“Climate Change: The Need to Act Now”

Summary: Congressional hearings often bring America’s best to testify, long-form analysis about our greatest problems. Such as what scientists know about the effects of climate change on Earth’s plants and animals. It’s one expert’s perspective, and so more interesting than the blander consensus view of the IPCC. Written for us non-scientists, with lots of detail, for those who like their science straight up. See his bio at the end.



Excerpt from the testimony of Daniel B. Botkin

Senate Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety
Climate Change: The Need to Act Now
18 June 2014


(1)  {W}e have been living through a warming trend driven by a variety of influences. However, it is my view that this is not unusual, and contrary to the characterizations by the IPCC and the National Climate Assessment, these environmental changes are neither apocalyptic nor irreversible.

(2)  My biggest concern is that both the reports present a number of speculative, and sometimes incomplete, conclusions embedded in language that gives them more scientific heft than they deserve. The reports are “scientific-sounding” rather than based on clearly settled facts or admitting their lack. Established facts about the global environment exist less often in science than laymen usually think.


Yes, we have been living through a warming trend, no doubt about that. The rate of change we are experiencing is also not unprecedented, and the “mystery” of the warming “plateau” simply indicates the inherent complexity of our global biosphere. Change is normal; life on Earth is inherently risky. It always has been. The two reports, however, makes it seem that environmental change is apocalyptic and irreversible. It is not.


No, it has always undergone changes.


Yes, CO2 rapidly.


Yes, a great deal of it.



Yes, the lead author of the Terrestrial (land) Ecosystem Report is Richard Betts, a coauthor of one my scientific papers about forecasting effects of global warming on biodiversity.


Yes, there are.

(9)  What I sought to learn was the overall take-away that the reports leave with a reader. I regret to say that I was left with the impression that the reports overestimate the danger from human-induced climate change and do not contribute to our ability to solve major environmental problems. I am afraid that an “agenda” permeates the reports, an implication that humans and our activity are necessarily bad and ought to be curtailed.


Yes, in assumptions, use of data, and conclusions.

(11)  My biggest concern about the reports is that they present a number of speculative, and sometimes incomplete, conclusions embedded in language that gives them more scientific heft than they deserve. The reports, in other words, are “scientific-sounding,” rather than clearly settled and based on indisputable facts. Established facts about the global environment exist less often in science than laymen usually think.

(12)  The two reports assume and/or argue that the climate warming forecast by the global climate models is happening and will continue to happen and grow worse. Currently these predictions are way off the reality (Figure 1). Models, like all scientific theory, have to be tested against real-world observations. Experts in model validation say that the climate models frequently cited in the IPCC report are little if any validated. This means that as theory they are fundamentally scientifically unproven. 13. Figure 1: Climate model forecasts compared to real world temperature observations (From John Christy, University of Alabama and Alabama State Climatologist. Reproduced with permission from him.

Warming Predictions vs the Real World
From John Christy, University of Alabama


(14)  The reports suffer from the use term “climate change” with two meanings: natural and human-induced. These are both given as definitions in the IPCC report and are not distinguished in the text and therefore confuse a reader. (The White House Climate Change Assessment uses the term throughout including its title, but never defines it.) There are places in the reports where only the second meaning — human induced — makes sense, so that meaning has to be assumed. There are other places where either meaning could be applied.

In those places where either meaning can be interpreted, if the statement is assumed to be a natural change, then it is a truism, a basic characteristic of Earth’s environment and something people have always known and experienced. If the meaning is taken to be human-caused, then in spite of the assertions in the report, the available data do not support the statements.

Polar Bear Specialist Group

(15)  Some of the reports’ conclusions are the opposite of those given in articles cited in defense of those conclusions.

For example, the IPCC 2014 Terrestrial Ecosystem Report states that “there is medium confidence that rapid change in the Arctic is affecting its animals. For example, 7 of 19 subpopulations of the polar bear are declining in number” citing in support of this an article by Vongraven and Richardson, 2011. That report states the contrary, that the “‘decline’ is an illusion.

In addition, I have sought the available counts of the 19 subpopulations. Of these, only three have been counted twice; the rest have been counted once. Thus no rate of changes in the populations can be determined. The first count was done in 1986 for one subpopulation.

