Presentation / Essay (Pre-University), 1999, 14 Pages
Presentation / Essay (Pre-University)
Our world today is a dream world for chemists and bioengineers, which can experiment with nature and where everything is beamed all over the world by satellites. Science and technology, advertising and marketing have made it possible, that people are consuming more goods than in any time in history before.
But the world is not as healthy as it seems. Consumption and pollution have scarred the land and stained the seas. The foundations of nature are gnawed away and so the means of survival are threatened to be destroyed.
At the beginning of this century, about 50% of the ancient forests were still standing and the oceans and land masses were teeming with all kinds of life. People, who are born after the turn of the millennium will find out early, that their ancestors have exploited and used up nature and it's resources.
Our grandchildren will have easements in everyday, but they will live on a planet with less than 20% of its original forest intact, nearly no clean freshwater and most of the arable land under the plough. There will be a legacy of toxic waste in the soil and water. There will be no more of the countless species, that are wiped out before even being catalogued by scientists. There will be no more aboriginal knowledge, since the tribal peoples lost their lands. The modern material culture has led to a sixfold increase in population in this century alone and one quarter of the world's species of birds have been driven into extinction. The problems of the earth are real, but the response is not really there. In 1992, leaders of 178 nations gathered for the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro with the aim of bringing up international action for a solution for environmental problems. It was much ado about nothing, because nearly nothing constructive was done at all. Some countries, for example, haggle over a proposed treaty to slow down deforestation, while their ancient forests are cut down. According to a study of the World Resources Institute in Washington, 76 countries have cut down all their ancient forests, while 11 other countries have no more than 5% left. Despite promises to heal the planet, many governments prefer the industry over the environment and so there will be no solution coming soon.
As the world's largest economy, the U.S. have to set a strong example, but the White House is indecisive. President Clinton helped win his re-election by making efforts to weaken anti- pollution laws and signed strengthened clean-air and clean-water bills. Government involvement is really important, but it's not sufficient to cure the planet. The problems of the earth have forced a variety of disciplines to rethink basic assumptions. Many big firms have made ecological concerns a part of their strategy, because the pressure of the publicity is so hard.
In the next century, people will notice that humanity depends on nature and not vice versa. More and more people will see that environmental degradation destroys their future and the future of their descendants.
WATER - still there, but ...
Water is the most precious and the most endangered substance, necessary for life in the future. Water terror is the most effective way to lead a war against another group of people, as seen in the Bosnian war, where the Serbs shut off the electricity and with it the water pumps of Sarajevo. Water terror was also a weapon in Somalia's civil war in the early 1990s. Hundreds of thousands of citizens were plagued by a lack of water.
In future confrontations it is likely, that water supplies will no more be a tactic, but the whole point of the battle. Environmentalists warn, that such "water-wars" could engulf the world. The global population increases, but the supplies of freshwater will drastically decrease and armed conflicts over who gets this water maybe inevitable.
In many places of the world, there is not enough water and in the places, where there is enough of it, it is wasted and polluted. By the year 2025, two-third of the world's population will be affected by water shortages. World demand for water doubles every 21 years. While an American family flushes away 2.000 litres of water a day, families in some parts of the world have to survive on about 150 litres and they often have to travel a long distance to get it.
But there are really some good signs for the future, too: Nations which share access to rivers, lakes and seas discuss how to divide up and clean their water resources. Some nations are abandoning plans for environmentally destructive dams in favour of more modest water- development projects. Farmers would be able to cut their water consumption about 25% with new technologies and industry could save as much as 90%, by recycling it's cooling water. Our surface consists two-thirds of water, but only 3% of this water is drinkable. Most of the world's freshwater is needed for industry and farming. And agriculture is where future water shortages will be most acute.
Even if water is accessible, there is the question if it is safe to drink, or contaminated with pesticides, industrial waste or sewage. In poor countries, many people die on water-related illnesses. But also in the industrial countries, the safety of drinking water is a problem. The polychlorinated biphenyls pollute the air and the sea and they accumulate in the body fat of animals, that we eat and can get cancer from these substances.
The most populous countries in the world will have the worst water-situation. 79% of China's population are already drinking contaminated water by now.
19 of the 25 counties, that are listed to have the worst access to safe water are situated in Africa. Africans have also the highest death rate dying from diarrhoea, malaria and other water-related diseases.
