An Energy Policy for Whether you Believe in Global Warming and Climate Change or Not

Whether you believe in global warming and climate change or not, this informal paper proposes an energy policy that works for either prospect and it has only three simple elements. It is a guaranteed win, either way.

The good news is that we have no urgent need to know the truth about global warming and climate change one way or the other.

Why?

Because… I have a proposal for a national (and global) energy policy that works for either prospect. Not only will it work, but this energy policy will offer dramatic benefits either way.

A quick preview of my proposed energy policy, which has only three elements:

  • The relentless march of technology — especially the shift towards a digital and electric world.
  • Efficiency. Do more with the same energy, and even do more with less energy. Saving money is a huge motivator.
  • Local air quality. Focus on health and quality of life.

Seriously, that’s it.

Focusing on local air quality would likely have the largest impact related to global warming since it would require a dramatic reduction in the use of fossil fuels, which would have as a side effect the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions, although the primary reason for the reduction of use of fossil fuels in this proposed energy policy is to achieve the goal of a dramatic improvement in local air quality.

Actually, there are three meta elements as well:

  • To maintain a focus on RESEARCH for the main three elements.
  • To REWARD any efforts that focus society, government, business, households, and individuals on the main three elements, including research.
  • Economics is a key driver in policy — get the economics right and people will follow.

Some might wonder why research is not a fourth element of the proposed policy, but my feeling is that the current levels of research should be sufficient. Part of the thesis of this paper is that research is already headed in the right direction and at a level sufficient to achieve the desired results in a reasonably timely manner. Sure, more research would likely be beneficial, but a dramatic increase in research is neither REQUIRED nor likely to be fruitful.

The proposed simple energy policy will likely be just as effective as all of the complicated, expensive, unsustainable, gimmicky, and unworkable plans that have been put forward by the most ardent proponents and supporters of global warming and climate change theory.

And if that sounds TOO ambitious, let’s just say that the proposed energy policy will provide a VERY significant fraction of what either a full solution would need or what climate change fanatics are demanding.

In other words, the proposed energy policy will be a GREAT START for the future of the country (and planet) even if you do think much more is needed. At a minimum it would be a GREAT FOUNDATION to build on.

In short, implementation of this proposed energy policy will likely get the country (and planet) a lot farther and closer to any true solution to the global warming and climate change problem (if it really is a problem) than ANY of the existing proposed solutions.

My personal views on global warming and climate change

Personally, I do not know with any great confidence one way or the other whether the theory of human-generated carbon dioxide causing global warming and climate change is true or not. I just don’t know. I don’t take a position either way.

I’ll have a separate paper coming up detailing my personal views about global warming and climate change which will elaborate as to exactly why I don’t feel able to offer a definitive view on whether the theory is or is not valid.

UPDATE: Here’s the paper, entitled Why I Remain Uncertain about Global Warming and Climate Change.

But as mentioned in the introduction, the proposed energy policy doesn’t in any way depend on whether the theory of global warming and climate change is true or not. This energy policy will be beneficial either way.

The relentless march of technology

The relentless march of technology is the core element of the energy strategy proposed by this paper.

The essential point is that technology is advancing rapidly regardless of what the government policies on global warming and climate change might be. And, that this existing technological change is a very good thing even if you don’t believe in the theory of global warming and climate change.

The march is occurring in all areas of technology, but the areas of particular interest for energy policy are:

  1. The dramatic and rapid shift to a digital and electric world.
  2. Battery technology, especially chemistry.
  3. Other energy storage technologies.
  4. Solar energy
  5. Improved and more modern energy sources.
  6. Energy efficiency.
  7. Basic materials research.
  8. Manufacturing technologies and techniques.
  9. Construction technologies and techniques.
  10. Transportation technologies and techniques.
  11. Infrastructure technologies and techniques.
  12. Information technologies, both as consumers of energy and as part of the technological base of many of the other energy-related technologies.

Technology moved at a fairly slow pace 250 or even 150 years ago, but has been accelerating rapidly in recent decades.

Even compared to just 50 years ago, when computers were still fairly new and the PC and cheap cell phones and smart phones had not been invented yet, technology is making phenomenal leaps forward.

