IPCC troubles in context: Some good Dutch media coverage


One of Holland’s quality newspapers, the Volkskrant, had some excellent coverage of the IAC’s review of the IPCC process. Below is my translation of (part of) an editorial column (discussed in Dutch in an earlier post):

In a way it was inevitable that the UN climate panel IPCC got cornered earlier this year when some mistakes were discovered in its reports. The IPCC, as a volunteer organization with a small staff, could no longer cope with the societal polarization which was the consequence of the unwelcome message of global warming and climate change. Thus, professionalization is required.


The mistakes and glitches which were discovered in the IPCC’s 2007 report were the result of clumsiness and sloppiness. They did not undermine the knowledge that the climate is changing.

I would add that most IPCC mistakes were minor or even imaginary, and most were in working group 2 about (regional) effects of climate change; they did not concern the physics of climate and why it is changing. (See  e.g. my commentary on the 2035 – 2350 glacier mistake, which is the only serious mistake, even if it is in a relatively insignificant and hardly read portion of the whole report. The Dutch area-under-sea-level slip was mostly clumsy.)

In spite of this it caused a wave of distrust, which suggests that climate science and IPCC as its flag bearer had a problem with their public image.

With not a little help from large quarters of the media. And of course human psychology to rather not believe things that you don’t want to be true.

On the one hand climate scientists are expected to keep themselves to the facts only. At the same time their results and understanding are also arguments in the societal discussions about climate change. But as soon as they participate in this discussion accusations of bias come up.

A more professional IPCC should not only work on the internal weaknesses and make and present itself as scientifically solid as possible. It will also have to make clear that its work has political implications, but that that doesn’t mean that it’s engaged in doing politics.

The last portion (my bold) should be self-evident, but since in reality many people and media chose to paint it as the opposite, it is unfortunately necessary to point out the obvious.


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76 Responses to “IPCC troubles in context: Some good Dutch media coverage”

  1. harry Says:


    The IAC carefully avoided to say something about the content of the IPCC reports. It only evaluated and criticised the procedures of the IPCC.
    As for the errors in AR4, they (IAC) only stated that this kind of errors should be handled more promptly and adequately, for which there should be a permanent director available who can speak with authority.

    The science of AR4 has neither been endorsed nor condemned by the IAC.

  2. Bart Says:


    It wasn’t in the IAC’s mandate to investigate the IPCC reports’ contents (which could only be properly done by people intimately familiar with the literature, i.e. not the IAC committee).

  3. TimG Says:


    You are missing the point entirely. The problem with the IPCC is not a few mistakes. The problem is a pervasive bias towards exaggerating the harms of CO2 while minimizing the costs of reducing emissions. The mistakes are a symptom rather than a cause and show that much of the rest of the content may not be providing a accurate picture of the science even if specific statements cannot be shown to be false.

    The long discussions over the hockey stick are good example of how bias undermines the scientific case. In this example, the science itself is built entirely on a set of assumptions that SteveMc has shown to be unreasonable. Yet IPCC supporters dismiss SteveMc’s critiques because SteveMc does not *prove* they are wrong. It all comes down to who’s opinion are your going to believe.

    The 2035 issue can become a focus because it is a error that is so obvious that the spin doctors cannot make it go away with hand waving. For sceptics is it concrete proof of the bias which has a lot of other supporting evidence.

    What this also means is it is impossible to claim that the ‘science is sound’ until the full extent of the bias is examined. That cannot be done until the IPCC reforms its process and produces a new assessment. Unfortunately, this is not likely to happen before AR6 and I am not convinced there is any genuine desire to eliminate the bias among the people with power to do anything.

  4. Bart Says:


    You make a hell lot of accusations without anything to back them up.

    The IPCC gives a reflection of the scientific literature, and the amount of scientists involved means that for you to be correct in your accusation of pervasive bias requires such bias to exist in the vast majority of participating scientists and/or in the scientific literature on which the IPCC reports are based. You’d also expect a major outcry from mainstream (non-biased)n scientists as to the skewed contents of the IPCC reports. In other words, a massive conspiracy. Yeah right, I believe you. Not.

    See for some other info on IPCC mistakes (in the other direction) climatesight and RC on sea level projections.

  5. JMurphy Says:

    TimG wrote : “The problem is a pervasive bias towards exaggerating the harms of CO2 while minimizing the costs of reducing emissions.”

    You’re joking, surely ? The IPCC, as a UN organisation that tries to please all the countries all the time (so to speak) can only be accused of conservatism and the underplaying of risk, not exaggeration – unless you can provide examples ?
    And in what way do they minimise the costs of reducing emissions ?

  6. Bart Says:

    As JMurphy alludes to, the IPCCsummaries for policymakers have to be agreed upon by rep’s from all countries (ie including from Saudi Arabia, USA, etc). You think they would agree to exaggeration of the risks?

    And funnily enough, Jeff Id just argued that one of the reasons for existence of the IPCC is to prove the case for “expensive mitigation.” You claim it downplays the costs. I would claim that a cost estimate is inherently uncertain; probably much more so than physical science estimates. (not least because it depends on subjective choices, eg valuing ecosystem services, discount rate, etc).

  7. TimG Says:


    Here is a discussion on how WG3 has systematically underestimated the cost reducing CO2:


    The bias is the only explanation for misrepresentations and errors.

  8. TimG Says:


    The authors of the IPCC reports are a self-selected subset of people who do research. It should come as no surprise that the majority of them are people who are true believers in the ‘AGW cause’ and see the IPCC report as a opportunity to push for political action. You really have no basis for your claim that the IPCC is representative of the scientific community as a whole. The ‘Copenhagen Diagnosis’ is an even worse example of political activism disguised as a review of science.

    You also assert, without a shred of evidence, that the climate science literature is an unbiased assessment of the science. The reality is scientists, like doctors, bankers or any other human get caught up in fads. This is partially because funding goes to people who provide the answers that the funders want to see. It is partially the natural human herd instinct. For the last 20 years, CO2 has been the fad and anyone who wanted funded needed to twist their science to fit into the AGW narrative. If you wish to make the case that the literature is unbaised you must demonstrate that scientists are immune to the social and financial pressures that affect all humans. That is something I think it is impossible for you to do.

    As for outcry from scientists that do not shared the IPCC bias: you have heard it for years from the likes of Pieke, Christy, Spencer and Linzden. Of cource, you dismiss them because you assume that people who disagree with the consensus must be wrong.