The richer the people in Somalia are, the more water they get. A rich man can build his own well, a middle-class citizen can afford a middle-sized tank, but the poor have to buy water by the can.
The hot climate in the Middle East has long inspired disputes over creative strategies to support life in the desert. In Egypt, two ambitious schemes are pursued to make the desert green. One is a 242 km long canal that creates 2.500 sq. km of new farmland in the Sinai desert on either side of the Suez Canal. The second undertaking is to pump 25 million m³ of water a day out of a water basin behind Lake Nasser into a big desert canal, that would irrigate 5.000 sq. km of farmland.
So there are really some governments that think about the water problems. But all the schemes taken by them will not work, because they cost a lot of money and are not efficient. The only effective way is water conservation. That could be achieved by water fees, but that's not the way, it's done chiefly. Cities saved 10% to 25% of water by repairing leaky pipes and recycling wastewater for urban irrigation. In Melbourne, water use was cut by 30%, by launching a television campaign on restricting residential consumption and an introduced user-pays system. Industrial water recycling is a very effective way to cut down water consumption. American steel-makers once consumed 280 tons of new water for every ton of steel made, now they use only 14 tons of new water, whereas the rest is recycled.
In agriculture, not the usual irrigation system, but the new drip-irrigation is a real water saver. 95% of the water, that is pressed through perforated pipes, that are applied directly to the roots is applied to nurturing the plant, while with usual irrigation systems, only 20% of the water is really used by the plant, the rest is lost to evaporation or runoff. Almost all of the earth's water, although not drinkable lies in the ocean and with it, most living things and it might seem presumptuous, even preposterous to think we could change this system, that is the foundation of life support, but we can.
200 years ago, all the fishing and waste from the cities or farms did not seem to have any impact on the ocean ecosystem. 50 years ago, the Norwegian archaeologist Thor Hyerdahl sailed on a raft from Peru to Tahiti and there were found no signs of any humans being around. No ship, no aircraft, no drifting debris, but there were other troubling signs. There were more oil lumps than fish, beer cans, bottles and plastic containers and other waste drifting by.
Nobody cares, whether there are fish in the ocean or waste, but we had all better cared.
Without the ocean, there would be nothing on the earth and it would be as barren as Mars. The ocean is burdened with oil and waste and excess of modern fertilizers and other chemicals for farming.
Many nations now persecute the last three large aggregations of proteins: Antarctic krill, open ocean squid and deep-sea organisms. Only few people appreciate that those tiny crustaceans are a vitally part of the complex system, that also supports us humans. The extraction of squid has already affected albatrosses, fish, seals and other animals which live on those little protein-givers. Only a few people get to see, that scallop dredge or shrimp drawls are the same what bulldozers are to a forest full of life.
At least some measures have been taken to save some of the area, so there are 1.200 protected zones, which are 0.1% of the whole oceans, but after all, there has been done anything. We can hope, that people believe or see, that the ocean is really in danger, because it is impossible to live without the earth's body and soul, the oceans and it would be hard to find another planet with the same conditions already there and waiting for us.
FOOD - a surplus, able to get rare soon
Nearly one billion people around the planet are malnourished. But the problem is not the
supply of food, it's the distribution. Although world's population grew by 105% between 1955 and 1995, the grain harvest grew by 124%, thanks to hybrid seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and artificial irrigation. The only problem left is the equitable distribution. The rapid proliferation of the human race has slowed down a bit. In 1963, growth rate was at
2.2% annual which dropped to 1.4% until today. Unfortunately, a major part is included
because of a higher mortality due to AIDS and other diseases. Also, birth control is used more often, so the number of children per mother has fallen from 4.2 in 1985 to 2.9 in 1996. Nevertheless, 80 million people more every year is no trifle. And the growth in grain production slowed down over the last decade. So there is now a surplus of food, which will soon be a lack.
For a long time it was easy for farmers to boost their harvests by dumping more fertilizers, pesticides and water on the land, but now, insects get more and more resistant to pesticide, the fertilizers make the soil more compact and more likely to dry out and the irrigation techniques are improper, so too much water is evaporated from the fields, what releases salts that accumulate in the ground and make the land infertile. Even when the farmers know how to irrigate their fields, their water is limited, because there is a lack of it, too. Also the fertile land is misused for golf courses and outside-town shopping malls. Where there is nothing built on it, the fields are exposed to wind and water erosion, because of the chopped down surrounding forests.