Products of all varieties are taking advantage of a dramatic and rapid shift to a digital and electric world. Hybrid electric and even all electric cars are now readily available rather than being a pie in the sky fantasy even 20 years ago.

Battery technology has vastly leaped ahead of where it was 50 years ago. A large part of this has been fueled by the insatiable need for smaller and more powerful and cheaper batteries for portable electronic devices, mainly laptop computers, tablets, and the now ubiquitous smart phone.

GM did experiment a little with an electric car in the 1990’s, but the technology just wasn’t there yet.

20 years ago, a company like Tesla was unthinkable — still less than 10 years old. Now, it’s no longer even that remarkable.

Vast amounts of private capital

The availability of vast amounts of private capital has made it much easier to invent, develop, and market innovative technologies. This capital is free of government constraint, free of sluggish government inertia, and free of political influence.

This is a huge difference and great leap forward compared to 100 years ago, 50 years ago, and even 20 or even 10 years ago.

The accumulation and acceleration of this private capital available to technological innovation show no signs of abating.

What’s next for technology?

Electric and autonomous trucks are on the near-term horizon, no longer a science fiction fantasy of the distant future.

The key point about autonomous vehicles here is not that they drive themselves, but that acceleration, deceleration, and driving speed can be computer-controlled for maximum efficiency, something a human driver is not capable of — and rarely interested in.

ALL of the big auto companies have announced aggressive electric vehicle strategies and plans, with the 2020’s being a focus for a major shift away from combustion technologies. Most importantly, this is a result of technological advances rather than any explicit government mandate. The relentless march of technology at work.

A key difference from 150, 50, or even 20 years ago is that so much more technology and tools for working with technology are now available to so many more inventors and entrepreneurs at a very low or even zero cost, planting the seeds for a further acceleration of technological advancement over the next 20, 10, and even 5 years. The relentless march of technology at work.

And the main point here is that this relentless march of technology will provide the methods and tools for producing and consuming energy in a way that has much less impact on the environment, nationally and the planet as a whole.

And all of this is happening INDEPENDENTLY of any concern for global warming or climate change. No explicit government mandate or complicated and messy negotiations or questionable economics required.

In fact, I would submit that even if you came up with a shopping list of technology improvements focused on benefitting efforts to combat global warming and climate change, you would probably find that most of the technological development is already well underway. The relentless march of technology at work.

Role of government?

What is the role of government in the technological march? Mostly it is simply to stay out of the way. Government generally tends to slow down or misdirect technological efforts. That said, government can certainly fund technology research in areas that government depends on that the private sector may not be as focused on, such as defense, security, and intelligence. But even there, government is well-advised to funnel that research money to the private sector.

The exact role of the so-called national labs (Department of Energy) is unclear. As noted, they can certainly fill any gaps for critical research needs that are unique to the government, but I am at a loss to identify ways for the national labs to work in areas that the private sector and academic research are already active in.

Nuclear energy is one area where the government still has a role, of sorts. It remains unclear whether or what future nuclear energy has in the U.S. Again, I’d leave it to the private sector to decide, rather than the government.

A key point is that private and academic research today are vastly more advanced than back in the early 1970’s when the oil embargo highlighted the need to reduce dependence on foreign oil. Not to mention that the U.S. is now a net EXPORTER of fossil fuels.

Efficiency

Regardless of your source of energy or how much you wish to accomplish, efficiency is a tremendously powerful tool to:

  1. Drive down cost.
  2. Drive down energy consumption.

The relentless march of technology will be a key to delivering much of the energy efficiency improvements that can be expected in the coming years and decades — all without requiring any special efforts in the name of global warming or climate change.

Beyond better energy technology, efficiency can be improved by:

  1. Better insulation.
  2. Better lubrication and reduced friction.
  3. Better aerodynamic flows that reduce air resistance.
  4. Better fluid dynamic flows that reduce water resistance.
  5. Better planning to reduce distance and trips.
  6. Process improvements to reduce movement and processing steps.

Insulation helps reduce energy requirements for both heating and cooling.

In short, improvements in efficiency will allow us to:

  • Do more with the same energy.
  • Do more with less energy.
  • Enjoy a virtuous cycle of an endless progression of improvements that reduce energy consumption.

The bottom line is that a net reduction in energy consumption will result in a net reduction of consumption of fossil fuels.

