Al Gore believes we are at the dawn of a new future. The former vice president and Democratic presidential nominee claims we’re living in a time of revolutionary change unmatched in history. In a new book, he says we’re racing toward a future that is both complicated and different from anything we’ve seen before. The Nobel Peace Prize winner has identified what he believes are six forces remaking the world, from economic globalization to the digital revolution to — no surprise here –- climate change. The self-identified “recovering politician” joins Diane to talk about the changes facing our world and his vision for the future.
Former U. S. Vice President and co-founder and chairman of Generation Investment Management. He’s also a recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his work on climate change.
Video: Inside The Studio
Al Gore addressed questions about the 2000 presidential campaign, including whether he and Tipper Gore would still be married if he had won the election. Gore cleared up a common misconception and said he requested a full recount of Florida’s votes. The request, Gore says, was denied by the state’s governor, who “had a point of view in that race.” Gore also talked about how he felt when Bush v. Gore was awarded in favor of President George W. Bush. “Well, you can imagine, it was a surprise,” Gore said about the high court’s decision. “Some expected it. I felt they were being too cynical. I really felt there was an excellent chance that it would go the other way, but it didn’t.”
Gore discusses the reinvention of life and death thanks to innovations in DNA. He gives an example in which scientists were able to splice genes from orb-weaver spiders into goats, who then secreted silk from their udders along with milk. Gore said many people describe these genetic mutations, though valuable, as “creepy.” Diane pointed out that many people call Gore “wonky,” to which he replied, “I plead guilty to being a wonky wannabe geek.”
Gore addressed a caller’s statement that Sept. 11 could have been prevented had the FAA and intelligence agencies adopted the recommendations of the aviation safety commission that Gore headed while in office. One of the suggestions included a system to automatically catch people on FAA watch lists before they boarded an airplane. “Not many people know what your caller has just said, but it is actually the case. If the recommendations of that commission had been implemented, it would have almost certainly prevented the ability of those hijackers to get on the plane,” Gore said.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Former Vice President Al Gore says we're living in revolutionary times. His new book outlines in detail the many simultaneous and historic changes underway. It's titled "The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change." Former Vice President Al Gore joins me in the studio. We do welcome your questions, comments. Join us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning, sir, it's good to see you again.
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT AL GOREWell thank you, it's so good to be here and good to see you again.
REHMI'm glad you made it. You know you talk about this period of time as being different from others in terms of all these simultaneous changes going on. How do you compare it to other times of upheaval, for example, the Industrial Revolution?
GOREIn some ways, many of the changes underway now are extensions and accelerations of the Industrial Revolution and the scientific and technological revolution that started so long ago. But the interconnection of billions of people around the world and the rapid advance in the power and efficacy of multiple technologies has made the current period of change qualitatively different than anything that has occurred in the past.
GOREOne quick comparison, it took our species 200,000 years to reach a population of one billion people and yet we have added that many people in the first 13 years of this century and we'll add another billion people in the next 13 years and another billion 14 years after that.
GOREThe technologies that empower us to communicate with one another effectively, to splice genes and create new forms of life and to facilitate intimate collaboration between companies and industries in every part of the globe, these and other incredibly powerful changes are coming at us very swiftly.
REHMYou're also talking about the reinvention of life and death. Say more about that.
GOREWell, of course, since the discovery of DNA and the completion of the human genome not that long ago, the scientists in biology, the life sciences, the genetics, have been deciphering the code of life for all forms of life and have learned how to manipulate the genes and now it's moving into proteomics. And I'll give you one quick illustrative example that seems to illustrate why some people have to figure out how they feel about this.
GOREA spider's silk is a very valuable material. It's extremely strong but very flexible and has other unique properties, but you can't farm spiders. They're aggressive and cannibalistic, but here is one solution that is now being used. Scientists have spliced the genes from orb-weaving spiders into goats and now the goats secrete the spider silk with their milk through their udders and it is strained and collected, harvested and used. And how do you feel about that? The word that often comes up is 'creepy' and yet the value is undeniably fantastic.
