Countering Climate Change - 08.28.2011
[ASSURAS] How do you get global warming skeptics to save energy and invest in renewables? Easy -- stop saying, "global warming."
[BOB DIXSON] Here's a small community in rural America, of very conservative values, embracing what has been perceived in the past as a liberal, left-wing ideology.
[ASSURAS] We go to Kansas to see how one group is changing the conversation to conservation. But scientists point to climate change as a major threat to the beauty and bounty of the world's coral reefs.
[RICK MacPHERSON] Coral reefs have existed on our planet for millions of years. And in the past 30 years, we've lost 20% of them. They're destroyed. They're gone.
[ASSURAS] We take you down under, where the Earth's largest rain forest of the oceans is facing extinction.
And we'll hear from the grandson of undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau, the first to introduce millions of us to the ocean's mysteries. Philippe Cousteau's call to action to save the oceans. This is "energyNOW!"
Hello, I'm Thalia Assuras. Welcome to "energyNOW!", a weekly look at America's energy challenges and what we're doing about them. Throw in politics and you get a roller coaster ride of challenges, especially when it comes to climate change or global warming. It's not exactly the top concern for Americans these days. According to a Gallup Poll earlier this year, 51% of all Americans said they worried to some degree about global warming. But that's a drop of 12 points from 10 years ago.
Now, in some parts of the country, including Kansas, if you even try talking about global warming -- actually, don't try. Meeting the energy challenges there means changing the conversation entirely, as Lee Patrick Sullivan discovered in this "energyNOW!" Spotlight.
[SULLIVAN] So you must be Dorothy?
[DOROTHY BARNETT] I am.
[SULLIVAN] Nice shoes!
[BARNETT] Thank you.
[SULLIVAN] Your organization has changed the conversation away from climate change to saving energy.
[BARNETT] We're certainly trying. That's our objective.
[SULLIVAN] Dorothy Barnett's organization, the Climate and Energy Project, is working to reduce fossil fuel use in Kansas. They're asking people to lower their carbon footprint by using less energy. But one thing they are not saying is, "Stop global warming."
[BARNETT] You know, you may or may not know that almost half of all Kansans don't really buy into the whole global warming idea. They don't buy the climate science.
[SULLIVAN] But, while many Kansans may not buy into global warming, Barnett's group realized they might buy into something else -- saving money. And pushing for that shift in focus is paying off. Normally, if a city sees a 1% reduction in energy use, that's a big deal, but here in the heartland, there have been several communities that have reduced their energy use by 5%.
Instead of talking about this, can you actually introduce us to some of these people?
[BARNETT] I can. Follow me.
[SULLIVAN] Our first stop on the energy tour was to a home getting an energy audit. Les Loker says, when he does an audit, the first thing he looks for is the heating and cooling system. Basically, anything made out of tin -- the ductwork, furnace, central air, things like that. He says that's where most of the savings will be.
You got that on pretty easily. You're a regular Tin Man, aren't you?
Loker says he's been busier than ever, mostly because the Kansas Energy Office helps subsidize the audits.
From there, Barnett took us on a cross-state ride past the wheat fields of Kansas. She said the only thing more important to Kansans than wheat is religion. And that brought us to our next stop.
[FATHER KERRY NINEMIRE, ST. MARY'S CHURCH, SALINA, KANSAS] We have about 1,500 families.
[SULLIVAN] Unlike many of his parishioners, Father Kerry Ninemire isn't a global warming skeptic.
[NINEMIRE] And they'll kid me sometimes and say, "What's our liberal priest going to say about this?" So I've said it enough that they know.
[SULLIVAN] Father Ninemire was instrumental in starting up the Interfaith Power and Light Initiative in Kansas. It was developed to have places of worship sign a pledge to save energy to help stop global warming. But while many other congregations signed on, his own church…
[NINEMIRE] No. I did bring it to the Pastoral Council, but we couldn't get it signed.
[SULLIVAN] His parishioners refused to sign it, he said, because of the global warming language in the document.
[NINEMIRE] It got associated a little bit more with the Democrat party. And Kansas is very Republican.
