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Energy and Technology - From Lens of the Superorganism

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The slides of the talk by Nate Hagens at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) Jan 23 2018

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Energy and Technology - From Lens of the Superorganism

  1. 1. Energy, Technology, Money and the Human Superorganism Nathan John Hagens KAUST 1/22/2018
  2. 2. Energy, Technology, Money and the Human Superorganism 1.Introduction/framework 2.Energy and Economy Basics 3.The Human Superorganism 4.Conclusions and Implications 5.“What to Do”?
  3. 3. Virtual World
  4. 4. > Virtual World Physical World
  5. 5. > Virtual World Physical World Our minds create orders of magnitude more possibilities than can manifest in physical world
  6. 6. > Virtual World Physical World P.S. scientifically trained minds are still susceptible to this but less so
  7. 7. Accuracy/Precision Scope/Relevance
  8. 8. Accuracy/Precision Scope/Relevance Reductionist expertise leads to jobs and profits (in a growing economy)
  9. 9. Accuracy/Precision Scope/Relevance If everyone focuses on current quarterly earnings, will future ‘earnings’ naturally arrive? This talk
  10. 10. A time of paradox **12 Year plateau in conventional oil production and price is still only ~$60 ** US “oil” production about to hit all time high **For majority of people in developed world, growth (in income) ended a decade ago, yet stock markets are at all time highs. **Widespread recognition of human caused climate change, massive investments into renewable energy but globally CO2 increasing at highest rate in history **Everyone is somewhat worried but no one talks about the real issues on TV or in public.
  11. 11. A time of myth ** Demand for oil will dry up in next 20 years due to self-driving Uber taxis ** We will begin manned space colonies by 2030 (Musk) ** The global economy will be growing at 20% per year by 2060 (World Bank chief economist) ** We will grow economies, mitigate climate change, AND solve global poverty and inequality using solar, wind and smart grid tech. (IPCC and others) ** Humans will be extinct from climate change by 2025 (Guy McPherson)
  12. 12. A time for (urgent, relevant) Questions **What should we be doing to meet the challenges of the future? ****In order to arrive at the appropriate answers: our first and critical task is to be asking the right question(s).
  13. 13. At the London School of Economics in 2008, Queen Elizabeth questioned: “Why did no one foresee the timing, extent and severity of the Global Financial Crisis?” The British Academy answered a year later: “A psychology of denial gripped the financial and corporate world… it was the failure of the collective imagination of many bright people… to understand the risks to the system as a whole”.
  14. 14. …..some energy and economy basics 1. Energy underpins natural systems and human economies
  15. 15. 1a. Energy underpins natural systems
  16. 16. Trophic cascade 1 300 90,000 27,000,000 1,000 Tons Three hundred trout are needed to support one man for a year. The trout, in turn, must consume 90,000 frogs, that must consume 27 million grasshoppers that live off of 1,000 tons of grass. -- G. Tyler Miller, Jr., American Chemist (1971)
  17. 17. 1b. Energy underpins human systems ~Irrespective of technology, every single good and service in our economic system first requires an energy input
  18. 18. WORLD GDP Economic growth is highly correlated with ‘more primary energy’ added to human systems
  19. 19. Tad Patzek 2017
  20. 20. ….some energy and economy basics 1. Energy underpins natural systems and human economies 2. Fossil sunlight underpins modern economies
  21. 21. 150 Horse 1/8 Horse 1 Horse45 Horse 1 barrel of oil  5,700,000 BTU 1,760 kWh converted to work 700kWh 1 human  0.6kWh/day of work 700/0.6=1167days  4.5 YEARS OF HUMAN WORK
  22. 22. 150 Horse 1/8 Horse 1 Horse45 Horse 1 barrel of oil  5,700,000 BTU 1,760 kWh converted to work 700kWh 1 human  0.6kWh/day of work 700/0.6=1167days  4.5 YEARS OF HUMAN WORK 1/7 Horse
  23. 23. Average human laborer Average wages of $57 per day
  24. 24. How many man-days of work can you get on the average global daily wage of $57? Average human 1
