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Green New Deal IV - Any Other Paths?

Recently, I gave in Polish an opening lecture, “Can we salvage our global civilization?”, at a one-day conference of the Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences (PAU). The conference took place in the Isabela Lanckoronska Auditorium at the historic PAU building on Slawkowska 17 Street in Kraków. This conference, “Civic organizations and local communities faced with climate change disasters,” was organized by the Committee on Threats to Civilization of PAU. The last lecture was given by a young activist from a well-known non-profit, who manifestly misled the audience with his proposed implementation of the Green New Deal that would immediately shut down all coal-fired electric power plants in Poland, and replace them with wind turbines, PV arrays and geothermal wells. I pointed out to the nice young man that his radical solution would cause immediate power blackouts in Poland, and asked if he shouldn't have mentioned some of the problems with the transition? His answer was that the ordinary people were not ready to hear an inconvenient truth and thus must be fed reassuring fairy tales to move them in the right direction.  Hmm, and then we wonder why so many people trust no one.

The only answer to the harrowing, complex questions of the Big Transition in population, power and lifestyles is science.  Science is imperfect.  Scientists make mistakes.  Some scientists and their funding agencies cannot resist publicity ploys, and oversell their findings.  Some scientists have big egos and claim that their particular answers are the only ones that will save humanity.  But, science is the merciless quest for perfection, the continuous verification of all models, and the immediate disposal of failed assumptions and theories. Science is continuous doubt. I know the pain of doubting everything, because I am a scientist. In the end, science is the only thing humanity has going for it.  Without science, we are merely the dumb, suicidal lemmings that stumble in the dark, all 7.6 billion of us.


So here is the latest science from EOS: "Legions of scientists have put together the computer model that simulates the planet’s climate: the Community Earth System Model (CESM). Last year, the latest version of CESM, CESM2, debuted. Results from this new version’s simulations point toward a much hotter future climate—driven by humans continuing to burn fossil fuels and pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere—than any previous version of CESM. The jump comes after what-if simulations in which researchers doubled the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, starting with levels that existed before the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. (Those concentrations were about 280 parts per million. Today, levels are about 415 parts per million.)

Results from the same simulation from older versions of CESM were 2.9°C of warming in 2006, then 3.2°C in 2009, and 4.1°C in 2012. Now the projected warming is 5.3°C. The real planet has already warmed by 0.7°C to 0.9°C." The difference between the two models is accounting for the super-bright, solar radiation-reflecting clouds made of supercooled water. These clouds disappear fast from the warming up atmosphere and its models.

The supercooled water clouds over Wimberley, TX.  Because of the extraordinarily wet spring in Texas, lots of ground moisture is being evaporated here each day.  Now, the greedy Brazilians led by the corrupt neo-Nazi, Bolsonaro, want to "develop" (read destroy) the Amazon forest and change it into the soybean plantations for export to China. During that development process, the giant captive cloud system over the Amazonia will disappear.  Today this supercooled cloud system gives the hot tropical Amazonia appearance of a cold Arctic region. The accelerated destruction of the Amazonia is yet another way, in which the US, led by Trump and his tariffs, will speed up to the conversion of our hospitable planet into a hot hell for all of us. But the myopic, self-annihilating greed and stupidity are general human features. My friend, Rex Weyler, reports a bumper sticker seen in Colorado on a black pickup with huge wheels and rattling muffler: “My carbon footprint is bigger than yours.”  With the Amazon forest gone, parts of Colorado are likely to become a sand desert. Source: T.W. Patzek, 7/6/2019.


Thus, there are no other paths but to shrink, shrink more and transit away from fossil fuels.  You can stop reading here, but if you are courageous enough to keep on reading you will understand a little better the Herculean difficulties with the shrinkage and transition.

All right, here are more facts:  since 2004, the annual increases of total electricity consumption in the world have outpaced  all electricity production by all PV arrays in the world, see Figure 1. And the 2.7 TW of electricity in 2018 was only 16% of total primary energy demand in the world. If you read Part III of this post, you'll understand that even in Sector 1 of the global economy (electricity generation) solar PV electricity has not kept pace with the incremental demand for electricity.  As bad as this finding is, it merely illustrates the fact that without stringent population control in the poor countries and massive depowering of the rich countries there will be no comprehensive Green New Deal or Energiewende.  But I already made these difficult to swallow points in Part II.

