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In recent years, a growing meme that immigrants are bad for the environment has taken hold, fueling a rabid minority's xenophobic paranoia with good old-fashioned eco-angst about carrying capacity and population bombs.

Using climate change as a rallying cry, the basic premise goes something like this: since the U.S. has by far the largest per capita carbon footprint in the world we must by all means avoid adding more folks from countries with lower footprints (translate: poor), in effect converting them from being "climate-friendly" entities in their native countries into carbon-spewing Americans.

This rather dubious Machiavellian proposition, of course, begs the obvious question:

How about we become "climate-friendly" Americans?

Problem solved. No deportations needed. Thanks for your Econcern.

There is enough for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.

- Mahatma Gandhi

To be sure, enlisting environmentalists and environmental ideas to justify nativism dates back over 40 years. The Southern Poverty Law Center gives a timeline of how immigration and burgeoning population have been advanced as the root cause of most environmental degradation since Paul Ehrlich published The Population Bomb in 1968, warning that population would outstrip the earth's food supplies unless something was "done" to depress fertility in underdeveloped countries.

However, the recent anti-immigrant fervor -- stoked by the passing of Arizona's SB 1070 -- has turned up the volume substantially on the "immigrants are bad for the environment" notion, successfully co-opting legitimate growing concern among the general population about climate change and over-consumption for its xenophobic agenda.

In his recent article in The Nation, Greenwashing Nativism, NYU professor of social and cultural analysis, Andrew Ross, gives a good overview of the dynamics involved in the rising tide of environmental scapegoating and the major players behind it:

To commemorate the fortieth anniversary of Earth Day in April, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) updated and reissued its fifty-three-page report "The Environmentalist's Guide to a Sensible Immigration Policy." Fingering "immigration-related population growth" as the "principal cause" of urban sprawl, the report insisted that "so-called environmentalists pretend as if this connection does not exist." And what was FAIR's response to the land speculation, overdevelopment and three-car mentality that drive sprawl? As on nearly every issue, the solution, it said, was to cut immigration to the bone and put an end to the policy of family reunification.

In a recent press release, The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), a spinoff of FAIR, warns that "wildlife populations are increasingly threatened by illegal immigration and the alien smugglers who are cutting paths through federally protected lands," and asks the question: "How long will these beautiful lands remain unspoiled if the border is not secured?"

In a now infamous case, Dan Millis, a volunteer with the faith-based organization No More Deaths, was convicted of "littering" for placing plastic bottles of water in the middle of one of the highest corridors of death along the Arizona border, a case that has since been overturned by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

And anti-immigration groups such as Population-Environment Balance, write in their mission statements:

Populations with relatively high standards of living in industrialized countries use large amounts of energy and generate disproportionately large per capita quantities of "greenhouse gases" (which cause global warming) and toxic pollutants, so even small population increases in such countries can have disproportionate adverse impacts.

In a 2003 interview in The New Scientist, Betsy Hartmann, director of the population and development program at Hampshire College, describes how the rekindled nativism gets oxygen from many well-intentioned people who have been seduced by The Greening of Hate:

I find even well-educated and well-meaning acquaintances have alarming responses on population issues. They believe the poor create their own problems by breeding, and it absolves the rest of us from responsibility. Even some committed feminists will scapegoat poor women’s fertility for the planet’s evils. It is a kind of ideological schizophrenia. Phrases like the population bomb and the population explosion breed racism.

To be sure, population is a complex and important topic in the context of climate change, loss of biodiversity and a host of other environmental problems. The planet's ecosystem could probably benefit from fewer humans. However, just as it is widely held that there can be no peace without justice, it is hard to imagine sustainability without justice.

