Climate Poll Shows Maryland Residents Ready for Action

In this episode, Montgomery county, Maryland declared a climate emergency back in 2017. Yet in the past three years, no meaningful actions have been taken to address the urgent threat. A recent poll commissioned by seeking and Gonzalez polling indicated a striking amount of Montgomery county residents support immediate actions to solve global warming. The following episode is a press conference with CCAN executive director Mike Tidwell, and pollster Patrick Gonzalez, releasing the poll to the public.

Read the full transcript below.

Charles Olsen  0:02  

Hi, my name is Charlie Olsen and this is The Upside Down the podcast from the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. In this episode, Montgomery county, Maryland declared a climate emergency back in 2017. Yet in the past three years, no meaningful actions have been taken to address the urgent threat. A recent poll commissioned by seeking and Gonzalez polling indicated a striking amount of Montgomery county residents support immediate actions to solve global warming. The following episode is a press conference with CCAN executive director Mike Tidwell, and pollster Patrick Gonzalez, releasing the poll to the public.

Mike Tidwell  0:41  

Welcome again, my name is Mike Tidwell. I’m executive director and founder of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. And we’re going to talk about a poll and as far as I can tell, I googled around and I asked a lot of activists in Montgomery county, no one can remember there ever being a poll done specifically on climate change in Montgomery county before. So we’re proud this may be the first ever I just have never heard of one. And we did it of course, because we know that the impacts of climate change are worsening as we speak. Ellicott City had 2000 year floods and 22 months. Recently, the rains of 2018 alone are devastating red and white oak trees in all of Southern Montgomery county. I mean, it’s just amazing how many trees are dying from the extreme rain of 2018 followed by drought followed by beetle infestation, and it goes on and on and on. And scientists tell us that we have maybe 10 years to cut emissions worldwide in terms of greenhouse gases throttle back on fossil fuels, and in western countries, wealthier countries, we have to cut emissions even more than 50% by the year 2030. And that’s why our county council Montgomery county, I live in Montgomery county, I’ve lived here for 31 years, my son went to Montgomery County Schools. I love this country. We’re diverse, we’re progressive. And I was so proud in 2017, when our county council passed a climate emergency declaration that basically called it what it was an emergency. It was at that time the biggest jurisdiction in North America to make that declaration. And the first to do it in the way that they did it. The Declaration was attended with a goal of 80% reductions in greenhouse gases by 2027 and 100%. By 2035. I mean, those are incredible numbers. And they’re really big promises basically, that the government county council made to the voters and the people in McGorry county and with big promises, obviously come with big expectations. And we’ve had big expectations for the last three years. But unfortunately, the county council has not passed any single major legislation to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions in our county or a package of bills that might do that. We’re still waiting on that. And you know, until COVID, carbon emissions really didn’t go down in our county. During the three years after the climate declaration. Yes, they’ve dropped during COVID. But unless we take action, they’re going to go back up. Now. The county executive just yesterday, Marc Elrich released his Climate Action Plan. Some of us have had a chance to look at it, you know, not all of it, but at least look at the 87 recommendations. They’re great recommendations. Unfortunately, we were hoping to see specific legislative recommendations or a package of bills that might actually put us on a path of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. I’m a believer in my organization’s belief that this is a nation of laws. And if you want to change this nation, you have to change the laws. So we’re still waiting on a legislative package for our county council to pass.

So within that context of rising climate impacts, and rising policy expectations, and Montgomery county that the Chesapeake Climate Action Network hired Mr. Patrick Gonzalez. Patrick is an amazing pollster. He’s well known across the state of Maryland. He’s been involved in literally 1000s of polls across the state for years, going back 35 years. He is widely respected by his peers for unbiased surveys in an impartial and even handed manner. I asked Patrick to put a poll in the field that he’s about to talk to you about. Because I’ve worked with him before going all the way back into the early 2000s. And with the Republican and Democratic governors both and I’ve always been been impressed by the accuracy, the impartiality and the professionalism of his polling, and we thought he was the perfect pollster to get at some of the issues so we can figure out where Montgomery County voters on the issue of global warming, and what did they want their elected leaders to do. And that’s the poll that he’s about to tell you about in more detail, but I just want to read to you the first paragraph of the press release that you can just release on this poll. It says a bipartisan majority of Montgomery County voters in Maryland are personally concerned about the rising impacts of climate change, with a whopping 94% of Democrats expressing concern, and a new poll released today. Voters also say they are eager to see the county council keep a 2017 promise by adopting within six months, a plan that will lead to, quote, major pollution cuts. In quote, as a first step, nearly 69% of voters countywide support a bill now before the council to allow a limited number of solar farms on agricultural land in the northern part of the county. So that’s the first paragraph of our press release. I’ve just told you more about Patrick Gonzalez, the esteemed pollster, and I’m now going to turn it over to Patrick, as he speaks, you’re also going to be able to see the PDF pages of the actual polling document that he’s created for us and that we’re releasing now.