Figure 1. Here is the scope of our problem: since 2004 (the beginning of meaningful solar power) , the annual increases of total electricity demand have outpaced total electricity production from all PV arrays in the world. The only exception was the year 2009, when the global financial crisis was in full swing. Please digest this plot for a second or two, because it shows the height of the power mountain we are on.  Data source: BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2019; data extracted by my electrical engineer friend, Pedro Prieto, 6/13/2019. 

Let's go back to the GHG emissions that have been increasing rather briskly at 2.7% in 2018, also see Figure 2. At a recent Atlantic Council meeting, Mr. Spencer Dale, chief economist of BP, was reported to have said this :

"Dale closed his presentation with a discussion of the power sector, emphasizing the importance of its decarbonization. Despite the renewable energy surge in the last decade, the power sector fuel mix remains the same as twenty years ago. Dale argued that switching coal production to natural gas is key to cutting emissions, as switching just 10 percent of global coal consumption to natural gas would have the same impact on emissions as doubling the renewables capacities of China and the United States." See Figure 3, to understand the scales involved.

Figure 2.  Notice that international aviation (us flying and our Valentine roses being flown from Costa Rica), and maritime transport (our stuff being shipped everywhere throughout the global fossil amoeba) emit as much of carbon dioxide as the continent of Africa. Source: Ourworldindata.org 

My dear green friends, even though Mr. Dale works for the oil industry, he is telling the truth. I'll come back to him a little later. There is no other quick way of limiting GHG emissions from electricity generation, unless the rich countries insist on the immediate and deep, really deep, power cuts that would spell the end of the current global economy that our visionary (just kiddin') president Trump wants to kill. Please remember that a vast increase of solar power postulated in Part III, would require heavy subsidies from fossil fuels and the concomitant increase of GHG emissions by perhaps as much as 25%, see Part II.

OK, let's move on. In Part III of this post, I offered you a magic conversion from coal and oil to equivalent solar electrical power. I expected a few of you to push me back by arguing that we do not need as much as 89 TWp (terawatt peak) of photovoltaic electricity to replace most of the 11 TW of global coal and oil.  If you did, I would have answered, no, in fact we need several times more solar electricity during the day to run all the background processes of generation of hydrogen or other energy carriers to power the rest of the economy during the night and provide heat for other industrial processes.  If hydrogen generated by the solar electrolysis of water were to leave the closed loop of generation/burning, the need for photovoltaic power would increase again, not to mention a steady waste stream of salts from the electrolyzed water, one way or another.

For example, a 1 MWp solar plant can deliver at best 20 tons of oil equivalent (or 20 tons of gasoline equivalent) per year as liquid or compressed hydrogen.  That's one tanker truck per year! As my Spanish electrical engineer friend, Pedro Prieto, calculates, a 1 MWp solar PV plant delivers to the consumers only 22% of its electricity production as usable hydrogen. I hope that you understand just how arduous and inefficient a large scale replacement of fossil fuels with hydrogen would be.


In keeping with the tone of this four-part post, the ever-brilliant Onion tells us  - the rich people - what to do in order to become more sustainable:

"PROVIDENCE, RI—Redefining the necessary adjustments required to address the accelerated pace of the growing global environmental crisis, a report published Wednesday by researchers at Brown University concluded that a single individual who wishes to do their part to stop climate change must remove 40,000 cars from public roadways and revive 20 square miles of coral reef. “As long as everyone on the planet intensifies their efforts by personally clearing 6.5 tons of plastic from the ocean, installing 7,000 solar panels in their community, and cutting back their use of fresh water by 300 million gallons, the human race may still have a shot at slowing climate change,” said atmospheric scientist Dr. Lauren Moffat, who further noted that each person on the planet would also ideally commit to saving at least three species from extinction every month while simultaneously working to reduce the world’s population by 1.3 billion in order to forestall global environmental collapse. “Some believe it may be too late to reverse the damage humans have done to our planet, but individual change can start with something as small as picking up four tons of garbage every day. At this point, it’s a cultural imperative for everyone to pitch in by performing small but measurable tasks—such as replacing 150 hectares of industrial buildings with hardwood forests in every U.S. city—if we want to stall the meteoric rise in global temperatures for a few more years.” Moffat added that reversing climate change can be as simple as removing every single car from the road or perfecting cold fusion."

