This is Kind of a Big Fucking Deal

It really is:

China’s Communist state is hardly known for its transparency. So when environmental groups appealed to the government last year to disclose official data on air pollution, they were not expecting much.

“Way beyond our expectations, the government actually said yes,” said Ma Jun, head of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs in Beijing. “I am quite amazed.”

Since Jan. 1, the central government has required 15,000 factories — including influential state-run enterprises — to publicly report details on their air emissions and water discharges in real time, an unprecedented degree of disclosure that is shedding light on the who, what, when and where of China’s devastating environmental problems.

The reporting requirement is part of a striking turnaround by China’s government, which is also publishing data on the sootiest cities and trying to limit the use of coal. The country’s appalling air is blamed for more than a million premature deaths a year, for producing acid rain that damages the nation’s agriculture, for driving away tourists and even for encouraging the brightest students to study abroad. Perhaps just as important, Beijing’s bad air has been making its Communist leaders lose face.

I have a number of thoughts about this, first and foremost of which is that is if China decides to start limiting imported American and other coal, you can fully expect the current hysterical equation of mild EPA efforts to regulate the air to turn into even more heated plaintive wails about communism and Obama and the war on coal and socialism and WHY THE FUCK DO STUPID PEOPLE HAVE SO MUCH INFLUENCE? On the upside, I am tired of the imagined fever dream Muslim Obama, so maybe Mao Obama will at least be new for a while. Or Che Obama. It’s all good.

The second thought is that if China does decide to kill the market for coal, and while no economist, if they transition off it or make mention of transitioning off of it, I would bet they could totally disrupt the market, create a glut and a total fucking mess in the commodities markets, and kill off coal mines all over America with a vengeance that would give every Greenpeace member in the world a sizable erection. Additional, they are perfectly positioned to be the new green energy leaders of the globe, since they are already kicking our ass in solar and if you mention clean energy in Ameriduh you get my Senator Joe Manchin shooting a rifle at something while fellating a brick of coal and a thousand wingnut websites all scream SOLYNDRA in unison so that it is the first fucking thing talked about on Morning Joe or, well, every other cable news broadcast.

Hi, my name is John Cole and I am cranky for some reason.

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66 replies
  1. 1
    tofubo says:

    gotta look more into it, to see if it is really VP level big F’n dealyness

    onda odder hand

    http://www.theonion.com/articl.....t-i,34949/

  2. 2
    jheartney says:

    Report on Peak Coal in China: https://ir.citi.com/z5yk080HEXZtoIax1EnHssv%2Bzm4Pc8GALpLbF2Ysb%2Fl21vGjprPCVQ%3D%3D

    Hope it’s more accurate than the predictions of Peak Wingnut.

  3. 3
    Origuy says:

    According to this chart, China took about 8% of American coal exports last year. If they cut it off entirely, it would make a dent, but they’re too dependent on coal to do anything like that.

  4. 4
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    Hi, my name is John Cole and I am cranky for some no reason.

    That works better. Jesus, man, for someone six years younger than me you have some serious cranky old guy issues.

  5. 5
    Warren Terra says:

    Right now, one of the fuels China is burning in their coal plants is the dried particulates from the sludge left over when bitumen is extracted from the tar sands – basically, the dirtiest stuff imaginable, recovered in th worst way possible. Even marginal progress away from buying up and using every last scrap of even the worst combustibles in the world would be a big improvement.

  6. 6
    MikeJ says:

    We in the PNW would be happy to ship less coal to China.It falls off the trains on the way to the docks, and the new terminal would cause non-stop train jams through every small town in Washington. Towns that get two trains per day will get twenty.

    We’d also be happy to ship them less coal since we’re downwind.

  7. 7
    cthulhu says:

    Certainly killing coal (this early!!) as an energy option would go long way to both improving China’s messed air quality and the world’s desire to keep pulling it out of the ground. Yes, there will be some job losses in the US but there aren’t too many industries that we’d be better off without, overall, than coal extraction.

  8. 8
    max says:

    I have a number of thoughts about this, first and foremost of which is that is if China decides to start limiting imported American and other coal, you can fully expect the current hysterical equation of mild EPA efforts to regulate the air to turn into even more heated

    Well, yeah. Limiting coal exports to China would cause a decent-sized price, which would cause the power generation price to fall, and then everyone will bitch that the EPA regs are driving up energy prices.

