Door County, Wisconsin

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DISCIPLINED DISREGARD FOR CONVENTIONAL WISDOM

Jeff-Thompson-MD

Jeff Thompson, MD

Peninsula Pulse, July 20th

By: Jeff Thompson, MD

You could argue that all we need to solve our impending climate catastrophe is a great deal of courage and the foresight to think long-term. Many global climate change skeptics who are in positions of power and influence lack the courage to admit that their stands are on thin ice.

Governments, businesses, and individuals have long relied on short-term plans and short-term thinking for the sake of getting elected, making a profit, or making a living, but in doing so, they do not prepare for their own futures, let alone their grandchildren’s.

I would suggest that in addition to courage and long-term thinking, we need a third component to really move forward. What we need is a disciplined disregard for conventional wisdom. I don’t mean to suggest that we throw out all the great truths of the past. Surely over the ages, science and our grandmothers have accumulated great wisdom. However, there is much in the public dialogue and social media that cannot be considered wisdom. Commonly repeated “truths” are not wisdom. With a disciplined disregard for conventional wisdom, Gundersen Health System set out to lower the cost of health care, improve our local economy, and reduce our negative impact on our environment.

Conventional wisdom said you had to choose between the environment and your bottom line, or between the environment and your local economy. We did not believe that either current science or the creativity of the workers at Gundersen would be held to such a limiting worldview, so we pressed on.

Conventional wisdom said that no governing board would allow us to move down such a path.

Why would a health care organization consider focusing on energy conservation in the face of other such pressing “real” health issues?

We eventually convinced the majority of the board members to support the concept that sustainability and the environment are real health issues. We convinced them that pollution causes illnesses that we’re trying to treat, such as cancer, asthma, and chronic lung disease, and that our waste pollutes our water and our soil. To ignore the environmental burden of the waste we created would have been irresponsible and contrary to our mission.

Conventional wisdom said that health care’s only mission should be to take care of sick people. To disregard that piece of wisdom was a big leap, and our board took that leap long before it became popular for health care organizations to focus on population health.

They also ignored the financial advice that said you should put your savings only in some distant treasury bills, stocks, or bonds. They agreed that local investing could be disciplined and sound.

And they ignored the pressure to make finances look perfect every month or every quarter. They believed that investing in the region could have both long-term health and financial benefits.

This is not to imply that everyone completely believed, but enough believed that we could get started. Even our skeptical chief financial officer had to be convinced that this was a strong investment.

When it comes to energy, conservation should be our first fuel – especially in Wisconsin, where we import $15 billion in fossil fuels each year. With our first $2 million investment we saved $1.2 million every year thereafter. In the course of eight years, we have decreased the energy requirement per square foot in the organization by 57 percent.

Conventional wisdom would have us believe that it is impossible for any one of us to make a major difference in the enormous amount of energy consumed in this country. But what if Gundersen’s efforts were replicated? What if each hospital and clinic in this country exercised a disciplined disregard for the conventional wisdom and decreased its energy use by 57 percent? The nation’s overall energy use would decline by three to four percent.

If health care were then joined by businesses and schools, pretty soon you would have a market-changing event. Add in residential housing and apartment buildings, and we’re changing how many pipelines will be built, how many transmission lines will be erected, and how many power plants will be put online. The keys are the power of economics and the willingness to challenge conventional wisdom.

To drive our vision forward, in 2008 we set an outlandish goal: By 2014, we would be completely heated, powered and cooled by renewables that we own so that we can decrease the cost of health care as well as markedly decrease our environmental footprint. This goal required that we further challenge the conventional wisdom by finding partners willing to work on alternative sources of energy – wind, dairy biogas, landfill gas, geothermal fields, and biomass (details of this work can be found at gundersenenvision.org/envision).

Our approach was to get an environmental return as well as a competitive financial return. Conservation was easily the most lucrative of our energy initiatives, but the biomass boiler, geothermal field, and dairy biogas sites all generated positive cash flows. In aggregate, we showed that from 2008 to 2014 our routine investments in cash, treasury bills, bonds, and stocks had a five to six percent return, but our investment in energy infrastructure had a 10 to 12 percent return.

