New Koch-Funded Fossil Exhibit at the Smithsonian Is Curiously Quiet on Fossil Fuels
By Michael Svobod
After five years and $39 million, the Smithsonian's completely renovated Hall of Fossils is open again — complete with T. rex and a message about climate science. But though the exhibit clearly communicates the facts about human influence on Earth's climate, it is oddly quiet about the most important solution to the problem: rapidly reducing fossil fuel use.
The exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History, called "Deep Time," was eagerly anticipated. Over 40,000 people toured it just on the opening weekend of June 8.
Equally enthusiastic were the stories filed by the reporters who covered the exhibit for the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN, the Christian Science Monitor, Associated Press and ABC. Many admired how boldly the exhibit broke with tradition. Instead of isolated individual specimens, the new exhibit features ensembles of displayed fossils, related either by a shared ecosystem or an evolutionary lineage. Throughout, the exhibit connects those fossils with Earth's geologic history, including the new era in which one species, Homo sapiens, is changing the planet and its climate.
As museum director Kirk Johnson explained in an interview, the exhibit weaves together four narrative threads: climate, evolution, extinctions, and humans. In the 21st century, he explained, it would be both unscientific and irresponsible to tell the story of the dinosaurs without also talking about how humans have shaped the future: "Our ancient history holds very relevant clues for what might happen."
But many news outlets have called attention also to the new name of the exhibit space: The David H. Koch Hall of Fossils.
The director emeritus of Koch Industries, the largest privately owned fossil fuel company in the U.S., David H. Koch has for many years collaborated with his brother Charles in funding groups that questioned the science of climate change and lobbied against efforts to enact climate policies. Three days after the "Deep Time" exhibit opened, in fact, Climate Nexus reported that Koch-funded groups sent a letter to Congress reiterating their vehement opposition to a proposed carbon tax.
Had David Koch's $35 million fossil-fueled contribution to the Smithsonian affected how the project's directors rewrote the story of the Smithsonian's fossils?
In response to a version of this question from Joshua Johnson, host of the nationally syndicated radio program 1A, museum director Kirk Johnson answered, "There's a bright red line between what we put into the exhibit and what the funder believes, thinks, or feels …. I can tell you that [David Koch] had no impact on the content of the exhibit."
And, indeed, visitor reactions gathered on that opening weekend by Washington Post reporter Sarah Kaplan indicated that an urgent message about climate change was coming through loud and clear. "We're terrified," one visitor told the Post. "I'm glad it's here in many places. It needs to be a big billboard with flashing lights."
But in walking through the exhibit attending specifically to what it says on the subject, many may emerge with a more ambiguous take-away message. Koch in some way very likely did influence the exhibit, but not by leaning directly on the Smithsonian.
The Journey Through ‘Deep Time’
After passing through the portal for the exhibit, visitors face a choice of possible paths. On a rise to the left is a separate gallery for the Age of Humans.
Directly in front, the central path curves the full length of the hall, taking visitors back to the time of single-celled micro-organisms and to the glass-walled fossil lab where Smithsonian's paleontologists and paleobotanists work in full view. Along the way, visitors encounter glass-enclosed models of prehistoric scenes, including one that replicates, in miniature and fully fleshed, the most celebrated tableau in the hall, as shown above: the T. rex skeleton arranged in a live-action pose over the skeleton of a triceratops.
The central path is marked by posts that tell visitors how far back in time they have traveled. Dramatic black columns identify mass extinction events, most notably the asteroid impact that ended the Jurassic and the even more lethal end-Permian extinction, believed to have been caused by a period of high volcanic activity that dramatically increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. Message: Earth has a turbulent history.
The elements most directly related to anthropogenic climate change are found in and around the Age of Humans. There a pair of graphs compares prehistoric and current increases in carbon dioxide. And captions on columns and walls state one of the exhibit's main messages:
We're changing the planet faster than any other species in Earth's history. What does this mean for our future?