Some people think, that the lack of food and the overpopulation will spur agricultural innovation, but nevertheless, not all regions in the world will be self-sufficient. Asia will run out of it's arable land by the year 2020 and grain will have to be brought in from the U.S.A. and Canada.
Another problem is global warming and the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. A rise in average temperature could move the farm belt northward, while in lower latitudes, global warming produces more erratic weather.
The two new trends in farming are the one, based on ancient wisdom, that employs traditional farming techniques to grow enough food without exhausting the land. The second trend uses genetic manipulation and other features of biotechnology to create more bountiful crops that are more resistant against rough weather and diseases.
The first technology is easy to reach by any farmer. They only have to relearn former farming skills and plant nitrogen supplying plants, like clover and rye instead of using fertilizers.
The second is made by scientists. They try to improve the crops by implanting other DNAstrings, that for instance kill insects which eat from the plant. Many companies around the globe are matching the success of Monsanto, the first company to use genetical engineering. In the middle of the 21st century, world's population will have reached 10 billion and then, nearly twice as many mouths have to be fed as there are today, so it's not too early to come up with such new farming technologies.
The woodlands are disappearing very fast. After Russia, equipped with 23% of the world's forest, opened up their forests to foreign exploitation, logging companies from the U.S., Japan, South Korea and European countries are chopping down the woods. In 1996, 10.000 sq. km of Russian trees were cut down and if the tree harvesting will not be brought under control, vast tracts of Russia will be turned into wasteland. Russia is not the only region, where loggers destroy whole ecosystems. Between 1991 and 1995, 126.000 sq. km of tropical rain forest was burned and bulldozed each year and 13.000 sq. km of normal forest a year. Nothing can bring back the virgin woodland with all it's life it supported. In America, 98% of it's forest has been logged at least once. The little forests that are not logged, are seriously threatened by air pollution and there has to be done something, because only 40% of the ancient forests are intact and the exploiting of the woods goes on too fast.
Forests protect water quality and soil stability. They are home to most of the 50 million indigenous people. And they absorb carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse gases. Finally they regulate local temperature, rainfall and influence the climate by a complicated interaction among ground, water and air, that is not fully understood yet.
The question, if the forests can be saved is a question if the governments do anything to protect them, but not many nations are willing to do so. Direct political action will be the only effective method to stop exploitation to the nature by cutting and burning trees. Some groups, like Greenpeace also can claim some victories in forest-saving.
In 1996, the European Commission set up a study, where 117.000 trees were verified and one fourth of them was losing their leaves and another 10% suffered from leaf discoloration. Every fourth tree in Europe is sick or dying.
The chief culprits are pollutants from car exhaust and industrial emissions, which create acid rain.
It was achieved, that Brazil works on decreasing the deforestation of the Amazon, but now, Indonesia works on cutting down all the trees on Borneo. Already 50% of the wood has been logged and by the year 2015, two-thirds will be cut down. 278 logging companies are allowed to cut down the trees in the ancient forest. President Suharto has been deaf to protests and furthered deforestation by transforming 14.000 sq. km of woodland into agricultural land. On the Malaysian side of Borneo, things look much better. There, 3.000 hectares of new wood have been seeded since 1992 and reduced-impact logging is practised, where there is a minimum damage to surrounding trees and the rain-forest's floor.
Some victories are made by members of the Rainforest Action Network, Greenpeace and other groups. By chaining themselves to trees they kept up a barrage of press conferences, petitions and boycotts which hurt the profit of the logging companies.
Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse-gases are inexorably warming the planet and the results are here all right, but we haven't seen them yet.
The predication of some scientists, that there must be the negative influence of humans on global climate has led to attacks from the oil industry, the auto industry and every other industry, that depends on burning fossil fuels about scaring the public before all the evidence was in.
Today, the critics are the one, that have to back down. Everything we know about the climate tells us, that the climate is going to change.
A certain amount of greenhouse gases is essential to life, because it traps some of the heat, like a greenhouse and the world would be 33°C colder as it is today, without greenhouse gases at all.
