Gorgeous, low-maintenance home comprised of dual farmhouse-style buildings

November 22, 2018 by  
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When architect Tim Sharpe and his wife Rani Blancpai decided to build their own home, they knew they wanted a design that would be low-maintenance in terms of energy and upkeep for years to come. To create their ultra-durable and low-energy home, they combined two extended barn-like volumes, clad in both galvanized steel and Australian spotted gum wood, to create a modern farmhouse installed with various passive features . Located in Byron Bay, Australia, on a large lot surrounded by hoop pines, the two farmhouse-style buildings make up the main four-bedroom home and a “granny flat”. Both structures have large gabled roofs, covered in a bright galvanized steel, which will patine over time. The rest of the structures are clad in a Australian spotted gum wood that contrasts nicely with the steel roofs. Not only were these two materials chosen to give the home a modern farmhouse aesthetic, but they are also known for their low-maintenance qualities. Related: A net-zero modern farmhouse kicks off a sustainable community in Texas The main home is a massive 3,600-square-foot space with four bedrooms. With its large steep-pitched gable ceiling, the interior is spacious and inviting throughout. To make the most out of natural light and solar gains , the main living space and bedrooms in the home were oriented to the north and east, “This results in minimal need for summer cooling and winter heating, and assures a pleasant, light-filled, comfortable space,” says Sharpe. Indeed, the interior living space is bright and modern, flooded with natural light thanks to an abundance of large windows and a few strategically-placed skylights. A simple, neutral color scheme and natural materials give the space a contemporary, yet homey and aesthetic. Sharp designed a lot of the furniture himself, including the dining table and chairs. To create a comfortable and cost-effective temperature control year round on the interior, hydronic heating and cooling systems, sustained by a 23 KW solar PV system , were installed underneath the polished concrete floors. There are also multiple fans to enhance natural ventilation throughout the home. + Sharpe Design Construct Via Dwell Photography via Andy Macpherson via Sharp Design Construct  

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Gorgeous, low-maintenance home comprised of dual farmhouse-style buildings

6 environmental topics to spark discussion at the Thanksgiving dinner table

November 22, 2018 by  
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Nothing sparks political discussion and debate more than a family dinner during the holidays. In this explosive political climate, chances are the conversation will run wild during Thanksgiving even more than it has in the past. To give you some ideas for the upcoming holiday season, here are some environmental topics to help spur your political discussion while you enjoy your turkey dinner. Elections With a major midterm election happening just this month, politics will be a hot topic at Thanksgiving dinner tables across the country. In addition to Republicans who doubt climate science being voted out of the House of Representatives, there were also many environmental measures on the ballots in states across the nation. But  the results on these key issues sent mixed messages that are sure to get people talking. Food waste One-third of all globally produced food ends up wasted, and that makes food waste a huge problem . Americans throw away more