  25. 25. How many man-days of work can you get on the average global daily wage of $57? Average human Average American 1 0.2
  26. 26. How many man-days of work can you get on the average global daily wage of $57? Oil at $80 per barrel Average human Average American 5,912 1 0.2
  27. 27. How many man-days of work can you get on the average global daily wage of $57? Oil at $80 per barrel Average human Average American 5,912 1 0.2 Oil at $20 per barrel 21,679
  28. 28. ….some energy and economy basics 1. Energy underpins natural systems and human economies 2. Fossil energy underpins modern economies 3. Industrialization is the result of massive inputs of low cost fossil labor
  29. 29. Industrialization Applying large amounts of fossil energy to processes humans used to do manually, Made processes ‘energy inefficient’ but increased returns to human effort/time dramatically
  30. 30. 180x 400x The ‘Trade’ resulted in massively higher benefits to most humans
  31. 31. WAGES PROFITS PEOPLEGOODS
  32. 32. Reference: http://nautil.us/issue/1/what-makes-you-so-special/gasoline-and-fertility At over 210,000 kcal per day, the average person in USA (or KSA) has the metabolic equivalent of a 30+ ton animal
  33. 33. The Unwinding of the “Trade”
  34. 34. First, some energy and economy basics 1. Energy underpins natural systems and human economies 2. Fossil sunlight underpins modern economies 3. Industrialization is the result of massive inputs of low cost fossil labor 4. Cobb Douglas –the greatest flaw in economic theory
  35. 35. Energy matters vastly more than other economic inputs The Cobb Douglas function used to explain growth treats labor and capital as the (only) 2 relevant inputs. Energy is ignored.
  36. 36. Energy does all the work needed to combine other inputs -it cannot be substituted other than with other types of energy
  37. 37. Standard circular economy model
  38. 38. SOURCE SINK
  39. 39. SOURCE SINK We don’t pay for the creation of nor the pollution from the most valuable input to our economies ~only the cost of extraction The biggest Flaw in Economic Theory
  40. 40. …some energy and economy basics 1. Energy underpins natural systems and human economies 2. Fossil sunlight underpins modern economies 3. Industrialization and low cost fossil labor 4. Cobb Douglas –the greatest flaw in economic theory 5. Money has no biophysical backing –but is merely a marker for real capital
  41. 41. The majority of money in the modern economy is created by commercial banks making loans. Money creation in practice differs from some popular misconceptions — banks do not act simply as intermediaries, lending out deposits that savers place with them, and nor do they ‘multiply up’ central bank money to create new loans and deposits Whenever a bank makes a loan, it simultaneously creates a matching deposit in the borrower’s bank account, thereby creating new money. The reality of how money is created today differs from the description found in economics textbooks.
  42. 42. The majority of money in the modern economy is created by commercial banks making loans. Money creation in practice differs from some popular misconceptions — banks do not act simply as intermediaries, lending out deposits that savers place with them, and nor do they ‘multiply up’ central bank money to create new loans and deposits” Whenever a bank makes a loan, it simultaneously creates a matching deposit in the borrower’s bank account, thereby creating new money. The reality of how money is created today differs from the description found in economics textbooks. http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/publications/Documents/quarterlybulletin/2014/qb14q102.pdf “Money Creation in the Modern Economy” -Bank of England
  43. 43. Banks do not loan money, they create it Money is created from thin air. Since 1971 there has not been a single currency in the world with a link to physical resources
  44. 44. Debt productivity – or how much GDP we get for an additional $ of new debt, is in decline globally Source: Federal reserve, Citibank research Source: Peoples Bank of China, Citibank research
  45. 45. ? We don’t think of it this way – but when we take on debt – as a nation, as a company or as an individual, the debt someday has to be paid back with energy.