The problem is, that the protective blanket is getting too heavy. Since the Industrial Revolution in the middle of the 18th century, levels of carbon dioxide have jumped 30%, nitrous oxide 15% and methane 100%! If no significant steps are taken soon, the concentrations will triple in a hundred years and reach a level, higher than at any time in the last 50 million years.
There has been a warming of 0.5°C over the last century. That may seem very little, but a 3°C cooling led to the most recent ice-age. The sultriest days of the century have occurred in the last decade and the hottest year ever recorded was 1995.
But also very strange things in wildlife happen. So as animals move northwards and fish disappear because of warming streams and the moisture of the air has gone up 10% the last 20 years, what produces storms in some areas and droughts in other.
With an increase of 1°C to 5°C, as predictions say, the sea level would rise, because of the melting of the ice-caps and some coastal cities will be flooded partly. Nations pledged toward cutting their greenhouse-gas emissions back to 1990 levels by 2000 on the 1992 Earth Summit. But those promises are not possible to achieve anyway. The European Union said, that the emissions should be cut to 15% under the levels of 1990 by 2010. But the most important role in cutting down play the U.S., because although they make up 4% of the world's population, they produce 22% of all greenhouse-gas emissions. The challenge for all countries is now, to reduce the emission of the gases, but at the same time not harm the economy. But the more time the nations need, the more it will cost to repair the damage, if it is to repair at all.
It's similar with the ozone layer. If it is healthy, a large part of the ultraviolet radiation is blocked. In the 1980s, scientists confirmed a thinning of this layer. Since 1987, with the Montreal Protocols, 150 nations began to retrench ozone-destroying chemicals and tried to develop alternatives.
Chlorofluorocarbons, used in aerosol sprays, refrigerators and air conditioners are phased out by most of the countries. But some CFCs are still sold illegally in the U.S. So the future of the abolishment of CFCs looks not very bad. But the replacements for those substances could also be involved in global warming. And the real danger for the ozone shield is the black market for CFCs. In Russia or China, where there is still production of those chemicals, the prices for CFCs are 5 times lower than in the U.S., so there are brought in the substances from those countries and sold on the black market.
But after all, the situation is far better than it was in the late 1970s. In Russia, the production of CFCs was reduced from 40.000 tons in 1996 to 17.000 tons in 1997. Although it can not be said exactly, scientists think, that in the year 2030 it's likely that the ozone layer will be recovered to the state of the year 1979.
Because of land degradation, pollution and population pressure, the phenomenon of ecomigration is revived during the 20th century. 20 million people are reluctant nomads, the number of them is growing. So the environment is getting not just an issue of national health, but also of national security.
In former days, there were wild lands and territories where ecomigrants were able to settle down. The U.S. have long been a destination of choice by the dispossessed but America slowed down the tide of illegal immigrants, especially from Mexico.
Mexico's government estimates, that some 900.000 people are forced off the land every year because of desertification, as erosion and overuse of fields renders them unfit for farming. These displaced people have to compete with 950.000 young people, who want to enter the labour market every year.
There are too many poor Mexicans and too little land for them. They have to farm on vulnerable land which leads to more desertification.
Around the world, ecomigration could grow much worse in the future, because of climatic change, as global warming swells the seas. So would a sea level rise of one meter force 100 million people to leave river deltas and lowlands.
As the only way to protect themselves from ecomigration, richer states would have to help poorer ones cope with their ecological problems, because no country on the earth is safe from the illegal immigrants. Megacities are also attracting many people. That are no refugees of environmentally problems, but refugees from joblessness outside the cities. The bigger they are, the more powerful they pull on the people and get bigger and bigger. It's true that there are more opportunities in bigger cities and you can more easily find a job than outside and there are places where fame and fortune beckon.
More than a half of earth's humans live in urban areas. In the developed world, 70% of the people already live in the cities and there is a slow-down in population growth. So the big cities will stay as big as they are. But in the developing world, the cities are growing rapidly. By the year 2015, 27 of the world's 33 biggest cities will be Asian.
The problem is, that most of the newcomers are poor families which cannot afford accommodation and have to move directly into the slums and the run-down areas of the city. In Dhaka, Bangladesh, for instance, half of the 8 million inhabitants live in slums. Even providing the people with necessities is very difficult. In New Delhi, electricity is cut off for six hours a day and in some cities, the water supply is often bad. In Mexico City, the aquifer under the city has been depleted and the ground sank at about 7.5 metres over the past century.