GOREThe same word, creepy, is applied often in the digital world. Here is an example. If you go to dictionary.com to look up a word, that website will automatically put 234 software programs on your computer without your knowing it or your smartphone that will then serve to track your movements around the internet, add the information to the voluminous file on Diane Rehm and then sell it into commerce to lots of firms that are interested in buying it.
REHMAnd one of the words that has been applied to you for years and years has been the word, wonky. Now...
GOREWell, I was afraid you were going to say, creepy.
GORENo, I plead guilty to being a wonky, wannabe geek.
REHMAnd what you have done here is to go into extraordinary detail about these changes that you see happening. I haven't even mentioned yet global climate change and the issue that you have really, really been working on for so many years. But now we have global minds working on global change, you being just one. Where do you see us going? You were held up in New York this morning because of strong winds, plane cancelled, creepy weather...
REHM...to warm in places where it's supposed to be cold, and vice versa. What do you see happening?
GOREWell, we are modifying the climate dramatically.
REHMWe, you and I?
GOREYes, all of us, we the human civilization, earth inc. is now powered by energy that comes, 85 percent from carbon-based fuels. The first oil well was drilled here in this country in Pennsylvania 154 years ago. Coal was already in use. And now oil, coal and gas represent again 85 percent of our energy.
GORENow the combustion of these fuels produces 90 million tons of global-warming pollution every day that is dumped into the atmosphere as if it is an open sewer. That heat-trapping pollution captures enough extra energy inside the atmosphere to equal the energy of 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs being set off every single day.
GOREIt's a big planet but that's a lot of energy. And what's happening is that the extra heat trapped is altering the wind currents and ocean currents and disrupting the water cycle. It warms the oceans and causes more evaporation into the air and fills the warmer air with much more water vapor which then falls over the land in much larger downpours.
GORETwo days ago in Australia they had two and half feet of rain. Two years ago in my hometown of Nashville, thousands of my neighbors lost their homes and businesses and none had flood insurance because it had never flooded in the areas affected. It was called a once-in-a-thousand year event. But some communities have been having once-in-a-thousand year events every few years...
GORE...now, and that's only one of the changes that we're causing with this disruption. And the reason it's so significant, Diane, is that our civilization has been built up during a period of time since the end of the last ice age that has been characterized by a relatively stable climate balance that has been conducive to the flourishing of human civilization.
GOREThe first cities did not appear until 8-9,000 years ago. The agricultural revolution did not begin until that era. That's not that long ago and the conditions within which we have flourished as a civilization are precisely those conditions that we are now disrupting. Some of these changes will continue no matter what we do but the worst of the problem can still be prevented and forestalled but we have to act.
REHMAnd how do you feel about those who continue to argue that man, him -- herself is not affecting climate change that we are simply in a different cycle?
GOREYeah, well the -- of course, the scientific community has authoritatively debunked all of those arguments yet you're right they continue. They are fed by a large cottage industry of denial that is financed by the large carbon polluters and they are aided and abetted by ideological allies who, many of whom are concerned that any steps to deal with this crisis would inevitably involve more government initiative which they don't want to see at any cost.
REHMFormer Vice President Al Gore, his new book is titled "The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change." We're going to open the phones soon, first, a short break.
REHMAnd welcome back. Former Presidential nominee Al Gore is with me. His new book which has just received a rave review from the Guardian newspaper is titled "The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change." Here's our first email. "Please ask Mr. Gore to explain his position on fracking for natural gas. As a person who lives in an area being fracked, I am concerned about the potential environmental effects of the process." Of course, the gas companies are saying perfectly safe, going to make the United States energy independent and touting all of its good sides. What do you think?
GOREAnd here's why that's important. Each molecule of methane is 70 to 72 times as powerful as a molecule of CO2 in trapping heat. So you don't have to have a very large percentage of it leak into the atmosphere before you have completely wiped out any potential advantage from using the natural gas.
REHMWhat about the effects of water?
GOREI want to get to that. I want to say one other thing briefly about the gas going into the atmosphere. If you look at the very latest satellite photos of North America at night, these beautiful images that show the cities lit up, there's an extraordinary new reality. You can see Chicago lighting up, the Midwest and Minneapolis, and now there is a huge new source of light the size of Chicago in rural North Dakota, and it's coming from the flaring of the gas in the fracking wells there.
