1545: The Pisces Foundation Blog

Welcome to your source for Pisces Foundation updates and insights from our trustees & staff.

Here we will share news from the critical intersection of philanthropy and the environment, as well as highlight innovative initiatives and programs from our grantees & colleagues.

Will the shipping industry join the rest of the world in fighting climate change?

With recent agreements reached to reduce super-warming pollutants used in air conditioning and refrigeration and to limit aviation emissions, we at Pisces were watching what would happen at last week’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Would the momentum continue and the shipping industry decide to join the rest of the world in fighting climate change or would it remain exempted from reducing its greenhouse gas emissions?

In the lead up to the meeting, 51 shipping industry organizations, including Maersk, The Danish Shipowners’ Association, and the Royal Belgian Shipowners’ Association wrote all the IMO member organizations, saying

“We support the discussion at MEPC to establish the shipping industry’s fair share of the global responsibility to address climate change. We call on the IMO member countries and their Heads of State to ensure that a clear, ambitious long-term objective is established and soon followed by ambitious actions that help to drive investment in low-carbon solutions.”

In the end, the IMO did take two positive, if small, steps forward. It agreed to keep in place a 2020 switch to lower-sulfur fuel and it agreed to a roadmap for developing a strategy to reduce shipping emissions over the next 7 years. However, on energy efficiency, the IMO declined to take the easy action in front of it and tighten the existing standards, even though ships are already exceeding them years ahead of schedule. As articles in the Guardian and ClimateHome point out, this isn’t the level of ambition required to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

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Next Steps: An Action Plan for Super Pollutants

The past 12 months have seen unprecedented progress in the international response to the climate crisis.  The historic agreement reached this weekend among almost 200 nations meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, to phase down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) – factory made refrigeration chemicals with supercharged global warming impact – is another big step forward.

The agreement is grounds for celebration in its own right (scientists estimate phasing out HFCs can prevent up to 0.5 degrees Celsius of warming in the next 100 years). But coming on the heels of news that the landmark climate accord in Paris last December has taken effect and that an international deal has been inked to cut climate pollution from aviation, the Kigali accord makes 2016 a banner year for climate action.

Of course, there’s always the danger that all this justified celebration could lead to complacency. We can’t let that happen.

As scientists have noted, to avert the worst-case scenarios of global disruption from a warming planet, we must not only maintain this momentum, but accelerate progress.

The first order of business should be to make sure the Kigali agreement is implemented quickly, and that developing countries get the assistance they need to do their part. But then what?

What many people may not realize is that while accelerated cuts to carbon dioxide emissions are irreplaceable, there are other powerful climate-warming pollutants like HFCs that are more potent than carbon dioxide and short-lived. So reducing them now can bring lasting benefits—a point the New York Times Editorial Board noted in its own analysis of the HFC breakthrough. Methane can leak from oil and gas drilling and pipelines, and is emitted by landfills, manure and other sources. Black carbon results from inefficient burning of fossil fuels – diesel engines on cars and trucks and oceangoing ships are key – among other sources. Cutting super-pollutants, like black carbon, has the added potential to improve health and save lives.

The good news is that there are important opportunities for progress on both methane and black carbon coming up soon. Here are three of the most promising:

  • Planes, automobiles—and ships: A committee of the International Maritime Organization is meeting in London later this month. On the agenda is whether the shipping industry joins the rest of the world’s economy in accepting a limit on their greenhouse gas emissions. Recent years have seen steady progress on pollution from planes and automobiles—it’s time for ships to get on board. Black carbon is just one of the many pollutants that ships can emit when they ply open waters. Ships can improve their efficiency, install scrubbers and switch to cleaner renewable and synthetic fuels – if the industry acts.
  • Put a filter on it: Most of the world’s top vehicle markets, like the U.S., Japan and Europe, require their trucks and buses to install diesel particulate filters. These filters trap the black carbon, so their exhaust is cleaner, and we can all breathe easier. China and India have committed to do this and other nations should follow their lead. The G20 is providing a forum for countries to collaborate with each other on how to make further progress.
  • Plug the (methane) leaks: The U.S. recently issued rules to reduce the methane pollution that leaks from new oil and gas infrastructure. Mexico and Canada have recently committed to join the U.S. in reducing this pollution 40 to 45 percent by 2025. All three countries are now in the process of determining how to limit this industrial pollution through stronger requirements for regular monitoring, leak detection and repair.

