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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

May 19, 1995

Air Date: May 19, 1995


California's Warmer Waves / Matt Binder

Two separate teams of oceanographers have recently published similar findings; over the last sixty years the surface temperature of the ocean off the California coast has risen measurably and more warm water marine species have appeared. The researchers have also found that some cold water marine life has disappeared, and there are fewer species overall. Matt Binder explains. (06:42)

Sardines in Literature / Bill Drummond

As John Steinbeck’s popular novel Cannery Row turns fifty, reporter Bill Drummond explores the author's passion for marine biology, and the ecological warning contained in this book. Steinbeck's widow says her husband was among the first to foretell the collapse of California's sardine fishery. (06:37)

Letters From Listeners

A sampling of call-in and written responses to some recent Living on Earth reports. (03:00)

Profile #4: David Brower / Cy Musiker

Here’s one 82-year-old environmentalist who is as active as ever. Brower was the Sierra Club's first executive director, and went on to found two other advocacy organizations. Cy Musiker reports on his recent visit with the influential leader in this Living on Earth profile series’ segment. (05:00)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

Copyright c 1995 by World Media Foundation. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold, or transmitted without the written authority of World Media Foundation.

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Dan Karpenchuk, Jennifer Schmidt, Matt Binder,
William Drummond, Cy Musiker

(Theme music intro)

CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.

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CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

Small increases in ocean temperatures off California are leading to big declines in marine life. It's too early to say if this is proof that we are warming the Earth, but scientists say they're worried.

McGOWAN: I am uncertain as to which cause, man versus nature, is responsible here. What I really think ought to be done, however, is intensify our, this kind of research. This is an early warning signal and we certainly must pursue it.

CURWOOD: Also, a visit with legendary former Sierra Club chief David Brower. His biggest regret? Giving up the fight to stop the Glen Canyon Dam.

BROWER: I bear that cross. And it taught me quite a bit, that you don't give up and you don't postpone.

CURWOOD: On Living on Earth. First, news.

Environmental News

NUNLEY: From Living on Earth, I'm Jan Nunley. A radical change in the Clean Water Act, passed by the House of Representatives, may not even make it to the starting gate in the Senate. A spokeswoman for the Senate's Environment Committee chair says John Chafee is not inclined to take the bill up at all. The new bill would roll back wetlands protections and ease industry pollution controls. Conservative Republican Bud Shuster, Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, has promised to block funding for the Clean Water Act if the Senate doesn't vote on the new version. But Chaffee says Senate Appropriations Chair Mark Hatfield has promised to push the money through.

Germany's parliament is investigating charges the nation's intelligence service staged a plutonium smuggling operation in order to take credit for breaking it up. From Cologne, Dan Karpenchuk reports.

KARPENCHUK: Since the collapse of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, Western counter-intelligence agencies have come under pressure to scale down their operations. In Germany, the counter-intelligence service, or BND, employs 7,000 people. Published reports say the Munich sting was set up to give the BND a purpose. Reinhardt Kramer is a member of the Greens Party, who is investigating the allegations.

KRAMER: If such things are possible, and they come out to be true that our secrets are - is able to do such things irrespective of why they do it, they have to be abolished. It's too dangerous to have such an agency.

KARPENCHUK: The Greens have also called on Chancellor Helmut Kohl to come forward and testify. Kramer says if Kohl also knew about the operation in advance, he, too, would be responsible. Imagine, he says, if there had been a plane crash. The radioactive plutonium could have contaminated a large area. Bonn has denied the allegations, but in the most recent development 2 German airline associations have filed a court action against the intelligence service for illegally exposing passengers and crew to radiation during the flight last August from Moscow to Munich. For Living on Earth, this is Dan Karpenchuk in Cologne.

NUNLEY: A first in the nation agreement between utilities, businesses, and environmentalists in Rhode Island could pave the way for deregulating the electricity industry without hurting energy conservation and development of clean power sources. Details still need to be negotiated, but the signers have committed to energy efficiency programs and subsidies for renewable power. Many states are trying to open power production to competition in order to lower electric rates.