One of the biggest challenges is to get rid of the waste, humans produce. There is no place for the things to bring it to and most of the waste is burned, which exhausts high levels of dioxins into the air. Some cities even cannot collect most of their trash and some areas have no sewage system at all.
Also fresh air can be scarce. In New Delhi, breathing the air has the same effect as smoking 10 to 20 cigarettes a day. The combination of poor sanitation and air and water pollution has resulted in the bad health situation of megacities.
All big cities have problems. But some of them cope with their problems and their environmental threats. The quality of life in New York has risen, because of a clean-up campaign, which reduced the waste on the streets. In Los Angeles, a city covered by smog, people band together in car pools to reduce the number of cars on the streets. In Shanghai, another development is going on and it's going in the wrong direction: $1 billion are spent on planting a green belt around the city. That is important, but there would also be need for health care, especially for the children.
In northern Germany, big modern "windmills" are used, to generate electricity, even with a small amount of wind. Many businesses and homes in the region are provided with electricity of those environmentally friendly wind turbines. Everywhere, alternative energy technologies have become commercial reality and the sunlight, wind and other renewable resources provide new energy. The 20th century was powered by fossil fuels and as quickly as the, at that time new energies came, as quickly they will disappear and the, for today, new energies will come to use.
Between 1890 and 1910, most inventions were made, that we use in everyday life - so also the automobile and the electric light. But the energy technologies are old today and new ones take in their place and the revolution is going on in three major aspects, the solar energy, the wind and the development of fuel cells.
The world market for solar cells has nearly tripled between 1988 and 1996 and there was a fall in the cost of the devices from $70 a watt in the 1970s to $4 today. It's today the least expensive source of power for homes without connection to a region's electric grid. If the price falls farther during the next decade, solar cells may be an economically attractive option for urban houses as well.
The development of new technologies with sun-power goes on and there are built solar cells on the roofs of the houses, even in cities and the newest things are cells, built in the southern windows of office buildings, that create energy and at the same time filter the sunlight for the offices inside.
The global wind-power industry is growing by 25% annually. Two decades of research have led to a modern wind turbine with tough fibreglass blades and electronic controls. The costs of the produced energy is comparable with that of fossil-fuel power and is still falling. In Europe, especially in Germany on the North Sea, thousands of wind turbines have been standing in the wind and the trend is also hitting Asia, where firms build up wind turbines in huge quantities.
Fuel cells, the most recent development in energy-"production" are a product of the U.S. space program, where they are needed in Space Shuttles to meet the needs of the astronauts for electricity. Cleanly and quietly, hydrogen and oxygen are combined and produce energy with the only waste being water.
Those cells will probably replace combustion engines and will be liable for the production of energy and hot water in houses in the coming future.
Many big energy-companies invest in the new energy sources and try to build up a great number of modern energy providers. Old companies need a new business model because of the modern energies. The old system is based on big central units, such as oil tankers, while the modern systems are many little machines that convert, store and use the energy by themselves. The whole power system has to be directed by smart computer systems, turning the devices on and off separately as needed.
If the roofs of all existing houses were covered with solar cells, half of three quarters of the energy needed in many cities could be provided.
There are huge business opportunities offered by the new energy sources and today's energy system is the element that spews out most of the world's air pollution and greenhouse-gases. If we accelerated the energy revolution, we all would be able to breathe a little easier. Nuclear power was once touted as the limitless energy of the future, but the interest in this power resource has gone backwards very fast, because of fears of Chernobyl-like accidents and radioactive waste. Only in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, no alternative can be seen by the people. And they are boosting the energy amount, produced by nuclear power-plants and more reactors are built and the danger of a nuclear fall-out is threatening the world. But the good thing is, that the rest of the world is stepping down from this energy source and that China at least doesn't produce any more greenhouse-gases.
Car producers and also car buyers tend to smaller cars more often. Because of their little size, it's possible to produce them, needing only three litres of fuel on 100km. Not only the size is responsible for this, but also the new invented motors, especially the TDI diesel with turbo charged direct injection. So diesel is going to get famous again. Diesel is more clean than petrol and the cars need less fuel and have a better efficiency.