  46. 46. Our society views the world solely through a Money lens Money Non-renewables Renewables
  47. 47. …some energy and economy basics 1. Energy underpins natural systems and human economies 2. Fossil sunlight underpins modern economies 3. Industrialization and low cost fossil labor 4. Cobb Douglas –the greatest flaw in economic theory 5. Money has no biophysical backing –but merely a marker for real capital 6. Technology is mostly a vector for increasing primary energy use
  48. 48. Human Labor Replacement New resource Conversions Resource/Energy Efficiency New Energy Tech Most technology is a vector for more primary energy demand There are two general types of technology. Type 1 finds ways to use energy more efficiently or finds new energy sources. Type 2 tech increases demand for energy via doing tasks humans used to do manually (or inventing new tasks). Currently Type 2 dominates human technology inventions, and increases total global demand for energy. T1 T2
  49. 49. Source: On Global Electricity Usage of Communication Technology: Trends to 2030 Anders Andrea et al 2017 Even ‘digital’ consumption requires energy 13% currently and increasing rapidly * Actual
  50. 50. …some energy and economy basics 1. Energy underpins natural systems and human economies 2. Fossil sunlight underpins modern economies 3. Industrialization and low cost fossil labor 4. Cobb Douglas –the greatest flaw in economic theory 5. Money has no biophysical backing –but merely a marker for real capital 6. Technology is mostly a vector for increasing primary energy use 7. We’ve used a large % of our fossil stocks – there is plenty left but it will be more costly, which means lower benefits to society
  51. 51. In USA, the cost to extract oil has increased ~350% since 1999. Oil prices have doubled
  52. 52. Low entropy natural resources- there is a HUGE difference between: PRICE COST VALUE
  53. 53. deep breath…
  54. 54. Modern Human Culture Functions as a Superorganism 1.Energy and Maximum Power Principle 2. Human Behavior 3. GDP and access to power 4. Conclusions/implications
  55. 55. Energy seeking in nature Organisms and ecosystems in nature self-organize so as to better access an energy gradient (e.g. branches and leaves to maximize surface area exposed to sun)
  56. 56. Maximum Entropy Production Principle
  57. 57. Modern Human Culture Functions as a Superorganism 1. Energy and Maximum Power Principle 2.Human Behavior 3. GDP and access to power 4. Conclusions/implications
  58. 58. Our minds can look forward but our feelings come from what worked in the past
  59. 59. “Ultrasociality” Humans – like ants bees and termites are an extremely social species
  60. 60. The Origins of Surplus
  61. 61. Sexual selection & relative fitness – yup –humans are animals too!
  62. 62. IS BIGGER BETTER? • Would you prefer a 4,000 sq ft house in a neighborhood of 6,000 sq ft houses? • Or would you prefer a 3,000 sq ft house in a neighborhood of 2,000 sq ft houses? Prof Robert Frank – “Money and Happiness: Rank of Income, Not Income, Affects Life Satisfaction”
  63. 63. Jones Jones
  64. 64. The ‘wanting’ feels stronger in our brains than the ‘having’
  65. 65. Check list Agenda of the Gene Preference Checklist Temperature: 10 F___ 65 F ✓ 110 F ___ Wealth: prefer to be poor ___ prefer to be rich ✓ # of children wanted: zero ___ greater than zero ✓ Prefer: newspaper__ dial up___ dsl___ broadband ✓ Prefer to be: miserable ___ comfortable ✓ Need to be in town in 2 hours: drive car✓ walk__ Prefer to: win wars ✓ lose wars___ Care more about how your life is in: 2018 ✓ or 2028___ Prefer to be viewed as: more✓ or less __ successful than ones neighbor
  66. 66. Human animals seek physical homeostasis, almost all of which requires energy Most psychological needs in our culture still require more energy, but don’t have to
  67. 67. Time Care/attention As biological animals we heavily weight the present over the future
  68. 68. Time Care/attention We want brain services, and we want them today, not next week, next year or next decade In thermodynamic terms ‘power’ is energy used per unit time. The brain is similar…
  69. 69. Modern Human Culture Functions as a Superorganism 1. Energy and Maximum Power Principle 2. Human Behavior 3.GDP and access to power 4. Conclusions/implications
  70. 70. ENERGY Up until the 1970s we continued our physical world expansion, adding vertical land productivity (fossil carbon) to previous horizontal productivity (farming). We ran into 2 energy crises in 1970s. Energy and resource led productivity
  71. 71. ENERGY To keep access to energy growing, we went to 1) debt as a way of pulling resources forward in time and 2) globalization as a way of accessing cheaper areas of production and more cooperation. Hit a wall in 2008 Debt and trade productivity
  72. 72. ENERGY Since 2008, central banks and governments responded with “temporary” too big to fail guarantees, QE, artificially low interest rates, balance sheet expansion, to maintain populations access to energy/services Central bank and government guarantee era
  73. 73. ENERGY Rule changes (e.g. Italy making prostitution and cocaine sales part of GDP), new tax and benefit schemes, and numerous other ‘abstractions’ allow us to continue growing the energy spigot. But for how long? ? Orwellian productivity?
