Leading article

Finally, the IPCC has toned down its climate change alarm. Can rational discussion now begin?

21 September 2013

9:00 AM

21 September 2013

9:00 AM

Next week, those who made dire predictions of ruinous climate change face their own inconvenient truth.  The summary of the fifth assessment report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will be published, showing that global temperatures are refusing to follow the path which was predicted for them by almost all climatic models. Since its first report in 1990, the IPCC has been predicting that global temperatures would be rising at an average of 0.2° Celsius per decade. Now, the IPCC acknowledges that there has been no statistically significant rise at all over the past 16 years.

It is difficult to over-emphasise the significance of this report. The IPCC is not simply a research body making reports and declarations which are merely absorbed into political debate. Its word has been taken as gospel, and its research has been used to justify all manner of schemes to make carbon-based energy more expensive while subsidising renewable energy.

The failure of its predictions undermines the certainties which have been placed upon the science of climate change. Previous IPCC reports — and much of the debate over how to react to them — have appeared to treat the Earth’s climate as if it were a domestic central heating system, with carbon emissions analogous to the dial on the thermostat: a small tweak here will result in a temperature rise of precisely 0.2°C and so on. What is clear from the new IPCC report is that the science is not nearly advanced enough to make useful predictions on the future rise of global temperatures. Perhaps it never will be.

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Some climate scientists themselves, to give them credit, have admitted as much. Their papers now incorporate a degree of caution, as you would expect from genuine scientists. The problems arise when the non-scientists leap upon the climate change bandwagon and assume that anything marked ‘science’ must be the final word. As the chemist and novelist C.P. Snow once warned in his lecture about the ‘two cultures’, you end up in a situation where non-scientists use half-understood reports to silence debate — not realising that proper science welcomes refutation and is wary of the notion of absolute truths.

And while we are constantly reminded that ‘most scientists are agreed on climate change’, it is remarkable how many of the most prominent figures warning of climatic Armageddon are not themselves scientists. The chairman of the IPCC, Rajendra Pachauri, is a railway engineer. Al Gore, who shared a Nobel prize with the IPCC for his film of climate change, An Inconvenient Truth, is a failed US presidential candidate. Lord Stern, whose 2006 report provoked the then environment secretary David Miliband to say ‘the science is settled’, is an economist. Few scientists would make such a claim.

As Lord Lawson, former editor of this magazine, once pointed out, the time to be most fearful in politics is when a consensus emerges. It usually means that an argument is not properly probed, and desire to sign up to a fashionable cause supplants the proper rigour which policymaking requires. We certainly saw this with the Climate Change Act, which committed future governments unilaterally to slashing Britain’s carbon emissions to a fifth of what they had been in 1990. The bill was passed in an atmosphere in which sceptics were likened to flat-earthers, with no one stopping to ask what it would achieve for the environment, and at what cost to Britain. Those were the days when Gordon Brown solemnly declared he had 50 days to save the world before the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference. The deadline passed and the world survived — but our understanding of this complex planet has improved. And perhaps we are moving towards a ‘climate glasnost’; a time in which, finally, the science can be debated rationally and we can study the decisions made in those days, and see that the Climate Change Act was, in fact, a deeply irresponsible piece of legislation which will hit poor homeowners with huge energy bills at a time when other countries (especially the US) are following a policy of low energy prices.

Long before his ‘two cultures’ lecture, C.P. Snow explained that science is a work in progress. The scientific mission is to take the best information available, ‘take some pointer readings, make a mental construction from them in order to predict some more’. If the prediction turns out to be right, he said, ‘the mental construction is, for the moment, a good one. If it is wrong, another mental construction has to be tried.’ So it is with climate change science. There is not much doubt that the planet is warming, and man is at least partially responsible. But the failure of the old prediction models make it clear that there is not a simple relationship between carbon emissions and global warming.

As things have worked out, carbon emissions in the rich world have been falling anyway — not due to green taxes but to better technology, like fracking. Global warming is still a monumental challenge, but one that does not necessarily have to be met by taxing the poor off the roads and out of the sky. Sanity is returning to the environmental debate. Let us hope that, before too long, it also returns to British energy policy.