[SULLIVAN] But it didn't stop them from taking the advice in the pledge. Between the church and the high school, the parish has seen a 10% drop in their energy use, by simply changing out some incandescent light bulbs for compact fluorescents and putting the heating and cooling system on timers and allowing the building superintendent to access it from home.
A similar situation happened in Greensburg, Kansas. The town had to rebuild after a devastating tornado nearly wiped it from the map. Now it's one of the greenest cities in the country.
[BOB DIXSON, MAYOR, GREENSBURG, KANSAS] Here's a small community in rural America, of very conservative values, embracing what has been perceived in the past as a liberal, left-wing ideology of environmental issues, because we have got past the politics of it.
[SULLIVAN] They then need to have the courage to step forward and decide that, no, it's not -- this is just good for my community.
[DIXSON] Well, and we've dealt with a lot of that. And even in my own thought process, I've dealt with those issues.
[SULLIVAN] When I rejoined Dorothy Barnett on her Kansas energy efficiency tour, she took me to an elementary school where kids are learning the importance of saving energy. Older kids from the local high school put on a play about not wasting electricity. And in a 10-minute chat with the actors, I heard not one mention of global warming.
1, 2, 3...
[SULLIVAN] All right.
They didn't say it during their performance, either. The play focused on not leaving devices plugged in because the evil energy bandits will steal your electricity. It was narrated by our hero...
[STUDENT] These are power strips.
[SULLIVAN] ...an Energizer Bunny.
Got a bunch of little munchkins here, don't ya? I've got to come down here.
I wanted to see if the kids were paying attention to the performance.
Energy bandits, bad or good?
[SULLIVAN] Energizer Bunny?
[SULLIVAN] Barnett says the school gets 15% of its electricity from a nearby wind farm. And that was our next stop. It's where we met Mark Richardson from the Reno County Energy Task Force. Its goal -- to try to turn more of the near-constant Kansas wind into electricity.
Surely, a renewable energy guy would want to talk about global warming. Nope. He preaches jobs.
[RICHARDSON] We don't need to produce wind energy, necessarily, for anything other than the economic side of it, and I think most people in Kansas will be happy.
[SULLIVAN] From the wind farm, we went to Goodland, Kansas. The town is in the midst of the "Take Charge! Challenge." It's a contest run by Barnett's organization to see which city can lower its energy use the most. Top prize -- $100,000. Barnett took me to see Douglas Gerber. He's Goodland's city manager. And he's spearheading the city's drive to save energy.
[GERBER] I certainly wouldn't want to discount the sort of global warming theory for Goodland. I would say primarily the motivation here is people who want to help their pocketbook, maybe earn the community some cash on the back end and also have a good competition with their neighbors.
[SULLIVAN] A competition Goodland stands a good chance of winning.
The city of Goodland is in a unique situation, where, besides being the city, you're also the power company.
[GERBER] We are in a unique situation, and it gives us a nice advantage in this competition in terms of being able to really be hands on with how we're affecting things.
[SULLIVAN] So there's a lot of magic going on here. You're like a wizard in this town.
[GERBER] The Wizard of Oz, that's right, Wizard of Goodland.
[SULLIVAN] Wait a second!
So you must be Dorothy.
[BARNETT] I am.
[SULLIVAN] Nice shoes.
You're a regular Tin Man, aren't you?
They then need to have the courage...
Got a bunch of little munchkins here.
[GERBER] The Wizard of Goodland.
[BARNETT] Follow me.
[SULLIVAN] I just figured it out. I know what they did with global warming.
I knew it! This is what happened to global warming. Well, you know, Kansas isn't alone in this. There's at least five other Midwestern states that want to change their conversation from saving the planet to saving money. But why did they drop a house on it? They could have just used water. Does this make me the Scarecrow?
[TEXT ON SCREEN] To learn more about the Climate & Energy Project go to energynow.com.
[SULLIVAN] From somewhere over the rainbow, Lee Patrick Sullivan, "energyNOW!"
[ASSURAS] There was strong interest in the home energy audit program you just saw in Lee Patrick's story, but it's been discontinued. Kansas energy auditors basically ran out of time to take advantage of the federal stimulus money for it. Governor Sam Brownback, who is promoting Kansas as the renewable state, is trying to reallocate that money to a biofuels program, and he's also hoping to boost the state's use of wind turbines.