  74. 74. STRAW = ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES SIZE Major influences on the size of the straw (E): 1) Low cost of energy C 2) Energy technology T1 3) Consumer tech T2 4) Cheap/free credit M 5) Government rules G 6) Population/Nodes (P) C STRAW-(Cross section view) G T M G C M E T2 Circa 1990 N T2 P T2
  75. 75. C T1 Organic growth of global energy spigot was based on cheap energy and e.g. power plant efficiency. These factors are now smaller than they used to be
  76. 76. M G T2 Increasingly we are growing the energy spigot by money creation, rule changes, and novelty devices requiring energy (but generating GDP)
  77. 77. “Push” “Pull”
  78. 78. No debt With access to debt Cheap access to credit changed the shape of global oil production
  79. 79. The things we are doing to expand the size of our ‘energy straw’ are less and less sustainable Major influences on the size of the straw (E): 1) Low cost of energy C 2) Better technology T 3) Complexity Nodes N 4) Cheap/free credit M 5) Government rules G 6) Population (P) EC STRAW-(Cross section view) G T2 M G C M E T1 Circa 1990 Circa 2020 N N P P
  80. 80. Time GlobalEnergyConsumption 1900 1950 2000 The outputs of the Superorganism are energy based – the inputs increasingly are non-caloric
  81. 81. The net result of 7.6 billion humans each individually pursuing an internal optimal foraging theory energy-marker algorithm, cooperating and assembling into groups, corporations and nations is an energy hungry superoganism, planetwide
  82. 82. Our species is defacto functioning as a “Superorganism”
  83. 83. This has two main inferences (implications to follow later)
  84. 84. We assume bigger/larger= more able to grasp, envision and plan for complex events A single human cell A kidney A person A small group of colleagues A large group (e.g. Congress) A nation of humans A world of 8 billion
  85. 85. LOW HIGH LOW VERY HIGH LOW LOW A single human cell A kidney A person A small group of dedicated humans A nation of humans A world of 8 billion
  86. 86. (aka the larger the group of people, the dumber it gets wrt complex plans) 1. Behaviorally, global human society functions using simple tropisms, (akin to an simple amoeba).
  87. 87. Thinking doesn’t happen outside individual brains. There is no one driving the bus
  88. 88. 2. Physically, global human society is functioning as an energy dissipating structure Every single good or service consumed by global economic system originated with a small fire burning somewhere on planet
  89. 89. Downstream of the Superorganism…
  90. 90. Modern Human Culture Functions as a Superorganism 1. Energy and Maximum Power Principle 2. Human Behavior 3. GDP and access to power 4.Synthesis 5. Conclusions and implications
  91. 91. The main implications of “Superorganomics”
  92. 92. 1. The human Amoeba (superorganism) IS the invisible hand
  93. 93. 2. As a global culture, humans are no longer maximizing surplus, but surplus ‘value’ (digital representations of surplus)
  94. 94. Global GDP from O A.D. Source Angus Maddisson, IIER calculations Long Term – Growth was not the norm 3. Economic theory wasn’t chosen because it was true/valid – it was the emergent path for the superorganism/dissipative structure Long Term Economic Growth 0-2000 C.E. ?
  95. 95. Money Non-renewables Renewables
  96. 96. Money Non-renewables Renewables ALL KEY DECISIONMAKERS IN OUR WORLD ARE EXPECTING THE BLACK LINE (BECAUSE OF FLAWED COBB-DOUGLAS) 3b. There is no credible institution or government body or corporation globally that is specifically planning for an end to growth despite growth being over for 80%+ of OECD people.
  97. 97. 3c. Politically, our system is not broken, but working perfectly. Moving away from the rich feeding grounds of fossil productivity is not in the job description of high ranking humans.
  98. 98. 4a. As long as human cultures maximize GDP, efficiency and better technology will merely build a larger global heat engine.