It is important to mention that we didn’t just say this is what we’re going to do and hope it would work out. Rather, we exercised a disciplined disregard for conventional wisdom:  We adopted a strong, thoughtful, measured approach. When we had failures, as we did, we recalculated, re-organized, and drove toward continuously improved higher performance.

You cannot accomplish goals such as these by thinking only of the next month or the next quarter. You have to think long-term, as I outlined in a recent post on Forbes.com. I used the United States backing out of the climate accord as a prime example of short-term thinking.

You must have the courage to take a stand, long-term thinking to develop a plan, and a disciplined disregard for conventional wisdom to achieve the outcomes I describe.

Our results are no accident. With considered intention, we aimed for and met targets that produced our strong financial performance and decreased our particulate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions by 95 percent. Instead of coal from Wyoming to make electricity and natural gas from Texas for heat, we were heating and powering our organization with renewable sources that improved our local economy, saved money for the organization, and markedly improved our environmental footprint.

A disciplined disregard for conventional wisdom supported by courage and long-term thinking has helped us inspire others and has given rise to new wisdom: We can take care of our communities and the environment at the same time.


Click here for Original Article in the Peninsula Pulse

How to Adapt Your Garden to a Changing Climate

Last summer, I stuck up a pleasant conversation with Will Hsu, a prominent ginseng farmer in the state of Wisconsin. It was March, and the temperature at lunchtime had risen to more than 70 degrees.

“Isn’t it a gorgeous day?” I asked.

“No, it’s really bad,” he said.

Why wasn’t he pleased to be outside on a warm day after a long winter? Wisconsin’s history of cold winters and cool summers make it an ideal climate for growing ginseng, Hsu told WKOW. He was concerned for his crops, and with good reason.

Changing Climate pbs rewireTemperatures throughout the U.S. have been on the rise, most notably in the past 30 years, according the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website. In fact, the 10 hottest years on record have happened since 1998.

But perhaps the most perplexing elements to farmers—and gardeners—are not the slowly climbing temperatures across the board, but sudden shifts in temperature (from warmth to frost and back again) and unpredictable patterns of precipitation, including heavy rains and drought, which can damage certain species of plants.

Noticeable effects in the changing climate

So how much does the temperature have to shift before a plant is affected?

Well, that depends on the plant, according to Brian Sullivan, The New York Botanical Garden’s Vice President for Gardens, Landscape and Outdoor Collections.

“All gardeners know the frustration of dealing with the vagaries of weather,” Sullivan said. “We get excited to put out our vegetable starts on the first spring-like day, only to find them nipped back by a hard frost a few weeks later. Or newly planted perennials in May could suffer from an unseasonal heat wave before they have successfully settled into the garden.”

Shifting temperature ranges are especially challenging for plants that flower once in early spring, like blueberry, according to Sullivan. If blueberry plants are flowering when the temperature drops unexpectedly, the flowers don’t perish in the cold, but the pollinators nevertheless are inhibited from pollinating and fruit set is lost for that season, he explained.

Know your zone

If you’re looking to start a garden and aren’t sure how to select plants, Laura Musacchio, associate professor in the department of landscape architecture at the University of Minnesota, recommends that find out where you fall on the United States Department of Agriculture Hardiness Zone map. Once you identify your zone, you can cross-reference that with a list of plants that thrive in your region.

Changing Climate pbs rewireAccording to the U.S.D.A., the plant hardiness zones are determined by average annual extreme minimum temperature over a period of 30 years,” Musacchio said. “It’s that cold that can really affect a plant over time. The different zones on the map cross state lines. The mapping is pretty general, but it’s a great place to start.”

In addition to these broad zones, it’s also important to know your “microclimate,” according to Musacchio. The microclimate surrounding your home can be influenced by the amount of trees and shade, propensity for wind and even the ratio of evergreen to deciduous trees.

Coping with changes to your garden

Once you understand your garden’s climate, you’ll have a good idea of the plants that will thrive there, but, in the words of the Ancient philosopher Heraclitus, “the only constant is change.”