than 40 percent of the food they buy, which is also a major factor in climate change. To tackle this problem, some cities are passing laws banning restaurants from throwing out food , and that is a step in the right direction. But making changes at home will help just as much, if not more. If we don’t change our food waste habits, a new study says the problem will continue to increase, and we will be throwing out 66 tons of food per second by 2030. What better time to bring this up than during your Thanksgiving feast? It’s a great time to encourage everyone to take home leftovers . Climate change The latest UN report on climate change has revealed that we are not on target to maintain the Earth’s temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius or less. If we want to avoid more extreme weather events and species’ extinction, we need to make some major changes to hit that goal. During the 2015 Paris Agreement, nearly 200 nations pledged to keep the ceiling for temperature rise at 2 degrees Celsius, but that isn’t enough to avoid irreparable damage to Earth’s ecosystems. While discussing climate change , you can add a new twist on the topic and bring up the new study on barley production , which says that beer prices will soar in the near future because of climate change. Plastic bans The ban on single-use plastics is starting to trend all over the world , and the word “single-use” just became Collins Dictionary’s 2018 Word of the Year . States are banning plastic straws and other single-use items to reduce the waste, and the European parliament just supported a major ban of single-use plastics that member nations will implement over the next few years. Let everyone at the dinner table know it’s time to ditch straws or stock up on reusable options. Related: Plastic straws are a thing of the past, but which reusable straw is best for the future? Veganism, vegetarianism and flexitarianism The meat industry has taken a big hit in recent years thanks to the diet trend of veganism , vegetarianism and flexitarianism. Vegetarianism has been popular since the ’90s, but veganism have become mainstream in recent years, with new vegan-only restaurants popping up in cities across the world. Now, flexitarianism is on the rise, which is a diet that is mostly plant-based but does have some select meat dishes incorporated on a limited basis. Related: 12 plant-based recipes for a vegan or vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner With this growing trend away from meat, a third of the people in the U.K. now have little to no meat in their daily food intake. But we still have a long way to go if we want to avoid a climate crisis . Perhaps it’s time to swap out the turkey for a vegan option. Animal welfare There are many different issues making headlines on the topic of animal welfare —  including Trump’s border wall , which is threatening the National Butterfly Center. This year, California became the first state in the country to ban animal testing for cosmetics, and Los Angeles also put a stop to the sale of fur . Burberry also vowed to stop using fur in its products, and an entire Fashion Week went fur-free . Encourage friends and family at the table to do the same. No matter where the discussion takes you, try to keep the environment in mind for every topic of your conversation. One of the most important things we can do is spread awareness about the major problems that are harming our planet and educate our loved ones on how to help. Happy Thanksgiving! Images via Aaron Burden , Patrick Hendry , Sagar Chaudhray , Simon Matzinger , Tamara Bellis and Shutterstock