Pursuing these and other opportunities can allow us to harness the power of adding fast-acting reductions of super pollutants to existing efforts to tackle the climate crisis. Scientists agree that if we prioritize rapid cuts in super pollutants, we can improve the chance of keeping Earth’s temperature increase to less than 2 degrees Celsius.

So let’s celebrate the great news from Kigali, the promise of Paris—and salute the years of hard work by so many that made these breakthroughs possible. Then tomorrow morning, let’s keep the momentum building in the days and months ahead to ensure the safe and stable climate people need to thrive.

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It’s time to broaden the fight against climate change

World leaders are gathering in Kigali, Rwanda to make the biggest climate decision since December’s historic Paris Climate Agreement. Under the auspices of the Montreal Protocol—a 1989 treaty that phased out pollution that was eating a hole in Earth’s ozone layer—negotiators will consider phasing-down a class of factory-made coolants, referred to as hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs.

The outcome of the Kigali negotiations is critical in the effort to control climate change because, paradoxically, HFCs are extremely powerful climate warmers–some thousands of times more powerful than carbon dioxide. That’s why leading scientists see phasing out HFCs as a key part of implementing the Paris plan.

Last month, momentum increased as over 100 nations and scores of national and international businesses called for an ambitious phase-down, while government and philanthropic donors committed $80 million to countries in need of technical assistance.

As important, the negotiations in Africa reflect a broader strategy to rein in climate change by bolstering carbon dioxide cuts with reductions of other planet-warming pollution. This strategy is based on a simple fact with major implications for mitigation efforts: carbon dioxide is not the only pollutant we have to control to meet our climate goals.

Make no mistake: the need to aggressively cut CO2 emissions is fundamental, irreplaceable and must be accelerated. But HFCs are one of a group of other pollutants—including methane and black carbon—that often have been overlooked despite their effects on public health and significant contribution to climate change. Like many HFCs, on a relative basis, pollutants like methane and black carbon are more potent warmers than carbon dioxide, earning them the label of climate “super pollutants.”

The attention that governments, businesses and civil society are giving the HFC phase-down is a major indicator that this dynamic has begun to change. Another key signal is the passage of super pollutant legislation in California—a climate policy bellwether. The new law, signed by Governor Edmund Brown on September 19, requires a 50 percent reduction in black carbon and a 40 percent reduction in methane and HFCs by 2030 (from 2013 levels).

This strategic evolution in the climate battle can make a crucial difference for people and nature. Since super pollutants are short-lived, meaning they stay in the atmosphere for anywhere from days to decades, reducing them affects the climate quickly too. That is why a strong HFC phase-down agreement in Kigali could cut global temperature by as much as a half a degree Celsius by the end of the century.

This may sound small. But remember that the goal set in Paris is to keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius overall to avoid the most dangerous impacts of climate change. In that context, it becomes clear why it’s powerful to couple accelerated action to cut carbon pollution with a full-court press on super pollutants like HFCs. In fact, without it, experts believe it’s unlikely we can keep climate change below 2 degrees Celsius.

A commitment to address climate super pollutants alongside carbon dioxide can do more than help us better control climate change. It can also yield immediate public health benefits.

For example, pollution from oil and gas development can contribute to smog that can trigger asthma attacks and other public health challenges. That is why scores of organizations are pressing the Environmental Protection Agency to expand recently-adopted rules that will control leaks of methane and other harmful chemicals from new oil and gas sources to the vast network of existing facilities.

An enormous leak from a Southern California gas storage facility last October provided a vivid example of why greater oversight is necessary. Before it was capped, the leak forced thousands of people out of their homes and spewed as much greenhouse gas pollution as the annual emissions of over half a million cars.