    Additional, they are perfectly positioned to be the new green energy leaders of the globe, since they are already kicking our ass in solar and if you mention clean energy in Ameriduh you get my Senator Joe Manchin shooting a rifle at something while fellating a brick of coal and a thousand wingnut websites all scream SOLYNDRA in unison so that it is the first fucking thing talked about on Morning Joe or, well, every other cable news broadcast.

    They aren’t going to do it right now. They’re having a soft spot economically. They really DO need to install ash catchers and the limits. (That is, ‘install basic anti-pollution equipment’.) People gotta breathe to go to work to manufacture the solar panels.

    The fight over coal isn’t in China, it’s here.

    max
    [‘If the price goes south, somebody will ask for coal subsidies and I’m pretty sure the R congress will try to give it to them.’]

  9. 9
    MikeJ says:

    It would be interesting for China to take real steps on greenhouse gases since one of the arguments the do nothings always bring up is, “why should the US cripple its economy when China is going to continue to pollute?”

  10. 10
    Ruckus says:

    Hi, my name is John Cole and I am cranky for some good reason

    .

    I really FXIT for you.

  11. 11
    🎂 Martin says:

    The bigger deal: China is more realistic about emissions and air quality than the GOP is.

  12. 12
    jl says:

    What is so hard to believe about it? I mean, the Chinese leadership waited until you can cut up the air and use it for landfill on most days, now they want to do something.

    Global warming is going to cause havoc with China’s water management issues, and effects on agricultural yield are uncertain.

    The leadership probably learned their Chinese history, when unhappy the natives get restless. I read once that China had the moniker “Mother of Revolutions”.

    And they are heathens, so probably know that the Xtian God is not watching over them, so they’d better make them some plans.

  13. 13
    Ruckus says:

    @🎂 Martin:
    China is probably more realistic about US domestic policy and needs than the gop.

  14. 14
    jl says:

    @🎂 Martin: Not saying much. The average two year old is more realistic about estate planning than the GOP is.

  15. 15
    Chris T. says:

    I’ve been saying for years now that we (the US of A, that is) should have gotten ourselves established as the World’s Best At Cleaning Up The Dirty Air And Water, precisely because China would then have to buy that from us.

    But this requires a bit of foresight, so it’s nothing the Republicans would consider.

  16. 16
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Ruckus: Nah, this may well be a good reason to be cranky, but, if Cole didn’t stumble across this, he would have been cranky about something else – like college students on his lawn or the fact that a Fiat was used in this week’s episode of Downton Abbey.

  17. 17
    J.Ty says:

    It’s always embarrassing when a foreign breathtakingly corrupt fascist plutocracy makes our home-grown, popularly-elected breathtakingly corrupt fascist plutocracy (i.e. ‘GOP’) look good…

  18. 18
    GregB says:

    Despite the whinging on the right, much of corporate America is responding to the energy crisis and are investing in cleaner energy alternatives. Look up solar and wind capacity and you’ll see that California and Texas are growing clean energy giants. As is Iowa. It is coming.

    Link 1.

    Link 2.

    Coal is dying but it will not go gently into that good night.

  19. 19
    Suffern ACE says:

    @J.Ty: well, see jl’s comment above. The Chinese can’t really go with “whoculdaknowed” about their air quality. They have always had control over how they industrialized.

  20. 20
    Ruckus says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:
    Point better made than me, although that of course was the underlying point I was making. He always has a good reason. At first.

  21. 21
    gorram says:

    @Origuy: Yeah, I’m kind of confused about where JC is coming from on this. China only just became a net importer of coal, and even then, it’s been a slow process.

    Edit: Likewise, if they’re going to move away from coal, they should hurry up and do it before this gets off the ground.

  22. 22
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    OT but interesting: Christie was not invited to CPAC last year. Now, as he is being beaten like a red-headed stepchild over allegedly abusing his authority and violating both state and federal laws, he gets an invite.

  23. 23
    MikeJ says:

    @GregB:

    Coal is dying but it will not go gently into that good night.