OK, scientifically speaking, I may have some beef with the Onion, but in general they are soo correct.  Except that their population reduction goal is way too small, and personal water use too high.

Not to be outdone by the Onion, the Guardian proclaimed that

"The UK’s biggest carbon capture project will soon block thousands of tonnes of factory emissions from contributing to the climate crisis, by using them to help make the chemicals found in antacid, eyedrops and Pot Noodle. Within two years a chemical plant in Cheshire could keep 40,000 tonnes of carbon from the air every year, or the equivalent of removing 22,000 cars from the UK’s roads. ..."

This real project will deliver roughly half of the personal goal set out by the Onion. We live in a world in which comedians tell the scientifically defensible truth, and the serious, independent media seem to suffer from acute meningitis. And so many others just want to manipulate us, truth be damned. Are we still laughing? 

On a more serious note, the Houston Chronicle published this analysis quoting the same Mr. Dale:

"An economist with European oil major BP recently concluded an unexpected jump in global energy demand last year largely was due to a rise in the number of very hot and very cold days in some of the world’s most populated areas, including the United States, driving up consumption of power and heating fuels — and the carbon emissions that most of the world’s governments are racing to reduce “As they reach for the switch of the heater or air conditioner, energy consumption goes up,” Spencer Dale, group chief economist at BP, said at an event at the Washington think tank Atlantic Council earlier this month. “If there’s a link between the growing level of carbon in the atmosphere leading to the weather effects we saw last year that will signal the beginning of a more worrying, vicious cycle where increasing levels of carbon lead to more extreme weather patterns, which in turn lead to greater growth in energy and carbon.” Climate change and the global effort to combat it generally have been perceived as a threat to Texas’s sprawling oil and gas sector and other industries that produce large volumes of carbon dioxide. But BP’s analysis suggests at least in the short term, a warming planet could increase demand for fossil fuels."

I'll add that this "short term" could last for several decades, unless a major rearrangement of the status quo happens real fast. And we cannot afford several decades of annual increases of GHG emissions around the world.
Figure 3. Petawatt hours (1 peta = 1000 tera = 1,000,000,000,000,000 watts) of electricity produced from all sources (red curve) and solar PV + wind turbines.  As you can see, the contribution of "renewable electricity" is visible, but hardly sufficient to drive the Green New Deal even in Sector 1 of the global economy.  I have put "renewable electricity" in quotes to stress that the solar PV arrays and wind turbines are machines that repeatedly produce electricity for 20-30 years, after which time they must be replaced, if it is still possible in the greener simplified economy with much less power throughput.  

In conclusion, paraphrasing somewhat a recent email from David Hughes: "An increase of renewable power did account for 33% of the increase in electricity consumption in 2018 (Sector 1, please read Part III), but renewables haven’t actually reduced non-renewable consumption. Unfortunately, that still leaves the 84% of delivered power that is non-electric (Sectors 2-4 of the global economy). And down the road when we all drive electric cars and fly in electric planes with our food delivered by electric drones, and create hydrogen via electrolysis for fuel to colonize Mars the annual increases are going to get larger."   I would say many-fold larger. Did I mention the stupid lemmings stumbling in the dark?


P.S. (7/7/2019)  The "international aviation and maritime transport" slice of the CO2 emissions in Figure 2 appears to be in error.  It replaces the original database description of "bunker fuels."  Planes fly on jet fuel, which is a naphtha fraction similar to diesel fuel. Until January 1, 2020, ships will continue to use the black, gooey heavy oil fraction, called "bunker fuel." After this cut-off date, ships will have to switch to a cleaner, more expensive diesel fuel and will directly compete with planes. Thus, it is likely that the orange slice in Figure 2 pertains only to maritime transport. Adding planes will subtract from all other slices and double the thickness of the orange slice. 