You may have a good thing going in your lawn right now, but the bottom line is this: keep an eye on your current conditions and be prepared to adapt. “The best option in dealing with any growing conditions is to work with the conditions you have,” Sullivan said.

Here are some tips for planting when your garden is too…

1. Wet
If the garden is wet, you should select plants that like “wet feet” like iris and sedges, according to Sullivan.

Changing Climate pbs rewire“Gardens with severe topography will always have a low point and this is where water will naturally collect,” said Sullivan. “This is a great opportunity to plant water-loving plants.”

Adding or improving drainage can help with resolving wet conditions. A French drain can be easily added to move the water from a wet area.

2. Dry
If you’re looking for plants suitable to drier conditions, you’ve got lots of options. Sullivan recommends plants lavender for full sun and Epimedium for dry shade.

“Perennial bulbs like daffodils do well in dry gardens, since they need dry conditions when the plant is dormant to ensure the underground bulbs don’t rot,” Sullivan said. “Plants with deep root systems, like grasses, are especially suited for dry gardens, as their deep root systems are able to seek out water at deeper depths.”

A garden may be dry for lack of rainfall or as a result of competition from tree roots, according to Sullivan. He also notes that gardeners can also add compost to the soil to increase water storage capacity and a layer of mulch to help retain moisture.

3. Sunny
If you like flowers, we’ve got good news for you: a sunny garden is an ideal spot for blooms. Many flowering plants demand full sun, and will flower less and be weaker if planted in anything less than full sun, according to Sullivan.

Changing Climate pbs rewire“Plants needing more sun will often stretch in the direction of the sun, indicating that they are planted in too much shade,” Sullivan said.

A sunny garden provides lots of options. “The list of sun-loving plants is long, indeed. Roses, dahlias, and salvias are some of the favorites,” said Sullivan. “Herbs and vegetables, too, appreciate as much sun as they can get.”

4. Shady
With a woodland garden, you have the opportunity to create a unique, lush experience.

“A dappled area can be a beautiful place to garden, especially if the shade is from deciduous trees,” Sullivan said. “This is a great opportunity to plant spring ephemerals like bloodroot and trillium, which thrive in the spring sunlight of a deciduous canopy.”

Once shaded as the canopy leafs out in summer, Sullivan points out that the garden is perfectly suited to growing ferns, sedges, and other dry woodland plants.

5. Frosts, thaws and frosts again
Gardeners in cold climates know the frustration of losing new plants to a late frost, and that frustration is bound to grow as the weather becomes more unpredictable.

“Ideally, once a hard frost has occurred, the soils stay frozen until spring when the thaw begins,” Sullivan said. “In the case of an extended winter thaw, early spring plants will respond and may start to grow or flower and all plant parts exposed will be vulnerable to a freeze.”

Changing Climate pbs rewireThe best way to protect against this, Sullivan says, is to avoid early spring-flowering plants.  Still you can minimize the damage to the roots of plants if you anticipate a few cycles of freezes and thaws.

“Plants should be planted 6 weeks from the typical freeze date,” Sullivan says. “This allows roots to develop to anchor the plant against heaving out of the soil. A thick layer of mulch can be added after the ground has frozen to minimize fluctuations in soil temperature.”

Also, the less water in the soil, the better it will weather changes in temperature. “Improving the drainage in the garden will reduce the water in the soil that causes the expansion and contractions of the soils,” Sullivan says.

Consider plants that help conserve water

In certain climates, you might be either required by water restrictions or motivated by water bills to reduce the amount of water that you use to maintain your garden. And if you’ve followed the recommendations above, you should be in good shape, according to Musacchio.

“Water conservation is trying to match the right plant to the site,” Musacchio observed.

“Cacti and succulents are the classic water conservation plants,” Sullivan says.  “Eastern prickly pear cactus and sedum thrive in rock outcroppings and shallow soil and use very little water.”

Sullivan also notes that many perennials that thrive in dry conditions and, once established, don’t require any supplemental water. “In many cases native plants are perfect candidates to conserve water,” Sullivan said. “Yarrow, agasatache and catmint are all capable of thriving in low water conditions.”