    It’s a pity nobody is opening solar panel manufacturing in WV or Montana. I’d love to put the coal companies out of business, but there are an awful lot of working people who are going to be hurt in the transition. We need to keep America’s energy workers in the business of making energy.

  24. 24
    Petorado says:

    I suppose what’s the point of move’n on up to the east side of Beijing when the promotion winds up being living in the worst air quality on the entire planet. What the fk is prosperity when it means you get to live in atmospheric shite. Maybe the Chinese are realizing that manufacturing hegemony isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

  25. 25
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Ruckus: Oddly, I am being cranky about people deciding to become old and cranky.

  26. 26
    J.Ty says:

    @Suffern ACE: Oh, totally. They’re basically just bottom-liners, with a healthy dose of “at any cost”, at this point. And they don’t have to suffer the political ramifications of anything that upsets non-Party members. Not condoning… whatever form of government you want to call that, but when it’s in their interest to do X, X tends to get done.

    And you absolutely see the same things in American businesses, and especially the American military. Which are both basically just… bottom-liners, with a healthy dose of “at any cost.” (I’m excluding the businesses that can’t see past next Tuesday and/or are run by ideologues, of course.)

    Edited to clarify: the “bottom line” for the military would be “readiness”, not “profit”

  27. 27
    zombie rotten mcdonald says:

    Interesting. On Friday, I had a couple drinks with a friend of mine who just came back from a business visit to China; he said the country came down on his company and factory HARD to clean up their emissions. And FAST. Their on site people had said that they would typically be able to negotiate some kind of moderation to the requirements, but this was a no go and came up to the verge of shutting down the plant (which, if you know manufacturing engineering, is the basis of the joke “there is only one reason to shut down a line and you look WAY too young to retire.”

  28. 28
    MikeJ says:

    @Petorado:

    Maybe the Chinese are realizing that manufacturing hegemony isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

    Chinese sweatshops may be shitty but they beat the fuck out of subsistence level farming.

  29. 29
    Violet says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: Not much of a surprise. Wingnuts love them some bullies. Christie’s proven he’s a bully, much as he tries to deny it.

  30. 30
    gorram says:

    @GregB:

    California and Texas are growing clean energy giants

    I couldn’t help but notice that what you cited said:

    The sunshine hitting Texas in one month contains more energy than all the oil and gas ever pumped out of the state. Nonetheless, New Jersey has about 10 times more solar PV power capacity installed than the entire state of Texas.

    Likewise, the wikipedia article you cited said Texas had about 140 MW in photovoltaic installations in 2012. California had 2559. Sorry, but it looks like Texas is a bit behind on this.

    (To clarify, Texas is estimated to have the capacity to just in concentrated solar plants produce 7,743,000 MW, so the gap between it and California is not one of available sunshine or a similar capacity issue. Fossil fuels have far greater power in Texas, and this is an indication of that.)

  31. 31
    Violet says:

    @gorram: Look up wind energy in Texas. That’s where Texas leads.

  32. 32
    J.Ty says:

    We could blanket Texas and Nevada in solar panels, we’d still have massive storage and transmission problems. The American energy crisis runs deep.

  33. 33
    gorram says:

    @Chris T.: That would involve public funding for R&D for something other than creative new ways to kill people dead. Obviously, that’s a waste.

  34. 34
    jl says:

    The Chinese, like the English after their ‘killer fogs’ realized that they had let environmental pollution go too far, and its costs outweighed the cost of cleaning it up.

    And the Chinese, along with some European countries, have been pushing hard and fast on manufacturing capacity for green energy production technology.

    Who knows what their plans have been? They are not completely senseless like the Xtianist, nor completely depraved sociopathic con artists like the reactionary corporate GOPers.

    Maybe they wanted to make a big manufacturing push first, and after they felt like they had their export markets and urban/rural migration under control, they would switch gears into more long term planning.

    It is very, very, very, faint praise, extremely faint, damn near inaudible praise, to say that anyone is better, policywise, than the reactionary wing of the U.S. GOP.

    Heck, there have been a couple of Somalian warlords who might look good compared to some of our GOPers.

