Date: September 14, 2023

In a heart-wrenching turn of events, Eastern Libya has been plunged into an unprecedented disaster, as torrential rains unleashed chaos and devastation. This story highlights the need for global solidarity and immediate action in the face of climate-induced catastrophes.

The Human Toll

As the dust settles, it has become tragically apparent that the damage is staggering. The official death toll currently stands at 5,300, with 20,000 individuals still unaccounted for and over 7,000 injured. However, the true extent of this catastrophe is far from clear, given the sheer scale of destruction caused by Mediterranean storm Daniel.

Local ambulance service spokesman Osama Ali paints a grim picture of the situation, and Mayor Abdel Moneim Al-Ghaithi of Derna speaks of the city’s unpreparedness for such a disaster. This grim reality is one that exposes the vulnerability of communities facing the brunt of climate change impacts.

Global Response

The World Health Organization (WHO) has been working tirelessly to manage the crisis, confirming the recovery of 3,460 bodies. However, even WHO’s representative, Ahmed Zouiten, acknowledges the challenges in obtaining precise figures. What is irrefutable is that thousands have lost their lives, leaving a trail of heartbreak and despair.

Infrastructure in Ruin

This disaster has not only claimed lives but has also decimated the region’s infrastructure. The collapse of two dams sent walls of water surging through the city of Derna, washing away entire neighborhoods. The images are haunting and serve as a stark reminder of the catastrophic potential of climate change.

A Plea for Help

Libya’s eastern-based government, led by Prime Minister Osama Hammad, has called for urgent assistance from specialists to recover the casualties. The fear of decomposing bodies exposed to the elements is a grim reality that necessitates immediate action.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has stepped in, providing 6,000 body bags to ensure the dignified handling of the deceased. Yet, confirming the exact number of casualties remains a formidable challenge, as buildings and infrastructure have been swallowed by the sea.

A Call to Action

The tragedy unfolding in Eastern Libya is a painful reminder of the urgent need to address climate change and its devastating consequences. As activists and global citizens, it is our duty to demand immediate climate action from our leaders. Climate disasters, like the one in Libya, are costing lives and causing immeasurable suffering.

We must push for policies that prioritize climate mitigation, resilience, and disaster preparedness. It’s not just Libya’s problem; it’s a global crisis that requires a united response. Let this tragedy serve as a wake-up call, urging us all to work towards a more sustainable and resilient future.

The world cannot afford to stand by while our planet and its people suffer. We must act now to prevent such heartbreak from becoming the new normal.

Header photo via Argus News

NBC News

Earth.com

The Guardian

NPR

BBC

The U.S. Interior Department recently canceled seven oil and gas leases in Alaska’s pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that were hastily sold during the final days of the Trump administration. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland stated that with the cancellation, “no one will have rights to drill for oil in one of the most sensitive landscapes on earth.” However, a 2017 law requires another lease sale by late 2024, which the Biden administration says it intends to comply with.

The Arctic Refuge’s remote 1.5 million-acre coastal plain along the Beaufort Sea is considered sacred to the Indigenous Gwich’in people, as it is where the caribou they rely on migrate and give birth each year. For decades, Alaska politicians have pushed to open the area up to oil and gas drilling, and in 2017 they succeeded in getting language inserted into a federal tax law that mandated two lease sales in the region before 2024.

In 2021, the Interior Department under President Biden issued an executive order to pause the leasing program so it could conduct a new rigorous environmental review, arguing the Trump administration’s rushed process had “multiple legal deficiencies.” Earlier this month, a federal judge upheld the delay for further analysis as reasonable (Washington Post).

While Alaska leaders aim to allow oil and gas extraction in the refuge, conservation groups and the Gwich’in Steering Committee see the area as sacred and ecologically fragile. The coastal plain provides important habitat for polar bears, migratory birds, and the Porcupine caribou herd.

The fate of the Arctic Refuge remains unsettled. For now, the Biden administration has pushed the pause button on drilling, but may be required to hold another lease sale in the coming years. Environmental advocates continue to urge permanent protections, while Alaska officials want to tap into potential oil reserves. The back-and-forth leaves the future of this sensitive landscape uncertain.

Biden Administration to Bar Drilling on Millions of Acres in Alaska (New York Times)

Biden to cancel oil and gas leases in Alaska issued by Trump administration (The Guardian)

Biden cancels Trump drilling leases in Alaska’s largest wildlife refuge (BBC)

Ruling clears Joe Biden’s 2021 pause on new oil, gas leases (NPR)

On Thursday, two former leaders affiliated with the right-wing organization known as the Proud Boys were handed substantial sentences for their involvement in the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. These sentences represent some of the lengthiest penalties imposed on individuals connected to the 2021 attack. Joseph Biggs, who previously led the Florida chapter of the group, has been sentenced to 17 years in federal prison, while Zachary Rehl, the former leader of the Philadelphia chapter, received a 15-year sentence.

In May, both individuals were found guilty of seditious conspiracy and additional charges, alongside other prominent figures within the Proud Boys, including Enrique Tarrio, the group’s former national chair. Tarrio is scheduled for sentencing in the upcoming week. These severe sentences underscore the viewpoint of the Justice Department and the presiding judge that the Proud Boys played a significant role as organizers, planners, and executors of the events on January 6.

Andy Campbell, a senior editor at HuffPost and author of a book about the Proud Boys, observed that these sentences reflect the recognition that Proud Boys leaders held pivotal positions in orchestrating the riots of January 6. He further notes that the Proud Boys maintained close connections with influential allies of former President Trump. This suggests a level of awareness regarding the potential for violence on January 6 when Trump encouraged his supporters to march on the Capitol. In Campbell’s words, “We are confronted with a deeply rooted extremist crisis at the highest echelons of right-wing governance.”

Democracy Now

School shootings have become a devastating reality in America. The memories of these tragedies are seared into our collective consciousness, as we grapple with the senseless loss of innocent lives. They live on in our collective memory with names like Columbine and Sandy Hook  recalling images of both sadness and terror.

Despite the differences, there are common themes that emerge. One is the urgent need for better mental health care in this country. Many of the shooters had a history of mental illness, yet were able to obtain guns and carry out their heinous acts. Another is the need for stricter gun control laws. It is clear that guns are far too easy to obtain in America, and that our lax gun laws are contributing to the problem.

