Asperities

Practically Speaking, Net Zero is a Dud

Ever since the UK Parliament passed the Climate Change Act in 2008 (only five MPs voting against), committing Britain to drastic reductions in carbon emissions, the climate-change debate internationally as well as in Britain has had a unique character—that of sleepwalking into catastrophe. The political class everywhere has committed itself to increasingly stringent cuts in carbon emissions with its eyes open and radical minorities have urged a scorched-earth version of Net Zero to avoid a scorched earth while most ordinary citizens seemed mildly supportive of the policy without paying much attention.

It can’t be said that most people were denied information on what the likely consequences would be. It was clear they would be life-changing. If you decide to phase out “fossil fuels” (“Net Zero”) which currently account for about 85 per cent of energy generation worldwide without having as yet any adequate alternative energy sources, a lot of sacrifices will have to be made all round.

John O’Sullivan appears in every Quadrant.
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In an odd way, that was both proclaimed and denied by governments and international organisations. Earlier this year we had a forecast of what life under Net Zero would be like from the parliamentary Climate Change Committee set up by the 2008 Act to provide “independent” advice and criticism to the British government on how climate change policy is progressing. (“Independent” in this case means composed of zealous supporters of its more extreme versions.) It broke down the main effects of going Net Zero under four headings. Here are two, interspersed with my editorialising

“Expansion of low-carbon energy supplies. UK electricity production is zero carbon by 2035. Offshore wind becomes the backbone of the whole UK energy system … New uses for this clean electricity are
found in transport, heating and industry, pushing up electricity demand by a half over the next 15 years, and doubling or even trebling demand by 2050. Low-carbon hydrogen scales-up to be almost as large, in 2050, as electricity production is today. Hydrogen is used as a shipping and transport fuel and in industry, and potentially in some buildings, as a replacement for natural gas for heating.”

So we intend to electrify the entire country to heat people’s homes, fuel their cars, provide power to industry, and do a hundred other things while at the same time making our electricity supply dependent on unreliable renewables, mainly wind (of which perhaps Boris Johnson himself will supply a large percentage). But I’m being unfair—we’ll also rely on hydrogen (not yet available in sufficient quantities unless we make it from forbidden fossil fuels) and carbon capture (still to be developed).

“Reducing demand for carbon-intensive activities. The UK wastes fewer resources and reduces its reliance on high-carbon goods. Buildings lose less energy through a national programme to improve insulation across the country. Diets change, reducing our consumption of high-carbon meat and dairy products by 20 per cent by 2030, with further reductions in later years. There are fewer car miles travelled and demand for flights grows more slowly. These changes bring striking positive benefits for health and well-being.”

But what if our diets don’t change voluntarily? Or consumers don’t actually like the new low-carbon foods predicted here? Or they want to use their cars and fly on vacation more often than the planners predict? Will the planners change the plan? Or ration the foods, car trips and vacations that the consumers (who are also voters) want to enjoy?

When we look at the committee’s full list of industrial, economic and personal lifestyle changes needed to bring about Net Zero in Britain, it’s obvious it must cost a massive sum. Having been candid about the actual changes in our lives, however, the authorities become either coy or breezy about the cost of paying for them. It’s almost as if the hard financial figures might dispel the cheery optimism about our being deliberately made poorer by government policy. Until recently the UK Treasury refused to provide any estimates Net Zero costs; it simply referred reporters to the figures provided by the Climate Change Committee. And the committee’s chairman sums up the costs in a single optimistic paragraph:

“Some of our most important work is on the costs of the transition. Low carbon investment must scale up to £50 billion each year to deliver Net Zero, supporting the UK’s economic recovery over the next decade. This investment generates substantial fuel savings, as cleaner, more-efficient technologies replace their fossil fuelled predecessors. In time, these savings cancel out the investment costs entirely—a vital new insight that means our central estimate for costs is now below 1% of GDP throughout the next 30 years.”

It’s fair to say that very few people believe this. A leaked letter from a recent Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, showed that privately the Treasury was not among them. Even as the climate-change caravan was still rumbling along the road to COP-26 at Glasgow and the BBC was treating the conference as a world-saving miraculous event in full Soviet media mode, more and more people were expressing doubts—not about climate change itself but about two equally important considerations.