Aging building stock

Commercial and residential buildings are aging very quickly, making them less attractive. Regardless of global warming, climate change, or cost, tenants and owners are clamoring for upgraded and new buildings. This presents a great opportunity for dramatically increased energy efficiency.

Even if a tenant or owner doesn’t explicitly pursue energy efficiency per se, newer building materials and improved building codes will tend to automatically result in more efficient buildings.

Tenants and owners are always interested in lowering operating costs, which is most readily achieved through enhanced efficiency or other technological advances, which generally means less energy consumed, which means less carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere.

And all of this is happens without the government mandating specific actions focused on global warming and climate change. Although in some cases improved building codes may be influenced by concerns about global warming and climate change. But overall, cost and efficiency are the primary guiding forces.

Air travel

Air travel is one area which has not been ripe for electrification — so far. But, there have already been some experimental efforts at electric airplanes.

Commercialization may be further out than for cars and trucks, but is still on the horizon, although more like 10 to 20 years rather than 5 to 10 years.

Smaller craft and small commuter aircraft appear to be feasible.

Large commercial aircraft fueled by other than fossil fuels are not yet so clearly in sight.

Still, new technologies and efficiency improvements can reduce the consumption of fossil fuels even when they are still the dominant fuel source.

Drones

Battery and solar powered drones are all the rage now, an excellent example of the relentless march of technology.

Their capacity today is very limited, but that will likely change over the coming years.

Their cargo capacity may be tiny today, but is sure to grow in the coming years. They have the great potential to reduce the need for so much large cargo air capacity.

Carry people? Not today or any day soon, but it’s quite conceivable more than a few years out, further reducing the need for traditional fossil-fueled transport.

Electric ships?

Electrified shipping is also still further out on the horizon, but still plausible.

It is worth noting that we already have electric ships — the Navy has nuclear submarines and nuclear aircraft carriers. So, the prospect of a fossil-free shipping is not as farfetched as it may seem.

In fact, hybrid and all-electric cruise ships and freighters are already being considered. Again, the relentless march of technology.

Local air quality

Combustion of fossil fuels is widely accepted as a cause of significant degradation of local air quality in major urban areas around the world, causing countless health problems and quality of life issues.

Whether or not you believe in the theory of global warming and climate change, the severe negative impacts on local air quality are an obvious cause for wanting to shift energy and transportation away from combustion of fossil fuels to cleaner sources of energy.

Problem areas for local air quality include:

  • Individual health — breathing difficulties, emphysema, heart issues
  • Quality of life — visibility, odor, grit, medical cost
  • Tourism
  • Athletic events
  • Air traffic control

Reduction in use of fossil fuels coupled with increased efficiency when they are used will dramatically reduce atmospheric emissions which impact health and quality of life.

Hybrid and all-electric vehicles are already being seen on streets of urban areas in increasing numbers, which will only increase even more dramatically in the next 5 to 10 years.

The relentless march of technology and improvements in energy efficiency will be strong drivers in dramatic reductions of the combustion of fossil fuels in coming years and decades.

Dramatic reduction in use of fossil fuels needed to improve local air quality

Focusing on local air quality would likely have the largest impact related to global warming since it would require a dramatic reduction in the use of fossil fuels, which would have as a side effect the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions, although the primary reason for the reduction of use of fossil fuels in this proposed energy policy is to achieve the goal of a dramatic improvement in local air quality.

Research

A lot of the capabilities needed to pursue the three proposed policy elements are already readily available, but research to advance innovations in these three areas is needed, beneficial, and highly likely as well.

The proposal does not require some dramatic new level of research, some Manhattan Project or a so-called moonshot, but simply to keep on keeping on, to stay the course.

Sure additional funding and sharpening of focus would be helpful, but nothing so dramatic as to require some major and disruptive commitment of public and private resources.

The overall research thrust is simply to just support the overall relentless march of technology. Literally, almost anything that fits that bill will be good for the proposed energy policy.

That said, some specific research areas include:

  • Better batteries — lighter, smaller, more efficient, cheaper.
  • Other energy storage technologies.
  • Better solar cells that are more efficient and cheaper.
  • New and novel energy technologies in general.
  • New power generation technologies.
  • Making power generation more environmentally friendly.
  • Basic materials research to make EVERYTHING lighter, more efficient, and cheaper.
  • More efficient insulation.
  • Lighter, more efficient, and cheaper electric motors.
  • Lighter and cheaper construction materials.
  • Improvements in manufacturing and construction techniques.