A survey says links between cancer and electric power lines are "scientifically unsubstantiated". The American Physical Society, the world's largest organization of physicists, reviewed previous research and found no consistent, significant link between electromagnetic fields and cancer. A Society spokesman says danger claims have unnecessarily alarmed the public and diverted research funds. But other groups, including Harvard's Center for Risk Analysis, say even though electromagnetic fields haven't been directly tied to cancer, the health risk is serious enough to warrant further study.

Fifteen years after the eruption of Mount St. Helens killed 57 people and devastated more than 150,000 acres of forest, the area is springing back to life with valuable lessons for scientists. From Seattle, Jennifer Schmidt reports.

SCHMIDT: The eruption created a blast zone of more than 200 square miles. At first it appeared everything within the zone was dead. Researchers expected life to return gradually from the edges as colonizing plants slowly moved in. But to their surprise, they found that small islands of life survived deep within the blast zone. These islands have been growing, restoring areas scientists initially thought would be the last to recover. Jim Quiring, head of the Cold Water Ridge Visitor Center at Mount St. Helens, says even some of the hardest hit places, like Spirit Lake at the base of the crater, are returning to life.

QUIRING: Following the eruption it was full of floating debris and it had been heated to a very high temperature, and the fish that had lived there were killed. And for the next several years the lake went through a rapid successional process, allowing it today to be clear again. And fish and aquatic life once again live in Spirit Lake, all having come back in their own natural processes.

SCHMIDT: There hasn't been any significant volcanic activity at Mount St. Helens for 9 years. But the mountain still sends up wisps of steam, a warning, researchers say, that it is an active volcano and could reawaken at any time. For Living on Earth, I'm Jennifer Schmidt in Seattle.

NUNLEY: The dollar bill may be greener than anybody realized. Proponents of a House bill to get rid of the bill say coins last 20 times longer than paper money, so they're a cheap and easy way to trim government costs. But environmentalists don't want any change from the dollar. They say the new coin would increase copper strip mining, which can harm ecosystems and pollute water sources. Greens also favor the greenback because it's made mostly from cloth and doesn't require harvesting trees.

That's this week's Living on Earth news. I'm Jan Nunley.

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California's Warmer Waves

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Off the coast of California, cold water species are disappearing, and warm water species are moving in. Two California scientific teams link the changes to small increases in the surface temperature of the Pacific, and they say the shift has led to an overall decline in marine life. These studies do not prove or disprove the theory that human activity is warming up the Earth. But the research does show that such warming could lead to rapid and devastating changes to ocean life. Matt Binder has our story.

BINDER: The 2 reports published in the journal Science are based on long-term studies of the California coast by 2 distinguished oceanographers nearing the ends of their careers. In San Diego, John McGowan of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography has been coming to this pier 5 times a year for the last 42 years to board a research vessel and make an identical, 500-mile zigzag voyage across the open ocean. At a dozen points along the way the ship stops and the crew lowers a small mesh bucket down 500 feet, and scoops up all the tiny creatures in its path. They also take water samples from varying depths. It is by far the longest running open ocean ecological survey anywhere in the world.

McGOWAN: Basically, what we found was, there's been a very large-scale decline in the abundance of plankton, animal plankton, called zooplankton, over this 42-year period. And furthermore, during that period of decline of plankton, the temperature, the average temperature of the upper layers of the California current has increased by somewhere between 1 and 2 degrees Fahrenheit.

BINDER: The decline in plankton has reached a staggering 70% now, in what was once one of the richest marine environments in the world. And the plankton collapse has had a ripple effect, lowering the number of birds, fish, and sea mammals as well. McGowan fondly recalls his earlier voyages, when the crew would count over 100,000 members of a single bird species, the sooty shearwater, on a typical trip.

McGOWAN: Well, back in the 50s, of course, it was perfectly evident how rich the California current was. We not only saw a lot of birds but a lot of marine mammals and, at night when we stopped the ship and lit lights, there were, the night lighting was very good. The fish aggregated all around, congregated all around the ship. That's no longer true.