On May 22, Vongraven, a member of the international team that created these estimates [Polar Bear Specialist Group, PBSG] , stated that the polar bear population size, “never has been an estimate of total abundance in a scientific sense, but simply a qualified guess given to satisfy public demand … the range given for total global population should be viewed with great caution as it cannot be used to assess population trend over the long term.”  {source here}

The US Marine Mammal Commission, charged with the conservation of this species, acknowledges “Accurate estimates of the current and historic sizes of polar bear stocks are difficult to obtain for several reasons – the species‘ inaccessible habitat, the movement of bears across international boundaries, and the costs of conducting surveys.”

According to Dr. Susan Crockford, “out of the 13 populations for which some kind of data exist, five populations are now classified by the PBSG as ‘stable’ (2 more than 2009), one is still increasing, and 3 have been upgraded from ‘declining’ to ‘data deficient’. . . . That leaves 4 that are still considered ‘declining’ ‐ 2 of those judgments are based primarily on concerns of overhunting, and one is based on a statistically insignificant decline that may not be valid and is being reassessed (and really should have been upgraded to ‘data deficient’). That leaves only one population – Western Hudson Bay – where PBSG biologists tenaciously blame global warming for all changes to polar bear biology, and even then, the data supporting that conclusion is still not available. ”

(16)  Some conclusions contradict and are ignorant of the best statistically valid observations.

For example, the Terrestrial Ecosystems Report states that “terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems have sequestered about a quarter of the carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere by human activities in the past three decades (high confidence).” I have done the first statistically valid estimate of carbon storage and uptake for any large area of Earth’s land, the boreal forests and eastern deciduous forest of North America, and subtropical forests in Queensland, Australia.

The estimates of carbon uptake by vegetation used by IPCC and in major articles cited by the reports are based on what can best be called “grab samples,” a relatively small number of studies done at a variety of times using a variety of methods, mainly in old-growth areas. The results reported by IPCC overestimate carbon storage and uptake by as much as 300%.

(17)  The IPCC Report for Policymakers on Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability repeats the assertion of previous IPCC reports that “large fraction of species” face “increase extinction risks” (p15).

Overwhelming evidence contradicts this assertion. It has been clearly shown that models used to make these forecasts, such as climate envelope models and species-area curve models, make incorrect assumptions that lead to erroneous conclusions, over-estimating extinction risks. Surprisingly few species became extinct during the past 2.5 million years, a period encompassing several ice ages and warm periods.

Among other sources, this is based on information in the book Climate Change and Biodiversity edited by Thomas Lovejoy, one of the leaders in the conservation of biodiversity. The major species known to have gone extinct during this period are 40 species of large mammals in North America and Northern Europe. (There is a “background” extinction rate for eukaryotic species of roughly one species per year.)

(18)  THE REPORTS GIVE THE IMPRESSION THAT LIVING THINGS ARE FRAGILE AND RIGID, unable to deal with change. The opposite is the case. Life is persistent, adaptable, and adjustable.


There is an overall assumption in the IPCC 2014 report and the White House Climate Change Assessment that all change is negative and undesirable – that it is ecologically and evolutionarily unnatural, bad for populations, species, ecosystems, for all life on planet Earth, including people. This is the opposite of the reality. The environment has always changed and is always changing and living things have had to adapt to these changes. Interestingly, many, if not most, species that I have worked on or otherwise know about require environmental change.

(20)  The IPCC Summary for Policy Makers on Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability makes repeated use of the term “irreversible” changes. A species going extinct is irreversible, but little else about the environment is irreversible. The past confirms this. Glaciers have come and gone repeatedly. The Northwest Passage of North America has gone and come again. The average temperature has greatly exceeded the present and forecasted and has declined only to rise again.

Implicit in this repeated use of irreversible is the belief that Earth’s environment is constant — stable, unchanging — except when subjected to human actions. This is obviously false from many lines of evidence, including the simple experience of all people who have lived before the scientific-industrial age and those who live now and so such work as farm, manage rivers, wildlife and forests.