Comments

  1. The vast, ugly sprawl of industrial wind power should be enough to block it on moral grounds. It's the biggest form of greenwashing ever conceived and was only "clean" in small doses during its 1970s infancy, though it was still killing birds and bats. Environmental groups need a big reality-check on that bloated technology.

    As Germany found out after building 30,000 wind turbines with few real CO2 benefits, it's just not worth turning half the habitable planet into an industrial park. Rooftop solar is good but not so pragmatic, economically, for large scale power.

    For real progress, we need small-footprint safer nuclear (like SMRs) and a reduction in the size of the economy, which includes serious birth control.

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  2. Well, False Progress, you did not mention a vast shrinkage of the German economy that will make the installed renewables more palatable. This is where we are going, and nuclear reactors will not help much. Given the political state of the world, the widespread, small-footprint nuclear reactors will be an ideal source of radioactive leaks, and a target for making dirty bombs of them and from them. If this were to happen, your memory of the nasty - I agree - wind turbines would change. LESS is the key word for you to ponder.

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  3. A bit off topic… but have you ever written about your family's experiences in Poland during WWII? Just curious.

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    1. Yes, of course, Henry. WWII had a terrible impact on my family on my mother's, father's, and wife's side. Its memories, passed on by my parents grandparents and friends have been the strongest force that shaped me. With the murderous communists executing the former soldiers of Armia Krajowa (Home Army) until at least 1953 (the Death of Stalin), the continuation WWII encroached on my early childhood. WWII did not really end in Poland until 1956. The second strongest force that shaped me was the absolute disdain for the communists, who ruled Poland during my time there.

      Here are the related posts that come to my mind:
      https://patzek-lifeitself.blogspot.com/2013/10/our-roots.html
      https://patzek-lifeitself.blogspot.com/2015/12/the-way-we-were.html
      About lying
      https://patzek-lifeitself.blogspot.com/2013/12/life-in-machine.html
      https://patzek-lifeitself.blogspot.com/2013/10/some-narratives-are-better-than-others.html
      Self-delusions:
      https://patzek-lifeitself.blogspot.com/2011/09/bearable-weight-of-being.html
      Yearning for freedom:
      https://patzek-lifeitself.blogspot.com/2015/01/the-bird-of-dawn.html


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    2. Thanks for the reply. I've been following this blog for a while, but just started reading a book with the Warsaw uprising -noticed your first name (shared with some people in book) and made the connection. Hearing personal stories like yours also beats Wikipedia.

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  4. Professor Patzek,

    I am an avid follower of your blog which is very illuminating about the predicament we face as a species and civilization. However I believe you might be slightly underestimating the greed of humans.You have pointed out several times how greed is a very powerful driving force for us humans.This is my opinion of what the future holds based on the very little that I know.
    Right now the Achilles heel of our civilization is oil which is being consumed at the rate of roughly 100 mb/d. We are nearly at peak and will soon begin to decline within a few years. But the decline will not be sharp but gradual like the U.S conventional oil which declined at about 3.5%. This will give us time to electrify cars,SUVs and Light trucks. Let me emphasize that I DO NOT believe that we can electrify ships,planes, mining machines large freight trucks which form the backbone of our civilization but by electrifying what we can we will buy ourselves some time. We can probably reduce our demand to 50 mb/d and keep up with the supply curve till 2050-60.(Provided we can find enough lithium and cobalt for batteries).
    By this point not just oil but even natural gas will be in terminal decline and by 2070 oil and gas will be at best 30-40% of their present output and coal at 50%.
    Since renewables cannot replace fossil fuels as you have so clearly illustrated again and again,after this civilization will rapidly collapse within a few decades and by the end of the century there may not be any functioning government on the planet.
    I think we are mimicking what the Romans did when they were faced with a collapse.Every step that they took to avert collapse made it that much worse when the collapse eventually happened. I think it will be far worse for us.