First, are the costs of climate change greater or lesser than the costs of the Net Zero response to climate change? The more alarming predictions of the impact of climate change touted by Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion (and shaping the atmosphere of the Glasgow conference) are rooted in a “worst case” scenario of future trends in carbon emissions. They assume a world in which the consumption of coal (the “dirtiest” of fuels which is actually declining in use throughout  the West) would rise to higher levels than ever before—with the result that there would be a rise in temperature of almost five degrees (over pre-industrial levels) by the end of this century.  

That’s led to an exaggeration of the “emergency” impact of global warming and thus of its costs We can therefore reasonably look for policies that address the problem at a lower cost than does Net Zero. And the obvious response to that is a “clean” blend of nuclear power, a drive for innovation, and “fracking” which replaces coal with natural gas—and which Biden and Boris discourage and prohibit respectively.

Second, is Net Zero practical politics? A number of critics—notably Bjorn Lomborg of the Copenhagen Consensus—have argued that the apparent mild support it gets from most people in Western democracies will collapse when its practical consequences begin to be felt. He’s discussing here the forecasts of the International Energy Authority:

“By 2050, we will have to live with much lower energy consumption than today. Despite being richer, the average global person will be allowed less energy than today’s average poor. We will all be allowed less energy than the average Albanian used in the 1980s. We will also have to accept shivering in winter at 19°C and sweltering in summer at 26°C, lower highway speeds and fewer people being allowed to fly.”

At this cost, Net-Zero simply isn’t going to happen. Indeed, almost everywhere it has been offered to the voters, they have rejected it—most recently in a Swiss referendum that asked them if they would pay higher taxes in order to meet Net Zero targets. They voted no.

We are therefore fast approaching the point at which the irresistible force of democracy will meet the immovable object of climate-change orthodoxy. Or are we?

For Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, writing in the London Daily Telegraph, points to a new development in climate politics: the climate legal warriors are weaponising international law, in particular human rights law, to prevent legislatures and governments from pursuing policies they think wise and may have been elected to pursue, by the power of international and domestic courts to interpreting treaties like the Paris Accords.

“There has been a cascade of judgments based on the UN Convention, the European Convention on Human Rights, or national constitutions. They are compelling governments to act faster than they had planned, or are capable of doing without resorting to revolutionary economic and social measures.  (My italics.)

Evans-Pritchard again: “You can see why negotiators in Glasgow must wrangle over every word in the COP-26 text, seemingly like medieval bishops disputing how many angels can fit on the head of a pin. Those words can and will be thrown back at them by a judge somewhere.”

Which helps to explain why the COP-26 negotiations are still arguing over the fine print long after they were supposed to be sipping the celebratory champagne.

And it’s coming close to home: “There is a ‘duty of care’ case underway in Australia over the Torres Strait Islands, which could reach into the Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence of the US, Canada and the UK. There are cases sprouting all over Latin America. The Grantham Institute says there were 1,841 climate action cases worldwide as of May.”

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard is sympathetic to the aims of the legal warriors on the grounds that they represent the judgment of mankind expressed in the policies of more than a hundred governments while he is also nervous about climate “lawfare” waged by judges who are neither elected nor accountable. On the second point he is clearly right to be nervous. On the first, should he not be more sceptical?

Do lawfare warriors really represent the judgment of mankind? Or merely the convictions of zealous minorities who exploit the somnolence of most citizens in order to rig the rules of politics and law so that when the majority wakes up, it will be unable to express its more conscious and deliberative second thoughts in the voting booth with any practical effect? If the latter, democracy will be the biggest victim of climate change to date.

23 comments
  • Michael

    It is quite likely that the weaponisation of international law and human rights processes to force countries and their peoples to implement drastic changes they don’t support, other than perhaps rhetorically, will likely destroy the international system as we’ve known it since the United Nations was established following the Second World War.

  • Ian MacDougall

    The Earth’s cryosphere-atmosphere-biosphere-hydrosphere-lithosphere assemblage is the most complex such beastie that we know about; in the entire Universe. And we having inherited fossil-carbon energy production from our ancestors, are busily engaged in an uncontrolled experiment on it. The only available ‘control’ planet is Venus, the ~98% CO2 atmosphere and higher-than-Mercury’s surface temperature of which has to be explained away using every resource available to the fossil-carbon shill.
    A highly-likely outcome will be too-little-too-late, and the next and subsequent generations will have to deal with the consequences of any coal-shill-led campaign to convert the coal ASAP into $$$$ in the present coal-owners’ and shills’ bank accounts.