Patrick Gonzalez  6:35  

Mike, excuse me, thank you for the kind words Mike and thank you all for being here with us this afternoon and allowing me to, you know, to talk to you, as Mike said, We Gonzales research work with Mike and Lauren Charlie and CCAN Chesapeake Climate Action Network for many years. And so I think we have, you know, a really good relationship. And I enjoy it. What Mike came to us about, I don’t know, a month or so ago and said, hey, look, we want to get into Montgomery county, we want to look and see a couple of issues. Specifically, the resolution that was passed a couple of years ago, voters concerned about acting on that resolution. And kind of the issue is solar farms. So as with any survey, we conduct, we want to start, we always keep in mind that hey, we got somebody on the phone that’s agreed to do something and they don’t know what’s going on. We do an intro that kind of explains and so we wanted to begin by getting a general sense of where Montgomery County voters are on the issue of global warming. And we said how concerned are you personally about global warming, very concerned, somewhat concerned, not too concerned or not at all concerned. And what we found overall in Montgomery county 83% are concerned 63%, nearly two out of every 360 3% are very concerned. And then and 17%, as you see not concerned, then we look at it by some of the demographics. And as Mike stated in his opening 94% of Democrats, but we found even breaking it down by party that 69% of independents are voters who choose not to affiliate with either party, or concerned and even a majority 51% of Republicans. You look at it by gender, not a huge, huge difference. 86 men, 80 women, and you look at it by age, and I think probably I don’t go into any survey with a real expectation. But I would have thought that the divergence between under 50 and older over 30 would have been a little greater at 84% under 50 a battle like 82% over 50. So we now have an understanding of where Montgomery County voters are on the issue and they 83% express some level of concern. Okay, now we’re going to move into the resolution that was adopted three years ago and we wanted to get a sense of voters’ opinion on that. And we stated kind of the goal we’d not kind of we stated the goal in the question. The question read. In 2017 the Montgomery County Council unanimously passed a resolution declaring a climate change emergency. The council set a county goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2027. So we’re asking, we’re stating the specific Do you support toward or oppose this climate emergency declaration and goal. And what we found is that 70% of Montgomery County voters support this goal 19% oppose 11% offered no opinion nap, the 70% that supported 51% strongly supported. So for every question we asked, we had intensity. So it’s one thing to say I support something, but to say I strongly support it. And there, we found that the 51% majority of Montgomery County voters strongly support the climate emergency declaration and goal. Now we see a little sharper distinction between parties, we find out 82% of Democrats support it. And among Republicans, that supports drops down to 35. But among independents, unaffiliated, it’s still 58%.

by gender, we see, you know, again, males a little more, a little more heavy, heavier level of support, but not much. And now we see a little sharper variance by age, but under 50 78% 50, and older 65%. So again, we are seeing, you know, sort of a consistent sort of level of support. A, the distinctions are there, as we see, but there’s also sort of a constancy. So it’s not something that’s being driven heavily by one demographic or another, the county, as a whole, is kind of coming together. So now we’ve had,

Mike Tidwell  11:44  

yeah, and I did want to jump in and say, I think we’ve, Laura, you’ve posted in the chat, the link to the actual polling, if you if you want to see the actual wording of the polling questions is toward the end of the survey, so you can just go to the end, and you’ll see the complete wording of the question. But on this one in terms of support for the 2017 declaration and the goals. That’s a key part and the goals. You see these incredible numbers of 82% of Democrats, what struck me on that question was, it’s easy to say yes, thank you elected officials for declaring a policy for declaring a goal of reducing greenhouse gases. But then, to say they also support that 80% by 2027. Mmm, that is it. That’s an amazing number. And we know that that is going to be very, very hard to meet if it’s possible at all. And we weren’t sure if voters were going to see that three years had gone by, you know, from 2017 to 2020. And that 80% by 2027 reduction might strike people as totally unachievable and unrealistic, and therefore, they wouldn’t support their continuation of that goal. But as you see, these numbers are 82% of Democrats support the 2017 declaration and still support the goal of 80% reduction. By 2027. We weren’t sure we were going to get that strong of support. So this is pretty impressive that people are still overwhelmingly bought into extremely aggressive goals.