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6 environmental topics to spark discussion at the Thanksgiving dinner table

We love electric scooters but is the Bird trend actually bad for the environment?

September 18, 2018 by  
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The debut of electric scooter programs in cities such as Austin, Washington D.C. and San Diego has been making headlines with promises of cleaner air , but is this really the case? Between LimeBike, Waybots, Spin and Bird, which has been newly introduced to the Los Angeles area, there is a plethora of companies jumping on the trend of promoting eco-friendly scooters to city planners and residents. With public transportation methods significantly improving in environmental efficiency — and the majority of distances traveled by scooter being walkable distances — the carbon footprint might not be as small as scooter-share programs are claiming. “Today, 40 percent of car trips are less than two miles long,” said Travis VanderZanden , founder and chief executive of Bird. “Our goal is to replace as many of those trips as possible, so we can get cars off the road and curb traffic and greenhouse gas emissions.” The scooters are the latest trend to enter the app-based mobility market, which has passengers whimsically racing through city streets at a $1 rental price, plus 15 cents for every minute after. Related: Paris launches electric scooter sharing program with Coup and Gogoro While Bird is assuming that half of its scooter rides are replacing mile-long car trips, Phil Lasley, who has been studying traffic, bicycle and pedestrian issues for the Texas A&M Transportation Institute said , “We honestly don’t know yet.” According to his evaluations, it is possible that the scooters are replacing short drives but with quantities still uncertain. He said there are many other aspects to consider. “Are these trips taking away from other bicycle trips? Are they taking away from transit? Are they taking away from walking?” Lasley asked. For instance, a mile-long trip to the office means that the 15-mph vehicle would charge for a minimum of 4 minutes plus extra for time in traffic. This exceeds the average public transportation fares for cities such as Austin and L.A., where the average full-fare ticket only costs $1.25 to $1.50 and can get you a lot farther. City bike-share programs are available at comparable rates to those of public transportation, as seen with L.A.’s new bicycle advertising campaign . The green transit platform is promoting the city’s carbon-free single rides at the same cost as a bus or metro ticket, while daily users of a monthly plan are seeing fractions of a dollar for their commute cycles. It goes without saying that owners of bikes, non-motorized scooters and skateboards are at a monetary and ecological advantage in comparison to those using electric scooters. Related: Gogoro revs up Smartscooter expansion with $300 million in new funding From an economic standpoint, Bird and LimeBike rides might be behind compared to alternatives such as buses, trains and bikes. But according to a Bird press release on its Austin launch, “Riders were able to prevent 445,334 pounds of carbon emissions.” LimeBike similarly claimed an estimated 8,500-pound reduction in carbon dioxide emissions in Austin in just two weeks. “With the launch of Lime-S, we are expanding the range of affordable, space-efficient and environmentally friendly mobility options available to D.C. residents,” said Jason Starr, a LimeBike executive for the company’s Washington D.C. division, back in March. With competing green vehicles focusing on both affordability and environmental friendliness, many people are looking to “space-efficien[cy]” to account for the hype of electric scooters. The space efficiency feature makes electric scooters fun to ride and easy to park anywhere, but it also means that chargers are driving long distances to pick up the scooters one by one. Each morning, electric scooters are dropped off en-mass at various hubs throughout the city. From there, riders can take the vehicles and drop them off wherever they wish within the city. Scooters now litter random sidewalks, storefronts and restaurant walkways — rarely in a collective group. At night they are “captured” (in the case of Birds) by the company’s chargers, who are individual citizens signed up to make money by collecting, powering and redistributing the scooters to the hubs each morning. Each scooter has a price tag on it, with those more difficult to collect scoring the charger a higher paycheck. The higher valuations on the remote scooters means that chargers are likely to drive farther to and from the stranded scooters, consuming more gas and emitting more carbon dioxide in the process. Similarly, morning commuters who wake up to find an empty dropping pad might eagerly run back to their reliable, personal vehicles instead of public transportation, because they are in a time-crunch. Whether these factors are being taken into account by the companies in their statistics is unclear. Related: Lyft is making all their rides carbon neutral Their popularity is as much their undoing as it is their achievement according to Haje Jan Kamps, portfolio director at venture capital firm Bolt. The entrepreneur recently published a piece on TechCrunch about the business models e-scooter companies would need to adopt in order to succeed. “They are currently in a massive scaling mode and so the only concern they have, really, is to get as many scooters on the roads as possible and as many rides as possible for each individual scooter,” Hamps said. “There is a real risk that some of the things like reusability or recyclability might be first on the chopping block.” The scooters are estimated to have a two-year life span , meaning they could end up in landfills at the end of their short life-cycle. This is something that Lasley agreed with. “It appears that these services are being heavily used,” he said, adding that the more popular they become, the more waste they will create. While we want to love the fun idea of electric scooters , it is clear that some things need to be improved. For these new companies, a learning and improvement process is to be expected. We are eager to see where these companies are headed in terms of creating a more eco-friendly product. Via Austin Monitor , The Washington Post ( 1 , 2 ) and  Chester Energy and Policy Images via Elvert Barnes ( 1 , 2 ), Luis Tamayo and Tim Evanson

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We love electric scooters but is the Bird trend actually bad for the environment?