  • Davidovich

    Surely, the only way in which democratic societies can achieve ‘net zero’ is to become less democratic and more authoritarian. We have seen how readily our State leaders have enacted emergency powers with removal of freedoms not experienced even in war time. Further, we continue to see how willingly large swathes of the population accept these draconian edicts. Oddly, the totalitarian China is sensible enough to only pay lip service to ‘net zero’ watching, no doubt with amusement, as the West impoverishes and weakens itself.

  • PT

    Ian, we’ve had this discussion before. Carbon dioxide levels on Venus are more than 200,000 times those on earth. On top of that, the Venusian atmosphere at the surface is more than 90 times the pressure on earth, with a major effect in the broadening of the absorption lines. We’d never get anywhere near that result here from burning fossil fuels. To make a Venusian atmosphere here, you’d have to convert all the limestone to CO2 gas. All the reserves of fossil fuels aren’t going to come to a significant fraction of one percent of the Venus CO2 levels.

    Secondly you forgot Mars. Mars actually has more CO2 by mass (not just proportion) in its atmosphere than earth does, but the greenhouse warming is only 1/7th it is on earth.

    The “predictions” are really based upon what they think the feedbacks will be. Mostly water vapour being dispersed and entering the lower stratosphere rather than forming extra clouds.

  • Daffy

    Further to PT and ian: distance from sun is a major factor in the temperature of Venus, one would think. And then, here on earth, we see consistently that the ‘scare’ models fail to track actuals, that global temperature swings are not correlated historically or even recently with the global average temperature (whatever ‘global average’ might mean in reality). One could surmise that returning CO2 to the atmosphere whence it largely came from plants via coal, oil and gas, is possibly a good idea. More plants (as we are now seeing).

    It is also notable that as there is slight, albeit wobbly warming, to be expected as we swing out of the little ice age into a possible tranquil warm period, there is a reduction in ‘extreme’ weather, and at the same time poverty is ebbing, as is storm damage and deaths adjusted for change in population and detection.

    Now, let’s hear: what is the ‘ideal’ temperature range, the ‘ideal’ atmospheric concentration of CO2 and the ideal poverty range if we play the CO2 games?

  • Ian MacDougall

    PT and Daffy:
    Yeah, sure. But those arguments of yours are after the historically-inherited fact. From John O’Sullivan’s threadstarter above:
    “So we intend to electrify the entire country to heat people’s homes, fuel their cars, provide power to industry, and do a hundred other things while at the same time making our electricity supply dependent on unreliable renewables (my emphasis – IM), mainly wind (of which perhaps Boris Johnson himself will supply a large percentage). But I’m being unfair—we’ll also rely on hydrogen (not yet available in sufficient quantities unless we make it from forbidden fossil fuels) and carbon capture (still to be developed).”
    As hundreds of such pieces on this site illustrate, coal-shillery goes hand-in-hand with hostility to renewables. That is understandable, as renewables are constantly decreasing in cost to the consumer, and improving in efficiency; which is why Tony ‘the future is coal’ Abbott made it his business to do all he could to keep them from being used. Despite that, the Australian population has in large part voted with its rooftops, and in rural areas like ours, by installing solar bore pumps. These are vastly cheaper to install than mains-powered ones, and once in place cost virtually nothing to run.
    As I have pointed out here before, if the main concern was not maximising the immediate and short-term profits of the coal companies, renewables would be welcomed by those coal-owners in order to make the coal last as long as possible, and to confine it to uses for which there is no easy and immediate substitute: eg iron smelting and road tar.
    But short-term thinking runs the game.
    “…are the costs of climate change greater or lesser than the costs of the Net Zero response to climate change?”
    This is reminiscent of the pre-WW2 fight between Neville Chamberlain and Winston Churchill over the costs vs benefits of standing up to Hitler. The best side won that one.
    (Daffy: see also https://350.org/)

  • pgang

    There is now only one political team in Australia and that’s the Socialist team. Morrison’s LNP is a sellout.
    We know that the proletariat will go quietly and willingly into perdition. The Covid socialists have shown the global warming socialists that there is nothing stopping them now.