  9. JMurphy Says:

    TimG, if all you have is ‘blog science’, you have only belief and the wish to believe anyone who provides an answer that you like. That is further confirmed by your reliance on the usual tiny band of scientists (not all of whom actually deny AGW, some of whom DO deny the link between smoking and cancer, some who prefer creationism to evolution), your belief in a great conspiracy, and your belittling of the vast majority of scientists who come up with results that you don’t want to accept.

  10. harry Says:


    Would you please, when you run out of arguments, leave the flatearthing comments at home?

    I am an “AGW denier” (not my own qualification), which does not doubt the link between smoking and cancer, or evolution versus creation. I am also not on the payroll of “Big Oil”, I think I am on the payroll of “Big Green”.

    But I will battle the idea behing AGW until I die or come to other ideas (one can never rule out what happens when dementia strikes).

    For me personally, it is incomprehensible that there are people who seriously can believe that AGW is true and happening. And their suggested solutions to the problem make me even more wary.

    Why are there no solutions available which would go without my money or without limiting my freedom?

    It raises a spectre of conspiration. (Joke)

  11. Paul Kelly Says:


    There are plenty of solutions that go without your money or limiting your freedom. The ones that do are mainly supported by those who would rather have things imposed on them that take personal responsibility for their goals.

  12. harry Says:


    can you explain this, since I do grasp what you are saying. Please eleaborate.

  13. TimG Says:


    Tol laid out his case against WG3 quite clearly. I take it from your response that you are unable to refute his claims. You instead resort to appeals to authority of people that have shown they are not worthy of trust.

    To make matters worse, your own attempt to denigrate those scientists who happen to dispute the consensus provides an excellent example of how peer pressure is use to create an artifical consensus. If climate science was really a field where scientists were allowed to speak freely by their peers then smears like yours would be quickly denouced. They aren’t and that says nothing good about the integrity of the field of climate science.

  14. Marco Says:


    Apart from the fact it is Tol’s *opinion* (take 10 economists, and you’ll get 20 opinions), there’s another tiny little thing: what exactly would be the bias? That warming is happening? If you believe that, you should read all of Tol’s work, he’s one of those that puts climate sensitivity at 3 degrees per doubling. He is 100% sure there’s global warming, and that there will be significant further warming. If you think the bias is towards spending money to stop warming, you are right. But let’s not forget that Tol wants ‘us’ to spend money on adaptation. And lots of money. So, if you believed there was a bias towards spending money…you better read Tol’s work again.

    Finally, regarding the “smears”: you should check out particle physics. You will find some very, very nasty discussions there. In fact, Lubos Motl, one of the deniosphere’s favorites, is one of those “smearers”. But threats of violence were a bit too much and got him fired (“oh no, I quit!”). Of course, we can see a LOT of smears coming from the deniosphere which are not denounced, but actively promoted, but that doesn’t bother TimG at all.

  15. TimG Says:


    Why do you make assumptions about what I believe to be true? I have said nothing about that. All I have said is I see the IPCC as biased and that its claims cannot be taken at face value.

    You make a good point about the lack of consensus among economists but you seem to forget that the policy choices we make are *entirely* questions of economics – not science. The WG1 report could be 100% correct and the best course of action from an economic perspective could still be ‘adapt as required’. That is why claims that the ‘science is sound’ are entirely irrelevant.

    As someone who is actually trained in the physics of producing electricity at a commercial scale I find Tol’s opinion most credible and feel that any money spent trying to reduce CO2 emissions will be wasted because it is technically impossible to do. People who claim otherwise are either carpet baggers looking for government cash or people who know nothing about the nature of the problem.

    As for Motl – note that he was fired and now languishes in academic exile. When I see that kind of punishment doled out to climate scientists like Mann then I will start to take the field seriously.

  16. Marco Says:

    I make assumptions, because you don’t tell us your position, and thus must necessarily rely on assumptions.

    Then the “cannot reduce CO2 emissions”: fatalistic thinking. The nature of the problem is humans having to change their behavior. We’ve done that hundreds of times in our existence. The sad thing is that that change has often come at gunpoint or has been due to catastrophes. I’m afraid Houghton is going to be right.

    Finally Motl: you equate threats of violence (which he still happily throws around on blogs) with using advanced methodology that may not have been the most appropriate. Quite telling of your ideology.

  17. David Cassatt Says:

    TimG writes, “he WG1 report could be 100% correct and the best course of action from an economic perspective could still be ‘adapt as required’,” and “When I see that kind of punishment doled out to climate scientists like Mann then I will start to take the field seriously.”

    I really don’t see how with a climate sensitivity of 3K/doubling of CO2, allowing CO2 levels to reach 1000 ppm is a wise course of action. And Why should Mike Mann be punished? He hasn’t made any physical threats against anyone, nor has his research been found to be tainted by academic misconduct.

  18. Shub Niggurath Says:

    Your contention that the glacier thing was the “only” mistake in the IPCC is wrong.

    It is also telling that the “unwelcome message of global warming” was produced using the “mistakes”.

  19. TimG Says:


    I can do the math and I understand the technology involved. As far as I am concerned believing that meaningful reductions in CO2 are possible is like believing in Santa Claus. I normally do not get that bothered by people insist on believing in a fantasy. The trouble with climate alarmists is they have been relatively successful in convincing politicians to piss away billions of dollars on useless feel good exercises – billions that are better spent elsewhere. If CO2 is really a problem then we need to adapt.

    Motl’s offense is not the same as Mann. The difference is Motl was held accountable for his failures where as Mann is treated as a hero and is continues to publish paper after paper of statistical nonsense.

  20. TimG Says:

    David Cassatt,

    The issue is we can’t do anything about it.

    As for Mann, I would be happy if the climate scientific community would start publicly acknowledging that is work crap and tells us nothing useful about past climate. As long as he is defended by the establishment the entire field loses its credibility. To put it another way: if obvious flaws in Mann’s work are ignored because the establishment is afraid of undermining the political cause then how can I be confident that similar flaws don’t exist in other papers which are much more difficult to analyze?

  21. Marco Says:

    TimG: ah, suddenly it is now down to “meaningful reductions”. Well, what is meaningful? I’d say *any* reduction now is meaningful, as it brings us on a path to something less problematic. Just saying “oh, can’t be done” is outright fatalistic.