Patrick Gonzalez  13:22  

Yes, sir. So we start with the general concept of concern over the issue of global warming, and get into the specifics of what happened three years ago. Now we know where we’re at. And now we wanted to kind of get a sense of the voters. appetite voters support for action. So Laura, let’s go to the next question that we asked. And so what we asked was, okay, they passed this resolution in seven in 2017. Do you support or oppose the county council adopting a climate solution plan within the next six months, which will generate major pollution cuts? So now we want to get a sense of okay. They support the concept. They certainly support the general notion. Support definitely is behind the resolution. Now, how about some action and what we find is that 75%, three out of four Montgomery county, Montgomery County voters support the county council adopting a climate solution plan within the next six months. And, and again, when you look at it by party, and unfortunately, I don’t have that here, but just again, it was 85% democrats 39% republicans 70% independence. So again, 80% 85% Democrats. So here we’re at with Democrats, let me just let me just go with this for a sec. We start with global warming. 94% are concerned, we go to the resolution 82% of Democrats support it, we now talk about action within the next six months 85%. So you get the drift. But what struck me most significant, I think, is that I was constructing the report. And I cannot take credit for this wonderful map, my director of marketing, my youngest daughter, that wonderful human being put together the map. And why I got to use this map was the consistency between council districts. So 75% overall in Montgomery county support acting within the next six months. And it varies from 79% in district one, to 70%. In district three, there is a very consistent level of support geographically. And as you see, it goes from 79%, one to 76%, and two to 70%, and three to 72% in District Four, and 77%. In district five, that’s that this is a significant result. That concerns every district over 70%. So now, after we did this question, we wanted to look specifically at the issue of solar farms. So let’s move down to that one. And Mike and I and his team and my team, we went through the wording on this question, and it was rather verbose. So it’s rather a wordy question, but we felt it was necessary. Because what we wanted to do in the question was not design a question to get a specific result, but kind of put the pros and the cons out there. So respondents, Montgomery County voters, would at least be able to respond to something that they’re probably, you know, it’s like anything, we all have lives. So when there are many, I would submit that Montgomery County voters are more in tune than the average bear. But still even that said, Yeah, they kind of understand the issue, but we wanted to give him some specifics. So I’m going to, if I can real quick, read this question, because I think it’s important to understand how we tried to present the information. So we went in and we said one proposal for fighting global warming in Montgomery county is to change county law to allow some farmers in the county’s agricultural reserve to put solar farms of limited size on their land. Critics, including many farmers, say this will harm the rural character of the reserve.

But a county council committee voted in August to support the practice as long as no more than 2% of agricultural land is used. And part of the solar power is reserved for low and moderate income residents, would you support or oppose allowing county farmers to put solar farms on their land, if no more than 2% of Montgomery’s agricultural reserve is used, and part of the solar power created goes to low and moderate income houses. And what we found here was that 69% of voters support allowing county farmers to put solar farms on their land with those conditions. 21% oppose 10% giving no response. And we see it at parties. And once again, we find among Democrats 85% support it by gender, very little distinction. And again, slightly more support as we’d expect under 50. But not not the Great Divergence that you often find, when you break out a vote or group by age. So again, sort of a consistent level of support for the concept and one of the things that we did also and you’ll see it in, in the full report is we broke every question out by every demographic, so every question has party gender, age, and region and council district. So you’ll see within the different council districts the results for each and every question.