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    1. Dear Ravi,

      Thank you for sharing your somber thoughts. Things are both better and much worse than you posit. Without a multi-trillion dollar investment into the existing and new oil and gas fields, the decline of global oil production might exceed 7% per year, not just according to my 2007 OECD paper, but also according to BP and now Exxon Mobil. Thus, we may not have enough time and resources to spare to transit away from oil, using subsidies from the same oil. Another terrible wild card in all these transition calculations is the accelerating climate change that will cause massive dislocations of hundreds of millions of people worldwide, with most in Africa and Asia. Finally, with the 7.6 billion people everywhere and counting, the newly dislocated people might not have a place to go.

      On the plus side, we know a lot more than the old Romans did, not only it terms of hard science, but also in terms of social science. If the hungry, thirsty, scared, confused and angry people listen to the good recommendations, some will actually work. On the other hand, human nature has not changed an iota since the Roman times, and massive chaos and strife might follow.

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    2. Professor Patzek,

      Thank you for replying.I saw the Exxon Mobil report which predicts sharp drop in production if huge investments are not made in exploration and development.Forgive me for my ignorance but is there any reason that we will not make these investments? According to Rystad Energy report explorations and discoveries are picking up this year. I know that annual consumption of oil and gas is around 65 billion barrels of oil equivalent and discoveries have averaged between 7 and 14 bboe for last 5-7 years and is not likely to increase. This deficit will catch up in the future,but don't we have some surplus from the past that we can develop to avoid fast decline?

      I am aware that IPCC reports underestimate the climate sensitivity and ignore feedback loops. They also ignore aerosol cooling which is masking temperature rise of 0.8-1.2 C. If we stop burning fossil fuels then temperature will rise by about 1 C almost instantly.

      I don't think science or logic makes any difference as I have spoken to people with Phd in physics who also believe that renewables will save the day. Even if I debunk it using math and physics they believe that there will be improvements in the future just like microchips with moore's law. This is difficult to counter with either facts or numbers and the debate reaches a stalemate.So ultimately we are no different form Romans or even yeast for that matter.

      Personally I understand why people are in denial as this civilization has given people an identity,a purpose to be what they want to be,to follow their dreams in a way no other civilization could. I think highly intelligent people and even Nobel laureates are in denial because they don't want to admit their life's work will be meaningless a century from now when we start descending into middle ages.
      As for common people who have some education and basic understanding of math and physics I can take my own example - I am 27 years old and working as a developer, I want to get married,have kids and see the world. I have to confess this might be biasing my view about the oil and gas industry's immediate future.

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    3. Dear Ravi,

      You are making some sharp comments and asking complex questions. First, what we see in most of the discussions about climate change and the Big Transition is not simply denial, but also our inability to grasp the scope and depth of the problems we are facing. I have been thinking about these problems for as long as you live, and I too am often bewildered and confused.

      Speaking about confusion, there is an avalanche of new papers “proving” that solar PV and wind turbines are more attractive investments than the old fossil fuels. These papers are usually incomplete and subjective, because - if nothing else - the renewable electricity power plants are unable to function without the wrapper of fossil fuels. However, damage has already been done. The “smart” money views the oil and gas industry as stale and unattractive, and the young talent is leaving the industry. Early in my career, some of the best young minds would choose oil and gas production and exploration as their vocation and profession. Some still do, but far fewer and in between. The truth is that the oil and gas industry needs young talent now more than ever!

      In addition, most of the oil companies have lost credibility with the societies in which they operate. The root cause of this loss are decades of policy inaptness, insularity, arrogance, denial of environmental impacts, and neglect of public opinion. Therefore, it is by no means certain that the needed $24 trillion of O&G investment will be (a) raised in the next 20 years and (b) wisely spent. Now let us add to this picture the global economy that is entering a coma. Central banks continue to resuscitate the global economy by shooting into its collapsing veins excessive, unsustainable credit. I remind you that without sufficient oil and gas flowing through its veins, this economy will wither no matter what the next revival technique might be. In summary, we are entering an uncharted territory.