  35. 35
    JaneE says:

    If China feels that action is necessary to clean up their air and water, they will take action, and it will almost certainly be mandatory and effective. Whether it may create problems for any one else or whether it may create other problems for China in the future, it will still be done. If China does get on the green bandwagon, the future will be a lot more interesting.

  36. 36
    Ruckus says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:
    Thank you. I hurt my back again the other day and laughing that hard is not that comfortable. The vicodin helps but still…

  37. 37
    Carlos says:

    John Cole, the most naive man on the planet.

  38. 38
    gorram says:

    @Violet: It’s true that Texas is doing (comparatively) better on wind energy, but I’m honestly confused by some of the ways people talk about that. Wikipedia cites them has having the most wind energy produced, but it also says that Colorado has about 150% their capacity (for comparison here’s Texas’).

    I’m not trying to be a naysayer here, but it’s odd to see how invested people are in seeing Texas as having turned a corner that it’s still working on (which is okay, most of the US is still working through this sort of stuff as well).

  39. 39
    jl says:

    @JaneE:

    ” the future will be a lot more interesting. ”

    There might even be a future.

    IIRC, India, China, and the U.S. are three economies that have to get cracking on carbon emissions in order to make a dent in the man made component of climate change, which I think should be clear to any sensible person, might be a pretty large component.

    I’ve been wondering why China has invested so much money in developing capacity in manufacturing green energy production capital goods. Maybe we will find out soon.

  40. 40
    🎂 Martin says:

    @gorram: That’s a bit out of date. We’re above 4,000MW in CA now. Most of that is on the consumer side of the meter, though. On the utility side, only about 2.5% of the grid comes from PV. Wind is about 5%.

    Care is needed when looking at PV output because it’s often not clear whether they’re talking about total output or just grid-connected output. Most of the buildout in CA has not been grid-connected.

  41. 41
    Fair Economist says:

    The Chinese leaders live in Beijing, with possibly the most polluted air of any major metropolis in history. There’s only so much denial they can do. They and their families have to breathe the air too.

    China has another issue. The extreme male-biased age cohorts are now starting to reach adulthood, and extreme male-biased populations tend to have a lot of violence – and revolutions. It’s made worse by extreme heavy metal pollution, which we now strongly suspect is the main cause of changes in crimes rates over time in the West. And, of course, air so polluted you can cut it with a knife is a good incitement to revolt. So they’re acting against a big threat to them and their children remaining in power.

  42. 42
    🎂 Martin says:

    @jl:

    I’ve been wondering why China has invested so much money in developing capacity in manufacturing green energy production capital goods. Maybe we will find out soon.

    Because they’re happy to sell those goods to us. We pay the overhead costs of setting up the manufacturing, and China will benefit once the costs have been driven down.

  43. 43
    jl says:

    @🎂 Martin: Like how much are we going to buy with GOP running the purse strings? Probably Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands makes more than enough for what the U.S. will import.

  44. 44
    kuvasz says:

    The Party is embarking on the Great Winnowing, to improve industrial efficiencies in water and power. Those that are inefficient are going to be thrown in the trash heap. Its a step towards a reordering of manufacturing from the top on down.

  45. 45
    danielx says:

    Hi, my name is John Cole and I am cranky for some reason.

    Redundancy.

  46. 46
    James E. Powell says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    Re: Christie at CPAC – Liberals dislike him. Therefore, he will get a standing O.

  47. 47
    Tim in SF says:

    China is sinking a ton of money into researching the LiFTR reactor. If they can make it work, and make an exportable reactor, nobody on earth will buy coal. Or, eventually, oil.

  48. 48
    J.Ty says:

    @Tim in SF: (greetings from SF)

    They’re also pursuing the pebble-bed nuclear reactor. They seem to know what to research.

  49. 49
    wasabi gasp says:

    Hi, my name is John Cole and I am cranky for some reason.

    I got one of those videos with the weird letters. You can have it if you want.

    Анна Седокова – Между нами кайф

  50. 50
    wasabi gasp says:

    Another? It’s an oldie but a goodie. Hey, just like you!