The extreme over-emphasis on human-induced global warming has taken our attention away from many environmental issues that used to be front and center but have been pretty much ignored in the 21st century. By my count there are ten issues, including global warming. I know it is easier for people to focus on just one issue at a time and ten seems overwhelming, but they can all be part of, and can be cast in terms of, biodiversity and sustainability. A singular focus on climate change as the driver of the other nine obscures the best solutions to the full suite of environmental challenges we face. In terms of “the need to act now” it is on these issues that we should focus, with the concern with a possible global warming prioritized properly with that group.


Other environmental Issues that need our attention now:

  1. Energy
  2. Fresh water
  3. Habitat destruction
  4. Invasive-species control
  5. Direct threats to Endangered species
  6. Pollution by directly toxic substances
  7. Fisheries
  8. Forests
  9. Phosphorus and other essential minerals

The Terrestrial report in a sense acknowledges this, for example by stating: “Climate stresses occur alongside other anthropogenic influences on ecosystems, including land-use changes, nonnative species, and pollution, and in many cases will exacerbate these pressures (very high confidence).”

(21)  Do the problems with these reports mean that we can or should abandon any concerns about global warming or abandon any research about it? Certainly not, but we need to put this issue within an appropriate priority with other major here – and – now environmental issues that are having immediate effects.

(22)  I reviewed and provided comments on both the IPCC 2014 report and the draft White House’s National Climate Change Assessment and, unfortunately, it appears that these issues have not been addressed in the final assessment. For example in regard to the White House Report, I stated:

  • a. “The executive summary is a political statement, not a scientific statement. It is filled with misstatements contradicted by well-established and well-known scientific papers.”
  • b. “Climate has always affected people and all life on Earth, so it isn’t new to say it is ‘already affecting the American people.’ This is just a political statement.”
  • c. “It is inappropriate to use short-term changes in weather as an indication one way or another about persistent climate change.”

——————————– End of this excerpt from Botkin’s testimony  ——————————–

About Daniel B. Botkin

From his website

Daniel Botkin is a biologist who has helped solve major environmental issues, and a writer about nature. Known for his scientific contributions in ecology and environment, he has also worked as a professional journalist and has degrees in physics, biology, and literature. His books and lectures show how our cultural legacy often dominates what we believe to be scientific solutions. He discusses the roles of scientists, businessmen, stakeholders, and government agencies in new approaches to environmental issues.

Daniel B. Botkin
Daniel B. Botkin

Faculty Positions

  • Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies
  • Chairman, Environmental Studies Program, UC-Santa Barbara
  • Director of Program on Global Change., George Mason U
  • Research scientist, Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory.


  1. Widely used, prizewinning college science text.
  2. 13 books, most recently The Moon in the Nautilus Shell, and Powering the Future: A Scientist’s Guide to Energy Independence.  Best known for Discordant Harmonies: A New Ecology for the 21st Century.
  3. Several hundred articles in professional journals, popular magazines and newspaper op-eds.


  1. More than 45 years of research on possible effects of climate change on biodiversity.
  2. Developed the first successful computer ecosystem model,  still in worldwide use in more than 50 versions.
  3. Extensive field research in wilderness areas, in forests from Alaska to Michigan to Siberia and in African plains.
  4. Was one of the first ecologists to investigate possible ecological effects of climate change.
  5. Conducted extensive scientific studies of endangered species.
  6. Used historical information to recover wildlife population sizes and sea ice changes.

See here for his bio, honors, and publications.

For More Information

Hat tip on Botkin’s testimony to Judith Curry (Prof, GA Institute Technology)

(a)  Reference Pages about climate on the FM sites:

  1. Recommended: The important things to know about global warming
  2. My posts, by subject
  3. Studies & reports by scientists, by subject
  4. The history of climate fears

(b)  Climate scientists speak to us:

  1. Peer review of scientific work – another example of a flawed basis for public policy, 22 January 2009
  2. Science in action, a confused and often nasty debate among scientists, 5 February 2009
  3. An important letter sent to the President about the danger of climate change, 24 October 2009
  4. A look at global warming written in a cooler and more skeptical time, giving us a better understanding of climate science, 23 November 2009
  5. Slowly more evidence emerges, and more scientists speak out about drivers of climate change, 26 May 2010
  6. “Most scientific papers are probably wrong” – New Scientist, 20 June 2010
  7. Puncturing the false picture of a scientific consensus about the causes and effects of global warming, 20 September 2010
  8. A famous scientists makes a startling admission about Earth’s climate, 26 April 2012
  9. A look at the debate among climate scientists about global warming, 31 July 2012
  10. Climate scientists speak to us. What is their consensus opinion?, 19 February 2014
  11. Are scientists doing a good job of warning us about climate change?, 27 February 2014