BINDER: McGowan says it was the strength of the California current that made this area so rich. He explains that the stronger an ocean current is, the more upwelling it causes, and the upwelling brings crucial nutrients to the surface that plankton need in order to thrive. And it's the plankton that form the basis of the open ocean food chain. McGowan says the small temperature rise in the North Pacific over the last 50 years somehow seems to have slowed down the California current, and reduced the ocean's productivity. But he doesn't know exactly why that's happened.

McGOWAN: I am uncertain as to which cause, man versus nature, is responsible here. What I really think ought to be done, however, is intensify our, this kind of research, not only in the California current but a number of other places. This is an early warning signal and we certainly must pursue it.

(Running water. Chuck Baxter: "This is the study site here. We have a number of harbor seals laying on the rocks now, where they haul out, enjoy the day time. But our...")

BINDER: 400 miles up the coast at Monterey, Chuck Baxter has found a similar dramatic change in his study zone, which is much more conveniently located just a few steps from his office at Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Station. After 40 years of studying the California coast and 20 years of working at Hopkins, Baxter noticed a gradual change in the seaweeds growing in the tidepools just outside his office window. So he decided to investigate, and found that 60 years ago a graduate student did a species by species count of invertebrates in the same tide pool in one of the first such ecosystem surveys ever conducted. Baxter decided to repeat the laborious count, and he found that indeed, the relative numbers of species had changed significantly. Now there are many more southern species in the tidepools, and many fewer northern species. Baxter believes this is linked to the small, 1.3 degree water temperature rise at Hopkins since 1933.

BAXTER: We don't look upon this as being a necessarily direct response to temperature as if northern species were keeling over and dropping dead or anything. It may simply alter competitive advantages. It may do something with part of the life cycle, and have to do with larval transport, or recruitment. There's many ways that climate change can affect organisms.

BINDER: While John McGowan in San Diego is not sure what's causing the small but steady temperature rise in the North Pacific, Charles Baxter says he's convinced that humans have something to do with it. But whatever the cause, he says, these 2 reports should lay to rest the notion that the effects of global warming will be unnoticeable or benign.

BAXTER: Here, we have actual evidence that the climate change that has taken place so far in the Hopkins preserve has produced dramatic changes in the structure of communities and that this, then, is a clear signal that if this is happening more generally we can begin to expect many of the predictions of global warming to begin to become far more obvious.

BINDER: Similar long-term studies will be needed to determine whether these kinds of changes are happening more generally, but very little historical data on the oceans is available to compare to present conditions. Both Baxter and McGowan lament that rather than funding new ecological studies, Congress and state governments seem intent on cutting existing ones. For Living on Earth, I'm Matt Binder in Monterey.

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Sardines in Literature

CURWOOD: John Steinbeck isn't the first novelist that many people would think of when it comes to writing about environmental change. But in fact, much of his work recounts human tragedy linked to ecological disaster. His early bestseller, the Grapes of Wrath, for instance, chronicles life in the dustbowl, and also serves as a powerful testimonial to the dangers of soil erosion. But Steinbeck was at perhaps his most environmentally conscious when he wrote Cannery Row, a vivid account of the sardine industry in California's Monterey Bay: an industry oblivious to the doom that lurked around the corner thanks to over-fishing. This spring marks the 50th anniversary of its publication. William Drummond has more.

DRUMMOND: John Steinbeck is best known for Grapes of Wrath, a serious novel which examines the Okie migration to California. By contrast, Cannery Row is playful and humorous. It's about how Mac and the boys, who live at the Palace Flop House, go on a frog hunt to collect enough specimens to throw a party for their friend Doc, who's a marine biologist. Steinbeck's widow Elaine says the Cannery Row novel was special.

E. STEINBECK: It showed his relationship with the people who lived there by the sea, and who lived off the sea. It just set the spirit of John's background and of his interest.

