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Written By: - Date published: 1:20 pm, April 1st, 2016 - 103 comments
Categories: climate change, Environment, global warming, science - Tags: ,

Dr Jan Wright is new Zealand’s Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. She has just released a report on sea level rise. The full report is refreshingly easy to read and is here.

The take-home message from the report is that a projected 30cm rise in sea level will cost about $3 billion in a few decades from now in terms of lost infrastructure and buildings.

Unfortunately, the report is based on IPCC sea level rise data. A couple of things need to be said about IPCC reporting. Firstly, the IPCC RCP 8.5 scenario (the worst they modelled for) is simply business as usual. Secondly, there is nothing in the IPCC report about deep water temperature increases contributing to sea level rise.

Two recent studies that received a fair amount of mainstream coverage have drawn attention to the possibility of sea level rises way in excess of what the IPCC predicts.

James Hansen collaborated with over a dozen other climate scientists to compile a report based on paleoclimate data and concluded that sea level rise could be double that suggested by IPCC reports. The report isn’t without its critics within the scientific community and debate over some of the reports assumptions and conclusions is currently underway.

A second report by Prof Robert DeConto, at the University of Massachusetts Amherst reached similar conclusions to the Hansen report. It was published in Nature and has been made available to the public.

It might not be so silly to take a walk down the hill and say good-bye to swathes of your city or town. It seems that all we are doing is all that we have done…Actually, that’s not accurate. All that we are talking about doing, even if we translated all of our talk into action, would amount to far too little, far too late.

Updated to include further links.

Hansen speaking to Kim Hill on sea level rise.

The Guardian reports on Hansen’s paper and on DeConto’s paper.

103 comments on “Goodbye. ”

  1. roy cartland 1

    $3b in 30ish years? That doesn’t actually sound like a lot, put next to Chch rebuild ($16-20b), student debt ($15b), Health ($15b), TPP gain ($2.7b).

    Is there a zero or some variables missing?

    • Bill 1.1

      Well yeah. I don’t believe it’s anywhere near the true cost. But that’s part of my underlying anger with climate change reporting in general. Everything is under-reported, under-estimated and sprayed with a sickly rose-tinted goo.

      Analysis from the Insurance Council has shown the replacement costs of assets located between 0.5m and 1.5m from mean high tide levels would be between $3 billion and $20 billion.

      • Observer (Tokoroa) 1.1.1

        Hi Bill
        Thanks for doing this post, and for linking Dr Jan Wright’s Report. She is New Zealand’s Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.

        As you say, the report is easy reading given its technicalities. It is fascinating too.

        To New Zealanders and to millions of other peoples, the place where land meets ocean is captivating. It is the ultimate excitement strip.

        Populations flock to the coasts …as do birds. The oceans have massive amounts of ready made, high nutrition food. Free for the taking – providing greedy fishing corporations leave us alone.

        Birds can fly up to higher land with an effortless flutter and arrange comfy nests. Birds are smart.

        I agree with you that there is little we can do about pushing the oceans back. I don’t think that we have any infra structure strong enough to beat high rising oceans in the long term. Tides and waves are far more capable than we imagine.

        We will have to retreat to higher land. Fascinating.

  2. weka 2

    It’s probably too late to save South Dunedin, Chch etc, but these are not really the biggest challenges, and it’s not too late to try and mitigate some of the worst of the worst. Rehousing hundreds of thousands of people sounds bad until you realise that in NZ we are pretty well off to do such a thing. We have the land, the technologies and the materials. We’re also reasonably resilient as a population.

    Building new houses is relatively straight forward compared to the threat to being able to grow food and forestry. That we can still do something about.

    btw, the flooding on the West Coast the other week should be another prod.

    “Climate change melts glacier; gravel released by melt fills up river bed; river floods. Diff kind of climate flood”


    “West Coast Regional Council chief executive Chris Ingle said the next job for the council was “what can we do about the river”

    Don’t mention the climate change. Pretty hard to do any kind of protection planning when there is still so much denial.

    • Bill 2.1

      I fully agree that we have the expertise, the materials and the land to re-locate really quite substantial amounts/numbers of infrastructure/people. The state seems to lack any political will though (no surprises there). And the market demands that money is used as a (how to frame this?) theoretical lubricant to get the expertise and materials moving. It’s fucking nuts.

