still  building the infrastructures of South Florida’s latest coastal  communities.  If you need help in believing the existence of this twisted logic, you should read again my previous post indicated above.  Heaven help those Iowa pig farmers referred to there who are counting on retirement bliss in South Florida.


Posted by: ericgrimsrud | August 28, 2017

Our President will have another “Deep Thought” tomorrow

In anticipation of President Trump’s visit to hurricane-ravaged Houston tomorrow, we can expect him to proclaim total surprise as to just how devastating a modern hurricane can be – just as he was so surprised to learn a couple months ago how complicated our nation’s health care system now is. This is to be expected in view of his and his cabinet’s efforts to not learn anything about the science of climate change and to ensure that no one else does either. They simply had to do this, you understand. If our President is to make good on his promise to “make America great again”, he is going to have to sweep a few of our problems under the rug and especially those as devastating as Tropical Storm Harvey.

While he might be able to get away with smaller deceptions in some areas, he will have a very difficult time doing it with the issues related to climate change. A lack of universal health care, for example, might diminish the quality of life for many Americans who have little wealth and influence, but should not affect that of the wealthy among us. On the other hand, the ravages of Mother Nature induced by our increasing greenhouse gases will affect all localities of the USA including our coastal regions where a large portion of our well-off citizens live during much of the year. While wealthy and influential folks might be able to arrange local laws so that storm relief is provided to them when the ravages of climate change hit their neighborhoods, the USA cannot afford to continue to do the same for all of our large sea-level cities, such as Houston, New York and New Orleans, just to mention three that have already been devastated. As the present clean-up in Texas goes forward, it will be interesting to observe the responses to pleas for federal assistance by Texans – especially in view of the fact that the representatives of Texas voted against such assistance to New Jersey four years ago following the devastation of that state by Hurricane Sandy.

All of this would pose quite the conundrum for most of our past Presidents, but just watch – it will not for President Trump. His operational mode is always to make sure that he is not held responsible for any failures of government (a Harry Truman he is not). Thus, I suspect that his summary comment in Houston tomorrow will be “nobody knew our climate was getting so complicated!”.  He has a point: most of the people who had previously made such claims where labelled “fear-mongering extremists” of the scientific community by his administration and, of course, he pays no attention to “losers” of that sort whose influence is being eliminated the “Great America” envisioned by President Trump.  Thus, the science advisers to his administration are indeed being replaced by “nobodies“.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | August 7, 2017

Pandering versus scolding in politics

Over the last half century, we have witnessed the universal triumph of pandering over badly needed straight-talk in all of our Presidential elections. This trend was firmly set in the election year of 1980 when the incumbent Jimmy Carter was running against Ronald Reagan. Because of the Middle Eastern oil embargo of that period, the USA was struggling to meet its energy demands. This prompted President Carter to gave his famous “malaise speech” in which he provided an unusually frank and somber assessment of the problem. The speech is well worth listening to again and can be seen at

While his speech squarely addressed that energy crisis, it went beyond this specific issue by addressing the basic character of the American public. It showcased Carter, the deeply religious Babtist, as the nation’s “minister-in-chief”, beginning with self-flagellation as he recounted criticism of his leadership, and then addressed what he believed to be a growing loss of confidence by the public in its nation’s institutions and leaders.

I thought both then and now that Carter’s speech was as excellent and appropriate as it was unusual. While the speech did immediately generate some positive feedback, its longer-term effect was in the opposite direction as soon became clear. Ronald Reagan, with his sunny optimism, was successful at portraying Carter as the nation’s “scolder-in-chief” who was too willing to blame Americans for the nation’s ills. Although polling suggested that many Americans’ views on the issues were closer to Carter’s than to Reagan’s, that did not prevent Reagan from winning that election. Americans liked the pandering he provided more than Carter’s appeal to our sense of responsibility. Upon arriving at the White House, Reagan immediately removed Carter’s symbolic solar panels from its roof and encouraged Americans to buy more gas-guzzling vehicles.