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  5. It is such a welcome pleasure to get reacquainted with your blog after losing touch after you left Austin when I got to know you a little bit years ago, back when ASPO was going strong. I hope to see you again when you return.

    It is true that the Green New Deal and the alternative energy advocates are not very good at factoring our unsustainable global economy into their picture. The world's central banks are busy printing up a storm to keep what amounts to a failing global Ponzi scheme of exponential growth going as long as possible. This video clip has a prominent capitalist investment advisor and a prominent socialist critic of global finance capitalism largely agreeing in their criticism of the Fed's global Ponzi capitalism.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v8EGpwCD_E0&t=21s

    A world run by carbon junkies in denial is never going to willingly admit that we won't be able to keep driving affordably much longer. When the Trump economy fails probably before the 2020 election, then we lurch toward the Dems with easy money populism, trying to emulate the FDR recovery era of the 1930s, probably resulting in serious stagflation. $5 or more a gallon gasoline will probably cause spiraling U.S. deflation in an already struggling US economy. If we are lucky we may be able power electric bikes with a few solar panels.

    Wall Street denial of the biophysical economics of the energy return on energy investment can defy material reality for only so long. Trying to deny that and print our way to prosperity, as the Fed is now doing, can only work over the short run.

    We had a world depression in the early 1930s due to mismanagement alone, without the help of resource limits, like now an energy crisis and simultaneous climate crisis. We can only imagine how difficult global survival will get with the active participation of these factors, plus a hundred trillion or whatever in debt that demands interest payment, perhaps at gunpoint if our weaponized petrodollar sanctions don't work.

    Here is an interesting link on a UN global population forecast that predicts a total population of 11 billion in 2100. This shows the kind of trouble you can get into if you have not read and understood the Club of Rome's Limits to Growth. The chart does reveal that there are vast demographic differences between regions of the world operating in common under the rules of global trade agreements.

    https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2019-07-13/world-population-topping

    This leads me to believe that you are right that the advanced economies including China and the USA will soon have to switch focus from affluence to survival. And the emerging economies such as South America likewise. Population increase requires food. If we are lucky, it will require too much cheap energy to finish destroying the Amazon to get the needed credit to do that.

    One of those whom I greatly admire as a global resource analyst is the London analyst Nafeez Ahmed, who helped produce The Crisis of Civilization.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pMgOTQ7D_lk&t=3933s

    Somewhere within this important biophysical economics documentary is the proposal that labor intensive agriculture could perhaps feed us within the envelope of the decline of fossil fuels. We urgently need to rediscover the importance of food production and security in our era of declining fuel production. Our economy is rigged to send the wrong signals until it crashes, likely soon. But the same crash could with luck sober us up and help save us.

    -- Roger Baker, Austin bakeroger@gmail.com

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    1. Wonderful comment. Must add something to this part...

      "We had a world depression in the early 1930s due to mismanagement alone..."

      There were biophysical issues at play here too. UK coal production peaked and began declining just before the Fed was created and WWI broke out.

      The depression is a peak-coal hangover which only oil could have brought us out of.

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    2. Hi Roger,

      Thank you for the great reply. Long time, no see. When we interacted back in the day, the world was more cleanly defined compared with the grand mess of today. We forget that peaks of pretty much everything, followed by a decline of – well - pretty much everything have been causing this mess. Few understand that real economic expansion of the world ended in the 1970s. Since then, we have been financing the ever-accelerating decline of the natural world with debt and kicking the proverbial can down the road. China’s economic expansion came too late and their bloated economy will have to contract severely soon, if not collapse. But, human population keeps on growing and accelerating the demise of most life-support systems that keep us alive. We can live for a few minutes without air, few days without water and few weeks without food. You'd assume that therefore special attention should be devoted by all of us to the air, water and soil to protect our lives. However, evidently we don’t care about that which keeps us alive. Instead, we prefer repeated dopamine hits from Facebook on iPhone or from buying impulsively stuff we don’t need. Life goes on…

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