J. STEINBECK (early recording): It was almost dark when young Dr. Phillips swung his sack to his shoulder and left the tidepool. He climbed up over the rocks and squashed along the street in his rubber boots. The streetlights were on by the time he arrived at his little commercial laboratory on Cannery Street in Monterey.

DRUMMOND: This is the actual voice of John Steinbeck reading from a story he had written about Cannery Row. Elaine Steinbeck said her husband's first love was writing.

E. STEINBECK: His second passion in life was marine biology, and he pursued it all of his life for great fun, and also knowledge.

DRUMMOND: Steinbeck took a biology course at Stanford before dropping out and moving to a cottage near Monterey. It was then that he met Ed Ricketts, a gifted marine biologist. Steinbeck's biographer Jay Perini says the collaboration between the socially conscious novelist and the biologist was one of the most remarkable in American literature.

PERINI: Ed Ricketts became the transforming influence in his life, his best friend, and the intellectual force behind his best early fiction right up through the Grapes of Wrath. Steinbeck would go into Ed Rickett's lab every afternoon and watch him as he examined sea specimens. He would go out with him on boats collecting specimens and examples.

DRUMMOND: Ricketts worked in the tidepools, examining the relationship between different species living in a biosphere. Steinbeck studied how human populations interacted. Susan Schillinglaw, director of the Steinbeck Research Center at San Jose State University, says Steinbeck brought the biosphere concept into literature.

SCHILLINGLAW: He had, early on, an appreciation for nature from his father. He was very interested in humans' relationship to the environment before he met Ricketts. However, I think that conversations with Ed Ricketts in the 30s in Cannery Row helped both of them crystallize ideas. They were soul mates, if you will.

DRUMMOND: The great popular and financial success of Grapes of Wrath made Steinbeck rich. This gave him even more opportunity to pursue his interest in biology. Jay Perini.

PERINI: In 1940 he went on his famous expedition to the Sea of Cortez, and Steinbeck and Ricketts together wrote The Log from the Sea of Cortez, which is I think a kind of semi-masterpiece. One of the great examples of nature writing, or good scientific literary writing in American literature.

DRUMMOND: Steinbeck also wrote the foreword to a small monograph authored by Ricketts called, Between Pacific Tides: A Study of Tidepools. More than 50 years later that book is still the all-time bestseller of the Stanford University Press.

E. STEINBECK: To go back one more time to Cannery Row, John was the first ecologist, I think, and he's often been called that by people in marine biology. Because he was the first one to preach against the over-fishing. He said the sardines are here now, but the sardines will be gone because you're over-fishing them.

DRUMMOND: The old canneries have all closed, and a collection of restaurants, T-shirt stores, and curio shops have replaced them.

(Tour guide: "... to the left here. The building on the ocean side of the street was torched in 1978 by arsons, and now it's rebuilt and a collection of shops and restaurants. And across the street is the original warehouse, which is also now a collection of shops and restaurants here. What I'm going to do is walk through...")

DRUMMOND: The area is thriving, not because of fish but because of tourists who come to catch a glimpse of what Cannery Row was like years ago.

POWERS: Just on the other side of that building you'll see a big, wooden, kind of like huge crate sort of thing. And heavy. And it is what we call a sardine hopper.

DRUMMOND: Dennis Powers is Director of Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Station at the north end of Cannery Row.

POWERS: And the ships would pull up, and they would dump their sardines into it and there would be like a siphon that would suck the sardines into the cannery. And they would be canned in there. And so there's still remnants of these things around.

DRUMMOND: The remnants of the heyday of the sardine fishery are few. In fact, the only cannery building still in use is the one that houses the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The Hopkins Marine Station and the Aquarium are working to prevent another over-fishing disaster, such as the one that decimated the sardines. Sandy Lydon is a history professor at Cabrillo College. Lydon says the fishing village that Steinbeck loved has become one of the country's leading centers for marine research.

LYDON: Right in that brown building over there is a brand new research project on tuna. It's the first joint research project between Hopkins Marine Station and the Aquarium. And so, [there's] really high-powered tuna research going on in there.