The evidence is clear: We are causing rapid, unprecedented change to our planet. But there is hope — we can adapt, innovate, and collaborate to leave a positive legacy.
A video loop in a side exhibit — "Finding Fossils in Coal Mines" — comes to the same conclusion: "Coal connects the climate of the deep past to the climate of today. What we do with coal today will change the future of Earth's climate."
Fossils fuels are changing the climate. Couldn't be clearer, right?
An Odd Restraint
Yes, "fossil fuels are changing the climate" clearly states the problem. But at best it only implies the solution: Stop burning fossil fuels. An odd reticence about remedies for humanity's reliance on fossil fuels pervades the exhibit.
Nowhere is the portion of global greenhouse gas emissions attributable to fossil fuels (versus beef production or deforestation, for example) spelled out.
Of the five videos that continuously loop in the small amphitheater devoted to "How Are We Changing the Planet?" only one addresses reducing the carbon in the atmosphere, and it focuses on how soils might store more carbon if more ecological farming practices were adopted. The other four videos showcase efforts by communities to adapt to urban heat waves, storm surges, and rising sea levels, and to reduce humanity's impact on the oceans.
Nowhere within Deep Time are alternative sources of energy highlighted. To see how much wind and solar energy could be tapped across the globe, one has to go to the nearby ocean hall.
And nowhere within the fossil hall can one find a statement that approaches the summaries offered of the most recent IPCC report, such as this one from Vox: "We have just 12 years to make massive and unprecedented changes to global energy infrastructure to limit global warming to moderate levels."
Why ‘Deep Time’ Holds Back on Climate Solutions
Within the media coverage of the hall's reopening one can find two reasons for this reticence. A third can be inferred from the Smithsonian's somewhat delicate position as a nonpartisan, government-funded institution.
The first reason is practical. To avoid instantly dating the material, graphs extend into the future and captions do not include relative references. Thus, a warning that humanity has just "12 years to make massive and unprecedented changes to global energy infrastructure" was not an option.
The second reason is directly related to the vision of "deep time" promoted by Smithsonian. As Johnson observed in his 1A interview, for 75 percent of Earth's history the poles were ice-free: "There were palm trees in the Arctic and forests covered Antarctica." An ice-free future does not mean a life-less nor even a human-less planet.
One of the exhibition's core team members, paleontologist Scot Wing, elaborated on this view for the Christian Science Monitor: "There's also no reason from the fossil record to feel that we've endangered life on Earth as a whole, or even really ourselves. We seem to be pretty resilient and the technology we have is pretty good at buffering us from bad environments."
After contemplating the end-Permian extinction, it seems, the prospect of breaching the 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold does not seem so daunting — which is not to say that the consequences of climate change won't be disastrous.
A third reason for the exhibit's reticence might be inferred from the Smithsonian's delicate relationship with the government, and here the Koch brothers' aggressive anti-climate lobbying may be a factor.
To retain its nonpartisan status, the Smithsonian must steer clear of policy disputes. And in the U.S., major fossil-fuel industry funders, like the Koch brothers, have successfully created disputes even on climate science, for which a broad scientific consensus can be demonstrated. Having pointed out the problem, the exhibit's creators may feel that pointing out the most logical solution — stop relying on fossil fuels — ventures too far into policy.
Facts With Implications for the Future
According to museum director Kirk Johnson, the National Museum of Natural History greets roughly 40 million unique visitors each decade. What message will the next 40 million visitors take away from the Deep Time exhibit?
They will see that there is a problem. But they will also be given reasons for confidence – or at least reasons not to panic. Most may draw the logical conclusion: Humans must reduce their dependence on fossil fuels. But as Kirk Johnson acknowledged to the Washington Post, "I have no doubt that the kind of individual who is inclined to deny climate change will find it in their soul to do that to this exhibit.
"But this is basic science," he told the Post. "We're actually looking at facts about our planet's history, and then just saying it looks like these facts have implications for the future."