A quick look at some numbers shows just how skewed the distribution of material wealth and pollution is on our planet.    

chevron oilbird billboardIn 2007, the United States emitted almost 6 billion metric tons of CO2 into the earth's atmosphere. That is 19.91% or 1/5 of all CO2 emitted worldwide, with less than 5%, or 1/20 of world population. Compare that to Mexico, a country that emits 1.61% of the world's CO2 with 1.58% of the world's population. Or El Salvador, which emits 0.02% of CO2 with 0.09% of the world's population. In other words, while a person living in the U.S. pumps 4 times his or her share of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, a person living in Mexico is contributing exactly his/her share of our collective burden, and a person in El Salvador emits only 1/4 of his/her share.

These numbers, of course, are where FAIR and right wing spinoff groups like NumbersUSA and Population-Environment Balance find their fodder for immigrant bashing. Feeding off prominent ecologists such as William Rees and Thomas Lovejoy (who sit on the board of the Carrying Capacity Network), or David Attenborough, Paul Ehrlich, Jane Goodall, and James Lovelock (all patrons of UK-based Optimum Population Trust), they greenwash their xenophobia, in effect saying: "Don't take it personally, but you're destroying the planet by immigrating to the U.S." (or any other country that has a higher footprint than your native one).

The problem with this rather cynical "Take one for the Team" attitude should be pretty obvious, but the fact that so many sincerely eco-minded people seem to have subscribed to it (thus enabling the many more motivated by ulterior nativist motives) shows a disconnect from a very basic precept of justice.

Says Betsy Hartmann:

It all avoids looking at the real issues on our own doorstep—of over-consumption, for instance. On climate change, we hype up fears of rising emissions in "overpopulated" India rather than looking at our own consumption patterns. Better a one-child policy there than a one-car policy here. We don’t understand that communities all over the world can and do live in sustainable relationships with their environments.

100206_TheMission01A simple example: Let's say you have two boys. The older one has been getting allowance money for a few years and been spending it on ice cream and candy. He's been putting on a lot of weight and getting cavities. Now your younger one has reached the age to get an allowance. Obviously you don't want him to get diabetes and lose his teeth, but he really likes ice cream and says that it's only fair for him to spend all his money on ice cream since his older brother got to do it, too.

Wouldn't every fair-minded parent have a problem telling their younger son that he can't have ice cream while their older son goes on wolfing down the sugar bombs? And wouldn't the most common sense agreement sound something like this: "You know what, your brother has been eating way too much ice cream, more than is good for him. But how can I tell you not to do the same unless I tell him to eat less? So let's make a deal: You can have exactly as much ice cream as your brother, and my job will be to make sure that your brother gets his sweet tooth under control first.

It's as simple as that: Unless we in the rich, over-consuming countries get our sweet oil tooth under control, we really have no credibility in trying to ration others, whether it's telling them to stay thrifty in their own countries or refuse them the right to come to our country because we don't want them to be as "big" as us. Not to mention that we could actually learn a thing or two about living less wasteful lives from immigrants.

As Greg Grandin writes in The Game Change

almuerzoIt (immigration) helps America's cities. I lived in Durham, North Carolina, for a few years, and for all the romance of Southern porch culture, it was mostly Latinos, nearly all of them undocumented laborers from Mexico and Central America, who were outside, facing the street, talking, listening to music, raising families. The city's more settled residents were inside with their air-conditioners and TVs. Throughout the United States, Latinos are re-energizing neighborhoods and populating downtowns, opening stores and pumping money into established small businesses. Not too long ago cities were rearguards of a progressive ethos in retreat. Today, with the help of Latinos, one of the fastest growing urban demographics, they are again vital hubs of social democracy. Google the words "Latinos," "cities" and "revitalize" and you will be led to any number of stories about how stressed city centers in Detroit, Dallas, Memphis, Newark and the Hudson Valley are being rescued by Latinos. No wonder the right hates them.

If we are sincerely concerned about the U.S.' inflated per capita carbon footprint, the most honest and just solution is to fight for clean energy, less waste, public transit, better urban design and a number of other structural, political and economic changes that will significantly reduce the CO2 and pollution each American resident produces. Once the U.S. gets closer to emission levels that are proportional to its share of world population (like Mexico, for example), the issue of immigrant "carbonbaggers" should no longer be of concern.