      • Colonial Viper 2.1.1

        we’ve created a financial system which serves itself primarily, regardless of the actual physical needs of the people.

        • AmaKiwi

          We have forgotten our “collective sense.”

          In a crisis such as war or natural disaster, there is a powerful feeling of, “Pull together because we are all in this together.”

          Capitalism is about individualism, selfishness, getting to the top and to hell with those I trample over to get there.

    • BM 2.2

      Build a moat around South Dunedin and pump the water back into the sea.

      • Stuart Munro 2.2.1

        Perhaps you mean a dyke – the moat is coming by itself.

      • weka 2.2.2

        “Build a moat around South Dunedin and pump the water back into the sea.”

        South Dunedin IS the sea.

        Much of the swampy land of The Flat was drained through the efforts of Chinese settlers were notable among early residents in the St Clair area, and largely through their effort the swampy land inland from the beach was drained and converted into market gardens. Much of the young city’s vegetable production was centred on Chinese allotments in an area close to what is now Macandrew Road, Forbury, and there were further allotments in both Andersons Bay and Tainui.[9]


        Water will inundate the suburb from below and from the beach when the walls there can no longer be maintained.

        Future-proofing requires that we utilise the most resilient infrastructure when solving CC induced problems. Big, ballsy, costly, Muldoon-esque, high energy-using schemes are doomed to fail. Because not only is the infrastructure itself susceptible to failure from CC events and quakes (at which point the suburb is screwed and there is no money to replace it so all that money, fossil fuels and time are basically wasted), but we don’t know what CC is going to do. Are we talking about a flood from the kinds of rainfall we had last year in Dunedin? Or double that? Is that a ten year event or a yearly event? How quickly is the sea going to rise and how much? (plus what has been said elsewhere about infrastructure that is under or at ground level being vulnerable).

        Instead, you design solutions around what you know. Knowing that you don’t know is part of that. For instance, the DCC pretty soon should prohibit all building of housing in South Dunedin unless it is moveable. If we don’t know what the time frames are, then design around that.

        If the area is going to be a swamp again, how can we make use of that by working with that? Can it be recreational (wetland sports)? Food producing? Basically give up trying to assert dominance over the natural systems and learn how to work with them.

        • greywarshark

          Terrific thinking weka. Very practical far seeing. Clear the land or have moveable houses. Use it for as long as possible, with minimal buildings on it.

        • Gristle

          My understanding is that if CC was a predictable gradual change then engineered solutions could work in some situations. The problem is more around the changes in magnitude and frequency of high intensity events. When the once in 200 year flood occurs annually then the basis of engineering parameters has to change and costs rise extraordinarily quickly. For example the flood gates on the river Thames are nearing their end of design life due to sea level rises combining with storm surges and more inland flooding.

          Given the size of the population being protected by those flood gates then it becomes affordable to build some new ones. Given NZs low population density then retreat is probably a better general response than kilometres of sea walls and pumping stations.

          And this should have already started. However councils are generally restricted by central government in how they can build CC into their planning. Weird isn’t it. A district plan with a time horizon spanning decades isn’t allowed to make allowance for sea level rises. Well that was what I was told by the council after having finished making written and oral submissions on the proposed plan.

          The figures released by Jan Wright were IMO conservative and focussed only on private property. My expectation is that a council or government or insurance company may well have the capability of helping the first people to whom CC induced private property damage occurs, but As the queue gets longer and deeper, then individuals will be shown an empty wallet.

        • Alethios

          Glad to return and find your thinking is as sharp and pertinent as ever Weka.

      • McGrath 2.2.3

        I like the sound of a moat personally 🙂

    • Colonial Viper 2.3

      We don’t have an economic and financial system which can keep a hundred thousand Kiwi kids from going hungry every day; I don’t think that same system is going to be able to pull off what from a common sense view should be pretty bloody do-able.

      • Magisterium 2.3.1

        Antivax 911-truther talks about “common sense”

        • weka

          I don’t think engaging in personal ideological grudges is appropriate given the topic of the post.

          • Colonial Viper

            Thx weka.