Another climate super pollutant, black carbon, also has serious air quality and resultant public health impacts globally. Significant reductions of black carbon and other fine particles from tailpipes and additional sources could contribute to preventing millions of premature deaths.

Given the momentous impact of climate change, we need to fully commit to broadening the fight by harnessing an important, evolving approach to drive mitigation efforts. Bolstering CO2 reductions with reductions of HFCs and other super pollutants gives the world the best chance of controlling climate change and protecting public health. It’s a smart, no-regrets strategy we can and must accelerate today.

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Upgrading American Infrastructure: Smart Investments for Our Economy, Health, Climate, and Water

Safe, sufficient, secure water resources are essential to life on Earth as well as to almost every aspect of a vibrant, healthy society.  Our water infrastructure is designed to deliver safe tap water and sanitation to homes and businesses and to maintain health water supplies both above and underground.  Unfortunately, most of the infrastructure in place today was designed and constructed 50 to 100 years ago and is no longer adequate to meet the challenges of today, including population growth, urbanization, uncontrolled pollution sources, over-consumption of surface and groundwater, and, of course, climate impacts to water resources.   News reports of water-related catastrophes are pretty much constantly in the news, including contaminated drinking water in Flint and many other cities across the U.S., flooding in Louisiana and Texas, thick toxic algal blooms in Florida coastal waters, and continuing drought and wildfires in the West.  And that was just in the first 9 months of 2016.

The outmoded and decaying infrastructure currently in place thorough the United States needs to be revitalized.  With more than 155,000 public water systems and 16,000 wastewater systems serving the public, this will be a major task.  While U.S. EPA estimates that it will take nearly $384.2 billion to restore and upgrade the existing water infrastructure over the next 20 years, infrastructure investment is a bargain as compared with the public health, environmental, and social costs of failure to do so.

A solution for these issues requires us to move past 20th century solutions, and use holistic, integrated water management solutions that produce more benefits for people and nature.  Smart water infrastructure investments can create jobs, spur private investment, enhance water security, reduce climate impacts, enhance climate resiliency, and, of course, also protect public health and the environment.   I just participated in an event sponsored by the Center for American Progress and NextGen Climate America on the topics of “Upgrading American Infrastructure: Smart Investments for Our Economy, Health and Climate.”   Speakers focused on many forms of infrastructure, including energy, water and transportation, but the consensus is that water needs to be a major focus on infrastructure investment and that new technologies, new financing tools, and new approaches to community engagement can make it an even better investment for the future than ever before.

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Philanthropic Community Launches Fund to Support Energy Efficiency in Developing Nations

This morning I was in attendance as Secretary of State John Kerry and key environmental and foreign ministers met near the United Nations to voice support for phasing down one of the world’s most powerful greenhouse gases: hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Adding to new commitments from the U.S. and other countries, a group of foundations and private donors unveiled a new fund that will expand energy efficiency efforts in developing countries as HFCs are phased down. I am proud to announce that the Pisces Foundation intends to contribute $1 million to this new donor fund.

Today’s announcements come a little more than two weeks before Montreal Protocol negotiations begin in Kigali, Rwanda, where an amendment to reduce HFCs is expected. The Protocol is known as one of the word’s most effective environmental treaties, and it provides an international framework to phase down HFCs.

The new philanthropic fund responds to a request from developing nations. It has been created by a coalition of 19 foundations and donors that have pledged $53 million. These funds are specifically to bolster efforts in developing nations to pair energy efficiency improvements with HFC reductions (for example, through new energy-efficient, HFC-free appliances). It comes alongside funding commitments from supporting governments, which will help nations phase down the production and use of HFCs and replace them with newer, climate-safe coolants.

HFCs, which are chemicals used primarily in air conditioning and refrigeration, are part of a set of short-lived climate pollutants informally referred to as climate “super pollutants.” This is because pollutants like HFCs pack thousands of times the global warming punch of carbon dioxide. The growing use of HFCs could undo global progress made in addressing the threat of climate change.

The good news is solutions are in our reach that can allow us to act quickly.  We already have the technology now to create alternatives to HFCs and make products that are more energy-efficient.