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Show comments
  • John_Page

    There is not much doubt that the planet is warming, and man is at least partially responsible… Global warming is still a monumental challenge

    So you know … KNOW? … that the next move off the current temperature plateau will be up and not down?

    You also fail to take account of Matt Ridley’s analysis that the new central prediction of global warming until 2070 is likely to be net beneficial. And in several decades’ time there will be new ways to adapt if that proves necessary.

    You are trying to look sage, but you are lamentably behind the curve.

    • dodgy

      …There is not much doubt that the planet is warming, and man is at least partially responsible….

      I’m much taken with this sentence. It shows a typical piece of IPCC doublethink.

      1 – There’s not much doubt that the planet is warming…

      Hmm. If by that you mean ‘increasing in temperature at this moment’, then there is a lot of doubt. All agreed current figures show a pause, or, more often, a gradual decline. If you mean that the planet has warmed compared to some specified point in the past when it was much colder – say, 1970, then there is little doubt that that is true. But which do you mean?

      Either of these meanings, of course, is completely innocent on its own. The condition of the climate is ALWAYS one of temperatures falling or rising. What you need to wonder is whether the temperature is rising or falling in an unusual way. And at the moment ALL the temperature variation we have measured over the last several hundred years is well within natural variation anyway…

      2 – …man is at least partially responsible…

      Hmm. Basic thermodynamics indicates that if there was just one man on the planet, and he struck a match, then that action would have warmed the planet. However, that would only be a theoretical warming. It would not be detectable by current instruments. More importantly, it would not actually exist anywhere apart from the close vicinity of the match, because the huge natural movements of energy would swamp and eradicate the signal.

      The IPCC shows that theoretical warming can exist, and then they jump straight to the assumption that any measured warming is therefore due to humans. There is a huge step missing in the middle of that argument…

  • ohforheavensake

    The report hasn’t been published yet. Why not wait until it’s actually out?

    • Dan Grover

      I love that you got a down-vote for that.

      • GrumpyDenier

        Ohforheavensake is a well-known troll on James Delingpole’s blogs.

        He’s consistent in his lack of any scientific input to the debate. I’m amazed that the comment was as tepid as it was. Personal invective is more his style.

        • Dan Grover

          The comment wasn’t really “tepid” one way or the other – it was a call to wait for the finalised report. Hardly controversial and certainly not something that someone who *does” offer “scientific input to the debate” wouldn’t also recommend. Play the ball, not the man!

  • flaxdoctor

    Let’s get this straight – the IPCC reports that there has been no warming for 16 years so you go on to tell us that “There is not much doubt that the planet is warming…”

    Yes there is. The IPCC said so. We measured it. It’s not warming. The observations show no doubt whatsoever – no warming for 16 years. Is this so difficult to grasp?

  • Jeremy Stow

    The last thing our leaders want is a rational debate on the science because they know the science simply doesn’t stack up. Very few sceptics would argue that CO2 is not a greenhouse gas which has a direct radiative warming effect which, all other things being equal (which they never are), creates warming of around 1 deg C per doubling of Co2. However that does NOT mean that this will be in any way dangerous, and as Matt Ridley has pointed out, is almost certainly net beneficial.

    In any case there may well be negative feedbacks in the form of water vapour and cloud formation responses which partially cancel any warming from additional CO2. We are nowhere near understanding the atmospheric physics involved to the degree required to predict the climate decades in advance, and to pretend we are is fraudulent. One thing is certain, the current models, particularly those being developed by the Met Office to date, are simplistic and completely without predictive value.

    To develop policy based on our current understanding is economically suicidal.

    • AlecM

      The 1 deg C ‘intrinsic warming’ from CO2 (strictly 1.2 deg C) is a clever part of the scam because it is predicated on a scientific finesse. This is to imply that there is no change in the spectral distribution of ‘Outgoing Longwave Radiation’ to Space.

      There is no such requirement. What happens is that the atmosphere adapts to minimise the 15 micron CO2 band by increasing the IR to space from water vapour, emitted at the tops of low level clouds, -1.5 deg C.

      This is predicted by irreversible thermodynamics. Maximum temperature rise for doubled CO2 <~0.1 K.