Raised beds and why they matter

You may have seen them in your local community garden or in a neighbor’s yard—raised beds are gaining popularity for several reasons. A raised bed is either a bed that has been mounded above ground level or one above ground constructed from a wooden frame, according to Sullivan.

Changing Climate pbs rewire“One immediate benefit to a raised bed is improved drainage,” Sullivan said. “If the soil is wet and heavy, planting in mounded raised beds allows the plant roots to be in dryer soil, while still having access to the wetter soil below. A constructed raised bed has a number of benefits in addition to improved drainage, one of the most important is that it allows more control of soil quality.”

In fact, Musacchio recommends that individuals get their soil tested— for several reasons.

“Get your soil tested,” Musacchio said. “It will help you figure out the quality of the soil that you have, and to match the type of plants that can grow successfully there. If the soil quality is not good, a raised bed is an ideal solution, but check with your local university extension service or garden center to get specific advice for your particular situation.”

Raised beds are also ideal as a temporary garden—if you’re not sure you’re ready to commit to gardening for the long haul—and for those gardening in small spaces, according to Sullivan.

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Climate Change in the American Mind: May 2017

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Our most recent nationally representative survey finds that More than half of Americans (58%) believe climate change is mostly human caused. That’s the highest level measured since our surveys began in 2008. By contrast, only 30% say it is due mostly to natural changes in the environment, matching the lowest level measured in our November 2016 survey.

Four in ten Americans (39%) think the odds that global warming will cause humans to become extinct are 50% or higher. Most Americans (58%) think the odds of human extinction from global warming are less than 50%.

One in four Americans (24%) say providing a better life for our children and grandchildren is the most important reason, for them, to reduce global warming. More than one in ten Americans said preventing the destruction of most life on the planet (16%) or protecting God’s creation (13%) was the most important reason.

This report is based on findings from a nationally representative survey – Climate Change in the American Mind – conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication (climatecommunication.yale.edu) and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication (climatechangecommunication.org), Interview dates: May 18 – June 6, 2017. Interviews: 1,266 Adults (18+). Average margin of error +/- 3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

Key Findings

  • Seven in ten Americans (70%) think global warming is happening, which nearly matches the highest level in our surveys (71%), recorded in 2008. By contrast, only about one in eight Americans (13%) think global warming is not happening.
  • Americans are also more certain global warming is happening – 46% are “extremely” or “very” sure it is happening, its highest level since 2008. By contrast, far fewer – 7% – are “extremely” or “very sure” global warming is not happening.
  • Over half of Americans (58%) understand that global warming is mostly human caused, the highest level since our surveys began in November 2008. By contrast, three in ten (30%) say it is due mostly to natural changes in the environment – the lowest level recorded since 2008.
  • Only about one in eight Americans (13%) understand that nearly all climate scientists (more than 90%) are convinced that human-caused global warming is happening.
  • Over half of Americans (57%) say they are at least “somewhat worried” about global warming. About one in six (17%) are “very worried” about it.
  • Six in ten Americans (59%) think global warming is affecting weather in the United States, and half think weather is being affected “a lot” (25%) or “some” (27%).
  • About one in three Americans (35%) think people in the U.S. are being harmed by global warming “right now.”
  • Most Americans think global warming is a relatively distant threat – they are most likely to think that it will harm future generations of people (71%), plant and animal species (71%), the Earth (70%), people in developing countries (62%), or the world’s poor (62%). They are less likely to think it will harm people in the U.S. (58%), their own grandchildren (56%) or children (50%), people in their community (48%), their family (47%), themselves (43%), or members of their extended family living outside the U.S. (41%).
  • Four in ten Americans (39%) think the odds that global warming will cause humans to become extinct are 50% or higher. Most Americans (58%) think the odds of human extinction from global warming are less than 50%.
  • Four in ten Americans (40%) say they have personally experienced the effects of global warming, six in ten (60%) say they have not.
  • Only one in three Americans (33%) discuss global warming with family and friends “often” or “occasionally,” while most say they “rarely” or “never” discuss it (67%). Additionally, fewer than half of Americans (43%) hear about global warming in the media at least once a month, and only one in five (19%) hear people they know talk about global warming at least once a month.
  • Six in ten Americans (63%) say the issue of global warming is either “extremely” (10%), “very” (16%), or “somewhat” (38%) important to them personally. Four in ten (37%) say it is either “not too” (22%) or “not at all” (15%) important personally.
  • Half of Americans say they have thought “a lot” (18%) or “some” (31%) about global warming. The other half say they have thought about global warming just “a little” (33%) or “not at all” (17%).
  • By a large margin, Americans say that schools should teach children about the causes, consequences, and potential solutions to global warming (78% agree vs. 21% who disagree).
  • Four in ten Americans (42%) say their family and friends make at least “a moderate amount of effort” to reduce global warming. A similar number (45%) say it is at least “moderately important” to their family and friends that they take action to reduce global warming.
  • The most common reason why Americans want to reduce global warming is to provide a better life for our children and grandchildren – a reason selected by one in four Americans (24%). The next most common reasons are preventing the destruction of most life on the planet (16%) and protecting God’s creation (13%).
  • Few Americans are optimistic that humans will reduce global warming. Nearly half (48%) say humans could reduce global warming, but it’s unclear at this point whether we will do what is necessary, and nearly one in four (24%) say we won’t because people are unwilling to change their behavior. Only 7% say humans can and will successfully reduce global warming.