Again, there is nothing new on that list; we just need to keep the pipeline flowing.

Rewards

The primary rewards for pursuing the proposed energy policy will come in the form of:

  • Financial gain for those providing products and services in support of the three policy elements.
  • Quality of life improvements for individuals who benefit from the three policy elements, including health and financial security.
  • Jobs for individuals who are employed by firms, organizations, and government agencies that pursue the three policy elements.

Economics

An essential characteristic of the relentless march of technology is that it tends to drive costs down. Lower costs and lower prices are very appealing to individuals, households, businesses, organizations, and governments alike.

Efficiency drives costs and prices down as well. Driving down the demand for energy sources is the big win for efficiency gains. Efficiency improvements are a big win from an economic perspective.

Air quality is a mixed bag. The cost to achieve better health and quality of life can initially be quite high, although the long-term benefits can recoup those initial costs, especially with dramatic reductions in health care costs. But the benefits to tourism and athletic events can be quite dramatic fairly early on, although even there it can take a few years to fully ramp up air quality programs to the level where the results are noticeably visible and palpable. Net-net, even improvements in local air quality are an economic win and can be considered solely from the perspective of economics, without needing to bet the farm on global warming and climate change policies.

Environment

Lower impact on the environment will be a very welcome SIDE EFFECT of the proposed energy policy. Most notably, this will come from the dramatic reduction in the use of fossil fuels.

Environmental regulation

The proposed energy policy is completely neutral with respect to environmental regulation.

Existing environmental regulations can be preserved and enforced the same as before.

The only real change is that dramatic improvements in technology, efficiency, and local air quality will have the effect of dramatically reducing the environmental impacts of society, with the beneficial impact of reducing the need for intensive environmental regulations.

Generating electricity and charging batteries

People can readily accept the benefits of electric energy sources and devices, but that begs the question of where the electricity comes from and how batteries get charged. All the energy needed to power electric vehicles has to come from somewhere.

In truth there is no great clarity as to what specific direction electric power generation will be heading 5 to 10 to 20 years from now.

The good news is that there are a lot of exciting possibilities. And that the relentless march of technology and efficiency improvements will result in a net reduction of carbon dioxide emissions for a similar level of human activity.

Sure, fossil fuels, including coal, natural gas, and even petroleum will continue to be primary sources for commercial electric power for the next few decades, but gradually the mix will shift, slowly at first, but accelerating 10 to 20 years down the road.

Whether nuclear fights back from its long decline remains to be seen.

Solar is still quite promising, but is still on a fairly small scale.

Natural gas is the clear winner for new power plants, right now.

The interest in local air quality will continue to put pressure on power plants to reduce emissions, and continue to put pressure on reduction in the use of fossil fuels.

No matter what, a key point is that getting energy as electricity from the grid, even if the grid remains powered by fossil fuels is still a big win. A fossil fuel plant provides the level of economy of scale that makes it more economical to assure that the power generation process is as environmentally friendly as possible.

Nuclear energy?

Increased use of nuclear energy is an unknown in the proposed energy policy.

Personally, I think society would benefit from nuclear energy, but there are still too many obstacles, such as:

  • High cost.
  • Overwhelming complexity.
  • Focus on massive scale plants.
  • Coping with nuclear waste.
  • Reluctance to restore recycling of nuclear waste due to nuclear weapons proliferation issues.
  • History of safety issues and lack of confidence in competence of management and operations.

Still, I am hopeful, just not in the next few years.

Nuclear fusion?

Nuclear fusion continues to be held out for its virtually unlimited potential, but the history of endless delays has virtually eliminated any confidence that its day will come.

Geez, General Electric demonstrated nuclear fusion at the New York World’s Fair in 1964, when I was 10 years old. Okay, I’m STILL waiting.

But I’m still hopeful, just not over the next few years.

Concrete

Not many people realize it, but production of concrete (cement) is a significant source of global carbon dioxide emissions. Besides being energy-intensive (heat needed), production of cement results in emission of carbon dioxide by the calcination of limestone according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the official UN body pursuing global warming and climate change. So, even if fossil-fuel usage for energy was completely eliminated, cement production would still be a concern.