          • Magisterium

            I have no grudge against CV, I just think that readers here deserve some intellectual context into which they can place the things he says. Knowing that someone is an anti-vaccination chiropractor and a 9/11 “jet fuel can’t melt steel beams” conspiracy theorist is potentially useful when examining other claims that he makes.

            • Bill

              Just because a person has beliefs, it has nothing whatsoever to do with their intellectual honesty or intellectual capability.

              I might believe in aliens and/or fairies and/or God and/or planet earth as sentient and/or any other number of weird and wonderful stuff – and none of that has any bearing on most of what I might engage with in terms of political debate.

              What you’re trying to do is rubbish by association. If I’d noticed it sooner, you’d have been off for a wee break. Lucky you, eh?

              • Magisterium

                Could not care less, actually. Knock yourself out.

                [RL: From experience when someone asks for a ban, it’s because they’re indirectly expressing contempt for the moderation process. For this reason I usually oblige them. Take a week off.]

            • Reddelusion

              [RL: Deleted. Take a week off for deliberately re-affirming the original offense whose only purpose, however politely worded, was to start a flame.]

              • Reddelusion

                That’s ok but does not alter the fact context is useful with cv been such a high frequency contributor,

        • greywarshark

          Piss off Magisterium. You hardly ever have a worthwhile thing to say here. Go back to social media where you can put your idle thoughts you nitwit. Trying to start a flame war or something. You don’t add anything of value here, while the adults are trying to discuss serious matters.

          [RL: Verging on pointless abuse. Maggie’s already earned a week off, this isn’t needed.]

      • weka 2.3.2

        “We don’t have an economic and financial system which can keep a hundred thousand Kiwi kids from going hungry every day; I don’t think that same system is going to be able to pull off what from a common sense view should be pretty bloody do-able.”

        I think our economic and financial systems could easily be put into service of reducing poverty and addressing AGW mitigation, even without a revolution. It’s only will that is lacking. Probably fear and greed don’t help.

        • Colonial Viper

          I agree. But the 0.1% who control the levers of our economic and financial system don’t seem keen to hand over that power to anyone else.

    • ianmac 3.1

      Hoots in disbelief!

    • weka 3.2

      That’s fucking brilliant.

      “I suggest we have a sing song”

      How about,

      “Always look on the bright side of life…”

      Or perhaps,

      “We don’t know how luck we are boys”

  3. adam 4

    As part of the costings – sea walls seemed to be missing, or was that just me?

    We have very many of these up and down the country, and all our major harbours have substantial ones.

    I was thinking if the ones in Otago Harbour were breached, that will have a major spin off effect for the local economy, as the main port is Port Charmers.

    Good to see a report though, but like much of this stuff – it really has a feel of writing after the horse has bolted – or is that published, post horse.

    • Colonial Viper 4.1

      Meanwhile National is playing the crapitalist business as usual game, while Labour insists that future unemployment is going to be caused by technological progress and automation.

      Both our big political parties utterly refuse to recognise what the future is actually bringing to NZ.

      • The Gormless Fool formerly known as Oleolebiscuitbarrell 4.1.1

        If NZ cut its emissions to zero tomorrow, it would make not one scrap of difference to climate change.

        • Colonial Viper

          Correct. We need to be burning more fuel, adding infrastructure and industrialising further.

          • Stuart Munro

            Certainly more industrialising – but favouring lower carbon and sustainable options. These not only benefit the planet, they would be exportable at a profit – unlike bulk dairy. The local market is the testbed for export production – shamefully neglected for far too long.

            • Bill

              If we’d begun to move to low or zero carbon a few decades back, then we might have been able to carry on producing and consuming in the interests of economic growth. But we didn’t. And so we can’t.

              There is now no time to lay in low or zero carbon supplies, while producing and consuming as we have been, and to also stay within any scientifically recognised ‘safety zone’ in terms of warming. We’ve blown it.

              And you point to the main reason we’ve blown it. We didn’t and don’t want to imagine a world without a market economy. We’ll hang on to that to the bitter end, all the while ensuring the potential for numerous imaginable and possible futures shrivels and dies beneath the narrow glare of market practicalities.

              What stupid and odd creatures we turned out to be.

              • Stuart Munro

                It’s localised production that we need – and always needed. Exports are gravy. In spite of decades of rubbish government, the local ecology remains somewhat productive. If we adapt we can have an enviable lifestyle – maybe not lear jets, but comfortable housing and modest prosperity.