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Door County signs on for PACE program

Door County last week signed on as a participant in a program to provide low-interest, long-term loans to businesses on the peninsula looking for dollars to improve energy efficiency, switching to renewable energy and water conservation improvements.

The PACE program – an acronym for Property Assessed Clean Energy – provides the mechanism for businesses to borrow money from local lenders for installing energy-efficient lighting, heating and other projects, using the savings generated to repay the loan.

PACE provides coordination among businesses, government, lenders and contractors, according to Jon Hochkammer, outreach manager for the Wisconsin Counties Association, addressing the Door County Board last week Tuesday. Hochkammer was Manitowoc County Board Chairman for eight years and is currently the mayor of Verona.

“Not only does it (PACE) do economic development, but it promotes sustainability,” Hochkammer said. “More and more counties and villages and cities are getting involved in sustainability issues.”

In addition, he said, “There are no federal, state, or local dollars involved in the program. It’s a voluntary program between the property owner and a lender.

“I have not found a downside,” Hochkammer said.

Jason Stringer, senior manager of Clean Energy Finance with the nonprofit Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corporation, said 44 states have similar programs. However, he said, Wisconsin doesn’t provide funding for residential energy saving efforts that some other states do.

The PACE Program is a “financing tool,” Stringer said. Door County would not have any costs in adopting the program.

The only reason the county board had to adopt a resolution and ordinance to participate in PACE, Stringer said, was because, “financing is secured by a special charge, which is a form of tax assessment.”

The County Board’s Finance Committee recommended adopting the program after reviewing it beginning in April. The vote at the June 27 County Board meeting was unanimous for joining PACE.

Door is the 20th Wisconsin county to join the program. Manitowoc, Sheboygan, Ozaukee and Racine are other counties on the Lake Michigan shore in the program. Dane, Marathon, La Crosse and the counties along Lake Superior – Douglas, Bayfield and Ashland — are some of the other PACE counties.

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Dane County announces plans to adhere to Climate Paris agreement terms

Dane County will stick to the terms of the Paris climate agreement, despite President Donald Trump’s pulling the United States out of the accord earlier this month, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said Monday.

 

The county has already met the country’s previously agreed to goal of reducing 2005 carbon emission levels by 26 to 28 percent. Parisi said the county will continue to try to reduce carbon emissions, increase the use of solar and renewable energy and prepare for the impact of a changing climate.

 

“We can show other units of government and leaders in the private sector that we can make a positive impact on the government and at the same time saving dollars and improving the environment,” he said.

A recently created Office of Energy and Climate Change will work with a county climate council to identify ways for the county to meet, or exceed, goals of the Paris climate agreement, he said.

 

The announcement comes after Trump said this month that he would pull the U.S. out of the agreement that sought to limit the impact of climate change and minimize global temperature increases.