These tragedies serve as a painful reminder of the devastating consequences of gun violence and the urgent need for change in our society. We must work together to create a safer, more just world for future generations.

The air pollution from industrial plants in America has led to an estimated quarter of a million Americans being at a higher risk of cancer. Many areas, including the infamous 85-mile stretch of the Mississippi River in Louisiana, remain unknown to residents who routinely breathe the contaminated air. Cancer-causing chemicals from thousands of hazardous air pollution sources across the country have spread between 2014 and 2018. The result is toxic air blooms around industrial facilities and nearby communities.

The majority of residents in these areas are people of color and they experience about 40% more cancer-causing industrial air pollution on average than tracts where the residents are mostly white. The analysis also revealed that companies across the United States, particularly in Texas and Louisiana, manufacture ethylene oxide, the biggest contributor to excess industrial cancer risk from air pollutants nationwide.

Despite years of advancements, air quality has started to deteriorate. The Trump administration removed over a hundred environmental safeguards, which included around twenty-four regulations concerning air pollution and emissions.

The EPA has reinvigorated its commitment to protecting public health under President Joe Biden’s administration, however, flaws with the EPA’s implementation of the Clean Air Act, a landmark law that dramatically reduced air pollution provided less protection to those who live closest to industrial polluters, or so-called “fence-line communities.”

The agency’s assessment of the risk significantly underestimates the exposure of residents. Instead of considering the cumulative cancer risk in cases where polluters are concentrated in a particular neighborhood, the EPA focuses on examining specific types of facilities and equipment in isolation without considering much of the industrial support necessary at sites like this.

“The environmental regulatory system wasn’t set up to deal with these things. All of the parts of the system have to be re-thought to address hot spots or places where we know there’s a disproportionate burden.” -Matthew Tejada, director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice

Residents living near polluting facilities are often left in the dark about the toxins that they are being exposed to, as the Clean Air Act does not frequently mandate monitoring by either the EPA or industry. Moreover, companies are allowed to use flawed formulas and monitoring methods to estimate their emissions when reporting to the EPA.

by Craig Silverman and Jeff Kao

Just before 11 a.m. Moscow Standard Time on March 1, after a night of Russian strikes on Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities, a set of Russian-language Twitter accounts spread a lie that Ukraine was fabricating civilian casualties.

One account created last year, @Ne_nu_Che, shared a video of a man standing in front of rows of dark gray body bags that appeared to be filled with corpses. As he spoke to the camera, one of the encased bodies behind him lifted its arms to stop the top of the bag from blowing away. The video was taken from an Austrian TV report about a climate change demonstration held in Vienna in February. But @Ne_nu_Che claimed it was from Ukraine.

Russian-language Twitter accounts posted a video that they claimed showed Ukrainian media had faked reports of civilian casualties. It is actually an unrelated clip from an Austrian TV report in February. The accounts were later removed by Twitter for violating its platform manipulation and spam policy. Credit:Screenshots captured by ProPublica 

“Propaganda makes mistakes too, one of the corpses came back to life right as they were counting the deaths of Ukraine’s civilians,” the tweet said.

Two other accounts created last fall within a few days of @Enot_Kremle_Bot soon shared the same video and accusations of fake civilian casualties. “Ukrainian propaganda does not sleep,” said one.

The Twitter profiles are part of a pro-Putin network of dozens of accounts spread across Twitter, TikTok and Instagram whose behavior, content and coordination are consistent with Russian troll factory the Internet Research Agency, according to Darren Linvill, a Clemson University professor who, along with another professor, Patrick Warren, has spent years studying IRA accounts.

The IRA burst into the American consciousness after its paid trolls used thousands of English-language accounts across social media platforms to influence American voters during the 2016 presidential election. The IRA was at the center of a 2018 Department of Justice criminal indictment for its alleged effort to “interfere with elections and political processes.”

“These accounts express every indicator that we have to suggest they originate with the Internet Research Agency,” Linvill said. “And if they aren’t the IRA, that’s worse, because I don’t know who’s doing it.”

An analysis of the accounts’ activity by the Clemson Media Forensics Hub and ProPublica found they posted at defined times consistent with the IRA workday, were created in the same time frame and posted similar or identical text, photos and videos across accounts and platforms. Posts from Twitter accounts in the network dropped off on weekends and Russian holidays, suggesting the posters had regular work schedules.

Many of the accounts also shared content from facktoria.com, a satirical Russian website that began publishing in February. Its domain registration records are private, and it’s unclear who operates it. Twitter removed its account after being contacted by ProPublica.

The pro-Putin network included roughly 60 Twitter accounts, over 100 on TikTok, and at least seven on Instagram, according to the analysis and removals by the platforms. Linvill and Warren said the Twitter accounts share strong connections with a set of hundreds of accounts they identified a year ago as likely being run by the IRA. Twitter removed nearly all of those accounts. It did not attribute them to the IRA.

Late last month, the network of accounts shifted to focus almost exclusively on Ukraine, echoing similar narratives and content across accounts and platforms. A popular post by the account @QR_Kod accused the Ukrainian military of using civilians as human shields. Another post by @QR_Kod portrayed Ukraine as provoking Russia at the behest of its NATO masters. Both tweets received hundreds of likes and retweets and were posted on the same day as the body bag video. At least two Twitter accounts in the network also shared fake fact-checking videos.

Twitter accounts such as @QR_Kod shared memes that echo propaganda spread domestically by Russian state media. @QR_Kod was later removed by Twitter for violating its platform manipulation and spam policy. Credit:Screenshots captured by ProPublica

The findings indicate that professionalized trolling remains a force in domestic Russian propaganda efforts and continues to adapt across platforms, according to Linvill.

“I can’t stress enough the importance of understanding the way that this is a tool for Putin to control narratives among his own people, a way for him to lie to his own people and control the conversation,” Linvill said. “To suggest that the West is blanketly winning this information war is true only in some places. Putin doesn’t have to win the information war, he just has to hold his ground. And these accounts are helping him do that.”