    Regarding Mann’s supposed hero status: Mann likely is the most investigated scientist on this earth, and has repeatedly been absolved from the exaggerated attacks on his person and on his work. While he may have made mistakes, several other investigations have shown that these mistakes are not devastating to the outcome. The ‘establishment’ thus sees overblown criticism and sees other work coming to similar conclusions (regardless of the methodology). It recognises the political background behind the attack on Mann. It thus ‘ignores’ that grand criticism and treats Mann’s work as it treats any work: as a potential useful addition to the larger body of work.

  22. JMurphy Says:

    It didn’t take TimG to bring out Mann, the deniers’ bogeyman – the fact that he keeps being proven right and keeps being exonerated (or, in denial world, he keeps being proven ‘wrong’ by blog scientists and he keeps being looked after by the cabal of AGW conspirators, who are everywhere) is such a trauma for you, isn’t it ? Well, here’s a thought : maybe he’s right after all, eh ? Shocking thought for those whose lives are based on denial.
    Maybe those who are so obsessed about the personalities, because they have nothing scientific to use in their arguments, should take a reality-check and rejoin the real world.
    Oh, and you haven’t mentioned Gore yet. Is he coming out in one of your posts soon ?

  23. JMurphy Says:

    It didn’t take TimG LONG…

  24. dhogaza Says:

    “The issue is we can’t do anything about it.”

    Therefore the science is wrong.

    This is as logical as a doctor telling a patient “you’re dying of lung cancer”, and then turning to the residents and saying … “we can’t do anything about it, people *must* smoke”.

  25. Roddy Campbell Says:

    I don’t think this is entirely OT:


  26. Roddy Campbell Says:

    The money quote for me is:

    “Never mind that the leading green political strategy (to stop global warming by a treaty that gains unanimous consent among 190-plus countries and is then ratified by 67 votes in a Senate that rejected Kyoto 95 to 0) is and always has been so cluelessly unrealistic as to be clinically insane.”

    I don’t think we are going to materially mitigate, in reality. Which means by definition the best course of action is to adapt.

  27. Deech56 Says:

    Adaptation is not a plan, it’s a reaction. Advocating adaptation is basically saying do nothing to address the root cause and telling future generations it’s their problem.

  28. Roddy Campbell Says:

    Yes and no, as per this guest post I wrote for Jeff Id. http://noconsensus.wordpress.com/2010/07/15/a-letter-from-london/

    Saying material mitigation just isn’t going to happen is a description of perceived reality. I don’t see how it will happen, in my lifetime.

  29. Bart Says:


    Rather, saying material mitigation just isn’t going to happen is a description of the kind of future that you prefer, and you’re trying to make it a self fulfilling prophecy by being so obstructionist towards meaningful climate policy.

  30. Eli Rabett Says:

    There are only six political units that matter, the US, the EU, China, Russia, India and Japan. The rest are bupkis.

  31. crazy bill Says:

    There is cause for hope in the fact that counties have in the past (both individually and collectively) acted to reduce long-term threats. Whether that is pollution (acid rain, CFCs), arms treaties, or public health issues. Most of these previous actions were also subject to opposition from those who benefited from the laissez faire status quo (or at least felt that they did).

    Fossil fuel is of course a special case (aren’t they all?) because of its role as the primary energy source for our present world. But there’s nothing sacred about that. There ARE other energy sources and they COULD be scaled up to provide the energy required. The problem is that at present they are more expensive than just digging the black stuff out of the ground and burning it. So there’s no incentive for one country (or individual/corporation) to forego that easy energy if everyone else is burning it with gay abandon. The only acceptable way is for everyone to cut back together.

    But that is exactly the same problem in all those earlier “issues” – arms reductions, pollution reduction agreements, rules-of-war treaties, etc. The need for international agreement is there because if everyone doesn’t agree to act, then nobody will do it on their own.

    And it has been possible in the past. When the need was great enough to act.

    As Eli points out, it doesn’t need 190 countries – half a dozen will suffice. The rest will have to fall into line one way or another.

  32. Paul Kelly Says:


    There’s a good chance Roddy is not as opposed to mitigation as you suppose. Depending on how mitigation is defined, he could be for it but not see it happening. I define mitigation as replacing carbon fuels rather than controlling greenhouse gasses; so, my first question for Roddy is do you believe in either the necessity for or inevitability of energy transformation?

  33. TimG Says:


    Stop mixing up science and economics. The science is completely irrelevant at this point. It has identified a plausible risk but can’t say anything more than that harms caused by CO2 could be anything from inconsequential to catastrophic.

    Given that uncertainty rational people then ask what can be done about this risk today. Unfortunately the answer is not ‘reduce CO2 emissions’ because it is technically impossible to reduce CO2 global CO2 emissions. That leaves R&D and adaptation which seems to be the policy that governments are gradually moving towards.

    Now you can continue to believe in the mitigation fantasy if you want as long as you are not trying to use the power of the state to force others to make sacrifices so you can pat yourself on the back.

  34. TimG Says:

    Paul Kelly,

    When fossil fuels start to run out the price will rise. This will invariably force society to adjust their expectations and people will learn to live with the inconviences that come with the alternatives.

    That said, there is nothing governments can do now to speed up that transition because we live in a global economy and any country that tries to force people to give up fossil fuels simply forces industry and jobs to relocate to countries that do not waste time with such nonsense.

    In other words, if you want to see an energy transition you should just wait. It will happen no matter what and there is nothing to be gained by destroying the economy in the short term trying make it happen sooner.

  35. Roddy Campbell Says:

    Bart, that’s a bit wild? What sort of future is it you think I ‘prefer’? And in what way am I, a humble fund manager, capable of being obstructive to ‘meaningful climate policy’? And what was not constructive about my Air Vent guest post I linked to? It reduced the UK’s carbon output by a whole lot more than any other policy, and ramped up R&D on alternatives, I thought you would approve?

    Could you be more precise and less presumptuous?

    Paul Kelly: ‘Depending on how mitigation is defined, he could be for it but not see it happening. I define mitigation as replacing carbon fuels…’ – Bang on, completely agree.

    Paul:’….. so, my first question for Roddy is do you believe in either the necessity for or inevitability of energy transformation?’

    Paul I assume you mean fossil fuel substitution, right? Do I think it:
    a) ought/needs to happen
    b) will happen

    a) is a more complex question than climate bods seem to think. Essentially we are rich (the world supports 7bn people) because of one thing – fossil fuels. So, crudely, if we give them up, we will become poor again unless and until there is another energy source, and presently there is only nuclear (hence my support for it).