  • Leslie Graham

    Geez – the denial industry are in full scale damage control I see.
    The usual Gish gallop of wearisome thousand-times-falsified myths and memes ahead of the IPCC report that has upped it’s language to say they are 95% CERTAIN that we are causing the warming and that the consequences are going to be dire.
    They havn’t toned down in the slighest – they say we are on course for a 3C rise – same as they have always done. Why make stuff up? Do you think if you ignore what’s happening to the climate all over the world these last decades it’s all just going to go away.
    Deluded or what. Gullible or what?
    The warming has ACCELERATED over the last decade with most of the extra heat accumulating in the deep ocean due to the PDO. Do you really think that this heat is going to stay there for ever?
    Do you really think that global warming suddenly decided to stop in the Super El Nino year of 1998?
    Dear oh dear.
    And the latest deniermyth-of-the-month from David Rose?
    Give me strength.
    It beggars belief that in a year when the summer Arctic sea ice volume shrank to it’s second smallest level on record that there are still a few desperate people who will swallow his nonsense about a ‘recovery’.
    Even the extent is at it’s sixth lowest at 398,000 square miles below average.
    And of course when the PDO reverses and surface temperatures spike again – as they ALWAYS do – then it will be time to abandon the ‘no-warming’ junk and move on to the next vacuous meme. How about “climate change is good”. Yes – that’s got a nice ring to it.
    [shakes head sadly]

    • Danderson

      ‘It’s In The Ocean’

      Of course the robust science confirming warming is continuing in the deep ocean will be included in the new report, no way they’d leave that out.

      And of course if it isn’t there the IITO crowd will have a lot of explaining to do.

      Watch this space.

    • flaxdoctor

      How gullible do you think we are? So you say accelerating warming (unmeasured, undetected) has hidden away in the deep ocean, somehow carefully sneaking past the increasing network of Argo floats. Even if this implausible excuse for utterly failed models has occurred, then what? Even if the deep ocean has warmed by an utterly speculative 0.1 deg C, what is going to happen to this massively dispersed, low-grade energy? Is it going to coalesce and erupt somewhere, thereby remoulding the laws of physics in a yet more alarmist fashion. Go ahead, keep shaking your head sadly and spilling abuse, but you can’t change fact.

      • el_papa

        Indeed, Leslie Graham doesn’t yet realise that he is the one in denial.

    • AlecM

      Where is the experimental evidence of the ‘extra heat’ when it does not appear in the first 700 m?

    • AlecM

      Pachauri’s Demon is a fickle beast: it only appears when the world is not warming.

    • GeraldWilhite

      “Do you really think that this heat is going to stay there for ever?”

      Well, no. The bottom of the ocean is a near freezing heat sink, like fins on a motorcycle engine. The fins dissipate the heat slowly … in this case over thousands of years.

      Do you really think this heat just recently started accumulating on the ocean bottom? Hasn’t it been doing that for long long time? Why haven’t we been told about it for a long, long time?

    • RogerKnights

      “the IPCC report that has upped it’s language to say they are 95% CERTAIN that we are causing the warming . . . . They havn’t toned down in the slighest”

      It now says that it is 95% certain that Man has caused at least half the warming since 1951–i.e., at least 51%. Previously it said that it was 90% certain that “most” of that warming was due to man–e.g., it used language suggestive of somewhere around 75% (the average of the “most” range). Watch the pea.

      ” . . . and that the consequences are going to be dire. They haven’t toned down in the slightest – they say we are on course for a 3C rise – same as they have always done.”

      So much the worse for them.

      • RogerKnights

        “They haven’t toned down in the slightest – they say we are on course for a 3C rise – same as they have always done.”

        Actually they HAVE toned down–they’ve reduced the lower bound of their range from 2C to 1.5C. Watch the pea.

    • Peter Crawford

      You can shake your head as sadly as you like, you are looking increasingly stupid. Those of us that get out into the great outdoors will confirm that the dismaying retreat of snow and ice on higher ground in Britain during the 80’s and 90’s has been supplanted by nicely arctic conditions for at least 10 years now. Yes it has warmed since the end of the Little Ice Age but then it would wouldn’t it? There is no evidence to suggest Prince Charles’s chauffeur driven Bentley has anything to do with it, or his Porsche, or Al Gore’s private jet.. If there is we “desperate” sceptics would love to see it.