DRUMMOND: Embedded in Steinbeck's works are ideas that biographer Jay Perini thinks are especially appropriate today.

PERINI: He said if American corporations don't adopt a conservative, long-term view of the environment, they will destroy themselves ultimately, and we will have a country which will be, you know, will be a Third World country in 100 years if we can't come to grips with this. And that's why Steinbeck is incredibly relevant right now. We've lost this long-term community vision.

DRUMMOND: The anniversary of Cannery Row's publication is being celebrated all year in central California. There will be seminars, readings of Steinbeck's works on the radio, and this spring a Steinbeck festival in his hometown of Salinas. For Living on Earth, I'm William Drummond reporting.

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Letters From Listeners

CURWOOD: And now it's time to hear from you, our listeners.

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CURWOOD: Our report exploring possible links between anti-Federal activism and anti-Federal violence in the West brought this comment over the Internet. "Most of the people in the Wise Use Movement care as much about the land as environmentalists. And many are much closer to the land than the urbanites who make up most of the environmental movement. These people are naturally offended when they hear themselves described as enemies, and so they have become enemies. Not of the environment, but of environmentalists. The strong implication you give is that environmentalists are fighting the good fight, but they are being obstructed by a bunch of right-wing nuts. This is not an accurate description of either environmentalists or of the rural people in the county movement."

And we received this call from a listener to KALW in San Francisco.

CALLER: You did a really good job of tying in this county rule movement with the Wise Use Movement, which is an anti-environmentalist movement. And even with the militia movement. I'm very concerned that with all this talk of how these county rule people pulled guns on this Forest Service agent, you did not mention that the Wise Use Movement that is controlling this whole mess is founded by industries in this country.

CURWOOD: Our story about Portland, Oregon's free bike sharing program prompted WKSU listener Steve Brownfield of Akron, Ohio, to write. "To truly protect our environment," Mr. Brownfield says, "we need to change our mindset from mine to ours. These yellow bikes help to educate people to share. We need to support, encourage, and use such programs as the yellow bicycles."

Our coverage of New York City's crackdown on thefts of newspapers put out for recycling led a listener to WETA in Washington, D.C., to suggest that some of the alleged newspaper thieves might actually be welcome elsewhere.

CALLER: This is Cynthia Greeley calling from Washington, D.C. In Washington, thanks to Mayor Barry, we've been told there will be no more pickup of recyclables, and we're wondering what we're going to do with all our stuff. That poor fellow from Virginia who drove all the way to New York to make $200 probably could have done a public service by staying closer to home. Thanks.

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CURWOOD: (Laughs) You can call us at 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-9988. Or you can write to us at Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. That's Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. Our e-mail address is LOE@NPR.ORG. That's LOE@NPR.ORG. Transcripts and tapes are $10 each.

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Profile #4: David Brower

CURWOOD: George Bernard Shaw once wrote that the reasonable person adapts himself to the world and that the unreasonable person adapts the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable person. There's probably no environmental activist who fits that description of a change maker better than David Brower. The first activist director of the Sierra Club, Brower quit to form another environmental organization, and then left that group to start yet another. And at age 82 he's got a new book out that's as radical as ever. As part of our series on 25 intriguing people in environmental change, Cy Musiker went to Brower's home in Berkeley, California, and prepared this report.

MUSIKER: The first time I really wanted to meet David Brower, I was climbing a couple of 14,000-foot peaks in the Sierra Nevada, and finding my way with help from an old Sierra Club guide. According to the book, Brower and a friend made 65 first ascents in the Sierra back in 1934. But it turns out that the year before, Brower had nearly lost his life in these same mountains.

BROWER: I stupidly put all my trust in one block of rock which decided it wasn't going to stay on the mountain. Fortunately, I did; it didn't. I just reached up for the wild, reached with my left hand and with 2 fingers got a little ledge and that held me there. And I finally quieted down; I was pretty nervous at that point. It would have made my climbing career pretty short.