20 thoughts on ““Climate Change: The Need to Act Now”

  1. It has been agreed on by most if not all sources that there has been no warming for 17 yrs. Arctic ice melt is now thought by many to be caused by under sea volcanoes and shallow magma activity. Climate models are based on skewed data and have been continually proven inaccurate. And last but not least the % of Co2 is .04 of 1%, far to low to cause a greenhouse effect. It seems that real facts are not mainstream anymore.

    1. gairman,

      (1) Yes, surface atmosphere warming has paused.

      1. Still good news: global temperatures remain stable, at least for now., 14 October 2012
      2. Scientists explore causes of the pause in warming, perhaps the most important research of the decade, 17 January 2014
      3. One of the most important questions we face: when will the pause in global warming end?, 25 Aug

      (2) No, “under sea volcanoes and shallow magma activity” are not seen by many scientists as substantial drivers of arctic ice melt. For details see:

      1. Have undersea volcanoes caused the Arctic sea ice decline?” by the National Snow and Ice Data Center.
      2. What’s Up With Volcanoes Under Arctic Sea Ice“, a collection of scientists’ statements by Andrew Revkin, New York Times, 1 July 2008

      (3) “Climate models are based on skewed data and have been continually proven inaccurate”

      As the graph in this post shows, the major climate models have run too hot. Does this result from inadequacies in the the models, or short-term factors pushing the climate a little off trend (i.e., the models showing the underlying trend)? We’ll know in the next few years. Time, as always, acts as the ultimate judge.

      Note that the major surface atmosphere datasets, both from surface stations and satellites, closely agree. Unfortunately that provides data only since 1979.

      (3) Scientists do not believe that CO2 alone causes the “greenhouse effect”, but does so combined with the other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Such as water vapor.

      (3) “Real facts are not mainstream anymore”

      I do not understand what you are saying.

  2. This is pretty much the same as the evidence that Botkin gave at a hearing on the IPCC about 3 weeks ago.

    I had not heard of him before then, but he seems to be a genuine scientist, and with a cheeky sense of humour-
    “are there good scientists in the IPCC?” “Yes there’s Richard Betts”. LOL

    1. Charles,

      That makes no sense, for reasons I (and others) have described in detail.

      (1) It’s unclear as yet about the probability and magnitude of a “climate catastrophe”. To mention just two of many points: The models clearly run too hot. Also, the IPCC’s forecasts assume we’ll burn off the world’s entire fossil fuel reserves by 2100 (i.e., that there will be little progress in energy tech over the next 80 years).

      (2) As he says, there are many serious threats. Do you fully fund each one? How much will that cost?

      For more about this see these posts.

    2. Charles,

      Here’s a clearer statement about this: “Averting Catastrophes: The Strange Economics of Scylla and Charybdis“, Ian W. R. Martin and Robert S. Pindyck, 16 March 2014 — Draft. Abstract:

      How should we evaluate public policies or projects to avert or reduce the likelihood of a catastrophic event? Examples might include a greenhouse gas abatement policy to avert a climate change catastrophe, investments in vaccine technologies that would help respond to a mega-virus, or the construction of levees to avert major flooding. A policy to avert a particular catastrophe considered in isolation might be evaluated in a cost-benefit framework. But because society faces multiple potential catastrophes, simple cost-benefit analysis breaks down: Even if the benefit of averting each one exceeds the cost, we should not avert all of them. We explore the policy interdependence of catastrophic events, and show that considering these events in isolation can lead to policies that are far from optimal. We develop a rule for determining which events should be averted and which should not.

    3. I may have been misleading with my choice of language. It’s not cost Benifits as much as risk analysis. So to rephrasePascal’s Wager If as some say climate change will change maybe destroy the world as we know it are correct and we do nothing we reap the whirlwind. If they are wrong and well they might be how much damage will we cause by acting as if they are correct. If on the other hand those who say there is no or limited risk and the world is just undergoing a normal cycle are correct and we listen we have not lost anything. However if they are wrong we could lose the world as we know it including our entire civilization. You may say nobody is making those way out claims but I believe I have seen claims related to fraking, food and water shortages as well as coastal rising and maybe worse unfortunately I am not sure I can provide acceptable documentation but that’s my take.