    Таня и Жанна Фриске – Вестерн

  51. 51
    Amir Khalid says:

    Speaking of big fucking deals

  52. 52
    Buffalo Rude says:

    There are a bunch of comments I would like to individually reply to, but I don’t have the time or intertubez savvy to address each one, and I think I can (maybe?) try to get my point across more generally this way. (Caveat: I work in the hydrocarbon exploration/extraction business and these thoughts are strictly “argument from anecdote” from my limited observations and experiences.)

    1. Coal is soon to be no longer the king in places like WV, eastern OH and southwest PA. I’ve worked on a few coal projects in Boone, Lincoln, Gilmer, Tyler and Weston (and some others I’ve forgotten) counties in WV and the general attitude within the projects was that this was probably the last dance for coal in these parts. Not because the dirty fucking hippies are winning (they’re not), but because most of the exploitable coal has already been mined and to get at what’s left would require the leveling and strip mining of a not-insignificant part of what makes WV a breathtakingly beautiful corner of America. Apparently, the local, regional, and statewide powers-that-be aren’t too keen on giving soon-to-be-deposed King Coal their way on this matter. King Horizontal Fracking is now the prevalent game in town aiming to succeed the ownership of WV governments that King Coal can’t afford anymore. (It’s worth noting that the biggest of said successors-in-interest to King Coal are subsidiaries of the same companies that own the coal concerns.) The distressing part is that, unlike coal, natural gas and oil are not labor intensive like coal. Sure it takes the work of a couple hundred or so people to put the hole in the ground, but once the wellhead is in place it takes about 20-30 people to manage and maintain 100 producing wells. It’s also worth pointing out that most of the hundreds of people needed to bring the wells online are not local workers. Like myself, they move on to the next project in the next town in the next state or country when our work is done. The WV economy – which is already mostly fucked – is gonna get fucked even harder. This depresses me because I like the state and the people that live there. Except for the assholes I met in Flatwoods; fuck them sideways.

    2. A couple years ago I was sitting at the kitchen table of a cattle rancher in west Texas negotiating a lease to drill horizontally for oil across, roughly, 2560 acres of his property. The geologists in the employ of my broker’s client had a particular hard-on for this patch of the Permian Basin and the rancher, who shared ownership of the minerals with his three brothers, was tickled pink that they were splitting a $450/per acre paid-up bonus for their signatures (about 1/10th of what we pay in the Marcellus and Utica shales). After a BBQ dinner that couldn’t be beat and towards the end of our meeting he asked if there was any chance we could help bring a wind and/or solar farm to his property (there wasn’t, we wanted his oil, not the wind that blew his drought plagued soil away and nothing more) and remarked that it’s a damn shame that he couldn’t harness the resources (wind and heat) that were otherwise destroying his livelihood; even though there were plenty of large wind farms in his area.

    I can’t say what these have to do with the original post from Old Man Cole, but the discussion that followed compelled me to share these anecdotes/observations.

  53. 53
    Arclite says:

    Hi, my name is John Cole and I am cranky for some reason.

    Prolly cuz you’re on the wagon. Me? I’m on my 3rd margarita.

  54. 54
  55. 55
    Central Planning says:

    My first thought on the article is “How will we know the data the government reports will be correct?”

    My next thought was “How many companies are in China?”

    While I can’t really google the first question, my google-fu came up with 40.6 million private businesses from this 2013 Marketwatch article

    I realize that’s all businesses, not just manufacturing. But 15k seems small.

    I was in Beijing for the Olympics. The air was gross. Hopefully the government there is doing the right thing, however hope is not a strategy for getting real data. Remember when China published 5 benefits of pollution?

  56. 56
    kdaug says:

    Keep cranky, Cole.

  57. 57
    Schlemizel says:

    The untold story of Solyndra, of the solar industry in the US, is that the Chinese army hacked into computer systems and stole the research being done to produce better quality arrays. Without having to make back the money spent on development or having to produce cleanly the Chinese manufacturers are able to under cut the price of American manufacturers. Your Senator Joe is only half the problem. His kind is why we did not already have an insurmountable lead, but that is just half the reason we are in the shape we are in.

  58. 58
    Davis X. Machina says:

    @Schlemizel: Industrial espionage is as American as apple pie. My money’s on ‘SIemens would have had the BND do it, only the Chinese got there first.”