  • Stephen Due

    It is interesting to see how the climate change agenda has been pushed forward relentlessly regardless of the compelling counter-arguments. The vaccine agenda is the same. Democracy has ceased to be an option. Only one form of government is now possible, namely the ‘administrative state’ (government by a permanent unelected bureaucracy). The administrative state is globalist in perspective, totalitarian in ethos. It is maintained by saturating populations with socialist propaganda from cradle to grave, and subjecting them to continual surveillance. Truth about climate, like truth about the vaccines, is completely irrelevant. All that matters now is the official ‘narrative’, in which ‘We the People’ have no say.

  • ianl

    From consistent previous experience, the McDougall trollster will pay no attention to rational discussion. He is permanently teed-off by the uninvited encroachment (as he sees it) of coal exploration onto his property rights. He reacts as did the baddies in Dr. Who: exterminate !!

    John O’Sullivan’s essay reproduced here is quite accurate. The loss of democratic effect (through Govt’s and judiciary simply ignoring the results of voting) is well underway – and irreversible now, in my view. Equally pernicious is the result of “bipartisanship”, as the difference now between the Libs and the ALP/Greens on this is just tedious, trivial squabbling over irrelevant percentages and timings. Voting is only pointless quibbling at the margins.

  • Katzenjammer

    Partway through the above article I realised the economic case is the same as “smashing and repairing broken windows is good for the GDP”. It’s actually much better than just a same type replacement. Break windows and replace them with double glazed chrystal glass – if a replacement sends more money into the economy, then a far more expensive replacement must be much more advantageous. Smash our energy supply and replace it with, not just a more expensive type, but at the same time add extra appliances that require extra energy.

  • Citizen Kane

    And all of this on the presupposition that 0.01% additional atmospheric CO2 will have any meaningful effect on the long term drivers of climate. Ask yourself this one basic proposition, how did the globe manage to climb out of the myriad ice ages over the millennia and more recently into the warmer than average holocene which spawned modern civilization as we know it , in the absence of AGW? All of this while atmospheric CO2 levels have diminished from 4000ppm in the Ordovician to 400ppm today. Meanwhile the Australian continent as a whole has just suffered one of its coldest Novembers on record with mean temperatures 1 – 4 degrees below the long term average across the continent. Seems like catastrophic global warming just caught a bad case of a late spring cold. Keeerchoo! Quick, find a needle!!

  • ianl

    It’s quite obvious, indeed shamelessly so, that irrespective of whatever or for whomever we vote, we always finish with the same policies. Western world wide.

    Factually, we are being ruthlessly channelled into heavily green-tinged totalitarianism under the guise of what has become a relatively mild epidemic. This C-19 coronavirus (lab engineered for research into human pandemic analyses following SARS-1 but carelessly leaked) has followed the known evolutionary path of coronaviruses – that is, a mutation which is more infectious but less host-damaging has overwhelmed other strains. Yet the green-tinged totalitarianism is proceeding with menace.

  • STD

    @CItizen Kane.
    There is no doubt that global warming and climate change as they relate to CO2, (talking pollution) are thought to be a pivotal driver, in regard to left leaning political agenda and changes brought about politically.
    This is all about divesting the fossil fuel industry (free enterprise)( Ian MacDougall’s shills) of their shill and transferring that shill in totality to the socialist progressive political agendas- in other words political intent wants a transfer of power from free enterprise to centralised political control ( curtailed freedom).
    In the current political climate this is justification for raising the price of all fossil fuel, thus increasing the cost of productive living and making it possible to raise the living standard of parasites who do not want to be productive- the voter base of the Australian arm ( Labor Party) of the World Wide communist party- ‘Labor movement’…… ( fuel excise).
    ****
    There is no doubt that fossil fuels , fuel the economies of the industrialised world (China) and the fast emerging third world status of the West.
    Communism has conclusively proved that consumerism ,is in the words of my Dad ,has been (1)successful, (2)too successful, just ask the (1)Americans and (2) the Chinese.
    He with most electrons available at his disposal relative to time ,will be the most productive and sort after , therefore the wealthiest and most powerful, and as such will call, all the shots- China.