    4. Charles,

      I don’t believe I can say this more clearly. Esp as the article cited states it more clearly. Your statement is absurd, on multiple levels.

      We face many threats, each of uncertain magnitude and probablility. Each has those who are excited about “their” world-ending threat. Choosing amongst them by who cries the loudest, or stages the most fun show, is nuts. We need to allocate our resources amongst them. The single-issue folks like yourself just get in the way.

      Worse, the proliferation of “my cause is the only cause” folks (like yourself) has paralyzed tour public policy machinery, so that we’re not even preparing for the past (i.e., normal weather — like Sandy and Katrina). So mission #1 is to politically overcome all the single issue fanatics before attempting a rational policy response. But you folks plus the apathetics are a majority, so I suspect inertia will win.

      So hope is our strategy. Perhaps we’ll get lucky.

    5. Actually I am a single issue person although I stray from time to time. My issue is simple ” A corporation is not a person – money is not speech” We need a conversation on the public stage where every voice is heard not one where some speak “with human voice and others with a megaphone”

  3. Sorry should have said “so what” instead of “who cares” didn’t mean to be sarcastic but to indicate hat IMHO it doesn’t mater.

  4. The list of issues to address: Energy, Fresh Water, Habitat Destruction, Invasive Species Control….is troublesome in that the current Wall Street/Corporate solution to our perceived energy problems is wind/solar. Wind and solar energy have ENORMOUS footprints. Wind is destructive below the surface, at the surface and up to 700 feet above the ground. This is no solution but, rather, a new set of problems.

    1. Mary,

      Also, these sources provide intermittent energy, and so require backup souces. This makes them quite expensive, a factor too often ignored. See:

      (1). “Electric Power from Renewable Energy: Practical Realities for Policy-Makers” (a slide presentation based on his December 2002 article in the Journal of Fusion Energy)

      (2) A new report from Brookings: “The Net Benefits of Low and No-Carbon Electricity Technologies”, Charles R. Frank, Jr, Brookings, 19 May 2014

  5. Please help me understand. My understanding of warming is coming from a very basic concept of physics. I have a hard time reading the products of the models.

    When you say surface atmosphere warming has paused, does that mean that the visible evidence of warming has stopped or is in reverse? Or that it got hotter and it is still hot? Is the ice cover and are the glaciers starting to grow again? How about the ice on Kilimanjaro?

    I read that losing the reflectivity of the snow and ice would cause increased surface temperatures. Not true? Is this testable?

    1. Gil,

      What an unusual series of questions. Let’s try some answers (it’s SOP here), but I wonder if you are serious.

      (1) “When you say surface atmosphere warming has paused, does that mean that the visible evidence of warming has stopped”

      When we say something happens, we are of course making inferences from our senses (perhaps enhanced by tools, such as instruments and math). I cannot directly “know” by any other means. Can you?

      (2) “or is in reverse?”

      To say that warming has “paused” means that it has paused. Not reversed. Isn’t that obvious?

      (3) “Or that it got hotter and it is still hot?”

      To say that warming has “paused” means that it got “hotter” than stayed that “hot”. OK, you’re kidding us.

      (4) “Is the ice cover and are the glaciers starting to grow again?”

      Why would a pause cause such a thing? You are pulling my leg.

      (5) “How about the ice on Kilimanjaro?”

      You appear misinformed. I suggest reading the following:

      1. The Shrinking Glaciers of Kilimanjaro: Can Global Warming Be Blamed?“, Phillip W. Mote and Georg Kaser, American Scientist, July-August 2007 — “The Kibo ice cap, a “poster child” of global climate change, is being starved of snowfall and depleted by solar radiation”.
      2. TIME discusses this for a general audience: “Why Are Kilimanjaro’s Glaciers Fading?

      (6) “I read that losing the reflectivity of the snow and ice would cause increased surface temperatures. Not true? Is this testable?”

      Too complex for comments. I suggest searching the IPCC’s AR5, which probably discusses this.