GORESo this is an issue that must be addressed. Now, to the issue about water, there are three problems in the relationship between fracking and water. Number one, each fracking well requires, on average, about six million gallons of water, and in some areas that are already short on water, we've had a drought covering 60 percent of the country this past year. Other countries have areas deeply affected. It is illusory to think that so many billions of gallons can be diverted to fracking.
GOREBut what you're really getting at is the concern about poisoning ground water resources. That can happen in two ways. First of all, when the water is used, it's combined with fracking chemicals that are quite toxic, and they're sent down the well in a process that cracks or fractures the shale and frees up the natural gas. Now, the advocates are correct when they say that these geological regions are typically far below the regions where ground water aquifers are found.
GOREBut the pipes sometimes leak, and just as the cement casings in the Deepwater Horizon well in the Gulf of Mexico failed at such high pressures and great depths, there have been, in my view, too many examples of that same phenomena occurring in fracking wells. Now, secondly, when the chemically polluted water is pulled back out of the wells, what do they do with it? Usually what they do is they inject it right back into the ground, deep into the earth, and it is the disposal of this waste -- this toxic waste water that has been most responsible for the poisoning of water supplies.
REHMSo to what extent have you personally been in touch with any of the gas companies, the oil companies, the people who are responsible for what is currently happening within the Marcellus Shale, and even in wells out west?
GOREWell, I know many of them, and they do have arguments on their side. You can make the case that for the short term at least, substituting gas for coal will potentially give us a bridge to a future dominated by renewable energy, but it works only if there are tight regulations to protect against both the leaking of methane and flaring of methane, and against the threat to the water supplies.
REHMAnd they haven't achieved that yet?
GOREWhat they say is that states regulate it well. I don't agree with them. Some states do a better job than others, but during the Bush-Cheney years, there was legislation pushed by former Vice President Dick Cheney that exempted the fracking process from some of the laws and regulations that are designed to protect against water pollution. And there have been serious abuses.
GOREThere's a distinguished leader in the energy industry in Houston named George Phineas Mitchell who is in his 80s now, and he was the pioneer who developed this technology over a period of decades, and he has publicly called for very tight federal regulation of this process.
GOREBut many of those who are profiting from it now are fighting against any regulation, and when they say the states can take care of it, I don't believe them.
REHMSo where are we in the developmental process of focusing more of our efforts on alternative forms of energy?
GOREWell, I'm so glad you asked because it gives me a chance to share some good news. The cost of solar electricity and wind-powered electricity is coming down much faster than anybody predicted. And the installations of renewable energy technology have increased much faster than predicted. Those predictions have not only been wrong, they've been way wrong. Just to take another example, years ago there were predictions about how fast mobile telephone technology would spread, and it just shocked everybody with how quickly it spread.
GOREAnd like that technology, wind and solar electricity is dispersed and can be put almost anywhere. So this is good news. In 2010, for the first time in history, the world's investment in renewable energy exceeded the world's investment in fossil fuel energy. There was a report this morning from Australia that wind-powered electricity there is now cheaper than electricity from new coal-fired generating plants.
REHMWhat about nuclear power?
GORENuclear power, at least the technology that is now dominant in nuclear electricity generation, has been a huge disappointment, partly because the expense has gone up far faster and higher than anybody thought that it would. What used to be a four or $500 million reactor is now a five, six, seven billion dollar reactor. The safety problems of course are of concern. My own view is that even after the horrific tragedies in Fukushima, Japan, there probably are solutions for the safe operation of reactors.
GOREMany people resist that conclusion, but I think we probably can do it, and I think that the waste disposal can probably be dealt with acceptably over time. But if you run an electric utility today, and you decide that you'd like to build a new nuclear power plant to meet the future demand of your customers, you can go to any engineering consulting firm in the U.S. or Europe at least and ask two questions. Number one, if I build this nuclear power plant, how much will it cost, and they will tell you, we have no idea.
GOREThe second question you would want to ask is how long will it take before it's finished, and they would say, again, we have absolutely no idea.
REHMAll right. So where are you as far as the construction of the Keystone Pipeline?
GOREOh, I'm against it, for sure.