Still ahead... The world's undersea coral reefs are in serious danger of extinction.
[MacPHERSON] Within our lifetimes, we could lose this ecosystem. We've lost 20% of all reefs over the past three decades.
[ASSURAS] We travel to Australia's Great Barrier Reef to find out what's killing them. And this man's crusade to rescue the reefs and the rest of our oceans. Explorer Philippe Cousteau, carrying on his grandfather's legacy.
[TEXT ON SCREEN]
• Gets 7% of its electricity from wind.
• 2nd highest wind-energy potential in the U.S., behind Texas
• If Kansas tapped al of this potential, it could generate 90 times the electricity it currently needs.
Source: American Wind Energy Association, 2010
[Children gasping, coughing]
[ANNOUNCER] We're not asking for your pity or your sympathy. We're not asking for your time or your wallet.
[WOMAN] Don't cry.
[ANNOUNCER] We're just asking for your promise. Every year in this country, harmful emissions cause thousands of illnesses, asthma-related hospital visits, and even deaths.
[GIRL] Hi, Mommy.
[ANNOUNCER] We're asking every citizen, elected official, and parent in America to promise to protect our children from dangerous pollution. Don't just support cleaner air for our kids -- promise it.
[TEXT ON SCREEN] Make the promise. peoplenotpolluters.org. Brought to you by the League of Women Voters.
[ASSURAS] Welcome back. Marine biologists call coral reefs "the rain forests of the oceans." No surprise, really, because these biologically rich ecosystems are home to a quarter of all marine life and are a source of income and food for billions of people worldwide. But they're in danger of being wiped off the map.
The Washington-based environmental think tank World Resources Institute has published a major survey tracing the decline of coral reefs. It blames local activities, like overfishing, coastal development, and agricultural runoff. But the report also warns of global threats, like rising carbon dioxide emissions. This greenhouse gas heats up the planet, making oceans warmer, and it also makes sea water more acidic. Both are bad news for coral reefs.
So, when our correspondent Josh Zepps told us he was heading to his homeland of Australia, well, we gave him an assignment -- to look at what's happening to the Earth's largest reef system, the Great Barrier Reef.
[ZEPPS] It's become a bit of a cliché to say that we live in a globalized world, on an interconnected planet. That can be a bit of an exaggeration. Borders do exist; oceans are wide. But when it comes to emissions, when it comes to the atmosphere, to the air that sustains life on this planet, it's no exaggeration to say that what we do right here has a direct impact... on what happens here.
[OVE HOEGH-GULDBERG, GLOBAL CHANGE INSTITUTE] If we continue on our way, we will soon see sea temperatures that are 3 to 6 degrees warmer than they are today and ocean acidities where we know coral reefs can't sustain themselves.
[ZEPPS] That's Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, a climate scientist whose warnings made the front page of the Cairns Post newspaper in Australia the day we spoke. To meet him, I headed from New York to a climate change conference in Queensland, Australia, home of the Great Barrier Reef, armed only with my scuba license, a gallon of sun block, and a guilty conscience for the thousands of pounds of carbon dioxide such a plane ride adds to the problem the professor has been studying.
[HOEGH-GULDBERG] By the end of the century, we will not have coral reefs with us on this planet.
[ZEPPS] Including the Great Barrier Reef. It's 1,600 miles long and has around 900 islands. It covers an area more than twice the size of Florida. And according to the World Resources Institute, WRI, if we don't reduce the rate at which we burn fossil fuels and pollute the atmosphere, then, within 40 years, nearly all of the world's reefs will be threatened. If you want to understand how inescapable the effects of climate change are on marine ecosystems, this is the place to start.
Heron Island is one of the only islands that is literally on the reef. It's made of coral itself. And on it is a reef research station. Marine biologist Pim Bongaerts showed me firsthand what's happening.
[BONGAERTS, UNIVERSITY OF QUEENSLAND] This is a coral colony that's basically given up. So, it's had a long summer. And it's been too hot. And normally, in this spot, it would have survived, even though the tide gets really low and it gets completely exposed, but this one has basically given in. And if you could compare that to a piece that's growing right next to it, but it's slightly deeper, you can clearly see the difference in color, where this colony's still healthy.
[ZEPPS] But the problem isn't just the hot temperatures.