But as long as rich western countries' disproportionate consumption, pollution, and emissions contribute to poverty, drought and flooding in places with much smaller footprints, it's disingenuous to fault migrants for what Andrew Ross calls "their own carbon-conscious version of the retort offered by postcolonials when they settled in cities like London and Paris: We are here because you were there."

There can be no sustainable planet without environmental, economic and social justice. Anyone using climate change or ecological imbalance to promote anti-immigrant measures really just wants to eat their ice cream and not share.



All photos by Sven Eberlein, except for the b&w "almuerzo" in the street by Debra Baida

EcoJustice series discuss environmental justice, or the disproportionate impacts on human health and environmental effects on minority communities. All people have a human right to clean, healthy and sustainable communities.
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Originally posted to Ecomusings by Sven Eberlein on Mon Sep 20, 2010 at 07:06 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Let's pass the DREAM Act (30+ / 0-)

    Call your Senators now.

    As Chris Bowers said today:

    It is a winnable fight. Six Republican Senators are either co-sponsors of the DREAM Act or have voted for it in the past (Bennett, Brownback, Collins, Hatch, Lugar and Snowe). Join with Daily Kos and SEIU to call your Senators, asking them to support passage of the DREAM Act amendment:

    Call your Senators now.

    It's the least we can do in the fight for justice.

    Safari mzuri Ahsante sana :: Journey beautiful Thank you very much!

    by citisven on Mon Sep 20, 2010 at 06:42:53 PM PDT

  •  Great, thought-provoking diary. (13+ / 0-)

    Americans are quick to tie climate issues to (other countries') overpopulation, while Indians are equally quick to tie climate issues to (other cultures') beef consumption.  This is a fair, unprejudiced, and timely look at the issue.

  •  ah, the ole no need to change consumption BS (9+ / 0-)

    see the same thing with water. countries keep on increasing consumption, run short on water, and so then buy fertile lands in Africa to use up their resources, rather than change consumption patterns at home.

    would be interesting to see whether it is the climate deniers making this rallying cry for anti-immigration

    Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Mohandas K. Gandhi

    by Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse on Mon Sep 20, 2010 at 07:23:30 PM PDT

  •  OMG. I got two recs in. sorry guys (8+ / 0-)

    now i've outted myself! bring it on! I've had that kinda day!

    What did you do when you knew? boatsie

    by boatsie on Mon Sep 20, 2010 at 07:34:39 PM PDT

  •  Hey sven! I have an offtopic Q for you (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    boatsie, matching mole, allep10, patrickz, Aji

    Are you going to west coast green?

    I went a couple years back when it was in San Jose, and saw Al gore and Jerry Brown give speeches.  It was mostly building green options, but it was pretty interesting.

    It's in SF this year... I'm not sure if I'm going,  or not.  If you're going, I can send you an e-mail for a discounted admission if you're interested.

    "The more the Democrats pursue the center... the further to the right the "center" moves." -fellow kossack vacantlook

    by Hopeful Skeptic on Mon Sep 20, 2010 at 07:36:04 PM PDT

  •  Thanks citisven, (5+ / 0-)

    I can't say that I've heard the climate change/immigration argument, but I'm not surprised. Like you say, similar to telling other countries to ration before we do anything to mitigate.

    Great, thoughtful diary as usual.

    eKos: Environmental diaries @ DK

    by patrickz on Mon Sep 20, 2010 at 07:41:27 PM PDT

  •  thank you for this (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    citisven, patrickz, Aji

    It bothers me no end when people (even here) talk about how "we" have to get "them" to stop their population growth, while ignoring all of the issues you illustrate so well above.

    Other countries need to take on this burden for their own populations; we have no business imposing it upon them.

    What we could do is help such countries with improvements that really do help stabilize populations. These are well-known (empower women, improve health care, etc.)

    But when people start talking about controlling people in other countries in such a basic way, my hackles rise. We have done plenty to destabilize such countries with our wars and supports of bad regimes and resource theft (or enabling corporate resource theft, etc.). We have no moral high ground whatsoever to make such pronouncements. Just the opposite.