    So we can compel mitigation, but we will be poorer, unless you believe there is some reason other than fossil fuels why the last 100 years+ have been the craziest increase in wealth ever. And poorer means death and so on, less money on cancer research, more starvation.

    So until I can work out what the costs of mitigation are versus impacts of non-mitigation, no, I’m not in the ‘ought to’ camp. I think, genuinely, that the quantity of Magical Thinking that surrounds the idea that we already have alternative sources of energy, that mitigation is cheap, is just crazy.

    Inevitable – only through substitution, which means a cheaper/better alternative. I don’t see dramatic fossil price increases as there is no shortage of gas and coal, oil can go up, so some tech breakthrough (hence my advocacy of spending heavily on R&D) is necessary to make it inevitable.

  36. Eli Rabett Says:

    Work on what the cost of not mitigating will be while you are at it.

  37. MapleLeaf Says:


    “When fossil fuels start to run out the price will rise”

    Oh dear– Tim, oil is not really the problem, it is coal…we have mountains of the stuff to burn still…mountains…the only way the price of coal is going up is if we start paying the true price of coal in terms of the cost of burning it to society and the environment.

  38. Paul Kelly Says:


    That there is nothing governments can do now doesn’t mean I or anybody else have to wait. It is an chance for everyone to consider that responsibility and opportunity reside in them, not government.


    It may be difficult, but you must accept that the carbon pricing you describe is not going to happen. There’s got to be another way.

  39. MapleLeaf Says:


    There are no free tickets for this ride….there will be a cost. It may not be a carbon tax/levy in my life time, but, ultimately there will be a cost to all of us and future generations. Someone is going to have to pay whether it be now, or down the road. There is simply no easy (or cheap) way to address this, well, not if we are going to minimize great harm in the future that is. Even Lomborg now sees this.

    If you can think of a way that we can all drastically cut consumption, then please share.

    Bt before we do anything, political leaders have to sign their name on the dotted line saying that they commit to reduce emissions by “X” percent. Without such a binding international agreement it will be BAU, b/c governments (like Canada) will say, well I am not doing anything if “Y” (USA in this example) is not going to do anything. Juvenile, but sadly all too true.

    Once governments have made commitments, then things will unfold from there.
    So we wait for the USA, and China to make up there minds…..unfortunately, the ideological libertarians in the USA are doing everything they can to prevent Obama signing his name on the dotted line, thereby creating a global traffic jam of sorts.

    Yes, certain states in the USA for example are taking action, but that is not nearly enough….not even close.

    In the meantime CO2, CH4 and N20 concentrations continue to increase unabated.

  40. Paul Kelly Says:

    “But before we do anything, political leaders have to sign their name on the dotted line saying that they commit to reduce emissions by “X” percent.”

    Nonsense. It makes no sense to insist something that cannot and will not happen must happen before anything can be done. The people need not wait on government’s permission or largess. It’s hard to understand how someone so climate concerned can be so willing to, like TimG, wait for someone or something to come along.

  41. MapleLeaf Says:

    Paul, I respectfully disagree. You seem to fail to recognize the magnitude and gravity of the problem we face, and the drastic measures required to address it properly. Let me clarify, (I see my wording was poor)– I am all for grass roots action, that is one (important) “wedge”. I am certainly not advocating waiting for government’s to move on this before doing anything– I was just stating an unfortunate reality of business and human nature. My family has taken measures, and will take more to reduce our carbon footprint, but how to mobilize 330 plus million people in the USA to do so is a problem, especially when a large portion of them think that there is not a problem. If government’s actually took the lead for once, then change will come about much more quickly, and time is not on our side here. My point is that should the USA and China sign on the dotted line, then things will move a hell of a lot faster.

    So far though, key governments (USA, China) refusing to take responsibility and make some concrete commitments. That is unfortunate, b/c once the rules are out in the open, then industry will move, and rapidly. I have said this several times here, but it is worth repeating. Oil companies (for example) want to know what the reductions/targets are and the time frame/horizon. Once they know that, they will figure out ways to meet those targets. In Canada at least, they are twiddling their thumbs waiting for the government to say what the expectations are. And I might add that, being profit driven, they are of course more than happy with each and every delay which allows for BAU.

    If you want to start a grass-roots green revolution to reduce GHG emissions, by all means sign me up, but let us not be naive and think that that action alone will be sufficient. I for one look to my government to be responsible, to have foresight and to be a leader.

  42. TimG Says:

    MapleLeaf Says:

    Binding emission cuts are not to happen no matter what governments do. Even if some agreement is signed it will be repudiated in 10 years just like Kyoto was because the technology required for large scale CO2 emissions reductions simply does not exist at a cost that is people are able to pay.

  43. TimG Says:

    Paul Kelly,

    If you want to make your own choices that reduce GHGs then all the power to you. But is will make no difference in the end. In fact, global CO2 emissions could easily increse if Americans abandoned their SUVs and drove Priuses because the price of oil would drop (due to less demand from americans) which would lead to more consumption in places like China.

  44. MapleLeaf Says:


    A small correction if I may:

    “at a cost that people are willing/prepared to pay”.

  45. harry Says:


    Glad to have you back. You had a good holyday/vacation whatever you call it? I sincerely hope the weather was coopreating with your plans, in many parts of the world it was a bit off schedule.

  46. TimG Says:


    We will be burning coal until every ouce is gone. The only question is how fast it will be burned. The only thing that could possibly change that is a new energy production technology which is actually as cheap and reliable as coal. Nuclear could be that technology but (ironically) the people that are willing to support nuclear generation also tend to be people who don’t care about burning coal.

  47. MapleLeaf Says:

    Hi Harry,

    Yes thanks, the weather was nice. The smoke from forest fires was problematic at times though….


    We will destroy life on the planet as we know it well before we get to burn all the coal. Again, coal is cheap now, but in the long run it is very expensive. Funny how we myopic humans refuse to realise that. The sun, winds, tides and geothermal are abundant and “free” (and yes, I am not seriously suggesting they cost zero dollars).

  48. Paul Kelly Says:


    I’m not trying to control greenhouse gasses per se. My goal is to push the speed with which fossil fuels can be replaced by something else. Of course, the challenge is to make that something else cheaper.