After inquiries from ProPublica, all of the active accounts were removed from TikTok, and nearly all were suspended by Twitter. Meta said it removed one Instagram account for violating its spam policy and that the others did not violate its rules. None of the platforms attribute the accounts to the IRA. Twitter and TikTok said the accounts engaged in coordinated behavior or other activity that violated platform policies.

A TikTok spokesperson said the initial eight accounts shared with it violated its policy against “harmful misinformation.” TikTok removed an additional 98 accounts it determined were part of the same pro-Putin network.

“We continue to respond to the war in Ukraine with increased safety and security resources to detect emerging threats and remove harmful misinformation,” said a statement provided by the company. “We also partner with independent fact-checking organizations to support our efforts to help TikTok remain a safe and authentic place.”

A Twitter spokesperson called the roughly 60 accounts it removed “malicious” and said they violated its platform manipulation and spam policy, but declined to be more specific. They said the company had determined that the active accounts shared by ProPublica had violated its policies prior to being asked about them. Twitter decided to leave the set of 37 accounts online “to make it harder for bad actors to understand our detections,” according to the spokesperson.

The accounts were removed by Twitter within 48 hours of ProPublica contacting the company about them. The week before, Twitter removed 27 accounts that the Clemson researchers also identified as likely IRA accounts.

“Our investigation into these accounts remains ongoing, and we will take further action when necessary,” said a statement from a Twitter spokesperson. “As is standard, when we identify information operation campaigns that we can reliably attribute to state-linked activity, we will disclose this to the public.”

Twitter declined to offer more details on why it left roughly 30 accounts that it identified as violative online to continue spreading propaganda. It also declined to comment on connections between the roughly 60 accounts in this recent network and the hundreds of accounts flagged by Linvill and Warren last spring as possible IRA profiles. Linvill said he identified the recent accounts largely based on their commonality with the previous set of 200.

“I connect these current accounts to the ongoing activity over the course of the past year by carefully tracking accounts’ tactics, techniques and procedures,” he said.

Platforms may be hesitant to attribute activity to the IRA in part because the agency has adapted and made its efforts harder to expose, according to Linvill. But he said social platforms should disclose more information about the networks it removes, even if it can’t say with certainty who is running them.

“In every other area of cybersecurity, dangerous activity from bad actors is disclosed routinely without full confidence in the source of the activity. We name and disclose computer viruses or hacker groups, for instance, because that is in the public interest,” he said. “The platforms should do the same. The Russian people should know that some sophisticated and well-organized group is covertly using social media to encourage support for Putin and the war in Ukraine.”

The Internet Research Agency is a private company owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian entrepreneur known as “Putin’s Chef.” Prigozhin is linked to a sprawling empire ranging from catering services to the military mercenary company Wagner Group, which was reportedly tasked with assassinating President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The IRA launched in St. Petersburg in 2013 by hiring young internet-savvy people to post on blogs, discussion forums and social media to promote Putin’s agenda to a domestic audience. After being exposed for its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. election, the IRA attempted to outsource some of its English-language operations to Ghana ahead of 2020. Efforts to reach Prigozhin were unsuccessful.

But it never stopped its core work of influencing Russian-speaking audiences. The IRA is part of a sprawling domestic state propaganda operation whose current impact can be seen by the number of Russians who refuse to believe that an invasion has happened, while asserting that Ukrainians are being held hostage by a Nazi coup.

Prior to the invasion, accounts in the network identified by the Clemson Media Forensics Hub and ProPublica celebrated Russian achievements at the Olympics.

“They were deep in the Olympics, tweeting about Russian victories and the Olympics and how the Russians were being robbed by the West and not allowed to compete under their own flag,” Linvill said.

After the invasion began, they moved to unify people behind Putin’s war.

“It was a slow shift,” he said. “And this is something I’ve seen from the IRA before: When a significant world event happens, they don’t always know immediately how to respond to it.”

By late February, the network had found its voice in part by echoing messages from Russian officialdom. The accounts justified the invasion, blamed NATO and the West and seeded doubts about civilian death tolls and Russian military setbacks. When sanctions kicked in and Western companies began pulling out of Russia, they said it was good news because Russian products are better. (Two Twitter accounts in the network shared the same video of a man smashing an old iPad with a hammer.)

Accounts in the network responded to sanctions by posting videos disparaging Western products. Credit: Screenshot captured by ProPublica

“These accounts were sophisticated, they knew their audience, and they got engagement far surpassing the number of followers that they had,” Linvill said.

Paul Stronski, a senior fellow in the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, reviewed content shared by more than two dozen of the Twitter accounts prior to their suspension. “A lot of this is the type of stuff I would expect from Russian trolls,” said Stronski, who reads and speaks Russian.

He said many of the accounts adopt an approachable and humorous tone to generate engagement and appear relatable to younger audiences present on social media.

“They’re very critical of prominent Russians who have criticized this war, questioning their patriotism,” Stronski said. “They’re saying in effect that during wartime you shouldn’t be criticizing your own. You should be lining up behind the state.”

When President Biden flubbed the pronunciation of “Ukrainians” during his recent State of the Union address, several of the accounts on Twitter, TikTok and Instagram shared the clip and mocked him. While that clip spread widely outside of the suspected IRA network as well, the accounts often spread more obscure content in coordination. Multiple Twitter accounts, for example, shared a screenshot of a Russian actor’s tweet that he cared more about being able to use Apple Pay than the war in Ukraine. The accounts criticized him, with one warning that “the internet remembers everything.”

Before the account takedowns, the Russian government had begun closing off the country from global social media and information sources. It restricted access to Twitter and blocked Facebook. The Russian legislature passed a law that allows for a 15-year sentence for people who contradict the official government position on the war. As a result, TikTok announced it would pause uploads of new videos in Russia.

Some of the accounts in the network saw the writing on the wall and prepared their audience to move to Telegram, a Russian messaging service.

“Friends! With happiness I’d like to tell you that I decided to make the t.me/enot_kremlebot channel, in which you will see analytics to the fullest extent. Twitter could block us any minute!” tweeted @Enot_Kremle_Bot on March 5. “I really don’t want to lose my treasured and close-to-my-heart audience! Go to this link and subscribe.”

This story was originally published by ProPublica.

Climate change will impact us all, no matter who we are or where we live. But that doesn’t mean it will hit us equally.

Climate change may not discriminate, but people do.