 

Trump said the deal was unfair to the U.S. and would result in lost jobs, lower wages and closed factories.

But as of May more than 1,200 U.S. cities, counties, states, universities and businesses like Apple and Nike in the “We Are Still In” coalition have vowed to adhere to the provisions of the climate pact, saying that sticking to the terms of the agreement would create jobs and promote trade while reducing carbon emissions.

 

The agreement has been signed by 149 countries.

Elsewhere in Wisconsin, UW-Stevens Point and the cities of Milwaukee and Glendale have agreed to meet the goals of the Paris climate accord.

 

The Dane County Board will review a resolution affirming its support of the county’s move in the coming weeks.

 

Dane County will send a letter to the Wisconsin Counties Association this week to encourage other counties in the state to join the coalition or agree to meet goals of the Paris agreement.

 

With the state and federal government “putting their heads in the sand with climate change, it’s up to us at the local level to fight climate change and lead by example,” Parisi said.

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Lawmakers say GOP reining in DNR scientists who rebelled on climate change

California farmers unite to uphold Paris Agreement goals

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Full Belly Farm in Guinda signed it. Earth Equals Farm in San Diego signed it. Nye Ranch in Fort Bragg signed it, too.

Last week, the Community Alliance With Family Farmers (CAFF) and the Farmers Guild, its network of local farming groups, posted the California Farmers Climate Pledge in response to President Trump’s June 1 announcement that he was pulling the country out of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, an international accord to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. More than 80 farmers and ranchers, to date, have signed on to the pledge in order to support “the science, commitment and goals outlined in the Paris Climate Agreement.”

“We vow to continually improve our own on-farm practices to conserve energy and sequester carbon,” the farmers’ pledge reads in part. “But we also believe in the dire importance of a collective, worldwide commitment by all nations — including our own — to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius target stated in the Paris Climate Agreement, all while building a cleaner, 21st century economy.

Immediately after the president’s Paris Agreement announcement, governors of 12 states and Puerto Rico committed to honoring the Paris Agreement even if the federal government would not. Mayors of hundreds of U.S. cities, big and small, signed on. Numerous universities and major corporations have since added their names to a “We Are Still In” pledge (posted at www.wearestillin.com).

Evan Wiig, communications and membership director for CAFF, said several farmers who were inspired by the governors and mayors told the Davis organization they would like to do something similar. It took several weeks for the group to draft language and circulate it.

Rich Collins, of Collins Farm in Solano County near Dixon, said that he signed the pledge out of a sense of embarrassment.

“(The Paris Agreement) is so foundational and fundamental. Soil and agriculture — when I say agriculture I don’t just mean row crops but rangeland — can play a big role in mitigating climate change,” Collins said. “It’s only going to be to the benefit of agriculture. Soils with more carbon in them perform better, they have more water capacity and diverse soil life, and can produce more disease-resistant crops. It’s such a profound win-win-win.”

Wiig said the signatories represent a wide spectrum of ranches, orchards and vegetable farms. The majority of the signers are currently located in Northern California, but the counties they represent were tinted both red and blue on 2016 election maps.

“A lot of the farmers we work with are concerned with this conception that farmers are more conservative,” Wiig said. “There are a lot of agriculture organizations that attempt to speak for farmers who deny climate change or avoid the regulations and efforts to combat climate change. In our experience, that’s not representative of all farmers.”

The pledge invites additional California farmers and ranchers to sign on. Wiig said that the goal is to show voters and legislators that farmers are ready to take action to combat climate change, and that funds shouldn’t just go to clean energy, but also to the agricultural sector. “We’re not talking just about reducing carbon emissions,” Wiig said, “but reversing that cycle and taking that carbon in the atmosphere and putting it back in the ground.”

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A climate solution where all sides win

Why are we so deadlocked on climate, and what would it take to overcome the seemingly insurmountable barriers to progress? Policy entrepreneur Ted Halstead proposes a transformative solution based on the conservative principles of free markets and limited government. Learn more about how this carbon dividends plan could trigger an international domino effect towards a more popular, cost-effective and equitable climate solution.

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