Studies show that phasing down HFCs may prevent an additional 0.5°C of global average temperature rise by the end of the century. Combined with energy efficiency gains and related carbon pollution savings, this effort could result in 1°C of climate savings.

Participating in this exciting collaboration is just one of many endeavors Pisces Foundation is pursuing to quickly accelerate progress and meet the challenge of climate change. Bolstering carbon cuts with needed reductions in all pollutants driving climate change—including HFCs and other climate super pollutants like black carbon and methane—is our best hope for successfully meeting the world’s climate goals.

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For Some People in the U.S., Every Day is a Day without Water

Water is something that we easily take for granted. We wake up in the morning, stumble into the shower, brush our teeth, and brew our coffee without a second thought of how the abundance of clean water arrived at our tap. By the end of that routine, nearly 30 gallons of water has been used. Yet, as of 2015 more than 660 million people throughout the world still did not have access to clean water, spending large portions of the day walking miles to fetch water.

Most people within the United States do not often consider what life would be like without water for a day, let alone for most of the time.  Imagine a Day without Water, September 15, 2016, is a day to help raise awareness and educate the American population on water, our most precious resource and one that is facing serious constraints.  This campaign is sponsored by Pisces Foundation’s grantee, US Water Alliance, and is implemented by the Value of Water Coalition. Raising awareness is possible in many ways, such as issuing a press release, sharing success stories, or participating on social media with the hashtag #valuewater. A full list of ways to participate can be found here.

It is easy to assume that most water related concerns are in other countries.  But that is not always true. Within California, according to Community Water Center (CWC), a well-respected grassroots organization working to address water and equity issues in California’s Central Valley, thousands of people in the southern San Joaquin Valley have no clean drinking water due to drought or contamination of ground water supplies with arsenic, nitrates, or pesticides. In 2014, within the San Joaquin Valley, 432 public water systems did not consistently meet safe drinking standards. These poor water conditions have been exacerbated by the five-year drought that California currently faces. Many domestic wells that are the primary source of water for poor, disadvantaged communities have gone dry. Water levels at more than 2,300 wells state-wide have been deemed critically low or dry.

At the Pisces Foundation, we are working to highlight and address drinking water quality issues throughout the US, including through an important meeting this week we helped design and co-funded where the focus is on how remote sensing technology can help. At a national level, we’re supporting efforts like NRDC’s recent report examining the scope of lead in drinking water.  To address the complexity of the problems in parts of California, our grantee, the Water Foundation, is working with the Community Water Center and other partners to advance statewide and local solutions in the San Joaquin Valley to build resiliency for vulnerable communities and support all human needs. CWC uses community organizing, education, and policy advocacy to ensure communities impacted by drought and water contamination are able to secure a safe and reliable source of water.

I had the good fortune to visit the San Joaquin Valley with Laurel Firestone of the Community Water Center several years ago. We toured through the Valley in a van, meeting up with local residents at schools, which is where most people have to go to pick up water for their homes and families.  Turnout was high throughout our tour as residents came out to explain their many years of efforts to obtain access to the safe tap water that the rest of us take for granted.  It left a deep impression on me.

The Community Water Center works alongside Valley residents like Josie Nieto and Delia Martinez in Seville.  Josie, Delia, and their community dealt with nitrate-contaminated water for decades. They had to use bottled water for cooking and drinking, because the water from the taps in their homes, local school, and community places did not meet federal health standards. CWC worked alongside the Committee for a Better Seville to organize and advocate for a solution. Seville was able to drill a new well in 2014 that meets federal nitrates standards, but they are still hard at work advocating for the distribution system to be replaced to prevent water shortages and bacterial contamination.

The Pisces Foundation is proud to partner with the Water Foundation and the Community Water Center, and many other grantees committed to clean and safe drinking water.  Together, our goal is to make a day without water an imaginary world.  No one should have to live even one day without clean water.

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Now Hiring: Executive Assistant

The Pisces Foundation is hiring an Executive Assistant to work with the President and the Chief Operating Officer. The Executive Assistant will play an important role in a dynamic, growing philanthropy. The position will be located at the foundation’s San Francisco headquarters. Please follow the link below to see the full, printable job announcement.