    • http://i-squared.blogspot.co.uk/ Katabasis

      The desperate move now into “its going into the deep ocean” now defies all reason. I can’t even begin to speculate on the physics you think that must be at work, and worse, in an environment that is incredibly poorly measured especially relative to the surface and atmosphere.

      I’ve given up attempting rational discourse with people convinced of catastrophe now. I’ve had enough of the frustration of dealing with those who perpetually refuse to look at what the raw data (and still fiddled data in many cases, running artificially hot and/or not even purporting to show what it claims to (c.f. GISS, or claims of a reliable unbroken global temp record all the way back to the 19th century)) for themselves – when it is publicly available. Not only do they refuse to look at it, even when given a link, where they could paste it into Excel or R and chart it for themselves, no. They also insist that only “experts” can do this.

      The echo chamber that is the catastrophist mutual masturbation circle – the Guardian, Huff and Puff, Rolling Stone, Independent and so on now regularly makes claims about the climate and climate science that are not even supported by the IPCC (c.f. “extreme weather”) or through cursory checks of the data (c.f. claims of an accelerating warming of the Arctic – easy just look at the RSS data for 60-82.5 N).

      The time for rational debate is over, but not in the way the alarmists would have us believe.

      It’s over because rational debate with them *is not possible*. The only thing to do now is laugh as they continue to make ever more fatal rods for their own backs.

      • Jeremy Stow

        Indeed Katabasis, the whole point of climate scientists and their alarmist cabal claiming the heat has gone to the bottom of the ocean is precisely BECAUSE it is “incredibly poorly measured”.

        As you say, you can only laugh at them.

      • Augustus

        It’s not over, because the ‘climate change’ hucksters have almost the entire world’s media to defend them. And because they know that for them there is rarely ever any real transparency, accountability, or ruinous consequences. And also because these so-called ‘climate scientists’ will continue to say exactly what their paymasters pay them to say.

    • xmarkwe

      Bit more to it than that, Leslie. You really need to read this stuff properly, then you will see some to the subtleties:

      AR4 published in 2007 stated that the planet was warming at a rate of 0.2C every decade.

      AR4 said there was “90% confidence” that AG emissions are responsible for “most” of the recent warming.

      AR5 (leaked) says the warming since 1951 has been 0.12C per decade – a rate below even the lowest computer prediction.

      AR5 says there is a “95% confidence” that AG emissions are responsible for “more than half” of recent warming.

  • PC249

    The origin of the whole AGW fraud explained by an Australian MP;

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=fvwp&v=WrdmjBAX0E0&NR=1

  • AlecM

    New understanding of the irreversible thermodynamics of the planet, mathematical analysis of Gaia, shows the planet adapts to the external thermodynamic constraint of SW in = LW out at minimum radiation entropy production rate.

    The existing science was first falsified here: 1981_Hansen_etal.pdf. Para 2 uses incorrect IR physics. Para 3 claims 33 K ghe when they ‘forgot’ to include the 43% increase of SW in when there are no clouds or ice in the hypothetical ghg free atmosphere we are told would give a mean surface temperature of -18 deg C. The real temperature would be 4-5 deg C so the the ghe has been exaggerated 3x.

    The models use 13 incorrect physics concepts to prove the 3x positive feedback is real and means all 33 K ghe is caused by CO2. Basically they create a perpetual motion machine of the 2nd kind then offset most of the imaginary energy to match what the public will tolerate, then offset that warming by exactly the same cooling by polluted clouds to explain no present heating, indeed slight cooling. Do the job properly and there can be no CO2-AGW beyond a climate sensitivity of 0.1 K.

    There has been AGW but it was probably from Asian aerosols reducing cloud albedo: that saturated in 2000 or so. Sagan got the physics wrong so the sign is reversed, easily proved by looking at real clouds. Many groups are working on creating the real climate science but they are real scientists, not the inferior people in Climate Alchemy like Hansen, Jones, Mann etc. who have made ‘mistakes’ in one direction to please their paymasters or their political affiliation.