As a reporter at ProPublica, my focus is on environmental justice, how low-income, underserved and disenfranchised people have been forced to bear an unequal burden of pollution. That’s the same focus I’m bringing as one of the hosts of “Hot Mess” — a PBS Digital Studios YouTube series about the complexities of climate change.

People are the most complex variables in the climate change equation. And my first episode, out today, focuses on the nexus of climate change and environmental justice — and how we need to do a better job connecting the two.

As the effects of climate change intensify, so too will the stark differences in consequences experienced by the privileged and the disadvantaged. So as we see more intense storms and extreme temperatures, it’s important to examine the systemic and structural deficiencies that exacerbate inequity.

It’s why we dug into Houston’s response to Hurricane Harvey, and found that officials botched plans for an organized way to handle natural disasters. It’s why we held FEMA accountable for the anemic response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. It’s why we’re focusing on the rollback of key environmental regulations by the Trump administration, and the people who will be left unprotected.

Not everyone can move away from a floodplain, or a toxic site, or a disaster zone.

It’s important to talk about the choices people make that push the impacts of climate change more heavily onto certain groups.

Help keep this conversation going. How has climate change impacted your community? Email me at talia.buford@propublica.org.

This story was originally published by ProPublica.

 

 

When claims from Europe accused British America of being inferior on account of its colder weather, Thomas Jefferson and his fellow Founding Fathers responded with patriotic zeal that their settlement was actually causing the climate to warm. Raphael Calel explores how, in contrast to today’s common association of the U.S. with climate change skepticism, it was a very different story in the 18th century.

Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale (1805)

Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale (1805). Note the furs – Source.

The United States has in recent years become a stronghold for climate change skepticism, especially since the country’s declaration in 2001 that it would not participate in the Kyoto Protocol. Nevertheless, though it is a well-documented fact, it might surprise you to learn that, a far cry from the United States’ recent ambivalence with respect to the modern scientific theory of man-made climate change, the country’s founders were keen observers of climatic trends and might even be counted among the first climate change advocates.

From the start, the project to colonize North America had proceeded on the understanding that climate followed latitude; so dependent was climate on the angle of the sun to the earth’s surface, it was believed, that the word ‘climate’ was defined in terms of parallels of latitude. New England was expected to be as mild as England, and Virginia as hot as Italy and Spain. Surprised by harsh conditions in the New World, however, a great number of the early settlers did not outlast their first winter in the colonies. Many of the survivors returned to Europe, and in fact, the majority of 17th-century colonies in North America were abandoned.

Jamestown in snow

Jamestown colonists endured a severe winter in 1607-1608, black and white copy of a painting by Sidney King for the Colonial National Historical Park – Source.

A view formed in Europe that the New World was inferior to the Old. In particular, medical lore still held that climate lay behind the characteristic balance of the Hippocratic humors – it explained why Spaniards were temperamental and Englishmen reserved – and it was believed that the climate of the colonies caused physical and mental degeneration. Swedish explorer Pehr Kalm, who had travelled to North America on a mission from Carl Linnaeus, observed in his travel diary that the climate of the New World caused life – plants and animals, including humans – to possess less stamina, stature, and longevity than in Europe. The respected French naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, explained in his encyclopaedia of natural history that “all animals of the New World were much smaller than those of the Old. This great diminution in size, whatever maybe the cause, is a primary kind of degeneration.” He speculated that the difference in climate might be the cause:

It may not be impossible, then, without inverting the order of nature, that all the animals of the new world originated from the same stock as those of the old; that having been afterwards separated by immense seas or impassable lands, they, in course of time, underwent all the effects of a climate which was new to them, and which must also have had its qualities changed by the very causes which produced its separation; and that they, in consequence, became not only inferior in size, but different in nature.

Dutch philosopher Cornelius de Pauw believed that “The Europeans who pass into America degenerate, as do the animals; a proof that the climate is unfavorable to the improvement of either man or animal.” Scientific and artistic genius, according to a prominent theory put forth by the French intellectual Jean-Baptiste Dubos, only flourished in suitable climates – climate accounted for the marvels of Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, the Italian Renaissance, and, thanks to rising temperatures on the European continent that Dubos thought he observed, the Enlightenment. French writer Guillaume Raynal agreed, and made a point of saying that “America has not yet produced one good poet, one able mathematician, one man of genius in a single art or a single science.”

In this edition of Cornelius de Pauw’s Researches Philosophiques sur les Américains, the usual ornamentation preceding the chapter on the American climate is sardonically replaced with this apparently frozen landscape – Source.

In the New World, refuting such theories became a matter of patriotism. In the rousing conclusion to one of the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton wrote:

Men admired as profound philosophers have, in direct terms, attributed to her inhabitants a physical superiority, and have gravely asserted that all animals, and with them the human species, degenerate in America–that even dogs cease to bark after having breathed awhile in our atmosphere. Facts have too long supported these arrogant pretensions of the Europeans. It belongs to us to vindicate the honor of the human race, and to teach that assuming brother, moderation. Union will enable us to do it. Disunion will will add another victim to his triumphs. Let Americans disdain to be the instruments of European greatness!

Building on the theories of John EvelynJohn WoodwardJean-Baptiste Dubos, and David Hume – who all believed that the clearing and cultivation of land in Europe accounted for the temperate climate that had enabled the Enlightenment – the colonists set about arguing that their settlement was causing a gradual increase in temperatures and improvement of the flora and fauna of North America.

Hugh Williamson, American politician and a signatory of the Constitutional Convention, believed that “within the last forty or fifty years there has been a very great observable change of climate, that our winters are not so intensely cold, nor our summers so disagreeably warm as they have been,” a fact he attributed to the clearing of forests. “The change of climate which has taken place in North America, has been a matter of constant observation and experience,” wrote Harvard professor Samuel Williams. Benjamin Franklin wrote of the “common Opinion, that the Winters in America are grown milder.” Measurements were as yet inadequate to the task of proving this, he said, but he found the proposed mechanism (i.e. clearing and cultivation) sufficiently persuasive that, even if the winters were not milder already, he could not “but think that in time they may be so.” Benjamin Rush, physician and signatory of the Declaration of Independence, speculated that, if cultivation kept pace with clearing of new lands, climate change might even reduce the incidence of fevers and disease.