    "Love is an object kept in an empty box." -Smog

    by Miep on Mon Sep 20, 2010 at 08:08:24 PM PDT

    •  Amen, sistah! (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RosyFinch, patrickz, Aji, Miep

      I agree with you 100%. And thing is, there are a lot of NGOs who do exactly the kind of important work you mention. For every screaming xenophobe there are dozens of human rights workers, doctors, and educators in the poorest countries on earth, working their asses off to create the kinds of opportunities like empowering women, improving health and building schools that attempt to level the playing field between rich and poor countries. But our short attention span media's obsession with stupidity and sensationalism keeps us from ever hearing about those people and being inspired by their work to get off our own asses and pitch in.  

      Safari mzuri Ahsante sana :: Journey beautiful Thank you very much!

      by citisven on Mon Sep 20, 2010 at 08:31:58 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  and reforestation (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        don't forget reforestation. Very important.

        With regards to pitching in ourselves, it is hard for many who are unemployed...who lost their houses to mendacious mortgages...who are homeless...who are barely scraping by, due to the ongoing importance of keeping the rich rich.

        I'm not talking about how we should all be spread even thinner (though at times I may be suggesting emigrating).

        I'm talking about where all the money goes. Of course, it's arguable these days that it's imaginary money. We are, after all; in debt.

        "Love is an object kept in an empty box." -Smog

        by Miep on Mon Sep 20, 2010 at 09:00:55 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  imaginary money (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Aji, Miep

          ain't that the truth. The ultimate value of our money lies in the condition of the planet we live on, doesn't it? I mean everything is basically financed against the air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink. And from that measurement, we're up to our necks in debt. But yes, you're right again, there are some who have accumulated insane amounts of wealth based on the imaginary value of paper money, or stocks, or hedge funds, or whatever other code words they come up with to build fake wealth while impoverishing the vast majority of people and raping the planet. It's so easy to look through and yet we seem so blinded by the obvious. Also, from my experience I've learned that in this country most people, including many liberals, have no problem with the accumulation of vast amounts of money by just a few, as long as they do it "legally."

          Safari mzuri Ahsante sana :: Journey beautiful Thank you very much!

          by citisven on Mon Sep 20, 2010 at 09:15:50 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  one of the most disturbing things (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            I've come across in my reading lately, was about how buying oil internationally you have to use dollars, that's the law, and Iraq wanted to change that around 2000, wanted to opt out and switch to euros.

            Iraq stopped trying to change that a bit later.

            If the USA is keeping up its debt by forcing people to buy its currency, that would explain some things.

            Sounds CT, I know, but it's more of an observed association, for whatever that means.

            I'm not an economist, by far. Caveat.

            "Love is an object kept in an empty box." -Smog

            by Miep on Mon Sep 20, 2010 at 09:58:28 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Through, original analysis... (6+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    OLinda, DWG, kimoconnor, citisven, patrickz, Aji

    ...citisven. Nicely done.

    Don't tell me what you believe. Tell me what you do and I'll tell you what you believe.

    by Meteor Blades on Mon Sep 20, 2010 at 08:42:50 PM PDT

  •  So, should immigration wait for us to... (0+ / 0-)

    ... clean up our act here?

    Moderation in most things. Except Reactors. IFR forever!

    by billmosby on Mon Sep 20, 2010 at 09:23:37 PM PDT

    •  In an ideal world (0+ / 0-)

      we would have already cleaned up our act a long time ago. But in the meantime, we don't have much credibility in telling people not to come because of our wastefulness. Perhaps the influx of immigrants will be the kick in the butt we need to get our act together. Though the latest numbers I've read say that the rate of immigration has been declining as of late. So all the hysteria seems exaggerated anyway.