[HOEGH-GULDBERG] We're putting CO2 into the atmosphere, and so more is going into the ocean. And CO2, when it goes into the ocean, likes to react with water and create an acid.
[ZEPPS] To grasp what happens when oceans get acidic, let's head back to chemistry class. You drop the coral into an acid environment, and you can see bubbles beginning to form on it. Those are bubbles of CO2 that are caused when the calcium carbonate that the coral is made of dissolves. Now, if that happens out there on a widespread scale, no more reef.
To understand how quickly that's happening, Heron Island researchers have built a unique on-site reef climate change experiment.
[BONGAERTS] So these are 12 different mini reefs, where we're basically simulating the environmental conditions as they're predicted for the next 50 to 100 years. And so we've got four different treatments. One treatment is pretty much the same as it is at the moment. One simulates preindustrial conditions. And then the other two are conditions that we're predicting that are going to be the result of climate change.
[ZEPPS] And changes are already happening everywhere.
[HOEGH-GULDBERG] For example, in 1998, some places, like the western Indian Ocean, 46% of corals died. Now, the terrestrial equivalent of this is as if 50% of the trees in North America died in one year.
[ZEPPS] Rick MacPherson of America's nonprofit Coral Reef Alliance says coral reefs aren't just pretty tourist attractions.
[MacPHERSON] We estimate there may be as many as a million species yet undiscovered on coral reefs. There are species that are found on reefs that may have chemicals that might be treatments or cures to things like cancer or HIV, or any of a variety of other illnesses. So losing our reefs is, it's not hyperbole to say that we may be losing our medicine cabinet for the world.
[ZEPPS] Under the sea, the picture I saw was mixed. There was damaged coral as well as healthy, vibrant coral. It was still a beautiful sight to see.
One of the other cool things about tropical islands, of course, is that it's not just the marine life. It's also the plant life on the island itself, like these halophytes, these saltwater plants. These kind of mangrovey things are also very fragile. Small changes in temperature can affect them, can affect the bird life. Change the marine ecosystem, you change the land ecosystem.
So, what can we do? Well, WRI says the good news is the world's coral reefs are resilient and can recuperate after even severe damage. It recommends that we manage climate change locally, support efforts to combat global climate change, and work to reduce our carbon footprint. And if we do that enough, the reefs can survive.
[MacPHERSON] We can either be proactive and take the steps now to save coral reefs -- and it is still within our capacity to do this. The window of opportunity has not closed -- it's narrow, but it has not closed.
[ZEPPS] On the Great Barrier Reef, Josh Zepps, "energyNOW!"
[ASSURAS] As Josh said, the Great Barrier Reef is a unique ecosystem. But what we see today is only about 6,000 to 8,000 years old. Scientists say the first coral started growing on the edge of Australia's continental shelf about a half million years ago, and what's currently visible lies on top of calcified colonies hundreds of feet thick. Back in 1932, the origins of this magnificent reef were still a mystery, as you'll see in this energyTHEN. [Film projector running]
[ANNOUNCER] No one knows just how this great barrier was formed. Portions of it are submerged at high water and the receding tide reveals the weird and beautiful formations, which nature has fashioned here with the hand of a master sculptor. The patches, resembling garden spots of shrubbery, are tinted in brilliant hues of purple, emerald green, and golden brown. Formed by the skeletons of billions of tiny sea creatures, it has taken eons to create this huge ridge. Quaint and lovely, the living beauty of the petrified growths is worth going miles to see.
These little fellows aren't spiders; they're soldier crabs. There are thousands of them swarming the sandy beaches of the reef. They're always in a hurry, even if they have no place to go.
Huge loggerhead and green turtles come ashore in enormous numbers to breed. They dig holes in the sand with their flippers and lay their eggs there to be hatched out by the heat of the sun.
[ASSURAS] There are actually six species of sea turtles on the Great Barrier Reef, and there is concern about their future. Scientists say that rising sea levels caused by climate change could wipe out those beach-nesting areas, and warmer temperatures could make the sand too hot for the eggs to hatch.
Up next, how to protect these sea creatures, coral reefs, and the rest of the marine ecosystem. We get answers from environmental advocate Philippe Cousteau, the grandson of legendary ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.