  99. 99. 4b. Growing renewables (in the current culture maximizing GDP) will likely just build a bigger aggregate heat engine
  100. 100. Fossil ‘magic’ increasingly went more towards productivity, than wages Chart: Emmanuel Saez, published in Forbes.
  101. 101. Increasing substitution of human labor for mechanical (under current trends) will impoverish higher % of humans
  102. 102. Sidebar  Humans and machines –from the vantage of the Superorganism 1. Most technology is just leading to a higher global demand for primary energy – when primary energy begins to decline, technology will have to do much more (or we’ll have to do with less) 2. As robots increasingly become cheaper than human workers – we’ll have to reconsider the relationship between ‘jobs’ and ‘work’ and…what to do with all those who were replaced by robots? If enough people drop back to poverty levels, who will buy the tech products? 3. There is a difference between being technologically possible, and technologically affordable and scalable 4. Most modern time saving tech devices give us more time to play games and waste time 5. Technology (esp smart phones, internet, social media etc) are shortening our attention spans, making our citizens less capable of complex, long term tasks.
  103. 103. 5. The mass extinction and metabolic impacts on biogeochemistry are downstream effects, not easily ‘willed’ away or solved by changing prices Hansen testimony to congress Kyoto Protocol Paris Agreement World Meteorological Conf. on climate Copenhagen Accord UN Framework on Climate
  104. 104. 6. The main way we are accessing energy today is via the credit markets. Sources: BEA, Federal Reserve
  105. 105. 6b. As long as we can increase credit, we’ll continue to grow. When we can’t we won’t.
  106. 106. The things we are doing to expand the size of our ‘energy straw’ are not sustainable and increasingly risky Major influences on the size of the straw (E): 1) Low cost of energy C 2) Better technology T 3) Complexity Nodes N 4) Cheap/free credit M 5) Government rules G 6) Population (P) EC STRAW-(Cross section view) G T2 M G C M E T1 Circa 1990 Circa 2020 N N P P T1
  107. 107. What do we do when we’ve kicked the can as far as it will go, and is now blocking the road?
  108. 108. 7. We will keep growing until we run out of ‘food’
  109. 109. 7b. Then we will respond to the Great Simplification… • • •
  110. 110. We can have a very large economy (like now) with decent amount of renewables,
  111. 111. Or a smaller economy powered in good part by renewables….
  112. 112. But not a larger economy powered by renewables
  113. 113. Modern Human Culture Functions as a Superorganism 1. Energy and Maximum Power Principle 2. Human Behavior 3. GDP and access to power 4. Synthesis 5.(speculative) Conclusions and implications
  114. 114. 1. SOURCE 2. SINK The Situation
  115. 115. 1. SOURCE 2. SINK The Narrative
  116. 116. Higher energy costs in coming decades will make energy intensive activities unprofitable
  117. 117. Lowest quintiles of incomes in almost all OECD countries have been hit by significantly declining incomes. Source: Census.gov
  118. 118. Income development 2002-2014, U.S. census data (www.census.gov), graphic IIER For 80%+ of people (in USA/Europe) growth is already over ..yet all governments continue to plan for growth…
  119. 119. What’s happening seems like somebody’s fault…
  120. 120. Viewed from perspective of superorganism we are all complicit but no one is to blame What’s happening is largely because fossil helpers are asking for pay raises at a time when Amoeba is larger, and hungrier
  121. 121. Good news: our physical needs require energy. Most psychological needs do not. After the superorganism shrinks there will be new models of how humans receive our ‘brain services’. But we have to understand who we are first.
  122. 122. Smil, 2017
  123. 123. Iier graph on www.energyandstuff.org
  124. 124. ? THE CARBON PULSE We are ~here The economic inputs to the worst climate models are delusional. Fossil fuels will quit before we fire them. But will that suffice? And will the cure, unprepared for, be worse?
  125. 125. 1) Energy is what we have to budget and spend. Money is just a marker for real capital/wealth. 2) The primary drivers of growth – cheap energy and available credit are waning. We’ve already hit social limits to growth. 3) We don’t face a resource scarcity situation but one of declining ‘resource contribution’. Costlier energy inputs reduce benefits to economies. There isn’t a real energy shortage but rather a longage of expectations. 4) Our evolved behavior drivers make it difficult to act/plan ahead other than in crisis. Biology determines what we need, culture determines how we get it. 5) Global market based human society is functioning like a dissipative structure – and will continue to do - until it cannot. 6) We need to – as best as we can – use intelligent foresight and be aware of the reasons why a lower consumption, more local and regional future is on the horizon. 7) The good news is we only need a fraction of all this material stuff to be happy and healthy Brief Summary
  126. 126. The Challenge of the 21st century: Given this backdrop, what do we do??