GOREWell, the carbon content of these incredibly dirty tar sands is the highest of any fuel on Earth. And at a time when we need to be cutting back on the global warming pollution that we put into the atmosphere, it's insane to open up a brand new source of even dirtier fuel that puts even more global warming pollution into the air.
REHMDo you think it's going to go forward?
GOREI don't know. I hope that -- I take some encouragement from the confirmation of my friend John Kerry as Secretary of State. He will have the initial responsibility to review the application. Of course the White House is deeply involved, and President Obama will ultimately have the say.
REHMLots of pressure there.
GORELots of pressure, and he has tried to walk a fine line between the encouragement of renewable energy and the encouragement of more development of fossil fuel. But I have to say that I was very encouraged by what he said during his inaugural speech 10 days ago, in committing himself and the country to confront the climate crisis. I think that augers well for a much better set of policies in his second term than in his first.
REHMFormer Vice President Al Gore. His new book is titled "The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change," and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Now, I want to go to a couple of other areas. I know you've been asked this before, but I want to ask you about the sale of Current to al-Jazeera. A great many people wondered why you let Current go as soon as you did, and secondly, why you sold it to al-Jazeera.
GOREWell, thank you for asking. My partner, Joel Hyatt, and I are very proud of what we were able to do with Current TV, winning every single major award in television journalism, the Peabody, the DuPont, two Emmys and numerous others.
REHMBut you just couldn't get enough viewers.
GOREThat's correct. And one reason is it's a consumer-facing industry, and you have to advertise to get viewers, and we were independent in an age of conglomerates. If you take one of the stations owned by -- one of the channels owned by NBC Universal, for example, they will advertise that channel across all of the other channels that are in that conglomerate for free.
GOREBut we would have to pay premium dollar for every advertisement, and we did not have deep pockets as a company. So we were not able to do that. And as a new television network, we were subject to tight restrictions imposed by the cable and satellite -- the cable companies primarily, to prevent the use of the Internet to put out large segments of our programming to drive viewers toward our channel that way. In any case, after eight years, we got to a point where we were going to run into real financial trouble as a company unless we made a move.
REHMOkay. So that explains that end. But then people questioned the sale to whom, al-Jazeera.
GOREYes. And I quite understand the motivation behind the questions. I had them myself until I did deep diligence on what al-Jazeera is all about. And they have long since established themselves as a fantastic, high-quality news gathering network, winning awards in countries around the world. And by the way, one thing that was influential with me, is that I looked at how they cover the climate crisis. They have the highest quality and most extensive coverage of any network in the world. I liked that. And in every country where they have operated, particularly al-Jazeera English, they have distinguished themselves.
GOREThey're going to launch a 24/7 commercial-free news network that prides itself on integrity and high quality. So I felt that's a good result. It's a win-win result for our shareholders. They want to keep as many of our employees as they possibly can, and they've made offers to most of them, and they want to bring a very high quality news network to the U.S. So I feel great about it.
REHMDid you address in your own mind, and your critics' minds, the fact that that network is owned by the Arab world.
GOREBy Qatari. By Qatari.
GOREOf course I did, and I knew that that would lead to interviews like this one where it's appropriate and necessary to have these exchanges. But I weighed that against the reality of the transaction. It's a win for the U.S., it was a win for our shareholders, and most of our employees.
REHMAl Gore. His new book, "The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change." When we come back, we'll open the phones.
REHMAnd welcome back to a conversation with former Vice President Al Gore. We're talking about his new book. It's titled "The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change." Let's go first to Ann Arbor, Mich. good morning, John.
JOHNGood morning, Diane. And thank you very much for taking my call.
JOHNI would like to, before I ask the question, just to make one comment. And that is, Al Jazeera in English is outstanding and that's a terrible understatement on my part.
JOHNLast March when Chandran Nair had a comment piece in the Financial Times, I wrote to the newspaper that his position that if Asia copies the Western model of consumption capitalism, the 21st century will turn out to be nobodies, applies to the West, as well. With our increasingly substanceless campaigns, none of this is being discussed. And won't be until we move away from our dysfunctional two-party system, which is not possible without voting reform.
REHMAll right, your comments.