[TEXT ON SCREEN] Can I recycle a beer bottle with a lime wedge suck inside?
Natch. But limes make good compost. Just sayin'. www.grist.org
Laugh now or the planet gets it.
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[ASSURAS] Back now with a look at work being done to protect, and in some cases restore, oceans and seas that are being threatened by climate change and other environmental hazards. To do that, we're joined by marine explorer Philippe Cousteau, grandson of the late world-famous French sea explorer and documentary filmmaker Jacques Cousteau, once my Sunday night appointment television. I have to tell you that for sure. Philippe's underwater adventures have taken him to places like Florida's coral dead zones in his efforts to expose threatened ecosystems as a special correspondent for CNN International. He is cofounder and CEO of EarthEcho International, his family's nonprofit conservation organization. And he joins us from Los Angeles for this week's MIX. It is good to see you, Philippe, thank you.
[COUSTEAU] Thank you, Thalia.
[ASSURAS] I wonder if you could explain, first of all, about the coral reefs around the world. Not specifically Florida's coral reefs -- we'll get to those -- but how the world's reefs affect Americans every day. Especially the impact that's economic.
[COUSTEAU] Well, coral reefs are the most biodiverse ecosystem in the entire world. People oftentimes think of rain forests as being full of life, and, indeed, they are, but coral reefs are more biodiverse than even rain forests. And they're a critical nursery ground for many of the fisheries that are not only part of, in many cases, subsistence, the only source of protein for up to a billion people around the world, but also a huge source of economic importance for economies around the world, providing value in the trillions.
Coral reefs also provide important buffer zones against storms and tsunamis and other natural disasters that would otherwise batter coastlines and cause a great deal more damage than they do to coastal economies and countries.
[ASSURAS] So, in terms of what Americans might be able to do every day to prevent that degradation of the reefs, what would you suggest?
[COUSTEAU] Really, anything we wash down the drain that's toxic, the kind of food we eat. There's a lot of meat consumption that goes on in this country that's probably a bit too much. And that causes a lot of coastal pollution. Our industrial agriculture system, eating local and seasonal food as opposed to food that's bombarded with pesticides and fertilizers that run off. And of course cutting down on our carbon consumption as well and the cars we drive, how we use energy, et cetera.
[ASSURAS] So, let's focus on Florida's coral reefs. 80% are dead zones. How do you explain that? All the things you've just talked about?
[COUSTEAU] The Keys, in particular, you know, have been in decline for a very long time, and the hopeful message is that because of the efforts of the National Marine Sanctuaries Program there, and a lot of conservationists and scientists, parts of the Keys are starting to bounce back. But traditionally the impacts there have been lack of wastewater management, so sewage, essentially, and agricultural runoff from the Florida peninsula. But recently, over the last decade or so, since maybe the late '90s, it's been increasingly warmer temperatures as well that have started to have an impact on the Keys, that is largely connected to climate. So it's both local impacts as well as these larger global things like climate change.
[ASSURAS] Let's move on to the global aspect, and one of the things we did earlier in the broadcast is we talked about a poll that shows that Americans' concern about global warming has decreased over the last 10 years by 12%, and increasingly there are comments from politicians like this one, if you could take a listen.
[GOVERNOR RICK PERRY (R) TEXAS, AUGUST 17, 2011] I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling in to their projects. And I think we're seeing it almost weekly, or even daily, scientists who are coming forward and questioning the original idea that manmade global warming is what is causing the climate to change.
[ASSURAS] That's Texas Governor Rick Perry, who's seeking the Republican nomination for president. What specifically did you think about the governor's comment?
[COUSTEAU] Let's not look at the scientists who are -- believe me, we're not talking inordinate amounts of money -- a lot of scientists are struggling every day to do the work that they're doing. The special interests who are trying to disinform the public about climate change -- I'm not necessarily saying politicians but the industry -- have trillions at stake. So, follow the money, I agree, and the money points to the fact that scientists are doing very hard work every day and the large majority -- over 90% of global scientists -- are saying that this is true, and I find it irresponsible of politicians to make these types of statements. Certainly we'd love to see the backup for that.
[ASSURAS] You know, President Obama couldn't convince Congress to pass climate change legislation, one of his key goals, so how do you rate his record on this issue?