      Safari mzuri Ahsante sana :: Journey beautiful Thank you very much!

      by citisven on Mon Sep 20, 2010 at 09:39:38 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Immigrants come here for a better life. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        The last thing on their minds is to use less. Case in point is a friend of a friend. He and his wife came from northern India about 20 years ago now. They own a motel and convenience store in Draper, UT. They drive a Hummer and live in a 7,000 sq foot house they bought for 2/3 off after prices crashed. They do have one grown child, but aside from visits from her live in the place by themselves. There are plenty of cases of immigrants doing that well. After all, they have the motivation and above average intelligence or they would probably have just stayed put in the first place.

        And most of us would follow suit into those lifestyle choices if we could. I once aspired to such but through a combination of poor choices find myself making do with a lot less than average. Now, I've come to terms with that, and even enjoy seeing how little a footprint I can leave and still have an interesting live. But I'm very much in the minority; I can tell just by walking around and seeing what a pile of useless crap most people let run their lives.

        "In an ideal world", indeed. Tell me again how an influx of immigrants such as I have described will give us the kick in the butt you speak of. No, the "lack of credibility" part of your statement is more realistic. People will come here, get rich, and join in the despoilation because we have no credibility to tell them to do otherwise, and we are never going to give them a contrary example either.

        Far from being poor downtrodden souls who need our sympathy, the travails they go through to get here show that they are the kind of people that people like me and most of the rest of us will be working for in years to come- they will become rich. The only reason most of the people we think of as "immigrants" when we hear the word seem so poor is that they are still in the shadows.

        Moderation in most things. Except Reactors. IFR forever!

        by billmosby on Mon Sep 20, 2010 at 10:11:09 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  you are right (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Immigrants are just as diverse a group as any other. I'm an immigrant too, though being from Germany and being fluent in English usually makes people not even think of me as an immigrant. I do think that most of the hysteria about immigration among nativists that's discussed in the diary is about illegal immigrants, who probably are mostly on the poorer side of the equation and don't come here and build a big house in suburbia and drive SUVs. They're the day laborers who stand on the corner of my street every morning hoping to be picked up for a few bucks. They're the ones cramming several families into a small apartment and living very humble lives by necessity. Now I think it's ironic that a lot of the eco rage is directed at these poor migrant workers who actually have very low footprints even as they enter the U.S. rather than at people like your friend or myself. I bet you if I went down to Arizona not a single person would come to me and say "you damn immigrant, you're raising our CO2 level." Perhaps different for your friend, as he looks "different," but he still has money which automatically gains him more respect. Anyway, I don't think that many of the people walking through the desert crossing the Arizona border will be the millionaires of tomorrow. It's those that come who already have money who'll make more money here, but having money also means it's easier to come here through legal channels. But most of the xenophobia I believe is directed at poor illegal immigrants, and again, I don't think they're the ones who raise the country's footprint or take away jobs.

          Safari mzuri Ahsante sana :: Journey beautiful Thank you very much!

          by citisven on Mon Sep 20, 2010 at 10:40:33 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Given the status quo, (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            you're right. But change that and bring the desert trekkers you mention out of the shadows and you'll see that they are pretty capable people. They work where they have to now, but despite their lack of education I think they will find success given half a chance. Sure, maybe not millionaires, most of them. But they'll do well enough to acquire the average American footprint in due course.

            Xenophobia is probably the wrong word, as nobody is all that afraid of Russians, Chinese (not for a some decades now anyway), Germans, et al. I'd call it a combination of racism for some or a lot of people, plus apprehension of the number of people wanting to come here from that direction and the convenience of the trip if restrictions were relaxed. Plus there is probably a lot of a feeling like "we took the lower 1/3 of the country from you fair and square, it wouldn't be fair for you to take it back now that we're all settled in here".

            Speaking of Germany, I had a great time working in the Frankfurt area about 30 years ago for about 6 weeks. I still remember it very vividly as a delightful place to be (I remembered enough of my High School German to get around on my own to some extent). Sometimes I wonder why anyone would leave, but of course I was about half worker and half tourist on that trip. Things were smaller and more expensive there than here at that time. I also had occasion to spend considerable time working in Russia 5 or 6 years ago. Although I also found that place to be fascinating, I have a little better idea why a Russian might want to leave (and to laugh at Medvedev for asking them to come back from Silicon Valley CA to help him start one back home, lol).