                The light technologies don’t require bulk commodities as their predecessors did – we just have to get ahead of the curve. Once rid of this stupid lazy backward and corrupt government there’s no reason we should not make some progress.

                We end, but the earth goes on.

                • Colonial Viper

                  We end, but the earth goes on.

                  Now this is the truth.

                  Hominids turned up 2M years ago, will most likely be all but extinct in the next 150 years, and the Earth will barely notice as its only a day in its life.

                  • Stuart Munro

                    We’ll probably last a bit longer than that – but not with this kind of ‘age of stupid’ society. According to Jared Diamond, Japan deforested and wrecked their ecosystem about 300 years ago. A decent emperor changed the forestry rules and now apart from the burgeoning city population Japan’s ecology is in much better shape.
                    But the dinosaurs probably imagined they were rockstars too, if we intend to outlive them we need to use a little intelligence.

                    • Colonial Viper

                      I do hope you are right.

                      Japan’s ecology is in much better shape because they don’t need wood for fuel or construction material any more, and they don’t need to grow most of their own food any more.

                      They can import logs and food from NZ, for instance.

                      As the world deglobalises and fossil fuels go away, they, like many other countries, will find that they have no resources left to go to except to rape the land barren again.

                      BTW there are over one hundred nuclear reactors in the world. In the near future there will be no way to correctly shut them down and decommission them. Nor to make safe the vast stores of used nuclear fuel.

                      So imagine the flooding/tsunami incident which took out the Fukushima reactors. But multiplied out all over the world.

                    • RedLogix

                      Of the very many doomsday scenarios I’ve encountered over the years, this is one that still holds a fair bit of currency to my mind.

                      You only have to look at the ongoing costs and challenges at Chernobyl and Fukushima to understand this.

                    • Stuart Munro

                      Nuclear waste is actually dealable with – though reactor safety is problematic. The waste needs to go into tectonic subduction zones (NZ is on a big one) so that it goes deep into the crust where it came from. You don’t want it in your neighborhood (half the kids’ll die of cancer) but it won’t end the species.

                      More dangerous is partial ocean die offs and algal blooms. These would deoxygenate large areas – not good for us at all – and may wipe out whole ecosystems. A minor scale event happened in Fiji recently – fish dying of heat.

                      We can’t prevent it – but we can mitigate it by large scale tree planting and seaweed propagation. A bit of continental engineering wouldn’t go amiss either – properly reforested Oz could soak up current excess CO2 – as could the Saharra or the Gobi. If we did part of the Gobi China and Korea would be pretty happy about it – the yellow dust is very unpleasant and the area of desertification is growing – also true in Iran.

                    • maui

                      Germany shut down 8 of their nuclear plants after Fukushima, and all 17 of Germany’s plants will be closed within 6 years. So there is some hope.

                  • weka

                    “Hominids turned up 2M years ago, will most likely be all but extinct in the next 150 years, and the Earth will barely notice as its only a day in its life.”

                    Mass extinctions and ecosystem collapses are not nothing and all impact on the rest of life. Pretty sure non-human species will notice the effects of climate change.

                    • Colonial Viper

                      The Earth has seen vast collections of species come and go over numerous mass extinctions, over a very wide range of environmental and climactic conditions.

                      The point being, the Earth will roll on just fine to the next round, even if we do not.

                    • weka

                      The Earth will roll on, but to suggest that mass extinctions and ecosystem collapse is ‘fine’ is a very human-centric view.

                  • greywarshark

                    I don’t want to hear such things. 150 Years – that’s only two full-age lives away. From now my children will live another 35-40 years to about age 75, their children 75 years beyond so that’s 115 years, and their children will be about 40 when their parents die, so you are saying that in their last 35 years of life the world will be unlivable except for a few diehards!

                    Play Pharrell Williams Happy and with that in mind, close your eyes and have a good sleep, ready to start trying to move the Titanic to another course! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6Sxv-sUYtM

                    • Tom

                      150 years is a long time in world progress. We only dream t of flight 150 years ago, never mind landing on the moon.