  49. harry Says:


    CO2 scavenging technology does not exist. When we use some of it it will also concentrate trace gasses which are much more toxic/hazardous than CO2. A project in Norway, on the brink of going into commercial application failed due to this.

    And what is wrong with higher CO2 levels in the atmosphere? In the Netherlands, a new distribution system for CO2 waste has been initiated, starting the construction of a pipe-line to get the CO2 gas from its source (industry) to the greenhouses. Underground storage of CO2 requires (by law) the cleaning of the gas from all other contaminations, making it an ideal source for plant nourishment. They have combined the two, and the result will be more plant growth by industrial waste.

    A win/win situation, despite the cost.

  50. TimG Says:


    1000 years ago the majority of the world’s population worked in food production because food production was labour intensive. This meant that very few people were able to participate in activities that would increase the wealth of society. Fossil fuels changed that equation by freeing people up to work in factories. The same process repeated as factories became automated and people moved in higher value services.

    IOW, energy production has replaced farming as the economic foundation for society. If more resources are diverted to energy production the wealth of society will decrease. The only way to have increasing energy costs and increasing wealth is to have economy grow faster than the cost of energy. This relationship puts an upper limit of the price that people are *able* to pay for energy. Currently, the price of renewables is many time larger that what people are able to pay and that is not likely to change anytime soon.

    In fact, I expect the cost of renewables to *increase* as the price of oil increases because they are complex high technology products that depend on a global infrastructure to create the components. Increasing the cost of transportation will necessarily increase the cost renewables and it is quite likely that the price gap will never be closed.

  51. MapleLeaf Says:


    I am not an anthropologist, so I will not pontificate on that subject. However, I strongly suspect that things are not quite as simple as you say.

    i think we are getting distracted here, again. I’m not entirely sure what this has to do with the subject at hand, partly my fault. So I will not derail things further.

    Bart, that is encouraging that, for once, someone in the media got the story right. More of that please.

  52. harry Says:

    The issue is we can’t do anything about it.”

    Therefore the science is wrong.

    This is as logical as a doctor telling a patient “you’re dying of lung cancer”, and then turning to the residents and saying … “we can’t do anything about it, people *must* smoke”.

    Bart, I know, OT.


    It is physics, not biology. Try to explain why atmospheric CO2 cannot be modelled otherwise than by a Dirac function?

    To my opinion, it is sheer lack of competence of the modellers to do so.

    But you, being into physics, can explain me this?

    No distractions, this question only.

  53. TimG Says:


    It is question of economics – not anthropology.

    You are entitled to your opinion on the economics but I believe it is wrong and that government policies based on such wrong thinking will cause more harm than good.

  54. MapleLeaf Says:


    Typo– at 02:22 I meant TimG of course.

  55. MapleLeaf Says:

    Hi TinG,

    There are some very smart economists etc. working on how we go about reducing GHGs emissions (people who have more information, qualifications, insight, expertise etc than you and I do), so I’m hopeful that in the end they will make some progress.

    I would like to pursue this further, but we have wandered far enough off topic as it is.

  56. TimG Says:


    And there a lot of very smart engineers who work keeping the lights on today. They understand the technology and the physical and economic limits of renewable energy better than any economist with useless models that speculate about the effect of carbon prices. The bottom line is renewables can be built but only at a great cost – a cost that cannot be paid by a country that is already technically bankrupt and dependent on foreigner lenders.

  57. Roddy Campbell Says:

    Me: So until I can work out what the costs of mitigation are versus impacts of non-mitigation, no, I’m not in the ‘ought to’ camp.

    Eli Rabett ‘Work on what the cost of not mitigating will be while you are at it.’

    Er…. Eli, read my lips? Costs of vs costs of not?

  58. Bart Says:


    Some Dutch media are actually quite ok in their reporting on climate change (eg Volkskrant, NRC, Trouw, Financieel Dagblad), although some “false balance” (giving half the coverage to a minority opinion) is still apparent.

    I’ve made a habit (sort of) of highlighting and linking some good news articles from time to time, but mostly only in Dutch. This one struck me as worth translating, but I’d rather write my own piece than translate that of others, so that probably won’t be a regular feature. There’s always google translate though…

  59. Roddy Campbell Says:

    Budiansky’s blog yesterday, marvellous quote:

    ‘My three years at Nature left me painfully aware that scientists are about the worst people on earth when it comes to confusing their political inclinations with objective fact — and absolutely the worst in the concomitant certainty that one’s opponents must be liars, frauds, or corruptly motivated, since (obviously) no honest person could possibly have reached a contrary conclusion through objective reasoning.’

  60. John Smith Says:

    Having thoroughly read the Mann study, and the rebuttals, I have to say that Mann has been thoroughly discredited. It is probable that the entire concept of using tree rings for temperature proxies has been rebutted because of the difficulty of dealing with the effects of changes in water supply and CO2 acting as fertilizer. I leave that to further studies however.

    That being said, there is one glaring issues that has yet to be explained, that being that records show that consistently rises in CO2 have trailed temperature increases by hundreds of years in the past. The last time I checked, event A must precede event B in order to be a cause of event B. Therefore, in the past, the rise in CO2 was not the cause of increasing temperatures. There can be no argument about that, its a simple fact.

    On the other hand, temperatures have risen in the 20th century, that is also a fact. The question that has to be answered is: are humans causing that increase? The IPCC and all the other studies consistently forgot a basic concept of statistics: correlation is not causation. So, what us skeptics are saying is, first you must prove that it is human produced CO2 that is causing the temperature before you can justify reducing human production of CO2. All of the studies I have read follow this logic:

    1. The level of CO2 is increasing.
    2. The increase in CO2 is due to human production.
    3. Global temperature is increasing.
    4. (3) is bad
    5. (1) causes (3).
    6. Therefore we must eliminate (2).

    Unfortunately, they are unable to prove point 5, and it therefore gets glossed over as a given.

    The logic also ignores the simple fact that there are much more important gases involved in warming, such as water vapor.

    I would also like to see some discussion on point 4, since an increase in global temperature would also cause an increase in the amount of arable land, as well as an increase in biodiversity.

  61. MarkB Says:


    Replace “AGW believer” with “Moon Landing believer” in your opining and perhaps you’ll see how nutty your comments are. Those NASA fraud scientists faked the Moon landing because it was all the fad and it was their incentive to do so.