That point may include the Smithsonian's own future, as its National Mall location is itself one of the lowest parts of the low-lying District of Columbia, making it, too, vulnerable to rising sea levels and extreme rain storms, such as those that plagued the D.C. area in the early weeks of July.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Yale Climate Connections.
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Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.
If you have a question you'd like an expert to answer, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org
What was the climate and sea level like at times in Earth’s history when carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was at 400ppm?<p>The last time global carbon dioxide levels were consistently at or above 400 parts per million (ppm) was around <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/nature14145" target="_blank">four million years ago</a> during a geological period known as the <a href="http://www.geologypage.com/2014/05/pliocene-epoch.html" target="_blank">Pliocene Era</a> (between 5.3 million and 2.6 million years ago). The world was about 3℃ warmer and sea levels were higher than today.</p><p>We know how much carbon dioxide the atmosphere contained in the past by studying ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica. As compacted snow gradually changes to ice, it traps air in bubbles that contain <a href="https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/annals-of-glaciology/article/enclosure-of-air-during-metamorphosis-of-dry-firn-to-ice/09D9C60A8DA412D16645E6E6ABC1892F" target="_blank">samples of the atmosphere at the time</a>. We can sample ice cores to reconstruct past concentrations of carbon dioxide, but this record only takes us back about a million years.</p><p>Beyond a million years, we don't have any direct measurements of the composition of ancient atmospheres, but we can use several methods to estimate past levels of carbon dioxide. One method uses the relationship between plant pores, known as stomata, that regulate gas exchange in and out of the plant. The density of these stomata is <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/095968369200200109" target="_blank">related to atmospheric carbon dioxide</a>, and fossil plants are a good indicator of concentrations in the past.</p><p>Another technique is to examine sediment cores from the ocean floor. The sediments build up year after year as the bodies and shells of dead plankton and other organisms rain down on the seafloor. We can use isotopes (chemically identical atoms that differ only in atomic weight) of boron taken from the shells of the dead plankton to reconstruct changes in the acidity of seawater. From this we can work out the level of carbon dioxide in the ocean.</p><p>The data from four-million-year-old sediments suggest that <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2010PA002055" target="_blank">carbon dioxide was at 400ppm back then</a>.</p>
Sea Levels and Changes in Antarctica<p>During colder periods in Earth's history, ice caps and glaciers grow and sea levels drop. In the recent geological past, during the most recent ice age about 20,000 years ago, sea levels were at least <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/292/5517/679.abstract" target="_blank">120 meters lower</a> than they are today.</p><p><span></span>Sea-level changes are calculated from changes in isotopes of oxygen in the shells of marine organisms. For the Pliocene Era, <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2004PA001071" target="_blank">research</a> shows the sea-level change between cooler and warmer periods was around 30-40 meters and sea level was higher than today. Also during the Pliocene, we know the West Antarctic Ice Sheet was <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/nature07867" target="_blank">significantly smaller</a> and global average temperatures were about 3℃ warmer than today. Summer temperatures in high northern latitudes were up to 14℃ warmer.</p><p>This may seem like a lot but modern observations show strong <a href="https://journals.ametsoc.org/jcli/article/23/14/3888/32547" target="_blank">polar amplification</a> of warming: a 1℃ increase at the equator may raise temperatures at the poles by 6-7℃. It is one of the reasons why Arctic sea ice is disappearing.</p>