  • dodgy

    …As things have worked out, carbon emissions in the rich world have been falling anyway…

    That’s a shame. We need MORE CO2 – the plants are crying out for it. Since the total amount of CO2 is still rising steadily (obviously powered naturally, since we are putting less out) it can be readily appreciated that humans contribute hardly anything compared to natural forces, but the rise shows that the world WANTS more CO2. We should do our bit, small though it is.

    We should also be looking to create CHEAP, ABUNDANT energy. That’s the one thing our grandchildren will thanks us for. We thank the Victorians for the railways, the sewers and the shipping lines – our generation ought to leave something equally good for the future….

  • Repeal the Act!
  • EDMH

    Hansard 10/9/2013 3.50 pm

    The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Gregory Barker): I am glad to be able to respond to the debate.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) has performed a useful parliamentary service in allowing the issue to be aired. Although profound climate scepticism may be only a minority interest, such sceptics voice a view shared by a number of my constituents and people in the newspapers. It is a view heard on the Clapham omnibus and it is right that we hear such views and debate them in the open.

    I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley) that a cloying consensus in Parliament does no service to legislation or national
    debate. However much I profoundly disagree with some of the arguments, it is
    right that we have the chance to air them in Parliament.

    Steve Baker: We have agreed here that science proceeds by conjecture and refutation, so in an attempt not to have a cloying consensus, will the Minister fund some climate scientists who wish to refute the current thesis?

    Gregory Barker: I am afraid that I do not have a budget for that sort of research.

  • Zytigon

    The IPCC reports appear to recommend switching to wind turbines but maybe this article by Leo Smith MA ( electrical sciences ) blows their views away ? : ” The limitations of ‘ renewable ‘ energy ”

    http://www.templar.co.uk/downloads/Renewable%20Energy%20Limitations.pdf

  • nisakiman

    Now we’re actually seeing some sense being brought to bear on, and the utterly predictable collapse of the Global Warming scam, can we please open the debate on the equally unsubstantiated and similarly propagandised myth of ‘Second-Hand’ smoke, which the zealots have used to perpetrate untold economic and social damage globally?

  • devraticus

    “Scam”? What’s the engine driving this “scam”? Backing waaay up for a second and putting aside for a moment the actual research, what have ANY of you EVER learned about our nature as a species–using the entirety of recorded human history as a source–that would suggest to you that, come 2013, *thousands* of established research scientists, worldwide, would be putting their careers on the line and throwing their support behind an insanely complex, decades-long disinformation campaign intended to, presumably, secure some type of wealth and fame for themselves, the nature and means of which no one seems to be able to adequately explain?

    Put another way, which is the simpler explanation: 1. the above scenario, or 2. that an existing, fantastically wealthy, infamously Machiavellian global oil and gas industry would very much like to keep going with things just as they are, and has therefore decided to invest a great deal of money in the development of “research” and rhetoric that casts as much public doubt as possible on increasingly popular, provable notions that threaten their ability to do this?

    NOTHING we’ve learned from human history indicates that the first scenario is remotely likely. EVERYTHING we’ve learned about human history indicates that the second scenario is INEVITABLE and IS what’s happening.

    Why is this difficult for you? Are you just horror-struck that we could have messed up this badly as a species? Me too, but my God…I’m not going to reduce myself to screaming like a child that “Santa Claus does too exist!” Get up off the floor, stand up straight, dry your eyes and make yourselves useful.

    • Andi69

      What you call the global oil&gas industry are increasingly not referring to themselves as oil&gas companies, but rather as energy companies. The supermajors are involved in basic and applied reserach on renewables, they ar emajor supporters of development of renewable energy and are major players in anything energy, less nuclear. You are referring to an industry consisting of hundreds of thousands of individuals with higher degrees of education, people in research etc. who work on systems as complex, or more, than the equivalent within climate research. yet you allude to all of us beng incapable of evaluating the state of climate science because we work for or in this industry. I would suggest you know very little about people – also in the oil&gas industry.
      On the other hand, do you really think that researchers are all altruistic, all cool objective observers of fact. Only serving that distant, noble goal of “Truth”? Or might they be persons of flesh and blood, of human desires and intellectual egos? I’ll tell you that they are mostly the latter, and they just love the idea of getting a grant to research what they find most interesting. And if it puts them in the spotlight, or as for most of them in the good eye of their peers, well then that is good.
      How do I know? I am one of them, and I work with many of them. And I have felt that righteous stare, that “holier-than-thou” attitude from those working on renewables and consequences of climate change when looking at us working with the energy industries….I’ll tell you that goes way beyond any idea of a consipracy or any such nonsense. It only takes a bit of ego, and that feeling of being more righteous and they will feed you any disaster story if you’re willing to listen.
      That, my friend, is inevitable. Simply because it is human nature.