    “…any money spent trying to reduce CO2 emissions will be wasted because it is technically impossible to do.”

    It’s both technically and politically possible and has already been accomplished to a limited extent.


    The fact that it’s technically possible is obvious. Adequate incentives for low carbon sources and energy efficiency and/or carbon pricing reduces carbon emissions. Basic economics.

    It’s also politically possible, but it depends on a variety of factors, including public opinion, how well policymakers know the science, media, and how much influence entrenched high carbon industries have over policy. These factors vary from country to country and state to state.

  62. MarkB Says:

    John Smith writes:

    “The logic also ignores the simple fact that there are much more important gases involved in warming, such as water vapor.”

    Your post indicates you haven’t spent much time reading the scientific literature. Here are many papers on water vapor.


    You might want to read up a bit on climate sensitivity as well.

    Click to access knutti08natgeo.pdf

  63. Bart Says:

    John Smith,

    There are plenty of place to discuss the hockey stick; this is not one of them. It has nothing to do with the topic of this post.

    As to the other points you’re raising: Old and tired talking points I’m afraid. Do you know the one about the chicken and the eggs? How cause and effect can go in both ways (also called a positive feedback)? All I can say is, be a bit more skeptical of your information sources.

  64. TimG Says:


    The fact that some european countries have met their Kyoto targets has nothing to with government anti-emission policy. It is entirely due to the collapse of soviet union and a shift from coal to natural gas which happened long before the policies were put in place.

    This fact can be easily verified by looking at the graph in your link which show no change in emissions from 1999 to 2008. The recent down tick since 2008 is the result of the economic meltdown and has nothing to do with the ETS. When the european economy recovers the emissions will rise again.

    Futher evidence that the Europe trend in emissions over the last decade has nothing to do with ETS can be found by looking at the trend in US emissions in the same period (See Figure 2-3 on p28):

    Click to access US-GHG-Inventory-2010_Chapter2-Trends.pdf

    The fact is carbon trading is a scam which simply encourages businesses create phony credits that can be then sold for a profit. The recent revelations about chinese factories manufacturing HCFCs for no reason other than destroying them for credits is a more blatent example but other subtle scams exist. I want no part of a system that does nothing useful other than creating a new class of financial parasites that bleed the middle class.

  65. MarkB Says:

    Tim G,

    Actually, the graph shows a drop in emissions 1999-2008, so I’m not sure what you’re looking at. Keep in mind this also occurred during a period of strong economic growth in most European nations, so highlighting a period of economic fallout and ignoring the periods of economic growth doesn’t help your argument. It’s the same way deniers highlight el Nino as cause for warming and ignore la Nina. There will be economic ups and downs. The trend in emissions is down significantly during the full period.


    U.S. emissions in recent years have dropped below GDP growth rates (GDP growth over the last decade has actually been the worst in 60 years), but for different reasons. Coal has been more heavily scrutinized and renewables and energy efficiency programs in some large states have helped. The U.S. hasn’t been sitting on its hands, even in the absence of national leadership through the first part of the decade. As noted above, carbon pricing is just one important way to achieve emissions reductions.

    Cap and trade is a conservative idea – using flexible free market mechanisms to solve environmental problems rather than imposing strict limits. Such mechanisms can be structured to benefit the lower and middle class with lower income rebates, which is how Waxman/Markey is structured. Nothing to get alarmist about.

  66. TimG Says:


    The graph is basically flat between 1998 and 2008 (a little up and little down). The drop after 2008 is due to the economy.

    If the US shows almost exactly the same trend which suggest it has more do with the natural evolution of the economy (the spread of IT and outsourcing of manufacturing) than any government policy.

    I really don’t think there is any way to credible argue that the ETS had any effect on emissions.

    In any case, a system for trading permits that are issued or withdrawn by the whim of government officals is NOT a market based system. It is simply a fancy mechanism designed to allow politicians to control the free market. That is why people who believe in free markets almost universally reject cap and trade as a solution so don’t waste time pretending it is one.

  67. MarkB Says:


    Some history on cap and trade…It was strongly preferred by free market advocates. Today’s U.S. Republicans, bent entirely on obstructionism and gaining power, while spreading fear among their base, bear no resemblence to the reasonable pragmatic conservatives of the past.


    If the drop after 2008 was due to a sharp economic downturn (not entirely true…see below), then surely the period before 2008 would have shown a large increase in emissions, if there were no other factors. Yet we saw a small decrease in Europe and a small increase in the United States.

    Your argument amounts to hand-waving. Determining cause/effect can be difficult, but it’s been done. EIA, for example, analyzed the drop in U.S. CO2 emissions in 2009. Only about 1/3 was directly related to GDP decline. 1/3 was attributed to carbon intensity.

    “Across all sectors of the economy, decreasing consumption of carbon-emitting fossil fuels resulted in both a lower carbon intensity and lower absolute emissions. Emissions from coal dropped 12.0 percent, petroleum emissions were down 5.3 percent and natural gas emissions were down 1.6 percent. Non-fossil fuel consumption, on the other hand increased about 2 percent. ”


    “Wind generation rose by 65,000 million kilowatthours (kWh), from only 6,000 million kWh in 2000 to 71,000 million kWh in 2009. This nearly 11-fold jump places wind second only to hydropower in renewable generation. ”


    Since wind power is still somewhat more expensive than fossil fuels, it follows that the strong federal and state incentives provided to the wind industry, raised in part by awareness of scientific and environmental issues, has helped spur their growth.

    And throughout the last decade (not just the recent year), carbon intensity has been trending downward, in part due to the surge in renewable generation and move away from coal.

  68. TimG Says:


    There is a huge difference between the SO2 caps & trade process and the modern CO2 variants. First, the SO2 plan dealt only with *real* emission reductions. None of ‘credit for emissions that might have been produced’ garbage that infests all CO2 ETS schemes. Second, with SO2 all players had a plausible plan on how to meet the emission targets and it was only a question of time. No one has any idea how to meet the CO2 targets being pushed.

    As for decarbonization: it has been happening for 100 years and will continue to happen no matter what policies are put in place. ETS cannot be given credit for things that would have happened anyways.

    I did some back of envelope caluculations with numbers here:

    Based on those numbers the increase in renewable generation since 1996 cannot have possibly offset more than 1.5% of US emissions or 0.12% per year. The real number likely less because renewables are not really emission free because of less efficient backup production. The explaination for the US performance in the last 10 years has little to do with renewables.