Mike Tidwell  19:50  

So I will say yeah, Patrick, I think you gave a good summary of that. You know, it’s easy to have a broad declaration. And broad commitments to solutions. When you start getting into specific solution proposals, then things tend to get more interesting and the debate intensifies. And that’s certainly the case with its compromise proposal to put limited amounts of solar farms in the agricultural reserve. There are strong opinions on both sides, we realize that we tried to capture that. And the question is Patrick said, just to be Climate Action Network is supportive of the compromise, a bill that got out of committee and that has since stalled at the county level, we do think it’s reasonable to cap solar farms at no more than 2% of the ag reserve, and to use the overwhelming share of that solar for low and moderate income community solar purposes. But as Patrick said, you know, we did want to make sure that someone getting a call from from a pollster on a Tuesday night in montgomery county, and is asked about this issue and may not know anything about it, that they heard, as contract said, what the critics say, including it again, it says critics, including many farmers, not some farmers, not you know, a few farmers, it says critics, including many farmers say this will harm the rural character of the reserve, which has been the strongest criticism of this proposal. So he put it in there. And then the results, you can see, I mean, majorities and each district of the council, including, I mean, the highest support is district one, which includes most of the reserve, and district two, which includes a lot of the reserve, really, really high numbers. So you have majorities, robust majorities in all council districts. Frankly, this was the question I was most surprised about. We weren’t, you know, we weren’t sure what we were going to get in terms of results when we presented pros and cons. And I think that this shows really broad political support for a compromise. And, frankly, I think that the council should pass the solar zoning bill as advanced by the committee, and we’ll see about that. Does that cover it all? Patrick? Yeah,

Patrick Gonzalez  22:23  

I think it is. And you know, if Laura has any emailed questions, I’ll stay here all day. I’d love this stuff.

Mike Tidwell  22:33  

And you should have the link to the survey in the chat. We’ll also be emailing around an action alert and press release. And, yeah, if you’re a member of the media, and you have a question, send it to Laura at Chesapeake climate. I have gotten a few questions emailed to me. So Laura, I don’t know if you have anything. I haven’t checked your email. Any questions from reporters? Laura? Ah, not quite yet. But as a reminder, if you want to send a question again, it’s Great. And one question that I got for you, Patrick? Is the question about the margin of error. What about the margin of error of 5.5%? Isn’t that high for a poll like this? Or is this normal for a local poll? For a local poll, this

Patrick Gonzalez  23:26  

is fine five and a half percent 325. Where you have issues and you’ve got to be aware, as you’re analyzing the data, the demo that the cells for the different demographics, whether it’s in particular the council district, have to understand that it has to represent sort of the county as a whole. So in an election, Council district three is 20% 19% of the electorate, therefore it needs to be that percentage in the sample. And that is fine. So as for comparative purposes, looking within the districts, it’s great, you wouldn’t want to take and stand on the mount and and preach the Holy Gospel, that this is what’s going on in District Four, as a standalone, okay? And you’ve just got to be aware of that and that but as far as the overall margin of error, plus or minus five and a half percent. If we did 1000. interviews, the margin is going to drop down to three. So it’s a two and a half point game. But so you’re not gaining that much in with even that book, as an overall sample for this type of poll. I am more than comfortable with what we did so keeping in mind this statistical reality.

Mike Tidwell  24:56  

And Patrick, just to my thanks for that answer. To my my opening comment that I have no recollection of a county level environmental poll and montgomery county Can you have you ever done a county level environmental poll and when Governor county

Patrick Gonzalez  25:12  

dude, I’ve been polling in Montgomery County since 1986. Okay. And I know I look incredibly young, so I, you know, marvel at that. I have never known I’ve never been aware of it, and I’m thinking about how I used to have a close relationship with Keith Howler and Potomac. And, and I’m thinking back to what I used to do, you know, constituent stuff with them? I don’t I don’t ever remember even going back that far. But but