Once again, technology can come to the rescue.

The proposal here is not to explicitly redirect technology to focus on global warming and climate change, but simply to note that as the economics shift and new technologies are developed, the use of older fuel and material sources, such as concrete, will shift as well.

Radical shift from fossil fuels?

I am very skeptical of our ability to very quickly and radically shift away from fossil fuels overall. I’m all in favor or solar and renewable energy (and nuclear), and I’m in favor of eventually phasing out dirty fossil fuels, but as a practical matter that can’t be done overnight or on anything like the timelines suggested by the ardent advocates of such a policy.

Instead, I offer my own energy policy, which has a SIDE EFFECT of gradual decline in the desirability of fossil fuels. So, the EFFECT will be the same as the grand plans of the anti-fossil fuel gang, but without all the hysteria, desperation, cost, and futility.

In short, it will happen when it happens, and the proposed plan will facilitate it happening without the intense anxiety, intense uncertainty, and misguided expenditures of resources and attention of the more desperate efforts to obsessively focus on global warming and climate change.

Cheap oil and gas?

One downside of the relentless march of technology is that it continues to prop up the availability of relatively cheap oil and gas.

Advanced technology now makes it possible to:

  1. Find oil and gas reserves that we couldn’t find before.
  2. Develop and exploit oil and gas reserves that were too expensive, too difficult, or even impossible to develop and exploit with older technology.
  3. Keep oil and gas prices low enough so that alternative sources of energy are not yet as economically appealing as they would be if oil and gas prices were to rise.

This helps to keep the market for fossil fuel products alive and well, much to the consternation of the opponents of fossil fuels. Sorry, but that’s life. Every technology has downsides in addition to even very dramatic upsides.

That said, I do expect that at some point even our most advanced technologies will still result in fossil fuels being less economically attractive than cleaner alternatives.

Worst case, we’ll have relatively cheap fossil fuels, but EVEN CHEAPER alternative sources of energy. Again, not because of explicit government policies targeting global warming or climate change, but due primarily to simple economics and the relentless march of technology and efficiency gains.

Demand for local air quality for at least partially balance any downwards pressure on fossil fuel prices. People want low prices, but they also want health and quality of life.

Climate engineering (geoengineering)?

I only mention geoengineering and climate engineering here to indicate that I did consider it, but decided that it is NOT part of my proposed energy strategy since it doesn’t relate directly to the causes of global warming and because my proposed energy policy only includes elements which are equally valid even if you do not believe in the theory of global warming and climate change.

I will comment further on geoengineering or climate engineering in a separate paper I am working on about global warming and climate change.

Adaptation

Adaptation is a key element of climate change policy, but is not an element of an energy policy per se.

I will comment further on adaptation in a separate paper I am working on about global warming and climate change.

Climate change

Climate change itself is beyond the scope of this paper since it is an EFFECT of global warming, while energy policy relates only to CAUSES of warming itself.

The proposed energy policy would help with climate change to the extent that it reduces global warming by reducing the raw amount of carbon dioxide produced by human combustion of fossil fuels.

I’ll have a separate paper coming up on my personal views about global warming and climate change.

Global warming

The proposed energy policy would help reduce global warming by reducing the raw amount of carbon dioxide produced by human combustion of fossil fuels — not as a result of focusing on global warming per se, but as a side effect of the three elements of the proposed energy policy.

This would come from greatly improved technologies, the continued shift to a digital and electric world, increased efficiency that lessens the energy needed for human activity, and the dramatic reduction in combustion of fossil fuels needed to improve local air quality.

As mentioned previously, I’ll have a separate paper coming up on my personal views about global warming and climate change. If you don’t believe in the theory of global warming and climate change, that paper won’t be relevant. But even if you DO believe in the theory of global warming and climate change, the energy policy proposed in this paper will be the best approach anyway.

Gimmicks

Gimmicks can make weak proposals more attractive or at least palatable, but ultimately they will backfire and prove to be unsustainable.

What do I mean by a gimmick? A gimmick is any partial or pseudo-solution or policy that doesn’t amount to a true, long-term, sustainable and economically viable approach.