[COUSTEAU] Well, of course, it's not just up to President Obama to pass the legislation that he would like to pass. Uh... I think we're all disappointed that there hasn't been more movement on environmental issues over the last few years and certainly with respect to climate, and I hope that we can expand the dialogue.
And one of my concerns is that we get so focused on climate change and the debate around climate change that we start to forget what our addiction to fossil fuels does to our health care system. Certainly, the rates of asthma in children under 5 has risen 160% since 1980. We start to forget that it has a huge impact on our security. Indeed, 1 in 8 casualties in the conflict in Iraq was from soldiers escorting fuel convoys, so the Department of Defense doesn't like our addiction to fossil fuels, either. It's costing the lives of our brave men and women who are fighting in the armed forces.
I think we have to remember that there's a lot of suffering, not just with respect to the environment, but with respect to our children, with respect to our soldiers, because of this addiction to fossil fuels. We have to get off it, and far from costing us billions -- or I believe Governor Perry referred to maybe trillions of dollars, which is ridiculous -- it will save us money in the long run. It will save the health of our children. It will cause an increase in security and make a safer world and it will increase and improve the health of the environment for future generations.
[ASSURAS] Philippe Cousteau, thanks very much for joining us.
[COUSTEAU] Thank you.
[ASSURAS] Well, after all of that, and obviously we spent most of this week's show talking about the negative impacts of energy use on the oceans, well, a whiskey distiller in Scotland has found a positive energy solution, both for the ocean and his wallet. That's this week's "energyNOW!" hotZONE. Scotland's Bruichladdich Distillery produces more than 650,000 gallons of liquid waste from making whiskey. Owner Mark Reynier no longer dumps that into the ocean, a practice common for distillers. Instead, he bought equipment to process the waste into methane. That methane fuels generators that produce enough electricity to run the entire distillery. The generators also power the Nissan LEAF Reynier bought to avoid paying almost $10 a gallon for gasoline where he lives.
And that's it for this week's "energyNOW!" We want to know what you want to know, so reach out to us on YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter. Search for us at energyNOWnews, plus, read our blogs and watch our extras on our Web site at energyNOW.com. I'm Thalia Assuras. See you next week.
[ANNOUNCER] For decades, this coal-fired power plant near Washington, D.C., has prompted health complaints. More than 60 years old, it has often been charged with environmental violations. Many say it's time to close it down. But what comes next?
Now there's a plan. Potomac River Green is an innovative blueprint for tomorrow. It opens up the riverfront and creates hundreds of jobs, good for Alexandria and good for the D.C. Metro area. Potomac River Green.
[TEXT ON SCREEN] Potomac River Green is a project of the American Clean Skies Foundation, Washington, D.C.
Greenhouse gas emissions are changing the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans, putting critical ecosystems in peril. Can the effects of climate change be countered? This week energyNOW! explores potential solutions in two very different locations – America’s heartland and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
Changing the Conversation to Conservation
Polling data shows the percentage of Americans who worry about climate change is falling, and in some parts of the country, the term “global warming” is practically taboo. So why are some of the states where global-warming skeptics live also making big investments in renewable energy?
Correspondent Lee Patrick Sullivan visits Kansas, where some clean energy advocates say they’ve figured out what it takes to convince climate-change skeptics to invest in renewables and energy efficiency. Their advice: Stop talking about global warming and change the conversation to energy conservation.
Saving The Ocean’s “Rainforests”
Coral reefs, considered the “rainforests” of the oceans by marine biologists, are home to a quarter of all marine life. These ecosystems are cornerstones for both the world’s food chains and coastal economies. But scientists say carbon dioxide emissions are making oceans warmer and more acidic, and those problems could contribute to the complete demise of the world’s coral reefs by the end of this century.
Correspondent Josh Zepps travels to a research station on the world’s largest coral reef, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, to learn more about what’s at stake, and to meet scientists working on ways to save the ocean’s ecosystems.
The Mix: Phillippe Cousteau
Anchor Thalia Assuras speaks with environmental advocate Phillipe Cousteau about how to restore oceans and seas threatened by climate change and other environmental hazards. Cousteau also responds to Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry’s recent criticism of climate scientists.
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