Executive Assistant Position Announcement

Applications are encouraged by September 30th, but will continue to be accepted until the position is filled.

We welcome applicants from diverse backgrounds and with a variety of skills, experiences, and ideas. We are an equal opportunity employer. Employment selection and related decisions are made without regard to gender, race, ethnicity, age, disability, religion, national origin, color, veteran status, or any other protected class.

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Summit on Remote Sensing to Protect Our Water

Nearly two years ago, Toledo, Ohio suffered from toxic algal blooms in Lake Erie that ultimately caused the water system serving 400,000 people to shut down for two days. While not all algal blooms are toxic, even non-toxic algal blooms are a water quality problem in that they prevent light from penetrating surface waters to allow submerged vegetation to grow. When the algae die, they suck the oxygen out of the water, suffocating fish and other animals that need oxygen to breathe. Algal blooms are fueled by increases in phosphorus and nitrogen entering the water supply from a variety of sources, including farms, sewage systems, storm water, and air deposition. While we have ambient monitoring data on algal blooms in water bodies, gathering that data is time intensive, costly, and usually limited in duration and coverage.

Fortunately, ambient sampling methods are no longer the only tool available for gathering water quality data. Satellites are constantly circling the earth, gathering local water quality data using remote sensing that can help fill information gaps and focus ambient monitoring efforts on where it is needed most. Even better, agencies like EPA and NASA collect this data and make it available to the public for free! Remote sensing satellite systems can detect water quality factors such as temperature, algal growth, turbidity, and color and can also identify associated pollution sources and sinks. Understanding the key factors that contribute to algal blooms may help us decrease their frequency and the protect public health. Yet, as of now, the data is often not available to the public in a usable form.

Here at the Pisces Foundation, we take these threats and challenges seriously and are working to leverage water investments that ensure people and nature thrive together. See our Op Ed in the New York Times to read more. Later this month, the Meridian Institute, with funding from the Pisces Foundation, Walton Family Fund, McKnight Foundation, and Johnson Foundation, will bring together remote sensing experts and conservation organizations to discuss how groups, such as non-profit organizations, governmental agencies, technology companies, philanthropic organizations, and researchers, can advance and increase the use of remote sensing to protect freshwater resources in the U.S. This initial discussion could help create a pathway for non-profit organizations to make a greater use of remote sensing in water conservation and protection projects in the near future. The group will focus on remote sensing technologies that produce publicly available datasets that are accessible at low or no cost to users. Participants will discuss how remote sensing data is currently being used to protect water resources and how its use could be enhanced with new products, new software, and increased awareness of its potential in the nonprofit community. One goal of this meeting is to create and identify opportunities for government, technology companies, philanthropy, and universities to work together to accelerate advancement of these technologies for water resource protection.

The convening will take place at the Johnson Foundation’s retreat at Wingspread in Racine, WI. The Johnson Foundation has served for over 50 years as facilitators for meetings to identify innovative solutions regarding healthy environments and local communities. While this meeting will focus on the use of remote sensing to monitor freshwater resources within the United States, the recommendations this group develops could have global applications.

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HFC Phase-down Talks Continue

Among the many forms of pollution that contribute to climate change, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are among the most potent.  Scientists agree that to keep global warming under the crucial 2°C threshold, phasing out HFCs – a whole class of gases that are used as refrigerants and in some industrial processes — needs to be part of the solution. Recent progress at the latest round of international negotiations makes me increasingly optimistic that we will see a major breakthrough on HFCs this year. Here’s what you need to know:

Negotiators met in Vienna July 15-23 for a series of meetings related to the Montréal Protocol. Parties to the Montréal Protocol already agreed last year, in what is called the Dubai Pathway, to reach an agreement on an amendment in 2016 to phasedown hydrofluorocarbons. The Vienna meetings were an important opportunity for moving forward on that agreement, with the Meeting of the Parties scheduled for October 10-14 in Kigali, Rwanda.