            Moderation in most things. Except Reactors. IFR forever!

            by billmosby on Mon Sep 20, 2010 at 10:53:34 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Sounds like you've seen some cool places, Bill (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              I'm from Stuttgart, so not too far from the Frankfurt area. Germany has definitely come a long way, even from when you were there. I left 23 years ago, but I still go back almost every year to visit my family and friends. It's really become so much more open than it used to be, but immigration is certainly a big issue over there as well. Ha, at least nobody owns guns, so you don't have minutemen type of folk roaming around the border. I guess everything is just a bit less extreme over there, both wealth and poverty, but also you don't have the whole religious extremism or super Libertarianism. People are just much more moderate as a whole, but it also means that they mostly bicker over little things, like whether you should have to pay for your 5th year of college. Anyway, I live in San Francisco, which is hard to beat, even for German standards of tolerance and progressiveness, but I do think that the U.S. still has a lot to offer in terms of creativity and resourcefulness, we just have to keep the political pendulum to the left for a while, and I think we'll be able to catch up with the Euros. It's gonna be a struggle, there's just so much crazy resistance to joining the 21st century, but I really think we can do it over here and I will do my best to contribute to it.

              Safari mzuri Ahsante sana :: Journey beautiful Thank you very much!

              by citisven on Mon Sep 20, 2010 at 11:11:31 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Ooh, the Bay Area! (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                We moved to Saratoga in time for me to start my Senior year at Cupertino High School in 1967. That area was still about 1/2 orchards then. I spent considerable time in SF  then, and it was a magical time. Then off to Michigan's (poor) approximation of San Francisco at the time, Ann Arbor. Which led to my first marriage, to a lady whose father's family came from Prussia (about 1920) and whose mother's family came from Bavaria (mid 1800s). So you might say my kids are from all over (I'm about equal parts English and Scots Irish with a light sprinking of French, Dutch, and German).

                I have seen some cool places, it's true. My time in Russia was spent in the closed Atomic Cities of Novouralsk (near Ekaterinburg), Seversk (near Tomsk), and Zelenogorsk (the one near Krasnoyarsk) working as a process monitor on this program.

                My job in Germany all those years ago was in support on some structural research work we did on a never-quite-finished light water nuclear reactor called the HDR (heissdampfreaktor, a superheated steam cycle boiling water reactor design) which was at Kahl am Main.

                Ok, I'm rambling now. Nice talking to you.

                Moderation in most things. Except Reactors. IFR forever!

                by billmosby on Mon Sep 20, 2010 at 11:32:25 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  interesting links (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:

                  I'm not much of a scientist, so don't know much about nuclear reactors. I just know that it scared the hell out of me when Chernobyl happened and we were so close by. But I understand much has happened in technological advances since then. In light of climate change it may be the way to go, at least for a while. Haha, but that's a whole different diary, and I've got caught in that shitstorm between the two different factions here before, I'm staying out of this one :-).

                  Anyway, thanks for sharing so much of yourself tonight, it's always good to meet new folks here and learn from each other. I'm hitting the sack, have a great night.

                  Safari mzuri Ahsante sana :: Journey beautiful Thank you very much!

                  by citisven on Tue Sep 21, 2010 at 12:21:40 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

  •  An Important Diary (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    There is far more than enough for everybody if we direct development to green energy.

    If we don't do what we should be doing, there is only a heated hell on earth awaiting all of us.

    The attacks on the undocumented is a sickness that has been with us from before we had a country.

    Best,  Terry

  •  my friend (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    ... (((((citisven)))))

    thank you for your diary..... excellent as always.
    I'm glad I made it in time to rec and tip.

    hope you are having a great day :-)

    "Toleration is the greatest gift of the mind; it requires the same effort of the brain that it takes to balance oneself on a bicycle." -Helen Keller

    by ridemybike on Tue Sep 21, 2010 at 06:28:20 PM PDT

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