  69. MarkB Says:


    It took awhile, but you finally refuted your own argument: “any money spent trying to reduce CO2 emissions will be wasted because it is technically impossible to do.”

    Looks like it’s technically possible. Renewables have also almost doubled in 10 years and by your own admission, has lowered emissions a little. This doesn’t happen in the absence of the dreaded big bad government action.

    Note that coal usage is down about 10%. Sierra Club keeps track of coal plants throughout the nation and new proposals.


    Quickly browing this list, I find the Florida-Glades proposal has been shut down. A key reason:

    “The PSC determined that the proposed plant was not cost-effective, particularly because it will expose Florida ratepayers to significant future costs for carbon dioxide emissions.”

    Many others have been denied due to environmental concerns.

    So who’s stepped in to fill the gap in energy demand? Renewables, nuclear, and natural gas have stepped up, all lower carbon sources (to varying degrees).

    Another wedge is energy efficiency. As has been typical, there’s been some strong leadership at state levels and mixed leadership at the federal level.

    So yes, it’s obviously technically possible and politically possible. This is why we have coal and oil fighting hard to deny science and stop efforts to reduce emissions. In the U.S., they’ve had some success at that, and U.S. performance at reducing emissions has been less than stellar, but some progress has been made.

  70. TimG Says:


    You have not refuted anything. I never argued that the renewables which have been built at great cost do not produce power. The problem is it is a trivial amount of power. If one extrapolates the renewable growth for the last two years it would take 10,000 years to replace 10% of the power produced by coal. Renewables are not the answer to anything.

    Now environmentalists can run around blocking coal plants but they are not going to change the laws of physics that make renewables any more affordable. They will simply bring the economy to its knees in 10-15 years a power blackouts become widespread and electricity prices skyrocket. The only way to avoid this is to build nukes but the luddites that fill the ranks of the environmental movement oppose them too and will ensure that they cannot get built at the rate required.

    Efficiency claims are also a shell game. Even if the government did nothing efficiency would improve when there are real savings. That is why society decarbonizes on its own. In other cases, the indirect costs of the ‘efficiency’ measures far exceed their worth (i.e. increasing taxes to pay for them means less money is available to invest things that provide a positive ROI). So there is not a lot real savings to be found.

    So, no. You have not provided anything other than repeat the mantra of anti-carbon lobby. And I am fairly certain in 10 years the rising price of oil and coal will do more to prompt change than any government policy and if a government insists on interferring it will cause more harm than good.

  71. MarkB Says:


    ” I never argued that the renewables which have been built at great cost do not produce power.”

    True. That wasn’t your argument. Your argument was that “it’s technically impossible” to reduce CO2 emissions, which you helped to refute by showing renewables have lead to CO2 emissions reductions. It’s also been shown that environmental concerns and concerns over future carbon pricing has lead to proposals for new coal plants being abandoned.

    “If one extrapolates the renewable growth for the last two years it would take 10,000 years to replace 10% of the power produced by coal.”

    Huh? Using the data in your link for the electricity sector, we see a growth in renewables of about 40 million Megawatthours over the last 2 years. Coal is currently at 1800 Megawatthours. To reach 10% of coal, renewables need to reach 180 Megawatthours. If it grows linearly at 40 million per 2 years, we’d get to 10% of coal within 10 years. So you’re off by 3 orders of magnitude.

    Of course, renewables have been growing much faster than linearly. This is in line with recent studies that suggest wind power could meet 20% of electricity demand within 15 years.


    “Now environmentalists can run around blocking coal plants but they are not going to change the laws of physics that make renewables any more affordable. ”

    Different argument now. Blocking coal plants lead to their replacement with lower carbon sources, again refuting your first argument.

    The laws of physics aren’t the only factor in the cost of energy generation, unless you believe there exists no technological progress. Carbon pricing, or any government incentives, help direct intellectual and financial resources further development of technology. There are lots of success stories along these lines. In the 1980’s, California increased standards for appliance efficiency. Industry groaned in a similar fashion, declaring it would destroy the economy and lead to huge prices. Instead, the incentives to improve efficiency lead to huge R&D investments as competitors scrambled to meet the new standards, resulting in much better products.


    On energy efficiency, measures to increase them provide benefits that extend beyond the direct benefits to the consumer. They lower the demand side, which in turn keeps prices lower than business-as-usual. Peak oil will indeed result in market signals that will lower oil consumption, but at a greater cost than if it’s addressed earlier. We’ve all seen oil shocks and their effect on the economy.

    Then there are the hidden costs of consuming oil, from the trillions spent on national security to keep tabs on the middle east, to the pollution and health effects, to global warming. To varying degrees, we all pay for this even if it doesn’t show up in our monthly bill. Coal differs in that it’s a worse greenhouse gas emitter, is somewhat more plentiful, and at least in the United States, does not require massive imports. The first 2 factors make it much worse for global warming. If we declared a moratorium on new coal plants and took modest steps towards lowering oil consumption, that would be a pretty good start to a policy.

  72. TimG Says:


    Sorry – lost decimal places on that calculation. The number did seem a lot worse than I expected.

    When I said it is technically impossible to reduce emissions I mean there is no technology that can be deployed at the scale required which can replace fossil fuels. The fact that governments have thrown billions at windmill makers does not change that argument because the need for subsidies is proof that the technology is not commercially viable and cannot be deployed at the scale required because the government will eventually unable to afford the subsidies.

    Spain is a good case study in what happens when governments throw money at uneconomic technologies. They promised renewable makers billions, prompted a building boom and now have nothing to show for it but debt and an high employment rate. The Spanish government has been forced to cut those subsidies and many of those companies are going to go understand as result.

    To put it another way: an exponential growth in renewables is not going to happen. It may go on a bit longer but eventually the US government will be forced to confront its deficit and debt those subsidies will be gone. I also don’t believe that high fuel prices will make renewables more attractive because they depend on the massive fossil fuel infrastruture for their manufacture and maintaince. This means if fossil fuels increase in price then so will the cost of renewables. The gap is not likely to decrease much because of the energy densisty problem (i.e. renewables require a huge physical infrastructure because they are exploiting a very diffuse source of energy).

    Also the idea that forcing people to use more expensive energy can create jobs its complete nonsense. It makes as much sense as saying decreasing supply will cause prices to go down. Sustainable jobs are only created when private companies find ways to produce more with less. Governments that force private companies to pay more for energy will reduce productivity and kill jobs. If companies find ways to succeed anyways it is in spite of the government – not because of it.