GOREWell, there are a lot of things I'd like to say in response to that. I'm not sure that the two-party system is the principle culprit that I would -- would point to. I respect that view, but I write in this book about the dysfunction of our current system of governance. The fact is that our democracy has been hacked. That's a computer term that describes how hackers can take over the operating system of a computer.
GOREWell, the design of American constitutional democracy is based on the idea that elected representatives will go to the seat of government here in Washington and reflect the views of their constituents, immerse themselves in the information available when -- because they have the time and the responsibility to do that. And they should ask themselves what's going to be in the best interests of the people I'm representing. Or what are these voters in my district going to think if I vote this way or that way or make this speech or that speech.
GORENow what happens today instead is that they are forced to spend five to six hours every day begging for money from rich people, special interests and corporations because they have to compile these enormous war chests in order to buy the expensive 30--second television commercials that make up the principle conversation in democracy today. So back to the -- the internal logic of our democracy. What happens as a result is these senators and congressmen ask themselves not so frequently, what are my constituents going to think. They ask themselves if I vote this way or that way...
GORE...or say this or that, how is it going to have an impact on all these fundraising telephone calls and cocktail party conversations that I'm going to have tonight and tomorrow because I have to get them on my side or else I won't have the money to be reelected. Well, that's a form of institutional corruption that is killing the intended purpose of our democracy. And we have to get the big money out. Corporations are not people. Might does not make right. Money is not speech. Democracy is our birthright and we have to reclaim it.
REHMSo you would totally disagree with the Supreme Court?
GOREOh, yeah, on the Citizens United case.
GOREI actually write in this book, Diane, about the history of how that decision evolved from earlier decisions, one in the early 1970s and one in the 1870s. And I won't take our time to go through it, but the first decision that spoke about corporations as persons came when an earlier Supreme Court rife, some historians say, with corruption decided to use the newly adopted 14th Amendment, which was designed to give the rights of persons to the slaves that had been freed by President Lincoln and instead used it to give those rights to corporations.
GOREThe Industrial Revolution was picking up speed and the railroads were being completed and huge amounts of money were sloshing around. And the corruption in the Congress in those years was just unprecedented. And the Supreme Court decided to make corporations persons in certain important respects. A hundred years later when Justice Lewis Powell went on the court, after the tumultuous decade of the '60s when many on the right were panicked that our society might be falling apart, they extended this corporate personhood. And both of those precedents were cited in the Citizens United case. I think it's a horrible decision.
REHMAll right. I want to ask you a question I've wanted to ask you ever since the 2000 election. And that is, considering that it was so close and considering that some on your team were urging you to stay in the fight and have a recount of the total state of Florida, which could have made the difference, why did you decide not to do that?
GOREWell, there's a lot of mythology woven through the memories of those events. I actually did exactly that and asked for a full recount of the entire state. And it was rejected.
GOREWell, first of all, by the authorities in Florida. The governor of Florida, of course, had a point of view in that race. And the Florida laws were quite complex, but ultimately here is what happened. In our system, there is no intermediate step between a final Supreme Court decision and violent revolution. And so once the Supreme Court has spoken...
GORE...on a constitutional issue, then what comes into play is the rule of law.
REHMDid you have sufficient negotiators on your side?
GOREWell, I had -- I had then and have now the greatest, deepest respect for the late Warren Christopher, who I worked with extensively when he was secretary of state and in other capacities. And I thought that he was the right person for that job.
REHMThere are those who believe that Jim Baker also a former secretary of state...
REHM...just moved in and really defeated the issue before it had a chance.
GOREWell, I have a slightly different view. I think that -- I want to defend the memory and honor of Secretary Christopher. I think he did a superb job, and those who were helping him. The playing field was not neutral in -- in the State of Florida. And it was, of course, a question that overlapped politics and so...
GORE...the people expected that that would be a problem.
REHMWhat did you feel like inside, Al Gore, when that decision came down?
GOREWell, I was terribly disappointed, of course, and...
REHMBut give me the passion that you had to have felt.
GOREWell, you can imagine it was a surprise. I had...
REHMA shock, I would think.
GOREYes, it was. Some expected it. I felt they were being too cynical. I really felt that there was an excellent chance that it would go the other way, but it didn't. And so then my feelings were focused on what's best for the country, what needs to be done in this awful situation. And, at least, I felt it was awful. And I felt that supporting the rule of law was really important and I undertook that responsibility.