Mike Tidwell  25:44  

it could have been this is a novel, this is a novel. Yes. So a question for me is, Why didn’t your question on solar in the agriserve mentioned how solar farms could reduce the ability to move toward more locally based food production? That’s a fair question. Obviously, we couldn’t get every level of the debate encapsulated in one polling question. But the issue of local food production, I mean, the reality is today in the ag reserve, most of what’s grown there, a lot of it is for animals I personally am, I call myself a climateterian. I don’t eat meat, or fish or dairy, because of the impacts on the climate. So the amount of land needed to grow, the diet for me and my family is, is quite small. And I always encourage people to lower on the food chain. So, you know, if we were to just switch to a more sustainable diet in this nation, and hopefully we will one day, we won’t have to use nearly as much land to grow crops for animals and agriserve and elsewhere. But you know, I think there’s a misconception that the agriserve is already a sustainable, you know, carbon neutral agricultural paradise, and it just isn’t, and we want to do better, and we want to move in that direction, and have more sustainable food grown for people and the ag reserve. But I think there’s plenty of room. And voters, I think, agree in this survey, there’s plenty of room to use a limited amount of land, so that farmers can harvest sunlight, so they can harvest more than just corn and soybeans, they can harvest the sun. And frankly, as climate change and extreme weather take more and more of their land out of production, because of flooding and droughts, more and more land will be taken out of production in northern montgomery county, to the detriment of farmers, these same farmers to hang on to their farms and send their kids to college are going to need an additional stream of income, which solar farming appropriately cited can provide. So that’s the long winded answer to that.

Patrick Gonzalez  28:09  

And if I could just real quick it. I mean, it’s certainly a valid question. And it applies to any question we ever asked, which is, you have limitations, you can only, you know, come at it from certain angles. And again, it’s a valid point we tried. I mean, I can only speak from intent. And my intent is always to try to get at something in as straightforward and honest a way as possible. In other words, I don’t play games with my poles. I don’t know, I don’t put something out and pretend that what isn’t or what isn’t, is, we put it out. We did the wording, Mike, you and Laura and Charlie and all this in my gang. We all worked together and tried. Did we hit perfection? No. But we tried to get at it. And those issues are certainly worth exploring in the future and stuff. So I just wanted to acknowledge that the person that asked the question, it’s a valid question. It’s a valid point. So

Mike Tidwell  29:08  

um, another question we got is who paid for the poll? And did solar companies help in drafting the poll? So I can tell you that Chesapeake Climate Action Network paid for this poll entirely. And Chesapeake Climate Action Network crafted the questions about no solar company, no other company period. saw any of these questions changed, added or subtracted a single syllable from anything that you’re seeing. This is entirely generated by Chesapeake Climate Action Network, I will tell you that I did share the language with a couple of well known environmental advocates in Montgomery county, just because I trusted their point of view. And that’s it. So no solar companies, no private industry. paid for it. Nobody crafted the question. So what you see is a document from an environmental climate advocate and not from a profit oriented company. 

Patrick Gonzalez  30:10  

Let me just add to that, Mr. kidwell. Patrick, don’t play that game. Okay. Chesapeake Climate Action Network paid for it. Patrick Gonzalez, ultimately now it was in concert with secant. But I am the one that is solely responsible for the ultimate wording of the question in that. I agreed that Okay, let’s move forward. So again, and I sound defensive. And I don’t mean to because there’s so many sleaze bags and politics these days that I understand it, but I try. But everything Mike said is total luck. When I put out a poll, you want to ask a question. I’ll give you the honest answer and chsp Climate Action Network paid for this poll. Holy.

Mike Tidwell  31:05  

Thank you. Thank you. And back to you, Patrick. Somebody has asked, you know, among all the things that you’ve talked about here, in this, Paul, this novel, first ever, apparently county specific environmental slash climate, Paul, that we’ve released today, if you had to pick one thing, or one or two things, what were some of the biggest surprises that you take away from this, Patrick? Well, I

Patrick Gonzalez  31:30  

Again, as I think, as I mentioned, to get and it’s republicans are what 20% said that they know that it’s a small cell. And, and again, we got to be guarded from, you know, again, it’s when the cells are much more relevant for comparative purposes, in other words, comparing district one to two to three to four as far as its standalone. But I think one of the things that jumped out at me was that 51% of Republicans stated a level of concern over global warming. And, and I think if I had to, you put me on the spot, Mike, and I like that. I like being put on the spot. I think that the overall impression that I was left with was what I touched upon earlier, I think in my little dialogue, which is really kind of the lack of distinction by age. In other words, I would have I think, and I never go into a poll assuming anything, you know, I just don’t think it is what it is. But I think I had to make a guess beforehand. I would have I would have guessed, a sharper, diverge, a sharper variance between under 50 or in over 50. So I guess that is the consistency by age, among all Montgomery county ins, I guess, it surprised me. But so.