Impacts in New Zealand and Australia<p>In the Australian region, there was no Great Barrier Reef, but there may have been <a href="https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/BF02537376.pdf" target="_blank">smaller reefs along the northeast coast of Australia</a>. For New Zealand, the partial melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is probably the most critical point.</p><p>One of the key features of New Zealand's current climate is that Antarctica is cut off from global circulation during the winter because of the big <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3402/tellusa.v54i5.12161" target="_blank">temperature contrast</a> between Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. When it comes back into circulation in springtime, New Zealand gets strong storms. Stormier winters and significantly warmer summers were likely in the mid-Pliocene because of a weaker polar vortex and a warmer Antarctica.</p><p>It will take more than a few years or decades of carbon dioxide concentrations at 400ppm to trigger a significant shrinking of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. But recent studies show that <a href="http://nora.nerc.ac.uk/id/eprint/521027/" target="_blank">West Antarctica is already melting</a>.</p><p>Sea-level rise from a partial melting of West Antarctica could easily exceed a meter or more by 2100. In fact, if the whole of the West Antarctic melted it could <a href="http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.695.7239&rep=rep1&type=pdf" target="_blank">raise sea levels by about 3.5 meters</a>. Even smaller increases raise the risk of <a href="https://www.pce.parliament.nz/publications/preparing-new-zealand-for-rising-seas-certainty-and-uncertainty" target="_blank">flooding in low-lying cities</a> including Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington.</p>
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Investment in U.S. offshore wind projects are set to hit $78 billion (€69 billion) this decade, in contrast with an estimated $82 billion for U.S. offshore oil and gasoline projects, Wood Mackenzie data shows. This would be a remarkable feat only four years after the first offshore wind plant — the 30 megawatt (MW) Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island — started operating in U.S. waters.
Corporates Shift<p>Helping to drive offshore growth, U.S. corporate buyers <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/cities-leading-the-transition-to-renewables/a-42850621" target="_blank">are increasingly relying on wind energy to power their businesses</a>. Walmart and AT&T are the two top corporate wind buyers, while 14 newcomers entered the wind market in 2019, including Estée Lauder and McDonald's.</p><p>"Oil and gas companies have jumped into the U.S. offshore wind market, where they can transfer expertise in offshore fossil fuel development to clean energy investments," says Max Cohen, principal analyst, Americas Power & Renewable research at Wood Mackenzie. Many international oil and gas companies have already recognized this huge potential and entered the US offshore wind market, including Orsted, Equinor and Shell.</p><p>"Given the recent tumult in oil prices, fossil fuel companies may more and more be looking to diversify their portfolios, particularly with assets that are contracted or offer returns uncorrelated with oil and gas," Cohen says. "Offshore wind is an area where they may have a comparative advantage, and they can then leverage the experience with that technology to make the leap to onshore wind, solar, and other renewable technologies," he says.</p>
East Coast leads the way<p>"There is enormous opportunity, especially off the East Coast, for wind. I am very bullish," said former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. "Market excitement is moving towards offshore wind. I haven't seen this kind of enthusiasm from industry since the Bakken shale boom," he said.</p><p>Offshore wind initiatives require excessive upfront spending: a 250 MW venture costs about $1 billion, based on International Energy Agency data, but as costs fall the tipping point after which costs fall faster gets nearer</p><p>"The opportunity has been created by Northeastern states seeing the large price declines for offshore wind in Europe," says Cohen. Onshore wind is historically the lowest cost renewable resource, but is at its most expensive in the Northeast, he adds. "But costs are falling slower than for other technologies," he says.</p>
Jobs and Coastal Revitalization<p>U.S. wind energy now supports 120,000 US jobs and 530 domestic factories. A study by the University of Delaware predicted that the supply chain needed to build offshore turbines to feed power to seven East Coast states by 2030 would generate nearly $70 billion in economic activity and at least 40,000 full-time jobs. An American Wind Energy Association's (AWEA's) March 2020 report estimated that developing 30,000 MW of offshore wind along the East Coast could support up to 83,000 jobs and $25 billion in annual economic output by 2030.</p><p>Having said that, not all of the jobs are American jobs. The offshore wind developers with commercial leases in the US are all foreign companies. There is growing interest from the shipbuilding sector in the Gulf of Mexico in partnering with offshore wind companies to provide services. As a result, some of the US oil trade associations have submitted comments supporting certain aspects of offshore wind. "However, it is unclear to what extent offshore wind developers plan to use US vessels and crew, and the existing projects did not incorporate US vessels or labor at all," Hawkins says.</p>
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The human body comprises around 60% water.