There were signs of continued momentum for agreeing to an amendment this year. The negotiators made progress on a number of the most critical issues debated including funding and intellectual property. Parties moved closer together in their opinions on when developed and developing countries would phase-down HFCs and by how much.

The negotiators were encouraged by members of the High Ambition Coalition, which played an important role during the Paris negotiations, and a high-level meeting of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) which stated their strong support for “the adoption of an ambitious Montreal Protocol amendment in 2016.” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also gave a rousing speech during the meetings: “amending the Montreal Protocol to phase down HFCs is one of the single most important unitary steps that we could possibly take at this moment to stave off the worst impacts of climate change and to protect the future for people in every single corner of the globe.”

Much work remains to be done. While major concepts were agreed to, there was no unified text for negotiators to take back to their capitals. For this reason, negotiators may meet again before October to make further progress.  We’ll be watching closely!

If negotiators successfully come to agreement to reduce HFCs, it will have immediate impacts, as well as offer us a fighting chance to stay under 2 degrees.

Below are the topline reactions from a number of the NGOs closely following this process as well as a few of the articles and opinion pieces, which appeared in the media over the last couple weeks.

NGO Reactions:

  • CAN International: “a strong signal that action is a priority following the signing of the Paris Agreement”
  • CSE: “clear signs of a deal with solutions to all the major challenges”
  • EIA International: “Countries are moving in the right direction but there is a huge amount of work to be done to finalise an ambitious amendment in Kigali in October.”
  • IGSD: “perceived universally in the climate context as the piece that you need to do this year”
  • NRDC: ‘a big step forward that caps a week of enormous progress towards the final deal expected in Kigali”

Selected Media Coverage:

  • Bloomberg BNA: Nations Narrow Differences but No Deal Yet on HFCs
  • The Christian Science Monitor: World leaders poised to seal landmark emissions deal in Vienna
  • Climate Home: Cooler coolants: closing in on a climate deal in Vienna
  • E&E Climate Wire: In Paris redux, India seen as stumbling block to climate deal
  • The Hindu: India’s proposal on HFCs gets mixed response in Vienna
  • India Today: Nations make progress over phasing out HFCs
  • New York Times: A Sequel to the Paris Climate Accord Takes Shape in Vienna
  • New York Times: A Coolant That Threatens to Heat Up the Climate
  • Reuters: Deal on cutting greenhouse gases in sight for this year: Vienna delegates
  • Reuters: Helping refrigerators save the climate
  • Time: Why Climate Negotiators Have Turned Their Attention to Your Air Conditioner
  • The Washington Post: The world is poised to take the strongest action of this year against climate change



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Launch of the Pisces Foundation & Intel Corporation Water Quality Monitoring Survey

Inexpensive and easy to access information on water quality is essential to empowering people to safeguard their health and the environment.  As described in my February 2016 blog post, the Pisces Foundation with assistance from the Intel Corporation has embarked on a project to evaluate the use of low cost technology to collect and transfer information on water quality conditions.

As part of the first phase, we are requesting that community members and organizations who monitor water quality participate in a survey that will take 10- 40 minutes, depending on the depth of their activities, to determine water quality technology uses and needs.

If you would like to preview the Pisces Foundation & Intel Corporation Water Quality Monitoring Survey in its entirety, prior to taking it, please click here for the PDF version.

We hope you will contribute your expertise by participating in the online survey. Responses would be appreciated by June 10th. Click here to begin.

At the conclusion of the first phase of this nationwide survey, we will post a summary of the findings on the Pisces Foundation webpage.

Based on analysis of the survey results, a second phase of the project will focus on finding ways to stimulate improvements in technology development and deployment. The survey will be used to share information with nonprofits about water quality monitoring technologies of which they may not now be aware and may also be used to spur the development or dissemination of new low cost monitoring technologies.

This project has been guided by an accomplished Steering Committee and I want to take this opportunity to thank them for their assistance and look forward to working with them as we move forward.

Your participation in this important survey can help shape future low cost methods to collect and disseminate water quality information.  If you have any questions, please contact Verna Harrison, Project Manager (vharrison@vernaharrison.com 410-562-9840.)

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