When Reagan then went on to be reelected in a landslide against another straight-talking Democrat named Walter Mondale – by campaigning on an “It’s morning again in America” theme – the die was cast. At that critical point with respect to our country’s policies on energy, the USA turned backwards towards the simplistic and environmentally flawed views of the ’50’s.

Mindful of the purported lesson of Carter’s “malaise” speech, no successful national candidate ever again made the mistake of speaking so candidly, and in such critical tones, about the American people – even if such criticism is absolutely true and desperately needed. Instead, candidates on the hustle are much more likely to take a page from the Reagan playbook by emphasizing the indomitable American spirit, can-do work ethic, etc., while ignoring the tough bits related to reality. Woe to any candidate who slips up and leaves himself open to the charge that Americans might be at fault for anything.

Subsequent repetitions of this behavior are numerous. For example, in the election year of 1992 the incumbent, George H. W. Bush, was running against the upstart Bill Clinton of Arkansas. Clinton had won the nomination of the Democratic party by unmatched pandering against a cast of seasoned Democrats including Jerry Brown, Paul Tsongas, Tom Harkin and Bob Kerry. Clinton promised to take care of all the country’s several serious problems, including our health care systems for all ages, our decaying infrastructure, our military obligations, and our increasing national debt, all without raising taxes. The liberal wing of that party loved what he said in spite of its improbability and viewed him as their Messiah who could end the 12-year Republican domination of the White House. President George W. was still basking in the glow of Desert Storm, a well-managed push-back against the military exploits of Iraq’s Sadam Hussain in Kuwait. But that support vanished in a flash when he also responded to the increasing national debt that had accrued during his and Reagan’s terms – thus going back on his infamous “read my lips – no new taxes” pledge. For this bit of straight, responsible and wise action, he lost the enthusiasm of his own party and Bill Clinton was elected.

The most blatant example of successful pandering by a Presidential candidate, however, must surly go to our current President, Donald Trump. His use of it, mixed in with generous doses of ignorance, deception, falsehoods, and “alternate realities”, brought him – instead of a vastly more experienced opponent who lacked her husband’s knack for pandering – to the White House. President Trump has to be the most outrageous example of an ill-prepared person ever voted into the US Presidency by a gullible, pander-loving, citizenry and there is no one to blame but ourselves for the present chaotic state of affairs this has created in Washington DC.

In considering the future, one wonders whether it might not finally be time to avoid the panderers within our political system. Aren’t we now in deep enough “do-do” as to finally follow the few politicians that talk straight about the real issues before us? Isn’t our national debt now high enough to merit such straight talk? Shouldn’t our health care system finally be made adequate to ensure that any American’s illness need not constitute the end of his or her financial wellbeing? And isn’t our current state of global warming sufficient to merit our full attention and strong action?

In trying to envision the type of leaders we need in order to begin moving in the right directions, I recommend that you listen again to Carter’s speech referenced above and consider the distinct possibility that the reason his ideas were not roundly accepted and acted upon in 1980 had everything to do with the recipients of that speech and their fatal preference for pandering over straight talk. Thus, it appears to me that, yes, we do need another leader of Jimmy Carter’s ilk today but even more importantly, we need a voting public of grown-ups who can handle and respond to a very well-deserved dose of scolding.

When the “Greatest Generation” (that Tom Brokaw wrote about) responded to the realities their era – that is, the Great Depression and WWII – I am sure that generation had in mind the future of all American generations to follow and not just ours. Isn’t it time for our generation to recognize that “it’s not all about us” and endeavor to leave behind a better world for further generations?  For that purpose, I hope that the Democrats can do better in 2018 than offer just another “better deal” and that the Republicans will think about more than just cutting taxes. We are in desperate need of leaders who can raise the consciousness of Americans above the superficial and immediate. While some might laugh at that notion, others believe that we are “an exceptional” nation capable of doing great things. The present moment of political chaos in Washington DC might provide an excellent opportunity for making needed changes in our priorities and attitudes along the lines recommended by Jimmy Carter almost 40 years ago.


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