Bolivia creates a nature reserve for world’s rarest macaw

August 22, 2018 by  
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The blue-throated macaw is one of the most critically endangered species on the planet – only about 300 remain in the wild. However, the birds are getting some much-needed good news. Bolivian conservation organization  Asociación Armonía has partnered with the American Bird Conservancy , the International Conservation Fund of Canada , IUCN Netherlands and the World Land Trust to create a protected nesting area for the imperiled macaw. Related: Endangered green and loggerhead turtles make Mediterranean comeback This beautiful species of macaw has been declining in population for the past century – but thanks to a 1,680 acre (680-hectare) land purchase in Bolivia, which was made possible by the aforementioned organizations, the birds are making a slow recovery. “Increasing the Blue-throated Macaw population is more likely now that Armonía has secured this important site as a reserve,” said Rodrigo Soria, Executive Director of Asociación Armonía, of the land acquisition. Previously serving as a cattle ranch, the Laney Rickman Blue-throated Macaw Reserve was named after the late founder of the Texas-based nonprofit Bird Endowment. The nature reserve will help further Asociación Armonía’s artificial nest box program, which was launched in 2005 as a way to increase the macaws’ population. “The acquisition means that we can continue the successful nest box program without worry of changing land ownership and management,” added Soria. The site is located in central Bolivia’s Beni savanna and, in combination with the existing Barba Azul Nature Reserve, provides 28,862 acres (11,680 hectares) of protected land for its blue-winged inhabitants. Related: Lemurs are now the most endangered species of primate on the planet In memory of Rickman, the American Bird Conservancy and Asociación Armonía have pledged to match any contributions to the Laney Rickman Blue-throated Macaw Fund  by up to a total of $100,000 in 2018. The fund aims to provide vital support for reserve management and habitat conservation to ensure the continued success of the nest box program. + American Bird Conservancy + Asociación Armonía

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A net-zero modern farmhouse kicks off a sustainable community in Texas

July 26, 2018 by  
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When a pair of retired ordained ministers set their sights on creating a sustainable community for “spiritual renewal,” the couple turned to Austin-based design practice Miró Rivera Architects to bring their vision to life. Located on a 47-acre meadow property in Texas , the recently completed Hill Country House serves as the community’s first housing prototype and as a private residence for the clients. Affectionately dubbed “The Sanctuary” by its owners, the spacious farmhouse-style abode combines rural influences with a modern aesthetic on a very modest budget. Arranged in a linear layout spanning 5,100 square feet, The Hill Country House cuts a striking and sculptural silhouette in the landscape with its zigzagging standing-seam metal roof that mimics the surrounding hilly topography. The home is primarily clad in white corrugated aluminum siding interrupted by vertical planks of warm cedar siding. The tapering limestone chimney, inspired by an existing shed on site, was built of dry-stacked local stone. Natural and locally sourced materials were used to reduce environmental impact and to tie the appearance to the landscape. Inside, the home is flooded with natural light and overlooks framed outdoor views. Crisp white walls and tall ceilings lend the home its bright and airy character. The public and private areas of the home are located on opposite ends. “Particular attention was paid to creating spaces that would enable hosting large groups of friends and family, blurring the line between indoor and outdoor space,” the architects explained. “The stark white aluminum cladding is broken at various intervals by warm cypress siding that defines a series of rooms outside the house, including a temple-like screen porch that extends from the volume containing the main living spaces.” Related: Spectacular wildflower roof grows atop a dreamy Texan cabana The environmentally friendly features of the Hill Country House have earned it a 4-star rating from the Austin Energy Green Building, a precursor of the LEED certification system. An 8 kW solar array meets nearly two-thirds of the home’s annual energy usage, while a five-ton geothermal system supplies mechanical heating and cooling. The homeowners’ water needs are supplied by a 30,000-gallon rainwater collection system. According to a project statement, the owners hope their modern farmhouse will serve “as a model for future off-the-grid development.” + Miró Rivera Architects Images by Paul Finkel / Piston Design

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A net-zero modern farmhouse kicks off a sustainable community in Texas