      (7) For real answers to these questions see these posts, with excerpts and links to the relevant climate science literature.

      1. Still good news: global temperatures remain stable, at least for now., 14 October 2012
      2. Scientists explore causes of the pause in warming, perhaps the most important research of the decade, 17 January 2014
      3. One of the most important questions we face: when will the pause in global warming end?, 25 August 2013

      For broader information see: The important things to know about global warming.

  6. I really did want to get a clarification on what “pause” means in this case. I have heard it said, Don’t worry about global warming it has paused for the last X years. And like you sent the link to the Kilimanjaro info, there is a possibility that you could point me to a paper that says, yes the ice sheets are growing. Again just trying to clarify. I understand now that the temperature increase has paused but the effects continue.

    And I did ask the same question in different ways. Sorry.

    I was going to ask other questions about the list of “other issues”, but I think I will quit now before I bare more ignorance.

    1. Gil,

      The issue is polarized, so that laypeople on both sides say silly things. I strongly suggest you read the posts I cited, which link to many useful sources.

      “Could you point me to a paper that says the ice sheets are growing”

      As for ice sheets growing or shrinking, statements like that are only meaningful over a stated time horizon. Ice sheets have been melting since the end of the last ice age. Over shorter periods they have expanded (ie, during the Little Ice Age) and shrank (since the LIA ended early in the 19th century.

      Many forces are involved. Some natural, such as the warming for the century before 1950. Some anthropogenic, such as the warming since 1950 (“more than half caused by human factors”) and the land use changes around Kilimanjaro.

      Some ice is melting. Some might be growing (central Antarctica).

      It is all quite complex. To learn more specific subjects I suggest using the websites of NOAA and the IPCC.

    2. Gil,

      (1) “Is the ice cover and are the glaciers starting to grow again?” “Could you point me to a paper that says the ice sheets are growing”

      My last answer was accurate, but probably too general for your use. The ice sheets and glaciers are, in aggregate, not growing. They are shrinking, slowly. One of the several recent papers on this subject is “A Reconciled Estimate of Ice-Sheet Mass Balance“, Science, Andrew Sheppard et al, 30 November 2012 — Abstract:

      We combined an ensemble of satellite altimetry, interferometry, and gravimetry data sets using common geographical regions, time intervals, and models of surface mass balance and glacial isostatic adjustment to estimate the mass balance of Earth’s polar ice sheets. We find that there is good agreement between different satellite methods—especially in Greenland and West Antarctica—and that combining satellite data sets leads to greater certainty. Between 1992 and 2011, the ice sheets of Greenland, East Antarctica, West Antarctica, and the Antarctic Peninsula changed in mass by –142 ± 49, +14 ± 43, –65 ± 26, and –20 ± 14 gigatonnes year−1, respectively. Since 1992, the polar ice sheets have contributed, on average, 0.59 ± 0.20 millimeter year−1 to the rate of global sea-level rise.

      (2) “I understand now that the temperature increase has paused but the effects continue.”

      The effects of rising temperature stop along when the temperature stops rising. The effects of the past rise — the effects of temperatures at the current level — continue. It’s an oddity of news reporting that journalists so often confuse the effects of past, present, and even future temperature trends.

  7. I like the idea having independent means to evaluate statements. Ruth Dixon’s recent post on the Diamond Law as it relates to the Kaya Identity and CO2 reductions seems like a good way to see if statements of fact make sense:


    “Kaya Identity part II – and a ‘diamond law’?
    Posted on July 25, 2014 by Ruth Dixon

    “Are some apparent CO2 emission reductions ‘too good to be true’? In this post, I discuss how the Kaya Identity leads to what might be called the ‘diamond law’ of CO2 emissions. This ‘law’ (in fact just chemistry) allows us to check the plausibility of apparent dramatic CO2 reductions.”…………..

    “I have no idea what caused the discrepancy in the CO2 emissions for Singapore from the two sources. But I am sure that the World Banks’s numbers are ‘chemically impossible’ while the IEA’s numbers give Singapore a CO2 intensity of fossil fuel of just over 2, consistent with the ‘diamond law’. This ‘law’ – derived entirely from the chemistry of carbon – therefore provides a useful check on the plausibility of reported CO2 emissions data.”

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