Thomas Jefferson was especially eager to rebut Buffon and the proponents of the theory of climatic degeneracy. He expended substantial efforts to this effect in his Notes on the State of Virginia (1785), with page after page of animal measurements showing that the American animals were not inferior to their European counterparts. He also had help from James Madison, who shared his own measurements with Jefferson, urging him to use them in his arguments against Buffon.

jefferson notes on virginia

Thomas Jefferson compared the weight of European and American animals, in order to disprove Buffon’s claims that the animals of the New World were smaller degenerate forms of their Old World counterparts. Notice that he includes the Mammoth at the top of his list. – Source.

Their impassioned advocacy would occasionally lead them astray, though. Samuel Williams claimed that winter temperatures in Boston and eastern Massachusetts had risen by 10-12˚F in the previous century and a half, a climatic transformation too rapid to be believed perhaps. Jefferson, convinced that the American climate could sustain large animals too, insisted to a friend that “The Indians of America say [the Mammoth] still exists very far North in our continent.” Anxious to disprove claims of degeneracy, he wrote a letter to the American Philosophical Society in which he openly speculated that elephants, lions, giant ground sloths, and mammoths still lived in the interior of the continent. Later, believing he was on the verge of proving the skeptical Europeans wrong, he wrote a letter to the French naturalist Bernard Germain de Lacépède boasting that “we are now actually sending off a small party to explore the Missouri to it’s source,” referring to Lewis’ and Clark’s expedition. “It is not improbable that this voyage of discovery will procure us further information of the Mammoth, & of the Megatherium,” Jefferson continued, concluding “that there are symptoms of [the Megalonyx’s] late and present existence.”

The Founders did not settle for mere advocacy, though. Keen to present as strong a case for climate change as possible, and moderated by their scientific temperament perhaps, they wanted more and better evidence. To decide the issue of lions and mammoths, Jefferson instructed Lewis and Clark to pay special attention to “the animals of the country generally, & especially those not known in the U.S. the remains and accounts of any which may [be] deemed rare or extinct.” Although they didn’t find mammoths, they discovered many animals and plants previously unknown to science.

On the question of whether the winters were getting milder, Franklin wrote to Ezra Stiles, president of Yale University, encouraging him to make “a regular and steady Course of Observations on a Number of Winters in the different Parts of the Country you mention, to obtain full Satisfaction on the Point.” Madison made regular observations at his estate, which he assiduously entered into his meteorological journals. Jefferson, too, kept meticulous records, and encouraged his friends and colleagues to submit their measurements to the American Philosophical Society, “and the work should be repeated once or twice in a century, to show the effect of clearing and culture towards the changes of climate.” Jefferson himself made significant contributions to the development of modern meteorology. In 1778, for instance, Jefferson and the Reverend James Madison, president of The College of William & Mary and cousin of the fourth President of the United States, made the first simultaneous meteorological measurements. Jefferson promoted methodological standardization and expansion of geographical coverage, and was an early proponent of establishing a national meteorological service.

jefferson weather record

Detail from a page of Thomas Jefferson’s “Weather Record (1776-1818)”, in which he meticulously and somewhat obsessively notes down the temperature on everyday of the year. In this detail, from the year 1777, we see evidence of a particularly cold spring in Virginia, with frost on the ground as late as early April – Source.

One need hardly belabor the point that the early climate change advocates were wrong. Modern climate reconstructions show there was a brief warming period in New England during the late 1700s, but Jefferson’s and Williams’ measurements predate any actual man-made climate change. Their theories were pre-scientific in the specific sense that they predate a scientific understanding of the greenhouse effect. It is true that the French scientist Edme Mariotte had, as early as 1681, noticed the greenhouse effect, but it was not until the 1760s and 1770s that the first systematic measurements were made, and it would still be another century before anyone imagined that human activities might influence atmospheric composition to such an extent that the climate might be modified by this mechanism. Their pre-scientific theories also led them to believe that a changing climate would necessarily be beneficial, whereas today we are much more aware of the dangers of climate change.

Yet one should not belittle the efforts of these early climate change advocates. Fighting back against the European ‘degeneracy theory’ was necessitated by pride as much as a concern that these ideas might negatively affect immigration and trade from Europe. Their search for evidence, moreover, resulted in substantial contributions to zoology, and was instrumental to the foundation of modern meteorology and climatology. One might speculate, even, that a belief in degeneracy contributed to England’s refusal to afford its North American colonial subjects representation in parliament, and so helped spark the American revolution. In this case, one might construe the Founders’ climate change advocacy partly as an attempt to facilitate a peaceful resolution of their grievances with the Crown. Indeed, so politically important was their advocacy efforts thought at the time that Senator Sam Mitchell of New York, in his eulogy at Thomas Jefferson’s funeral, raised them to the same level as the American revolution itself.

jefferson

Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by his close friend, soldier and part-time painter, Tadeusz Kościuszko (1746-1817). Jefferson’s turn to the hot-coloured break in the clouds perhaps not entirely devoid of symbolism – Source.

It is an interesting historical footnote that, during a visit to London, Benjamin Franklin met and became friends with Horace Benedict de Saussure, the Swiss scientist credited with the first systematic measurements of the greenhouse effect. Franklin exchanged letters with Saussure, and encouraged his experiments on electricity. So impressed by Saussure’s work was Jefferson that he would later write to George Washington to suggest recruiting Saussure to a professorship at the University of Virginia, which was then under construction.

Far from a stronghold of climate change skepticism, as the United States is sometimes seen today, the country’s founders were vocal proponents of early theories of man-made climate change. They wrote extensively in favor of the theory that settlement was improving the continent’s climate, and their efforts helped to lay the foundation of modern meteorology. Much of the climate change skepticism of the day, on the other hand, was based on the second- and third-hand accounts of travelers, and the skeptics rarely made efforts to further develop the science. In addition, one cannot ignore its political convenience for many in Europe; for instance, Cornelius de Pauw was even hired by the King of Prussia to discourage Prussian citizens from emigrating or investing their capital in the New World.