It's commonly recommended that you drink eight 8-ounce (237-mL) glasses of water per day (the 8×8 rule).
1. Helps Maximize Physical Performance<p>If you don't stay hydrated, your physical performance can suffer.</p><p>This is particularly important during intense exercise or high heat.</p><p>Dehydration can have <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-tell-if-youre-dehydrated" target="_blank">a noticeable effect</a> if you lose as little as 2% of your body's water content. However, it isn't uncommon for athletes to lose as much as 6–10% of their water weight via sweat.</p><p>This can lead to altered body temperature control, reduced motivation, and increased fatigue. It can also make exercise feel much more difficult, both physically and mentally.</p><p>Optimal hydration has been shown to prevent this from happening, and it may even reduce the <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/oxidative-stress" target="_blank">oxidative stress</a> that occurs during high intensity exercise. This isn't surprising when you consider that muscle is about 80% water.<a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19344695" target="_blank"><span></span></a></p><p>If you exercise intensely and tend to sweat, staying hydrated can help you perform at your absolute best.</p><p><strong>Summary</strong></p><p><strong></strong>Losing as little as 2% of your body's water content can significantly impair your physical performance.</p>
2. Significantly Affects Energy Levels and Brain Function<p>Your brain is strongly influenced by your hydration status.</p><p>Studies show that even mild dehydration, such as the loss of 1–3% of body weight, can impair many aspects of brain function.</p><p>In a study in young women, researchers found that fluid loss of 1.4% after exercise impaired both mood and concentration. It also increased the frequency of headaches.</p><p>Many members of this same research team conducted a similar study in young men. They found that fluid loss of 1.6% was detrimental to working memory and increased feelings of anxiety and fatigue.<a href="https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/british-journal-of-nutrition/article/mild-dehydration-impairs-cognitive-performance-and-mood-of-men/3388AB36B8DF73E844C9AD19271A75BF/core-reader" target="_blank"></a></p><p>A fluid loss of 1–3% equals about 1.5–4.5 pounds (0.5–2 kg) of body weight loss for a person weighing 150 pounds (68 kg). This can easily occur through normal daily activities, let alone during exercise or high heat.</p><p>Many other studies, with subjects ranging from <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/parenting/signs-of-dehydration-in-toddlers" target="_blank">children</a> to <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/symptoms-of-dehydration-in-elderly" target="_blank">older adults</a>, have shown that mild dehydration can impair mood, memory, and brain performance.</p><p><strong>Summary</strong></p><p><strong></strong>Mild dehydration (fluid loss of 1–3%) can impair energy levels, impair mood, and lead to major reductions in memory and brain performance.</p>
3. May Help Prevent and Treat Headaches<p>Dehydration can trigger <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/dehydration-headache" target="_blank">headaches</a> and migraine in some individuals.<span></span></p><p>Research has shown that a headache is one of the most common symptoms of dehydration. For example, a study in 393 people found that 40% of the participants experienced a headache as a result of dehydration.</p><p>What's more, some studies have shown that drinking water can help relieve headaches in those who experience frequent headaches.</p><p>A study in 102 men found that drinking an additional 50.7 ounces (1.5 liters) of water per day resulted in significant improvements on the Migraine-Specific Quality of Life scale, a scoring system for <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/migraine-symptoms" target="_blank">migraine symptoms</a>.<a href="https://academic.oup.com/fampra/article/29/4/370/492787" target="_blank"></a></p><p>Plus, 47% of the men who drank more water reported headache improvement, while only 25% of the men in the control group reported this effect.<a href="https://academic.oup.com/fampra/article/29/4/370/492787" target="_blank"></a></p><p>However, not all studies agree, and researchers have concluded that because of the lack of high quality studies, more research is needed to confirm how increasing hydration may help improve headache symptoms and decrease headache frequency.<a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26200171" target="_blank"></a></p><p><strong>Summary</strong></p><p><strong></strong>Drinking water may help reduce headaches and headache symptoms. However, more high quality research is needed to confirm this potential benefit.</p>