Mike Tidwell  33:04  

And just to clarify, I’m not a pollster. I did call up Patrick and say, here, here’s what I want to find out, you know, not not I want this specific answer. Here I want to find out what McGovern County voters are thinking on these issues. And he’s the pollster and these questions are coming from the pollster. The direction of Curiosity was coming from his client just to be Climate Action Network. But the impartiality of the questions, the professionalism of the question. Those are those of the pollsters’ careful hand that we have another question again, on the ag reserve. And the question is, why did the words rural character if you see in the question on the solar and ag reserve, it says, critics say that the solar farms could harm the, quote, rural, rural character of the reserve, and the questioner wants to know, where did that come from? I think it came from us hearing that from critics. Well, I know that that was the weather, it was phrased exactly that way. I think that the expressed concern is that you have an ag reserve, which is agricultural, not urban, agro, you know, rural, not suburban, and agricultural, not industrial, and therefore it has a certain character in line with a rural setting versus an urban setting. So that’s the answer to that question. The other question that we have is, you know, this goes back to I think the second question we asked, and now Do you support or oppose the climate emergency declaration as a counting Council in 2017? And the 80% by 2027 reduction goals? So those are together, do you support the declaration and the reduction goals? Someone has, to your question, about support for 80% reductions by 2027. Is that even possible? Someone asked. And that’s a great question. I mean, maybe it’s not, I mean, I’m just being candid. That would mean we’d have to basically convert probably our entire automobile fleet to electric cars by 2027. We’d have to de-gasify lots and lots of buildings, we’d have to generate a lot of solar and possibly wind power, dramatic improvements in efficiency. So who knows? But that was the question asked, and then a final question, unless someone more or you email me. Another one, is a question that sort of brings us back to the start. And that is, what are we going to do about this issue of climate change? And the dramatic concern that Patrick captured in this poll about a concern about global warming, bipartisan and McGorry County? What are we going to do about it? And someone asked, What do you think of the county executives Climate Action Plan, which was released last night? I think, Charlie, you’re going to put in the chat if you haven’t already. A link to the Climate Action Plan that county executive Marc Elrich released last night. And by the way, tonight at six o’clock, there’s a roundtable that all of you can join. Again, I think Charlie’s gonna post that in the chat, a link of where you can join the roundtable tonight.

If you know, again, as I said earlier, I’ve looked at these 87 recommendations from the county executive, and I believe our county spent, or will have spent a total of about $400,000, I think, on the consultants and the whole process to come up with this plan. I think they’re great recommendations in a general way. But as I said, At the start of this call, we need legislation. You know, as my good friend Reverend Lennox Yearwood likes to quote Martin Martin Luther King, saying that says a demonstration without legislation leads to frustration, so we can demonstrate and protest and have calls like this and raise our voices. But without legislation, eventually, we have frustration. And I’m personally frustrated. I think many of our 5000 members in Montgomery County are frustrated that we don’t have legislation and that’s what we need. So I would just encourage the county executive. And as the poll showed today, a majority of Montgomery County voters would like the county executive and the county council to come up in the next six months with a concrete legislative package that once passed, will trigger major pollution cuts in our county. And so those are my thoughts on the county executives Climate Action Plan. I intend to be at the roundtable tonight and listen to the discussion. But I hope all of you who joined this call will help us broadcast the information about this poll. Again in the chat, you can copy a link to our press release. You can copy a link to the poll narrative itself from Patrick Gonzalez. There’s information about the county executives Climate Action Plan A link to the roundtable tonight, we also at T can are going to send out an email to all 5000 of our members in montgomery county, either later this afternoon or tomorrow, summarizing this poll and encouraging people to stay tuned, stay involved and to take action.

Charles Olsen  38:57  

Thanks for listening to Upside Down. This podcast is produced by me, Charlie Olsen with incredible support from the entire weekend staff. Check out the show notes for links to all the things discussed in this episode. If you want to know more about how you can get involved with seeking in the climate fight, check out our website at . If you want to get in touch with us, follow us on instagram and twitter @CCAN. And if you enjoy the work we do, why don’t you share us with your friends. Sharing the show is a super easy way to help spread the word about the work we’re doing in the fight for bold climate actions. Thanks again for listening. We’ll see you next time.

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