    ****
    While, the West is buggered , fixated on peoples anal equality and equity and other sexual rights and causes, the Chinese are eclipsing us sequentially-industrially, economically, politically and in a cultural sense morally.
    ****
    At the end of the day there is no impending catastrophe or tragedy- the atoms and the electrons do not care where they are, or how they reside.
    It is the driver of evolution, the biological mechanism’s in Chemistry that guarantee the embedded morality of speciesism and that of species survival and extinction.
    As long as the atoms survive and are able to evolve ( electron state) into compound states the long term outlook for the production, evolution and survival of protein is assured.
    ****
    However I think the question as it relates to the human species needs to be asked, what will be the moral makeup of human kind post global warming climate change agenda?Will evolution be taking place at the behest of the Lefts political elites?
    Will freedom, truth ,reason and the capacity to think objectively survive the makings of barbarism?
    ****
    The only thing that separates modern man from the barbarism of the dark ages is the rate and amount of electrical conductivity- in other words the capacity and the greater autonomy embedded in freedom , in every sense( free electrons and hence the natural abolition of all forms of slavery).
    ****
    I have no doubt that the truth will survive and endure, but will our faith in it prosper and be properly understood?
    Will we be happy or for that matter happier within ourselves, if we deny ourselves the total existence and very nature of life and living as is corresponds and relates to truth- eternal truth.
    ****
    Hydrocarbons and-carbohydrate are sources of energy that come from living creatures and plants and enable life to function. “The energy in oil originally comes from the Sun and is energy from sunlight that is trapped in chemical form by dead plankton “.

  • Phillip

    Look the biggest challenge I’ve got is, my Institute of Engineers Australia, in their latest magazine to members, said we should acknowledge & adhere to the thoughts of Al Gore. They even went further and hired him as the main speaker at some symposium for the design of the future engineering world !
    That’s right, Al bloody Gore. The very same loopy who in January 2006 said that “within the next 10 years, the world will reach a point of no return” and “a true planetary emergency” due to global warming.”
    Then in December 2008 this global warming weirdo said “the entire North ‘polarized’ ice cap will disappear in 5 years.”
    Joe Biden listens with glee to these global warming idiots and my Institute of Engineers Australia says I should design for the future based on Al Gore rants, rather than utilizing the data of historical facts and truths.
    I have more faith in Santa Claus jumping lockdown borders than these global warming institutional wannabees.

  • Elizabeth Beare

    As soon as I read the term ‘coal-shill’ I turn off, because I know I will be confronted by deep greenery.
    Coal is a valuable plentiful resource and should be treated well in the mix of energies we rely on.
    So is oil (important for plastics and heavy vehicle transport) and natural gas, and fracked gas and shale oil. If there is any seriousness at all to the models of ‘climate change’ (which, as with Covid models, I seriously doubt on both the paucity of the models and empirical testing of them) then limited amounts of nuclear energy will be required too. What I call greenery (for which see Ian MacD above) is a ‘solution’ looking for a problem. There will be tremendous resistence to greenery in future decades as changes are forced. Australians have welcome rooftop solar due to subsidies, and use it and other solar only when and where convenient, for it does have a small place here and there but not in large farms, which like windfarms, require maintenance and constant renewal (at high ‘carbon’ cost, btw).
    International lawfare pressuring governmental interventions to push the energy market in one direction will produce energy disasters that the electorates in Western nations will reject. Developing nations have already taken the ‘out’ allowed them to reject these right now. China, especially, with India and Africa following behind.

  • Elizabeth Beare

    Phillip, luckily Santa is a miracle worker who tackles borders with the alacrity with which he tackles the chimneys he is supposed to go down. He ignores the borders and makes up chimneys where they are lacking – or he takes the window, walking through the glass, as any five year old can tell you.
    Global warming institutional wannabees also make things up, but there is no reason to believe their facility with miracles. My money is definitely on Santa.

  • PT

    Ian, you sound like you’re just repeating the “cheaper and cleaner energy” line that ass of a Shadow Treasurer keeps repeating. That only works with “creative accounting”! They don’t count the capital cost for battery storage, for example, but DO include an estimated cost for “carbon offsets” and various other “charges” for coal fired power stations. They also assume all coal fired power stations in the country would have to be demolished and replaced with brand new units in the early to mid-2020’s. Now if that were true, and if solar was really cheaper, they’d need no “pledges” or subisidies, or “carbon taxes” to replace the entire coal fired system with solar panels. You wouldn’t be able to install it faster given the limitations in supply and the number of people actually qualified to do the work.