  127. 127. The Probability Distribution of the Future
  128. 128. What is NOT likely to happen: 1.Growing the economy AND mitigating climate change 2.Growing the economy by REPLACING fossil fuels with renewables 3.Humans en masse choosing to leave fossil sunlight in the ground 4. Governments explaining limits to growth BEFORE limits to growth are well past
  129. 129. Quite simply: we need a completely different conversation What to do – as a world/species?
  130. 130. What to do – as a species? Ask better questions: ~What is our goal? ~What are the stakes? ~How can we use the remaining oil and gas towards best purposes so 200 years from now our descendants don’t look back and say ‘it was ALL wasted’. ~Does knowing who we are, where we came from, what we are doing, what we need/want, what is possible, matter? (I’m hopeful that it does)
  131. 131. What to do – as a nation/institution? ~Educate people on ecology and natural resources at young age ~Consider taxing resources instead of labor ~Start pilots of residences without baseload and lower consumption lifestyles ~Direct resources to support science and unbiased journalism/media ~Redefine poverty and provide safety nets for lower tranches of society ~Consider a “Anti-rebound effect Pool” where profits from new tech and efficiency aren’t fed back to the Amoeba but to more sustainable infrastructure ~Break large groups working on better futures into smaller subsets. E.g. take 500 people working on an issue and divide funding into ~100 groups of 5.
  132. 132. What to do – as a University/College? ~Educate and train students in subjects and skills that will be needed in a source/sink constrained future ~Have science and technology directed towards providing basic human needs (problem is there isn’t funding for this – yet – in most schools) ~Build new interdisciplinary collaborative capacity ~Retiring professors consider a pro-future Capstone project during their last 3 years at University ~We need detailed expertise and continued specialization, but perhaps the academy can stop rewarding hyperspecialization associated with such reductionism. ~Make your school needed and relevant – because much of our University system is a product of ‘surplus’ which is going away. ~Be bold and take risks. A highly-educated, disciplined mind is a terrible thing to waste.
  133. 133. What to do – as individuals? ~Use logic, reason and think for yourself, and avoid the consensus trance ~Become ‘woke’ to the huge advantage you have in life, because you understand these things: you’re one of the (unfortunately) very few ~Try to accept you can’t shift things too much before the energy/economy reality becomes more apparent to others ~Don’t step out of society - live a normal life, advance in a job you like in todays world, but know it will likely change at some point ~Be a ‘sleeper’ leader/anchor for the future / be ready to engage when the world needs your knowledge The simplest changes….
  134. 134. What to do – as individuals? From an energy/economy perspective ~Simplify first and beat the rush ~Don’t become overly reliant on energy intensive activities ~help to re-localize/re-regionalize supply chains ~learn a physical skill ~help to design technology that provides basic human services as opposed to short term dopamine ~Contribute to massive list of societal transition projects and campaigns tackling pieces of the challenge
  135. 135. What to do – as individuals? From an brain/behavior perspective ~Get to know your brain (this may be uncomfortable) ~Be happy with absolute wealth instead of relative ~Consider a ‘paleo behavior’ diet. E.g. Take electricity, technology breaks – reset your brain in nature ~Choose your tribe wisely ~Relax, smile, laugh and enjoy life ~Be kind to yourself
  136. 136. What to do – as individuals? A conversation with yourself ~Who am I during these times? ~What do I stand for? ~The time is not to minimize my impact, but to maximize it ~My species is not evil. We are complex creatures capable of great things: both terrible and wonderful ~I am part of a ‘Superorganism’. And I Am Not
  137. 137. We live in very special times. The world is not yet fully broken. What is our species capable of? ‘Brain services’ per NRR will be key metric Knowing who we are and what is at stake is the first step. Caring is the 2nd. Then there are more… We are each part of an energy hungry global Amoeba. And We Are Not….

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