                    • greywarshark

                      150 years is short time in planet progress, which is counted in aeons.
                      As I said it is only 2-3 full generations. And what do you call progress? We still are starting a war about on average, every 20 years. And as soon as we develop new technology the war machine want to capture it, the capitalists want to sell it only to the highest bidder or it is used to put people out of a job and possibly to starve.

                      If you are going to make a comment try and make it something with substance. You could have pointed out that I miscalculated in my arithmetic of the generations.

          • Richard McGrath

            Agree with both of you (biscuit barrel & CV)

        • dv

          Good to see you are claiming the moral low ground gormless

        • Bill

          An obvious lie given that CO2 in the atmosphere is a cumulative problem. That aside, get your gormless head out of the biscuit barrel of nationalism. Climate change is a global problem, not a national one.

          maybe look at it like this. What difference to the overall state of humanity would it make if you joined the percentage of men who go to poor countries to pay for having sex with children?


          But would you do it? Knowing it has a negligible impact on the human species?

          No, you wouldn’t.

          And yet, here you are, happily doing a 1001 things – flying, driving and otherwise consuming fossil fuels or supporting political and economic systems that burn fossil, blithely contributing to climate change, a direct consequence of which is, that those children you’d be so morally averse to harming, will be far more likely to die.

        • RedLogix

          Jeeze gormie that’s brilliant! Now all we have to do is find a way to divide up the world into a lot more little nations of less than 5m people ….

      • Draco T Bastard 4.1.2

        Both our big political parties want to keep capitalism going. Neither have accepted yet that it’s a failed system.

        Keeping capitalism going continues to destroy the environment which will continue ACC.

        This is happening across the world.

      • AmaKiwi 4.1.3

        My anger is towards those who refuse to open their eyes. The future is NOW.

        I am reading The Sugarbag Years by Tony Simpson, about the Great Depression in NZ. It began well before 1929 just as WW II began well before the invasion of France and the Low Countries.

        We are NOW in another Great Depression as well as another Great Extinction.

    • Bill 4.2

      What use are sea walls where the land is porous? The water goes under and rises up behind. Or are you thinking of breakwaters?

      On walls, you any idea how long work has been going on on the wall surrounding Otago Harbour (widening the road and replicating the dry stone wall to put in a cycle path…no elevation added)?

      It’s years from being finished…possibly just in time to be a groovy under water feature you can marvel at as you snorkel the Dunedin Port Chalmers Road at high tide, or for those into longer journeys, the ~ 25km long underwater Otago Peninsula Road.

      • s y d 4.2.1

        the biggest issue with sea level rise will be basic infrastructure. It’s all very well saying lets build sea walls, dykes, statues of canute or whatever – sea level rise will render our underground services in most coastal cities inoperative. When you flush the toilet, turn on the tap, flick the switch and nothing happens, well then, things will rapidly fall apart. If the numbers are correct we should be looking at retreat not defence.

        This is of course ignoring the thousands of refugees (not just the ones with private aircraft) who will arrive at our shores and probably in numbers that will simply overwhelm us all.

        I can see why we so carefully look the other way……..

        • Bill

          India is constructing the Indo-Bangladeshi barrier, a 3,406-kilometre (2,116 mi) fence of barbed wire and concrete just under 3 metres high…

          Narcotics and terrorism…apparently.

        • Colonial Viper

          Yep. Residents on the Peninsula in Dunedin will be in trouble if South Dunedin ends up under 6 inches of water; vital services out to where they are will likely be disrupted or even be cut off altogether.

          • weka

            I think the Peninsula has lots of potential. You put the services out there eg a supermarket, and you use ferries and/or the locals know when low tide is. Relocalise the economy, so people don’t have to go to town so much. Most of the Peninsula could probably access Port Chalmers by boat easier than getting to town in a post-carbon world.

            • Colonial Viper

              This is the kind of long term alternative exploration we need to have more of in NZ.

      • left for dead 4.2.2

        Not quite true Bill, Harrington Point Road has been lifted up about 300 mm in some places to accommodate spring tides, an as you know “all most an Island” will again be and Island.

      • Tom 4.2.3

        Easy all you do is have lock gates . Open them at low water and the water pours out Close them when the tide starts to rise and keep it out. Second advantage you can use the tide to generate electricity! How green is that.

  4. kieron 5

    Always thought since i moved to nz in 1992 (age 10) how dumb people were/are to build close to the coast or on low flat land – why do these houses cost the most?