Battery electric cars have been a big flop, because there were invented many different battery types, but all of them were too heavy, too dangerous or too big and needed much time to recharge for a short time of driving. So there are now so-called hybrid cars in production, that have two motors built in. One conventional combustion motor for long and faster journeys and one electric motor for city-usage. In the year 2005, the cars, powered by fuel-cells will appear on the streets and displace the conventional petrol and diesel vehicles. In the meantime, until those new cars will appear, the diesel is improved and getting very famous. Diesel-engine cars produce less carbon dioxide than petrol-engine cars, but they pollute the environment with other things. They produce nitrogen oxides and particulates, tiny bits of hydrocarbonate soot, the result of incomplete combustion, which is tried to be reduced by the common-rail technology, where combustion is improved and pollution and noise are decreased.
Because the pump of the common-rail system, where the fuel is sent through a pipeline with 1.400 times the atmospheric pressure, is not driven by the motor, but continuously running, there is optimal injection speed.
A refinement is the recirculation of exhaust gases. Because half of the gas passes back through the engine, the engine has to operate at a lower combustion temperature and so the nitrogen oxide emissions are reduced. The problem with this method is that the level of particulates is increased again.
The next source of power for cars are the hybrid cars. Such cars have two motors between which can be switched or is switched automatically by electronic. Toyota, Audi and Volvo have brought out such cars at the end of 1998. The batteries for the electric motor are recharged while driving with the other one, so the result is an enormous reduction in pollution and a spectacular increase in fuel efficiency and there is no need for external recharging of the batteries.
Since the Earth Summit 1992, no state except Denmark has really enacted emission reforms.
In Europe, the people are the trend-setters in recycling waste, but the governments did nothing for that, it was the people's private interests, nothing else. And the European governments call out loudly, that they were the ones that did so much for the environment as nobody else. Many countries claim, that a reduction in emission and pollution would harm their industry and a huge percentage of businesses and companies would die. It's the former communist countries, where the environment is still a very big problem.
In Asia, the people are stepping up to the good life and for them it's no more an impossible dream to have a refrigerator or even a car. The problem is, that with all this, the amount of pollution is increasing heavily.
In three decades, Asia has lost half of it's forests. A third of it's farmland has been eroded or otherwise made less fit for agriculture.
The great hope is, that if the people get richer and more material goods, they are more environmentally conscious. There is also the background, that if the sea level rises, many ricefields in China will be flooded and some of the islands of Indonesia will disappear. Often, there is political will, but that is going in the wrong way. Best to see at China's Three Gorges Dam. On one side, it creates a huge amount of energy, clean water-energy, but on the other side, 25.900 hectares of farmland will disappear, together with the expulsion of 1.4 million people, living in 19 counties and municipalities.
So humanity has to face a challenge, never been here before. A new balance with nature has to be reached, without harming the economy and the opportunities for the billions of people who still lack a decent standard of living.
Less polluting and less resource intensive technology is one key to society that can stand the test of time. Good science and engineering will not be enough, there has to be a building of new values. There is no great problem to reach the energy and material needs, because there can be built up fields of solar generators in the desert and wind turbines to create even more energy as today.
Recycling is a good way to come back to saving the environment. Even computers and automobiles are produced, able to be recycled. The elimination of waste and the reducing of our dependence on virgin materials has become a practical goal today. A difficult job will be the feeding of more than 8 billion people in a water-short world of the next century. Biotechnology plays a certain role in this question, because it makes crops less demanding of water and less vulnerable to pests.
New land-use policies are used to slow down the spread of urban areas. A compact urban design with a very good public transportation system would be the best way to do this job.
Information technology, which provides work at home by modem and network need less travelling around.
Also industries can be transformed into less emission exhausting companies by using effluent of one industrial process as raw material for another.
The biggest challenge will be within ourselves. We will have to focus on the quality of growth, not on the amount. Economic opportunities and jobs have to be kept growing while materials, energy and pollution has to be reduced.
We have to get to a "culture of permanence" - a culture that meets the needs of current generations without taking the prospects of the next generations.
TIME Special - Supplement to issue dated October 27, 1997
The Economist - October 10th, 1998. (p.93: "Reinventing Diesel")
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