    There is only one way to trigger an energy shift and that is with real market prices because demand exceeds supply. This will happen and the only thing the government should be doing is funding R&D and reducing red tape that prevents alternatives from being exploited. Also, since oil is likely to be a lot pricier in the future governments need to ensure a reliable and cheap source of electricity as an alternate. That means coal and nuclear use should be encouraged and expanded. Renewables should be ignored until someone comes up with something that they are willing to build without government subidies.

  73. MarkB Says:


    “The fact that governments have thrown billions at windmill makers”

    They’ve thrown billions at fossil fuels too, especially when the infrastructure was coming on line.

    “does not change that argument because the need for subsidies is proof that the technology is not commercially viable and cannot be deployed at the scale required because the government will eventually unable to afford the subsidies.”

    Not necessarily. This would be true if, say, renewables cost 100X that of fossil fuels to use an extreme example. Wind power is already cost competitive with coal – just 10-20% more by some estimates. Most governments and economies could easily afford such an energy increase, temporary or not. Without the subsidies or the environmental challenges, though, utilities still will take the cheaper alternative. The hidden costs of using coal are enough reason to have subsidies and carbon pricing. There’s also the issue of infrastructure. Wind power becomes more effective when low-loss transmission lines are in place, for example. Then there are economies of scale that come with greater deployment. Solar power is considerably more expensive, presently, but costs have been dropping. This doesn’t happen magically. Developers have had incentives to further the technology because there’s a demand for their product and dollars flowing in.

    I’ve not seen a case study of Spain beyond that of an Exxon-funded study by a libertarian economist who’s claims are unsupported. As far as unemployment goes, we’re back to the cause and effect thing. Germany has had pretty aggressive subsidies for renewables and their unemployment rate is less than the EU average and that of the United States last I checked, sitting at 7% as of June, 2010. Denmark produces about 20% of their power from wind and their unemployment rate is 6%. Their government support for wind power has helped make some of their companies leaders in the global market.

    “I also don’t believe that high fuel prices will make renewables more attractive because they depend on the massive fossil fuel infrastruture for their manufacture and maintaince. This means if fossil fuels increase in price then so will the cost of renewables.”

    Your last sentence is correct but the first isn’t. The cost of steel is one important component in the cost of wind power. But the cost to produce steel isn’t fully correlated with the price of fossil fuels. There are also labor costs to produce steel and to assembly wind turbines, which won’t increase 1-1 with fossil fuels. It would be a relatively small fraction of the fossil fuel increase. Thus, renewables will become comparatively more attractive. And as more low carbon sources take hold, the effect of a rising price on fossil fuels becomes smaller.

    “Also, since oil is likely to be a lot pricier in the future governments need to ensure a reliable and cheap source of electricity as an alternate.”

    I agree with that. Doing nothing but waiting for price shocks isn’t a good idea.

    “That means coal and nuclear use should be encouraged and expanded. Renewables should be ignored until someone comes up with something that they are willing to build without government subidies.”

    Coal should be discouraged as much as possible. Keep it in the ground. It’s extremely harmful to local environments and the global environment. It’s served it’s purpose but it’s no longer needed and continued usage is and will be a huge detriment to the environment and economy. There are viable alternatives.

  74. TimG Says:


    “Wind power is already cost competitive with coal – just 10-20% more by some estimates.”

    If that was true there would be no need for subsidies. The real problem with wind the variability. People who run grids do want it because it can cost a lot of money to shut down fossil fuel sources to compensate for a burst of wind power. That is why wind power operators regularly pay the grid operators to take their power in Texas.


    The other proble with wind power the cost of the grid required to get it to market. In many cases, the best locations are simply too far from the market to make them viable.

    “I’ve not seen a case study of Spain beyond that of an Exxon-funded study by a libertarian economist who’s claims are unsupported.”

    Well if you are going to let political ideology be an excuse to ignore research then you have no argument because in my book an Exxon funded libertarian economist is a lot more credible than a socialist economist funded by “Big Green” or government bureaucrat looking to please his/her political masters. All pro-renewable research comes from the latter two sources.

    “Denmark produces about 20% of their power from wind”

    This is not true. They get between 6% and 10%. Denmark cannot consume wind the power they produce so the sell it a cheap prices to their neighbors. The amount they sell depends on how much excess capacity Sweden’s dams have. Denmark is a unique situation where you have good locations relatively close to market which hydro backup. They are at capacity and cannot practically expand their production beyond what they have now.

    “Thus, renewables will become comparatively more attractive. And as more low carbon sources take hold, the effect of a rising price on fossil fuels becomes smaller.”

    You forget the cost of trucks/ships required to maintain them. You forget the cost of copper to build the grid. You forget the cost of shipping the components around the world. When fossil fuels rise in prices local production will be come even more important and the big winner will be nuclear.

    “I agree with that. Doing nothing but waiting for price shocks isn’t a good idea.”

    There will be no price shock. We will see a staircase function where the price of shoots up like in 2007 and the settles at a new floor level. It will stay stable until the next short term boom/bust. This process will happen over decades and will give people plenty of time to adjust. So yes, doing nothing other that funding R&D is a good idea since subsidies divert resources from more productive use of the money (like adaptation).

    “Coal should be discouraged as much as possible. Keep it in the ground. It’s extremely harmful to local environments and the global environment. ”

    Then build nukes. I would take the anti-CO2 crowd much more seriously if most of them did not oppose nulcear power. We should be investing billlions in to the next gen thorium/liquid salt rectors which are safer and cleaner. But we can’t because of the environmentalists.

    So my bottom line on renewables: not once cent of subsidy until the nuclear option is fully explored and the political/regulatory barriers are removed. Japan can build a new nuke in 4 years – start to finish. Thee is no reason the US cannot do the same.

  75. harry Says:


    And the Danes have a high power connection with Sweden, which uses the excess wind power to pump their hydro. Also the Netherlands have a high power connection with Norway, for the same reason. So the wind powers are dependent upon the storage facilities of other countries to achieve something that might look efficient, but in real time is not. Both countries have to shut down efficiently running base load in order to accomodate the highly fluctating yield of massive wind farms.

    I am still waiting for the calculation of the amount of molten salt needed to store one day’s yield of a single wind turbine. Probably shocked and awed.

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