REHMAnd now a personal question. Had you won that election, do you believe you and your wife, Tipper Gore, would have stayed together?
GOREOh, well, I -- I don't want to go into -- into that except to say this, Diane. We -- Tipper and I made a mutual decision -- genuinely mutual decision after 40 years of marriage to separate. We are on wonderful terms.
GOREWe had all the children and grandchildren with us at the farm in Tennessee for Christmas and we will have them again this summer at the lake, as we did last year. We're on excellent terms and she is happy. I'm happy. Life is good.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Roachdale, Ind. good morning, Marian.
MARIANGood morning. Thank you so much and Al Gore for your work. I call from rural Indiana where I'm watching, as we speak, agro business devastate our land side. I work with the Hoosiers for Humane Animal Agriculture. And I would like you to please speak to the effect of agriculture -- animal agriculture, specifically, the Confined Animal Feeding Operations.
GOREWell, thank you so much for your kind words and for your question. And in this new book, "The Future," you will find a very extensive analysis of exactly the question that you're asking about. We have seen what many regard as miracles in agriculture with the green revolution increasing crop yields and with new techniques in animal agriculture increasing the production of food. But the use of factory farming and industrial feed lots has been raising an increasing number of concerns.
GOREWe need to move back toward organic farming with natural fertilizers. One of the reasons -- just to focus on the question being asked -- it used to be that animal waste would serve as fertilizer for plants and for crops. But when the animals are concentrated, as they are in these feedlot operations, and fed lots of corn the waste becomes acidic and toxic in -- toxic to plants and it is in such high volumes it becomes hazardous waste instead of useful fertilizer. So re-establishing the natural circular pattern in nature is something that we need to do. There's a lot more to say about agriculture and one of the threats of the climate crisis is to our food supply.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And to Overland, Mo. good morning, Dennis.
DENNISGood morning, Diane, and just a great show.
DENNISI got -- I'll do this quickly because I know you have other people waiting. I remember the commission that Al did for the FAA. And I guess what it boils down to for me is it was basically shot down and ignored. And then, of course, many years later we had 9/11.
DENNISAnd I think in terms of the shooting of the messenger on almost every issue I think it would be helpful if he would, every chance he gets -- you know, I know it's not easy, but remind people that there were things that could have stopped what happened and we ignored it. And I would also like him to talk about Dick Armey and some of the things that he has done to hurt Al Gore's image in, you know, and has he ever actually confronted Dick Armey with some of the things that he said about you over the years.
GOREWell, first of all, thank you for your kind words on the Airline Safety Commission. There was a terrible explosion affecting a commercial airliner over Long Island Sound when I was Vice President. President Clinton asked me to -- people worried it might have been a terrorist incident and we had to get to the bottom of it. And we looked at the entire field of airline safety. And not many people know what your caller has just said. But it is actually the case that if the recommendations of that commission had been implemented it would have almost certainly prevented the ability of those hijackers...
REHMGive me one of those recommendations.
GOREVery tight coordination and data flow between the FAA security team and the intelligence agencies including the FBI and a system for automatically catching people who were on the watch list before they could board planes. Now there are lots of commissions and recommendations and it's always difficult to get recommendations implemented. But that one was particularly painful. We should have done that. Now I haven't really kept up with what Dick Armey has said about me. But maybe I'll ask Dr. Google to give me a summary.
REHMAnd I'm sure you could get exactly that. What's next for you now that -- apparently it's been reported you are now more wealthy than Mitt Romney with the sale of the Current so the question becomes what's next for you?
GOREWell, I have been a continuing and generous donor to the Climate Reality Project...
GORE...which I co-founded. And I spend most of my time as chairman of the Climate Reality Project raising awareness of the climate crisis and promoting solutions to the climate crisis.
REHMWhen was the last time you talked to President Obama?
GOREWell, it has been a few months. It's been a few months.
REHMI hope it will be again soon. Thank you so much for being here.
REHMFormer Vice President Al Gore. His new book is titled, "The Future: Six Global -- Six Drivers of Global Change." Thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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