      • devraticus

        Andi69 — your points are well taken. I hear what you’re saying about the “energy industry” (fair enough, though I’ll just point out that big tobacco is suddenly all about heavy R&D into e-cigarette technology ONLY now that the “if you can’t beat ’em join ’em” reality has sunk in, and the ROI on e-cigs is looking more attractive) and I know that this industry is not, in totality, simply a legion of monsters. What’s more, I get that the academic research community is not an enormous Jedi Council of selfless truth-seekers. For what it’s worth, I too know this from experience. I worked in molecular genetics labs for 10 years, finally quitting the profession and even having my name removed last-minute from a major publication because I refused to falsify data — egregiously cooked numbers that would have been wrong and misleading even if they did help secure funding and reputation for the field-famous egomaniac P.I. and globally lauded university in question. And I know he wasn’t just a rare bad apple in the field. The egos and disingenuous, flexible-truth motivations are there, always. Yes, it’s human nature.

        But this is exactly why I said let’s step way back for a moment on this. You have your experience and I have mine, of course, but look at the broader tableau here. Academic research suffers corrupting elements when it comes to discerning the truth, sure. But its foot soldiers (or at least commanding officers) are still, generally, nerdy, science-minded, non-business people who, at some point, have signed onto a belief in scientific method and Socratic rigor that guides them. Pettier agendas crop up everywhere, and yet, even in demoralized 2013, there’s still an overarching, disinterested, decentralized system of peer review that wags its finger at the ideological strays, the sloppy opportunists, saying “you’re not doing your job.”

        The energy industry is a vast and colorful group too, but its top and middle ranks are career business professionals for whom the only genuine directive is: Prosper. Matters of truth and conscience are left to individual discretion, with the ubiquitous understanding that these things are relative, subjective, flexible, and that less is more. That’s not a judgment, it’s a fact. All (successful, competitive) players in the industry agree that the bottom line is everything. And when a corporation’s or industry’s bottom line is favorable, the business community gives its thumbs-up and says “you’re doing your job very well!”

        The difference? Well, look at the bottom line; the global academic community is immense, and yet its wealth and power to influence are now a drop in the bucket compared to that of the global energy industry. Here’s another bottom line: It’s the year 2013, and the world’s transportation/mechanization systems are utterly dominated by the gas-powered internal combustion engine — a technology invented at least 200 years ago.

        So I’m asking again, who’s more of a potential danger to the global good: the corruption-afflicted-yet-principled scientific community, or a far-far-wealthier and committedly unsentimental industry that has, at this point, reached such staggering size and self-serving velocity that it probably couldn’t stop itself if it wanted to?

        My bottom line: When contemplating motivations, let’s just for a moment really think about who we’re truly dealing with — from a sensibly backed-up vantage point — before we start bickering over individual studies, personalities, politics and pieces of legislation that make up our day-to-day micro-focus (thanks in large part to the 21st-century news industry, but that’s a different story…)

  • Q46

    Global Warming is NOT a monumental challenge, over the last century it has been 0.8C and far below what scientists say could cause any significant change in climate beyond natural variability.

    I find it curious that in article wholly taken up by pointing out that the catastrophic global warming is not the monumental proble predicted, then says it is ‘still’ z monumental problem.

    The implication is ‘global warming’ is some spectre still waiting in the wings to pounce despite it currently being out of sight. So an article which stresses the importance of the scientific process resorts to the very thing it condemns, non-science, fear out of ignorance, soothsaying and the precautionary principle.

  • mumble

    IPCC report: Scientists are 95% certain humans are responsible for climate change

    Most comprehensive report on climate change ever leaves little doubt that greenhouse gases are causing the world to heat up

    http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/ipcc-report-scientists-are-95-certain-humans-are-responsible-for-climate-change-8843573.html

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