    That should be enough to alert you these people aren’t really telling you the truth, merely “half truths” at best. And if that isn’t enough, perhaps you should look to the fact that power costs have increased with the uptake of these so-called “cheaper” alternatives as a proportion of the power supply. How is it that increasing the proportion of “cheaper energy” actually INCREASES the charges? The truth is they leave out costs, pretend that subsidies don’t exist and say the subsidised price is the true price, choose the spot price when renewable generation is at its peak and quote that, and ignore the fact that coal fired stations are kept idling ready to pick up the slack when the intermittent supply from renewables dips. This latter is becoming ever greater as the proportion of renewables increases.

    There is one renewable that is the cheapest and cleanest source of electrical energy of all: hydropower, but greens are more opposed to that than coalfield power stations, in Australia anyway.

    Don’t be fooled. Things are not likely to be anywhere as bad as the alarmists (using worst case scenario’s for political impact) make out. If you really believe we must make these changes, stop trying to pretend the electricity is going to be cheaper. It isn’t. The costs may be necessary, but don’t pretend it isn’t there.

  • Phillip

    Elizabeth, it is my pleasure to be in your splendid company again.
    May Santa bring all the good tidings and cheer justly deserved to your door….and hopefully before political tyranny cancels all fairy tales of global warming…

  • pgang

    A good baseline would be to work out what the cost of residential solar panel installation has been since the year 2000. There is the direct cost to households and then the much larger cost to the treasury in rebates and of course the useless feed-in payments. Given that nobody has even bothered to establish this core historical cost of global warming policy, what is the point of talking about future costs ?
    Australians have already wasted billions on these idiotic solar panels, which attempt to replace a highly efficient energy grid with standalone, uselessly disconnected sometimes-energy.

  • Doubting Thomas

    We have been around these buoys before, repeatedly, ad nauseam. Nothing will convince Ian MacD to moderate his language. His opening salvo of “coal shills” is just the start of incessant ad hominem that will inevitably follow in response to counter-arguments.

    Ignore him.

  • Phillip

    Due to my continued growth and development in being very unpopular, I am receiving less phone calls from anyone. But I have my faith and trust in solar panels. For you may note there are none on my roof and this lack of green infrastructure upon my humble abode is of great concern to two remaining friends who telephone with consistent regularity. I have Azarudhin from New Delhi Hot Panel & Paint and then Dalisay (she is my favourite) from Manilla Move With the Groove, each encouraging me to look on my roof and see if any solar panels have grown onto my tiled cover. And each time, Alas, there are none, but Azarudhin and Dalisay are always there thinking of me and offering encouragement to spend my money.

    Oh sorry, Ian or Brian from the Sydney Wine Club do also call me regularly on some pretence that alcohol can influence popularity, only if I spend money on the fruit of the Lord and be buggered with a solar panel, they say…?!

  • Doubting Thomas

    Phillip, it looks as if the Institute of Engineers has succumbed to the activist radical left like some other professional associations. The AMA has long since been overtaken at the executive level by leftists whose political views, I doubt, come within the same ballpark as the majority of their membership.
    Anthony Watts of the “Watts Up With That” blog recounts how he enrolled his dog in the much quoted “Union of Concerned Scientists” that likes to skite about its membership numbers as an appeal to its authority in the climate wars.
    Activists will do what activists always do if not controlled by an interested and involved membership. See also the trade Union movement.

  • rjgcarter

    Despite the Coalition being 1 degree to the right of the lefties I have some faith the when the populace awakes to the true cost and the institutional lies surrounding this scam that sensibilities will be restored. The EU may be one of the last hold out locations given its democracy has been diluted by bureaucrats. But it is already in advanced economic and democratic decline so it’s ability to pay for and dictate rules is being rapidly diluted each year. The “tyranny of the majority” should ultimately prevail or there’s going to be one hell of a rebellion even the French couldn’t orchestrate. It’s not like the balance sheet and future spending are under control.

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