This round treehouse’s undulating roof mimics the flow of water

July 26, 2018 by  
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Nothing screams “serenity now” like an off-grid treehouse retreat that lets you wake up to the sounds of rustling leaves and a burbling brook. Thankfully, the architects at MONOARCHI have created a gorgeous round treehouse  that goes above and beyond the traditional fare, tucked away in a bamboo forest in China. Treewow O is about 26 feet off the ground, and it comes complete with an open-air deck shaded by an undulating round roof. Located in a remote village at the foot of the Siming Mountain range in Yuyao, Zhejiang Province, Treewow O was inspired by the incredible surrounding landscape. The house is approximately 26 feet high, a measurement chosen to blend the structure into the surrounding bamboo fields. Related: Microsoft unveils amazing treehouse office where employees can brainstorm in fresh air Built just a few steps away from a creek, the treehouse is divided into two levels and supported by steel beams, a design feature that was chosen to minimize the project’s impact on the landscape . The design consists of three non-concentric circles clad in wooden panels. A beautiful undulating roof covers the main structure and extends in certain places to shade the wraparound terrace. According to the architects, the constant movement of a nearby stream inspried the roof’s unique, wavy shape. To create the treehouse, the architect worked in collaboration with local craftsmen. According to the project description, the undulating form mirrors a local building practice used to protect interior spaces from harsh weather conditions. In addition to its protective qualities, the gradient movement of the design helps provide natural air circulation to the living space. The interior of the round structure houses a bathroom and living space on the first floor, with a spiral staircase leading up to the large bedroom on the second floor. The bold circular design helps to define the private and public spaces in the structure. According to the design team, “When the guest enters the terrace on the first floor, they will start to experience the circular sequence of spaces from the eave along the terrace to the connected interior: from the living room to the huge window, to the terrace of large depth and to the unwrapping roof to enjoy the view to the creek and the landscape of the mountain of bamboos; from the bedroom to the low window, to the falling roof to capture a good view.” + MONOARCHI Via Archdaily Images via MONOARCHI

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This round treehouse’s undulating roof mimics the flow of water

Hurricane Harvey has increased homelessness in Houston

May 25, 2018 by  
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Last August, Hurricane Harvey set records as the costliest hurricane in history and the wettest tropical cyclone ever in the U.S. The storm displaced more than 30,000 people, many of whom are still struggling to recover in the aftermath. A new report from The Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County documents the notable increase in homelessness since the devastating hurricane. The results of the Coalition’s Point-In-Time Homeless Count and Survey, which occurred from January 23 to 25 of this year, were released during a “State of Homelessness” panel discussion at the Junior League in downtown Houston on May 23. More than 4,100 people were surveyed to gather data for the report, and 18 percent of those surveyed reported that they had become homeless as a result of Hurricane Harvey. The survey was conducted by the Coalition on behalf of the local Continuum of Care, also known as The Way Home , an organization formed to provide a planning process for addressing homelessness as required by federal regulations. In 1994, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development implemented a requirement that communities receiving federal funding must submit a single, comprehensive application detailing how they plan to address homelessness. The Continuum of Care serves this need. Related: The public health impact of Hurricane Harvey is worse than we’ve been told President and CEO of the Coalition for the Homeless Marilyn Brown explained that Hurricane Harvey made it difficult for the Coalition to address the rising problems of homelessness in Houston, with funds spread thin to meet increasing needs. While all major cities in Texas reported a recent rise in homelessness, the increase in Houston is notably higher, likely because of Hurricane Harvey’s continued impact on the region. Meanwhile, cities are preparing for the upcoming hurricane season, which may have an especially devastating effect on people struggling with homelessness. Via Earther and Houston Patch Image via Depositphotos

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Hurricane Harvey has increased homelessness in Houston