Even if the parallels between the past and present are too obvious to spell out, they can be of some use to us today. While modern climate change advocates and skeptics have become experts at pointing to each other’s errors, we are usually the last to notice our own faults. An episode in our history that bears such strong resemblance to our present provides a rare opportunity to examine ourselves as if through the eyes of another. Today’s climate change advocates may recognize in themselves some of the overzealousness of the Founding Fathers, and therefore better guard against potential fallacies. Skeptics may recognize in themselves the often anti-scientific spirit of the degeneracy-theorists, and hopefully make greater efforts to engage constructively in the scientific enterprise today. One can hope, at least.

The Treehouse

SANCTUARY OF THE MANOA VALLEY

High above the noise and frantic energy of Honolulu, a century-old banyan tree serves as the spiritual and structural backbone for a series of interconnected dwellings known as “The Treehouse.” Attached to the open lanai of a Japanese style home and looking down onto the beaches of Waikiki, this is a network of people focused on the future and living in harmony with their surroundings.


A Living Jungle

SIX STORIES ABOVE THE FOREST FLOOR

From the street, what looks to be a typical suburban home gives way to a structure that defies any sense and what we are accustomed. Visitors are met with familiar furnishings that transition seamlessly into a living jungle. There are no double-paned windows or plaster walls to offer protection. This is life in the raw, at the center of an unruly and electrified natural world. High above a tropical river, hand-crafted structures are strung together with vines and intuition, thin mosquito nets offering little comfort against strong winds and a teeming ecosystem. Here you are vulnerable, one amongst thousands of creatures out to survive the night.

This adventure requires the trust of a guide and whatever battery is left on your cell phone. There are several levels, some more sturdy than others, some only accessible to those who are athletic enough to reach them. It is up to the visitor how far this goes, every step over sixty feet in the air.  

Trying to sleep  in the center of a banyan tree is an experience. Winds buffet creaking branches and creatures of every kingdom compete for survival.

When night finally relents, a chorus of birds takes center stage, leaving those who stay, relieved and thankful to be a part of the natural world.

Marine Debris

LIVING WITH THE ENVIRONMENT

The treehouse stands in opposition to a selfish and myopic society with those who come here dedicated to improving the environment and our communities. The dwellings, fishnets, rope bridges, everything that you encounter has been reclaimed from the ocean. At times, it is hard to distinguish where the recycling ends and the tree begins. There are no right angles here, only twisting stairways and relics of faded decades. Staying as nature’s guest leaves a lasting impression of conservation, making do with what we have and hope for the future.

The Frontlines of Ideology: Kapu Aloha For The World

 UH West Oahu

See the Published Version via Langscape Magazine: Click Here

The Extended Version:

Let us immerse ourselves with the “frontlines of ideology” over the summit of a sacred mountain, where a standoff has brought forth the dilemma of many truths; Mauna Kea Access Road. Through the court system and in the physical presence of the raw elements of nature at 6,608 ft above sea level (Johnson), where the weather blisters and burns from either the heat or the frigid winds that have a tendency to scrape the soul, Hawaiian legitimacy over their land is once again being made crystal clear.  According to the primary local Hawaiian organizations who are making the effort to educate the public, the standoff that was reignited in July 2019 (Big Island News Now) has been going on for 50 years (puuhuluhulu.com). The reemergence of Hawaiian ethnic identity is in part credit to the last Royal Monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaii, Queen Liliuokalani (Liliuokalani). The Monarchs preceding Her Majesty made ready the proceeding generations to confront the expansion of industrialization that was inevitable. 

The task of diverting the flow of focus and priority from one complexity to another is an existential runaround that indigenous people around the world have had to undergo for centuries. Currently, the United States’ democratic process is misfiring (Radu). In Hawaii, the Thirty-Meter-Telescope stands by for its groundbreaking which is the basis for the conflict. Again an embodied Oceanic people hold steadfast, true to the message. Hawaii plays a specific role as the geo-strategic epicenter of the pacific. Many people who arrive at Hawaii’s sacred shoals feel called to be here. Of the millions of people that come here every year (Shaefers), not many make a significant connection to the aboriginal inhabitants who exist on this fortress of perpetual paradise. As international visitors come and go, they do not always pay attention to the fact that Hawaiians exist. People who acknowledge Polynesian culture find that Hawaii and the entirety of Oceanic peoples have so much to offer the world. The implication that is made clear by many genuine Hawaiians is that a variety of problems have found their way to these island jewels. As we begin to navigate the differential between ideologies and to be of best service to our inalienable rights, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, we must acknowledge Hawaiian culture as determined by cultural practitioners. Hawaiian roots are separate from the United States. The establishment of Kapu Aloha at Mauna Kea Access Road as observed through a globalization theory critical lens exemplifies Hawaiian traditional knowledge as an avenue to advance the means for practical and compassionate, meta-perspectival democracy for the world. This has profound implications because it could be argued that Kapu Aloha could completely alter the entire geopolitical arena of the “free market.” Historical references, literary work, and government policy provide context that no credible argument exists to challenge Hawaiian right to self rule at Mauna Kea and over their territory, or Pae Aina.

 Kia’i in Hawaiian means guardian, protectors of Mauna Kea which to Hawaiians is a Sacred Mountain. Kapu can be translated a few different ways. To make something Kapu means to make it taboo, prohibited, sanctified, consecrated, or forbidden (Na Puke Wehewehe). Kapu Aloha is a variation of an ancient Hawaiian defense posture meant to protect the homefront, keeping negativity, greed, and hatred out of a space as prescribed by Hawaiian cultural practitioners (‘Oiwi Tv). To abide by Kapu Aloha is to follow the rule of law inherently set to keep the peace and protect everything that falls within reach of its bounds. Aloha is a mutual acknowledgment of Love for Creation, the life we breathe and that breathes through all living things; Aloha extends beyond the phenomenon known in science as cellular respiration. Aloha is the compass of a wayfinding people who were the first to complete the exploration of the greatest oceanic body, the Pacific. 