Some example gimmicks:

  • Subsidies. Such as solar panels and electric cars.
  • Geoengineering or climate engineering. Again, not true, long-term solutions.
  • Carbon credit trading. Again, not true, long-term solutions.
  • Vehicle fuel economy standards. Again, not true, long-term solutions.

Part of the problem is that many, if not all, of these gimmicks are driven out of desperation by adherents to the theory of global warming and climate change rather than by basic economics.

Details?

Where are the details? Sorry, but this paper won’t be providing any deeper level of details, nor are any follow-up papers with such a level of detail expected. I’ll leave that to others.

The whole point of this paper is to simply put the high-level proposal on the table and see whether people buy into it, or not.

How likely is my strategy?

Seriously, my energy strategy is already being implemented as you read this:

  • Technological advancements continue to accelerate.
  • Businesses and consumers are demanding — and getting — more efficient use of energy.
  • Local air quality is already a priority and getting more urgent by the day, especially in rapidly developing economies such as China.

Every year, month, week, and even day, there are more electric and hybrid vehicles on the streets of cities all over the country. It’s happening — whether anybody likes it or not.

Chinese officials are desperately aware that their urban air quality is a huge problem. It has their attention. The good news is that the huge scale of their need will rapidly and dramatically reduce the cost of technologies that everyone else will seek to adopt.

Will the benefits come in time?

People are concerned that we have to act very quickly to avoid the full negative impacts of global warming and climate change. Will the benefits of the proposed energy policy achieve results soon enough to avoid or mitigate the full negative impacts of global warming and climate change?

I think so.

The benefits may not come as rapidly as activists are clamoring for, but come they will.

I have great confidence that we will be living in an entirely different world in 20 to 25 years when it comes to energy, transportation, and housing.

Keep in mind that the global population is expanding on a pace such that many of the people living 20 to 25 years from now who haven’t been born yet and even born for another 5 to 10 years from now will be living and working in buildings that don’t even exist today, moving around in vehicles and transportation systems that do not even exist today and will likely be based on designs, materials, and technologies that do not exist today.

2020’s here we come!

Like it or not, ready or not, 2020’s here we come! It will be a whole new world.

An incredible array of technological advances are poised to converge over the next 5 to 10 years on the energy, efficiency, transportation, and air quality fronts.

Prepare to be amazed.

I’m personally looking forward to being as amazed as I was in 1964 attending the New York World’s Fair as a ten-year old child.

Conclusion

Just to recap, my belief is that we can get much of the benefits of some grand pie in the sky strategy to combat global warming and climate change by simply following the proposed energy policy which has only three simple elements:

  • The relentless march of technology — especially the shift towards a digital and electric world.
  • Efficiency. Do more with the same energy, and even doing more with less energy. Saving money is a huge motivator.
  • Local air quality. Focus on health and quality of life.

And the three meta elements as well:

  • To maintain a focus on RESEARCH for the main three elements.
  • To REWARD any efforts that focus society, government, business, households, and individuals on the main three elements.
  • Economics is a key driver in policy — get the economics right and people will follow.

To be clear, my strategy is already being implemented, whether anybody likes it or not.

So, whether you believe in the theory of global warming and climate change or not, this proposal is the best energy policy for you — and everybody else.

The relentless march of technology, efficiency, and local air quality are the best focus we can have on the energy front, in general and regardless of whether you believe in the theory of global warming and climate change or not.

If your big interest is in combatting global warming and climate change, the proposed focus on local air quality would likely have the largest impact related to global warming since it would require a dramatic reduction in the use of fossil fuels, which would have as a side effect the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions, although the primary reason for the reduction of use of fossil fuels in this proposed energy policy is to achieve the goal of a dramatic improvement in local air quality.

To reemphasize, the point of this paper is not to argue against the theory of global warming and climate change, but simply to argue that we can achieve most of the changes needed to minimize global warming and climate change using a commonsense energy policy that is neutral with respect to the theory of global warming and climate change and without so much of the extreme efforts and costs that have been proposed as the only solution to global warming and climate change.

UPDATE: Here’s my new paper which elaborates my personal views on the science behind the theory of global warming and climate change, entitled Why I Remain Uncertain about Global Warming and Climate Change.

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Freelance Consultant

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