Trump official delays protection of endangered species at oil lobbyist’s request

April 20, 2018 by  
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A top United States Department of the Interior official appears to have used his position to delay the protection of an endangered species at the request of the oil industry. As reported by the Guardian based on acquired documents, Interior official Vincent deVito acquiesced to a 2017 e-mail from the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) asking that the Texas hornshell mussel not be placed under protection for six months in the interest of continued, uninhibited oil industry activity. While the mussel was eventually placed on the endangered species list in 2018, former Interior officials and government watchdogs have expressed concerns over the ethics and legality of deVito’s actions. Of particular concern is the Trump Administration’s seeming disregard to science in favor of political decision making. “Listing decisions under the Endangered Species Act are meant to be entirely science-based decisions that result from – in some cases – years of review by experts in the field, not political appointees,” former Interior associate deputy secretary Elizabeth Klein told The Guardian . “A delay in and of itself might not be the end of the world – but then again it very well could be for an imperiled species.” In response to criticism, Interior press secretary Heather Swift said in a statement that deVito “maintains that he simply responded with an acknowledgment of receipt on the mussel email and maintains he had no role whatsoever in the listing.” Related: New evidence shows oil and coal were central in the decision to reduce Bears Ears There’s a portfolio of instances where DeVito used his official capacity in ways that would appear to be favorable to the fossil fuel industry. For example, DeVito described his close consultation of industry lobbyists before proposing a reduction of royalty rates on offshore oil and gas from 18.75% to 12.5% – a recommendation that was ultimately rejected by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. DeVito was also influential in approving a coal project near the habitat of the endangered Big Sandy crayfish in West Virginia . “It a scientific integrity violation for a political appointee to essentially leapfrog the Fish and Wildlife Service’s process when you have an Endangered Species Act listing involved,” former career Interior scientist Joel Clement told The Guardian . Via The Guardian Images via New Mexico State Land Office and YouTube

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Trump official delays protection of endangered species at oil lobbyist’s request

Bottlenose dolphins spotted in Canadian Pacific waters for the first time

April 20, 2018 by  
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Bottlenose dolphins typically reside in tropical or warm-temperate waters around the world — but researchers recently glimpsed a group of around 200 of the dolphins and around 70 false killer whales off northern Vancouver Island’s west coast in Canada. They said this sighting is “the only occurrence of common bottlenose dolphins recorded in Canadian Pacific waters” — and a warming trend could be to blame. In July 2017, Halpin Wildlife Research , working with Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Department of Environment and Climate Change , documented the dolphins and whales. In research published this month in the journal Marine Biodiversity Records , the three researchers involved said the sighting “is the most northerly record” for common bottlenose dolphins “in the eastern North Pacific .” Related: A beluga whale living with dolphins learned to “speak their language” Lead author Luke Halpin said in a statement , “The sighting is also the first offshore report of false killer whales in British Columbia. To see the two species traveling together and interacting was quite special and rare. It is known that common bottlenose dolphins and false killer whales seek each other out and interact, but the purpose of the interactions is unclear.” Warming in eastern North Pacific waters between 2013 and 2016 could be the reason for the presence of the dolphins and whales. Halpin said he’s documented warm-water species in British Columbia waters since 2014, including a loggerhead turtle and a swordfish . He said, “With marine waters increasingly warming up, we can expect to see more typically warm-water species in the northeastern Pacific.” + BioMed Central + Marine Biodiversity Records Images via Gregory “Slobirdr” Smith on Flickr and the National Park Service

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Bottlenose dolphins spotted in Canadian Pacific waters for the first time

Water purification breakthrough can even clean water from the Dead Sea

April 3, 2018 by  
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Despite all our advances, access to clean water is still a major problem – not just for developing nations, but here in the US, where water shortages during natural disasters can cost lives. Scientists have created a cost-effective technology that addresses this problem using hydrogels. Using ambient solar energy, these gel-polymer hybrid materials can produce clean water from any source – including salt water from the Dead Sea. A team led by Guihua Yu at the University of Texas Austin created a hydrogel that is both hydrophilic and semiconducting. “We have essentially rewritten the entire approach to conventional solar water evaporation,” Yu said. The system works by creating water vapor under sunlight and then pumping the vapor into a condenser to deliver the freshwater. It also filters out contaminants that are harmful when consumed. Related: New MIT water purification method eliminates even trace chemical waste and pesticides The hydrogel -based solar vapor generator can desalinate water much more affordably than current options using much less power. “Water desalination through distillation is a common method for mass production of freshwater. However, current distillation technologies, such as multi-stage flash and multi-effect distillation, require significant infrastructures and are quite energy-intensive,” said Fei Zhao, a researcher involved in the project. Tests produced 25 liters of water per square meter – plenty for disaster-stricken areas or household use. Via Phys.org Images via UT at Austin

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Water purification breakthrough can even clean water from the Dead Sea

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