  59. 59
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @Tim in SF: They’re sinking a lot more money building out conventional nuclear plants because they actually generate electricity today for real unlike the mythical LFTR ™ which is currently a series of Powerpoint slides and at least ten years from providing grid-connected electricity. At the moment China has 28 PWR and BWR units under construction with a lot more planned.

    They’re also working on developing fast reactors, what we would have called breeder reactors in the past, which burn up a lot more fuel per operating cycle than existing water-moderated reactors. They have a small test unit grid-connected at the moment and they’re negotiating with the Russians to build a couple of their quirky but functional BN-series metal-cooled fast reactors. Their long-range plan is to be producing about 400GW with fast reactors by the end of the century.

  60. 60
    Original Lee says:

    I think the Chinese leadership got a huge wake-up call when they had to take enough agricultural acreage to equal the size of Belgium out of production for the foreseeable future. (IIRC, that was just the first bite. There is more land being tested.) They need to be able to feed their people, and the air pollution was dropping heavy metals all over and contaminating the food chain.

  61. 61
    slippy says:

    @🎂 Martin:

    That is what I got out of this. Discussions about the actual damage of pollution are always waved away here as if pollution is something you just wipe up with a paper fucking towel.

    Now, if our country wakes up to the 30% increase in birth defects around fracking wells, and stops swallowing the totally factless delusion that “we just don’t have enough alternative energy sources to cross the gap” we might start to get somewhere. But, I think our country will have to look like a smellier shithole than Beijing (and I’ve BEEN to Beijing and can confirm it stinks and is a giant shithole), before we find our national pride again and get the willpower to tell the fossil fuels industry to go eat a dick.

  62. 62
    gene108 says:

    @slippy:

    It doesn’t matter how bad things get here, because giving into something like cleaning up the environment means conservatives have capitulated to liberal-tree-hugging-hairy-armpitted-feminazi-wimpy-tofu-eating-hippies.

    Conservatives will never surrender their beliefs, because to do so would mean they admit to a mistake and admitting mistake means you lose and losing is the worst thing ever.

    Thus we are still debating the merits of evolution ninety years after the “Scopes Monkey Trial” in an era where science can do things with genetic manipulation that totally proves evolution makes sense, we’ve mapped the human genome and we’ve witnessed viruses and bacteria evolve to become drug resistant.

  63. 63
    pseudonymous in nc says:

    The Chinese leadership has always argued that the developing world isn’t allowed the same leeway to shove shit in the air and water that the developed world did over the course of its industrialisation. The flipside to that is that if you’re industrialising now, you don’t have to fuck up as badly as the people who did it first, and you have a lot of technological advantages to avoid doing so.

    If the 21st century is going to be the Chinese century, they want something worth inheriting, and burning coal isn’t the way to do that.

  64. 64

    @Omnes Omnibus: For some reason, I think Cole’s crankiness has nothing to do with his age. He probably always had these curmudgeonly tendencies.

  65. 65
    draftmama says:

    Anything that will stop the coal companies digging up all of the coal in Southeastern Montana and shipping 20 coal trains a day through Helena (where 3 out of the 10 railroad crossings have either over or under passes) will make a lot of people here very happy. And healthier – those trains lose tons of dust over the course of their passage.

  66. 66
    central Texas says:

    @gorram:

    Umm. Perhaps I missed something, but the Texas chart to which you linked showed a capacity of 12,200MW or so and the Colorado one showed 1800 or about 14% of the Texas capacity. FWIW, ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the folks who manage the state power grid) put Texas’ capacity at 12,214MW and growing. I’ve yet to travel US 87 out of San Angelo to Big Spring without seeing at least a dozen tractor/trailers with blades or other components headed for a nearby hilltop.

    See also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wind_power_in_the_United_States
    where the first three are: Texas ~12,300MW, California ~5,800MW, Iowa ~5200MW. FWIW, Colorado is credited with 2301MW.

    Texas may well accelerate as some of the legal obstacles to tranmission of the power were overcome in recent legislative sessions. (read, there are now more rich, rural landowners who stand to make good money from generation than there are rich, rural landowners trying to hold new transmission rights of way hostage.) Also, it has not rained in two years so the land is not good for much else unless you have oil under it.

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