MUSIKER: Brower learned to climb more safely, but he never lost his willingness to take risks. In the late 30s Brower was elected to the Sierra Club board, but it wasn't until World War II, as an officer in the famed 10th Mountain Division, that he developed an environmental conscience.

BROWER: We were over in Italy, and I was looking at what had happened to the wild places in the Alps, that they just got rid of their wilderness. I wrote a piece for the Sierra Club Bulletin from Italy, entitled, "How to Kill a Wilderness." And then I had to come back home and make sure that we didn't kill any more.

MUSIKER: As first Executive Director of the Sierra Club in the 50s and 60s, Brower transformed the organization into a major player in shaping US environmental policy. But Brower takes his greatest lesson from something he failed to do. The Sierra Club agreed not to fight the Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River in exchange for keeping dams out of the Grand Canyon. Brower was lobbying in Washington at the time.

BROWER: I should have got the first flight home, and called an emergency meeting of the board. We'd built up an extremely good case against the entire project. So here, here were things that I could have just got off my butt and worked hard on this and we could have stopped the whole thing. So I bear that cross. And it, I think it taught me quite a bit, that you don't give up and you don't postpone.

MUSIKER: Glen Canyon taught Brower not to strike deals, and in 1969 he resigned under pressure from the Sierra Club board. He wouldn't change his opposition to California's Diablo Canyon Nuclear Reactor.

BROWER: And in a pluralistic society, where you have all the different views, there has to be compromise. And we hire people to do it, and we send them to Congress. But it is wrong for the environmental movement to come up and suggest compromises. They should say what they stand for.

MUSIKER: After leaving the Sierra Club, Brower founded Friends of the Earth, and later Earth Island Institute, where he could take direct action on a global range of issues. From the ozone layer to marine mammal protection, to environmental justice in urban America. In Brower's new book, Let the Mountains Talk, Let the Rivers Run, he writes the way he talks, in a sometimes wandering discourse, about supercars, about the Wise Use Movement, about substitutes for wood pulp for paper. He also argues for a new ecological ideal. CPR: Conservation, Preservation, and Restoration.

BROWER: I want to scream: Why don't you listen? When you put off maintenance, somebody's going to have to pay for it. You can save money by not putting oil in your car, but not for long. Since World War II, the United States has used more resources than all the rest of the world in all previous history. We can't keep that up, but we are determined to try to do it across the board.

MUSIKER: I interviewed Brower in his home in the hills above Berkeley. Just before I left I asked him to talk about a photograph on his living room wall: a famous shot by his friend Ansel Adams from New Mexico, of aspens lit by what seems a transcendent light.

BROWER: When we were working on the book, This is the American Earth, I had not seen that photograph. And Ansel had made some big prints about, oh, this wide, and I was used to going through them like this. And I turned to that one and I cried. So that was on the cover of that book. But it is just so wonderful. I'm used to it now, so I don't cry.

MUSIKER: Shortly after our interview, Brower was hospitalized for an irregular heartbeat. Doctors inserted a pacemaker and he's home again, still planning to go on tour promoting his new book. Brower says his passport doesn't expire until 2003, so he has a few years left to work. For Living on Earth, I'm Cy Musiker in Berkeley.

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CURWOOD: Living on Earth is directed by Deborah Stavro. The production team includes Peter Thomson, George Homsy, Kim Motylewski, Constantine Von Hoffman, Jan Nunley, and Julia Madeson. Welcome this week to interns Liz Lempert and Bob Emro, and farewell and best wishes to intern Heather Corson. Our engineers at WBUR are Karen Given and Frank DeAngelis. Our theme music was composed by Michael Aharon. Special thanks to Jeff Martini.

Living on Earth is a project of the World Media Foundation, and recorded at WBUR, Boston. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.

ANNOUNCER: Living on Earth is made possible with major support from the Joyce Foundation; the W. Alton Jones Foundation; the National Science Foundation for coverage of science and the environment; and all-natural Stonyfield Farm Yogurt - whether supporting worthwhile causes or producing healthy foods, Stonyfield's goal is to make you feel good inside.

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