    The political debacle of what is happening at Mauna Kea serves as an example of what is currently occurring in the global financial markets and political arenas. In the oral tradition, the historical reference of the culture here in Hawaii extends beyond a tidal flood that decimated the population of these islands to a time described as the “Darkness of Antiquity” (Namakaokeahi), and into darkness itself, Po (Beckwith). It is into this very idea of origin that the Thirty Meter Telescope means to extend its reach. This is the proposed project that has caused waves of a flashpoint feud, establishing three camps between local Hawaiians, non-traditional Hawaiians, and non-Hawaiians. It is declared that enough is enough be it that Mauna Kea is part of their creation story. The intended audience of this analysis would include any member of the three camps of the debate and is presented from the perspective of a third party “non-Hawaiian” observer. Since western contact in Hawaii, one thing has led to another, whereas, from the discovery by Captain Cook (Editors of Britannica), to the illegal occupation of the Kingdom of Hawaii by way of forceful capture of Queen Liliokalani in 1893 (Hawaiiankingdom.org), the dynamic between worlds is parallel to the 1890 Massacre at Wounded Knee (Editors of Britannica).

The captured image that is the focus of this analysis does well to exemplify what is happening on Mauna Kea. It depicts two separate ideological worldviews. To the left, in the foreground are two men in uniform that represent US jurisdiction, one belonging to the DLNR and the other to the US Army. On the right pacing forward is a young Hawaiian man wearing the blue “Kapu Aloha” t-shirt. In comparison, his T-shirt designates him as an enforcement officer by the authority of the organized local Hawaiian-led movement for their right to self-rule. Kapu Aloha is a kupuna, or Hawaiian Elder, inspired, activation of righteous and compassionate means to resolution (Oiwi TV). After dedicated time observing and gaining a deeper understanding of the topic, Kapu Aloha could be described as a behavior pattern that exhibits mannerisms compared to exchanging “thank you, but no thank you” over a dispute. At its core, Kapu Aloha offers Hawaiians the legitimacy of self-determination. It could be argued that this idea is highly politically charged, but you would find that Hawaiians do not share this range of interpreting their own culture. The contrast is simple, whereas the reclaiming agency by the Hawaiian people directly challenges the existence of the United States in Hawaii, therefore control of the Hawaiian territory and the entire Pacific falls into question. On either side of the spectrum of discourse, a root cause analysis of the reasons for the separation falls on the legal implications that are well documented (Brestovansky). What has gone on in Hawaii has had an effect on its people and has altered the course of humanity, putting a mark on this planet that is difficult to understand. For this reason, a globalization theory critical lens (Bohman, 4.) is used for the analysis of the implications of the captured photo. 

In order to give credit to the opportunities for collaborative improvement that this conflict presents, it is necessary to unpack the vestiges of differentiating elements that created the conditions that have put well-intended people at odds with each other in the first place. The primary objective of analyzing the precursors to the imminent threat of violence (Ke Kumu Pali)  on Hawaii’s sacred mountain is to evaluate the justification for local Hawaiian governance and find the necessary adjustments towards a practical and compassionate resolution moving forward. To better serve this point it is important to first detail a fundamental understanding of the local capacity for democratic governance and elaborate the necessary steps to proceed under a more appropriate “Kapu Aloha” management. Arguments in the community in favor of the telescope often declare that Hawaiian management is not capable of managing their own land and water resource rights yet the effectiveness of the ancient practices show evidence of being a high performance functioning early democracy according to the high caloric output capacity by way of the application of culturally aligned resource practices (Kurashima).  In the process of defining democracy, it is observed that the conditions of early democratic governance dynamics have been independently formulated in societies around the world, be it that the underlying basis for democracy is that centralized council formations require the consent of a greater population for their decision making capacities (Ahmed, 502). Members of these council structures in return offer guidance to their respective populations in their responsibility of sending and receiving information (Ahmed, 502), as well as they, carry an internal duty of being committed to one another for sake of maintaining their unified efforts (Ahmed, 507). A positive correlation exists between the presence of these council structures and caloric variables, wherein the evidence suggests that the presence of council leadership induces greater caloric output in a given society (Ahmed, 511). Variations in council formation include central versus local structures (Ahmed, 504) and alternative bureaucratic control strategies which inversely accumulate localized knowledge about the production (Ahmed, 516).

    In our modern era, geographic specifications in land use regulations provide variables in a greater order of magnitude that generates the conditions of societal segregation, inequality, and poverty (Trounstine, 443); such is thus, the task becomes maintaining the legitimacy of council continuity in order to prevent the stagnation of intergenerational immobility (Trounstine, 444). Best practices require organized leadership to exist in cultural alignment (Riley, 531). An appropriately aligned governing structure for Hawaii is presented in Kapu Aloha. In Hawaii, local Hawaiian leadership must sit as the foremost leaders of governance structures that control the local resources. Other examples of appropriate Hawaiian leadership include Kupuna Councils (Papa Ola Lokahi) and the Dept. of Hawaiian Home Lands Beneficiary Associations (US Department of the Interior). At times, compassionate democracy may seem difficult but it is possible. As such, there is no credible argument that can justify the injustice of political ambiguity. 

    Globalized expansion retains a fair number of criticized attributes where “national and global levels represent at best, inconclusive, at worst weak analytical foundations in providing explanatory and policy guidance in developing country contexts” (Perry, 407). Local vs global markets are not often in alignment with each other as is represented by local vs global consumer demand (Mandler). In order to advance a unified and appropriately aligned governing body, the necessary diffusion of innovation and information must be configured to local economic specifications, thus situating a standard of improved productivity (Kitson, 303). Furthermore, the collaborative transformation of coordinated design functions is dependent on stable policies and institutions that enhance long term societal resilience (Kitson, 311).

    A compassionate democracy requires that we evaluate the inefficiencies of existing democratic structures, deconstruct what no longer serves, renovation and rejuvenation, application of an updated contingency plan, and a formalized trial and error standard operating procedure for maintaining self-sufficiency and resilience. Practical and meta-perspectival tools provide the means for radical inclusion and ease of access to information and communication necessary to appropriately dispatch and distribute resource management task orders and resolve metaphysical disputes (James, 23). For example, Loomio is a democratizing tool for self-organizing communities. This platform is inspired by cumulative cultural evolution and has facilitated up to 20,000 groups making close to 30,000 decisions around the world (Knight).  