    • Colonial Viper 5.1

      Short sighted rich people

    • greywarshark 5.2

      NZs have always loved living near the sea. In other places they don’t have the weather to enjoy beaches, they don’t have beaches or accessible ones. Other people can live out their lives and never see the sea, it’s something always not far away here. We aren’t dumb, we who have lived all our lives here enjoy the sea, it’s part of our culture. But now it’s going to come into our living rooms, we have to change.

  5. Whispering Kate 6

    CV your comment “The point being the Earth will roll on just fine to the next round, even if we do not” is so correct. We are just mere pimples on the backside of the world, why should we even presume to be so darned precious/important, we are here by invite only, we have outstayed our welcome, made a bloody mess of the place and are not welcome here, Earth is showing us the door in the way of climate change. Any host would do the same and reject the annoying pests. We had a beautiful planet to enjoy and have just f….. up the place. Instead of onwards and upwards it is now going to be downwards and outwards unfortunately.

  6. Chooky 7

    +100 Great Post …and this interactive map(s) is interesting…and scary


  7. Maz 8

    The Foxton Beach wharf area is an example of how precarious building close to a shoreline is.

  8. Steve Wrathall 9

    Meanwhile back in the real world, global sea levels are rising by only 3 mm/year, and there is no evidence this is increasing. That’s 30 cm per century. Jan Wright’s prophesy of 30 cm within a “few decades” would need this rate to triple, and start yesterday.
    And this ridiculous scare map showing areas of Napier in danger-these areas were underwater before the 1931 earthquake. Proof that sea level rise is less than geological uplift in many areas. Shutting down the modern energy economy wouldn’t save anyone’s beachfront property. But it would leave us all hopelessly unable to cope when a natural disaster hits.

  9. Smilin 10

    Yep we dont want to alarm anyone too much about the inevitable and cause an emergency ,not as important as the banks crashing and the need for a prick like Key to be instated as PM by the US foreign policy for the millenia.

  10. johnm 13

    Robert Thankyoufornotbreeding Atack Says:
    April 1st, 2016 at 1:39 pm

    Just a couple of comments I made on a Paul Beckwith You Tube skit.

    Blame ? Its human nature to ignore uncomfortable news, or a threat ‘over the hill’, if something isn’t making us uncomfortable right now, then we tend to ignore it. Like when the cave man stepped on fresh tyrannosaurus shit, they would keep their eyes open, but if it was dry they wouldn’t worry ) I changed my middle name 16 years ago to Thankyoufornotbreeding, along with nearly always talking about how stuffed we all are, and how the last human generation is (if we are lucky) at least 8 years old. BUT I have seen about 20 babies born via my close friends and relations ….. these are young people, computer literate, more than capable of reading the information I have been highlighting these past years, I’m 58 so what the fuck, but even the grandparents who are old enough to read and maybe understand shit, are encouraging overpopulation, and future suffering of their own families ???? go figure. So yeah who to blame ? The PIMs ….. pig ignorant masses. It is the PIMs that let the corporations lie to them, it is our own stupid faults.

    Robert Atack1 second ago
    And as far as reducing emissions now to reduce future climate change, that is an utter joke, we are way past doing anything to stop the planet going ‘Venus”. The planet has set up the perfect storm, with 55 million years of stored carbon CH4 etc, just below the current melt line, @ 406 ppm CO2 and 2(?) ppm CH4 we have leapfrogged over any chance of reversing what is set in motion. The ice is guaranteed to go, that was locked in @ at least 350 ppm CO2, since then it has only been a matter of time …. TIMES UP, sorry.
    Its a bit like seeing the flash of a nuclear bomb, the only thing you can do is take your glasses of, bend over and place your head between your legs, and kiss your arse goodby.

  11. saveNZ 14

    Maybe the impending disaster will increase GDP just like the CHCH earthquake!

    John Key and Bill English’s “final solution” to our ‘rockstar economy’. (Keep those disasters coming…)

    • Stuart Munro 14.1

      And if it doesn’t they’ll use it to hide their selling of state houses/sheep to Iran/nuke program/ or he-who-is-not-to-be-named.

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  • Joint Statement: New Zealand and Australian Trade Ministers
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