4. May Help Relieve Constipation<p><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/constipation" target="_blank">Constipation</a> is a common problem that's characterized by infrequent bowel movements and difficulty passing stool.</p><p>Increasing fluid intake is often recommended as a part of the treatment protocol, and there's some evidence to back this up.</p><p>Low water consumption appears to be a risk factor for constipation in both younger and older individuals.</p><p>Increasing hydration may help decrease constipation.</p><p><a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/mineral-water-benefits" target="_blank">Mineral water</a> may be a particularly beneficial beverage for those with constipation.</p><p>Studies have shown that mineral water that's rich in magnesium and sodium improves bowel movement frequency and consistency in people with constipation.<a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5334415" target="_blank"></a></p><p><strong>Summary</strong></p><p><strong></strong>Drinking plenty of water may help prevent and relieve constipation, especially in people who generally don't drink enough water.</p>
5. May Help Treat Kidney Stones<p>Urinary stones are painful clumps of mineral crystal that form in the urinary system.</p><p>The most common form is <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/kidney-stones" target="_blank">kidney stones</a>, which form in the kidneys.</p><p>There's limited evidence that water intake can help prevent recurrence in people who have previously gotten kidney stones.<a href="https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD004292.pub3/full" target="_blank"></a></p><p>Higher fluid intake increases the volume of urine passing through the kidneys. This dilutes the concentration of minerals, so they're less likely to crystallize and form clumps.</p><p>Water may also help prevent the initial formation of stones, but studies are required to confirm this.</p><p><strong>Summary</strong></p><p><strong></strong>Increased water intake appears to decrease the risk of kidney stone formation.</p>
6. Helps Prevent Hangovers<p>A hangover refers to the unpleasant symptoms experienced after drinking <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/alcohol-good-or-bad" target="_blank">alcohol</a>.</p><p>Alcohol is a diuretic, so it makes you lose more water than you take in. This can lead to dehydration.</p><p>Although dehydration isn't the main cause of hangovers, it can cause symptoms like thirst, fatigue, headache, and dry mouth.</p><p>Good ways <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/7-ways-to-prevent-a-hangover" target="_blank">to reduce hangovers</a> are to drink a glass of water between drinks and have at least one big glass of water before going to bed.</p><p><strong>Summary</strong></p><p><strong></strong>Hangovers are partly caused by dehydration, and drinking water can help reduce some of the main symptoms of hangovers.</p>
7. Can Aid Weight Loss<p>Drinking plenty of water can help you <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-to-lose-weight-as-fast-as-possible/" target="_blank">lose weight</a>.</p><p>This is because water can increase satiety and boost your metabolic rate.</p><p>Some evidence suggests that increasing water intake can promote weight loss by slightly increasing your metabolism, which can increase the number of calories you burn on a daily basis.</p><p>A 2013 study in 50 young women with overweight demonstrated that drinking an additional 16.9 ounces (500 mL) of water 3 times per day before meals for 8 weeks led to significant reductions in body weight and body fat compared with their pre-study measurements.</p><p>The timing is important too. Drinking water half an hour before meals is the most effective. It can make you feel more full so that you <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/35-ways-to-cut-calories" target="_blank">eat fewer calories</a>.</p><p>In one study, dieters who drank 16.9 ounces (0.5 liters) of water before meals lost 44% more weight over a period of 12 weeks than dieters who didn't drink water before meals.</p>
The Bottom Line<p>Even mild dehydration can affect you mentally and physically.</p><p>Make sure that you <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-much-water-should-you-drink-per-day" target="_blank">get enough water each day</a>, whether your personal goal is 64 ounces (1.9 liters) or a different amount. It's one of the best things you can do for your overall health.</p>
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