As the elder leadership of the current Kapu Aloha movement launch the call to act, classic and advanced crowd control methods are a known threat if confronted by oppositional enforcement authorities that maneuver in support of the building of the Thirty-Meter-Telescope. The community’s basic needs are often lacking and their rights infringed upon, demanding yet again that enough is enough. They demand better. The feud has now spilled over on the island of Oahu where two other issues have caused the local independently organized groups to implement the Kapu Aloha posture; the proposed athletic field project at Sherwoods, Waimanalo (Lincoln), and the face-off over an electric wind farm in Kahuku (Richardson). The condition of a stalemate continues and the community remains divided. In the spirit of the lives lost at Kaho’olawe, through the Oceanic revival and resilience of persevering will of over a century (Morse), this transition is expected to continue, or Imua.

Citations:

Ahmed, A., & Stasavage, D.  “Origins of Early Democracy.” American Political Science Review, 114(2), 502-518. 2020. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0003055419000741

Beckwith, Martha. “The Kumulipo,” A Hawaiian Creation Chant. Honolulu: University Press of Hawai’i. 1951.

Brestovanski, Michael; “Kahele questions whether DOT or DHHL has jurisdiction over Maunakea Access Road,” Hawaii Tribune-Herald, August 17, 2019. https://www.hawaiitribune-herald.com/2019/08/17/hawaii-news/kahele-questions-whether-dot-or-dhhl-has-jurisdiction-over-maunakea-access-road/

Big Island News Now; “Pu’u Huluhulu To Be Designated A Pu’uhonua, TMT Opponents Say,” Big Island News Now, July 13, 2019, Accessed: March 15, 2020. https://www.bigislandvideonews.com/2019/07/13/puu-huluhulu-to-be-designated-a-puuhonua-tmt-opponents-say/

Bohman, James, “Critical Theory”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Winter 2019 Edition, Edward N. Zalta, https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2019/entries/critical-theory/

Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica; “Wounded Knee Massacre,” Encyclopedia Britannica, inc. 2018, Accessed: March 15, 2020, https://www.britannica.com/event/Wounded-Knee-Massacre

Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica; “James Cook,” Encyclopedia Britannica, inc. 2020. Accessed March 15, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/biography/James-Cook

HawaiianKingdom.org; “US Occupation.” Accessed May 2, 2020, https://www.hawaiiankingdom.org/us-occupation.shtml

James, William, “Pragmatism: and other Essays”; Washington Square Press, pg. 23, 1963

Johnson, Jaime; “Kipuka Pu’uHuluhulu Native Tree Sanctuary,” Outdoor Project, Accessed May 2, 2020 https://www.outdoorproject.com/united-states/hawaii/kipuka-puu-huluhulu-native-tree-sanctuary

Kanaeokana, “50 Years of Mismanaging Maunakea” Pu’uhuluhulu.com, 2019, Accessed on May 2, 2020 https://www.puuhuluhulu.com/learn/50-years-of-mismanaging-maunakea

Ke Kumu Pali; “Proclamation for Safety of Windward Community College ‘Ohana on Mauna Kea,” September 10, 2019. 

Knight, Ben, “Self-Organizing Community DEmocracy for the Internet Age,” Bioneers: Youtube.com, November 12, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJnjTd9u4zg

Kurashima, N., Fortini, L. & Ticktin, T.; “The potential of indigenous agricultural food production under climate change in Hawaiʻi.” Nature Sustain 2, 191–199, 2019. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-019-0226-1

Kurashima, Natalie & Jeremiah, Jason & Whitehead, A.N. & Tulchin, Jon & Browning, Mililani & Duarte, Trever; “‘Āina Kaumaha: The Maintenance of Ancestral Principles for 21st Century Indigenous Resource Management.” Sustainability, 2018. https://doi.org/10.3390/su10113975

Liliuokalani, Queen of Hawaii, 1838-1917; “Hawaii’s Story” by Hawaii’s Queen, Liliuokalani. Boston, Lee and Shepard, 1898

Lincoln, Mileka; “City Pledges to press forward with controversial Waimanalo park Project despite arrests,” Hawaii News Now, September 26, 2019. https://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/2019/09/26/opponents-controversial-project-waimanalo-blocking-access-sherwood-forest

Mandler, T., Bartsch, F. & Han, C.M. “Brand credibility and marketplace globalization: The role of perceived brand globalness and localness” J Int Bus Stud, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1057/s41267-020-00312-2

Morse, Stephen; “First Landing: The ‘Stop the Bombing’ Occupation of Kaho’olawe Island, March 02, 2017

Na Puke Wehewehe; “Kapu”; Definition: Ulukau, ‘Olelo Hawaii, 2004; Accessed: May 2, 2020. https://wehewehe.org/gsdl2.85/cgi-bin/hdict?e=q-11000-00—off-0hdict–00-1—-0-10-0—0—0direct-10-ED–4–textpukuielbert%2ctextmamaka—–0-1l–11-haw-Zz-1—Zz-1-home-kapu–00-4-1-00-0–4—-0-0-11-00-0utfZz-8-00&a=d&d=D7129

Namakaokeahi, B.K. “The history of Kanalu: Moʻokūʻauhau ʻelua,” First Peoples Productions, Honolulu, HI, USA, 2004.

Oiwi Tv; “Kapu Aloha 101: Ke Kula o Maunakea” Maunakea, July 06, 2015. https://oiwi.tv/maunakea/kapu-aloha-101/

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Radu, Sintia; “U.S. Democracy Has Weakened ‘Significantly’, Says Freedom House,” U.S. News & World Report, February 8, 2019. https://www.usnews.com/news/best-countries/articles/2019-02-08/us-democracy-has-weakened-significantly-says-freedom-house

Richardson, Mahealani; “Despite ongoing arrests, the company behind the wind farm project says it’s making progress,” Hawaii News Now, October 23, 2019. https://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/2019/10/24/farmers-see-first-glimpse-wind-turbine-under-construction-kahuku/

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Schaefers Allison; “Annual Visitor Arrivals to Hawaii exceed 10 million for the first time,” Star Advertiser, January 29, 2020 https://www.staradvertiser.com/2020/01/29/breaking-news/visitor-arrivals-to-hawaii-exceeded-10-million-in-2019/

Trounstine, J.; “The Geography of Inequality: How Land Use Regulation Produces Segregation.” American Political Science Review, 2020, 114(2), 443-455. https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/5MAQC2

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