Getting out the climate vote



Ten days ago a group of environmental NGOs launched the Climate Voter initiative — a non-partisan effort to put climate change firmly onto the election agenda. Over 18,000 people have already signed up. Climate Voter is going to host a leader’s debate in September, and will be using social media to push the issue as the campaign progresses – principally by asking a dozen climate policy questions of all political parties via Twitter. The first was pretty straightforward, given the US president’s recent efforts to kickstart emissions reductions:

President Obama calls climate change one of the most significant challenges we face, requiring urgent action by all governments. Do you agree?

The answers they’ve received are pretty much what an interested observer might have expected. First out of the blocks was ACT, touting a video by its new leader, Jamie Whyte. He opens his homily by stating that climate change “wouldn’t get into his top 100” problems. Pretty much what you would expect from millionaire climate denialist Alan Gibbs’ pet right wing party, but at least they’re up front about where they stand. Bottom of the list for any climate voter.

For the Maori Party, Marama Fox gives a (to me at least) impenetrable reply: “we believe in the Rangatiratanga of iwi to act as the right of Tangata Whenua!!” I’m not sure what that means at all, and I would suggest that the Maori Party needs to take the whole issue a lot more seriously if it wants to appear to be more than National’s poodle in the coming campaign.

The Labour Party’s reply simply points to their “policy platform” (pdf), which relegates climate change to a relatively brief mention in the environment section on p19. At least the party says it takes the problem seriously, even if they need to do more to make their real policy position obvious. The last Labour government had a clearly stated (and legislated) interlocking set of climate and energy policies. The next Labour government might have something similar, but it’s a matter of guesswork — or faith — until they come to the hustings with some more definite policy statements. We can but wait.

For the Internet Party, Leila Harre answered: “YES. And cos of evidence not cos of Obama. Glad he agrees though.” Nice to know the IP’s on the right page, but again, it would be nicer to know more about their real policy.

The United Future response, “We agree – the benefits of responsible & practical action now will be realised in the long term health and prosperity of NZ” sounds all well and good, but I rather suspect Peter Dunne’s definition of “responsible & practical action” will be very different from mine — given that he’s spent the last three years as a minister in a National-led government.

The Green Party response points to their carbon tax policy, which is — for the time being — the most clearly articulated and obviously serious commitment to climate policy action from any major party. In fact, shortly after the launch of the Climate Voter initiative, there were suggestions that the campaign would have to be careful to maintain its non-partisan stance because of the Green’s obvious mastery of this policy issue.

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Most telling of all are the non-respondents. Nothing at all from NZ First, National or Key’s putative lapdog, Colin Craig and his Conservative Party. Simply ignoring climate policy is not going to cut it for the present government in the run up to the election, and it is most certainly not a partisan matter to point that out. The laws of physics don’t care what your politics are, but they will make you pay a high price if you ignore them. National seems hell bent on forcing all to pay that high price, when modest action now would be both affordable and far-sighted.

The Climate Voter initiative is a very useful injection of common sense into the 2014 election campaign, and it will be well worth watching the responses to the questions they post over the next 11 weeks. I suspect that it won’t take too many more weather extremes — like the news that June 2014 was the warmest ever recorded in New Zealand — to put the issue high up on the election agenda, especially for the younger voters: the people who will have to live with the results of our collective inaction.


  1. To make one jot of difference, ‘you’ are going to have to vote for 95% unemployment, the closing of the maternity wards, AND the end of Kiwi Saver
    Good luck with all of that.
    400ppm CO2 as far as humans goes is forever.

    • The worst case scenario is warming from fossil fuels will last 1000 years, assuming we burn all the fossil fuels on the planet over the next couple of centuries. Then temperatures will return to normal over the next 2,000 years. CO2 is reabsorbed and the system reaches equilibrium again.

      The next ice age has been calculated to start in 10,000 – 20,000 years (it is triggered by a cyclical change in the earths orbit).

      So we don’t even get to prevent an ice age. So we better seriously think about climate change and reduction of emissions.

      • Warming resulting from our emissions will last tens of thousands of years – perhaps hundreds of thousands – unless we rapidly take steps to reduce atmospheric GHG loading back to pre-industrial levels. It will natural CO2 sinks that long to take our carbon out of the atmosphere.

        It’s been a while since I read the relevant paper/s, but I believe that current GHG levels are more than sufficient to override the cooling from orbital changes. Effectively, we’ve postponed the next ice age indefinitely. We are truly now living in the anthropocene, we have our hands on the planetary control knobs…

        • Gareth, my comment is based on an article in new scientist or scientific american.

          Some people think global warming is good because it would stop an ice age. I’m simply pointing out it won’t even do that. Maybe I was unclear.

          You know my overall views on climate change, I see it as human caused and serious. 1000 years of warming is serious by any measure.

          • To that 1000 years add many many more.

            Present path leads to well beyond 6 degrees and climbing.

    • Expecting democracy to do anything about climate change in time is the definition of delusional behaviour.

  2. I’m all for Climate Vote and I’ve signed up and everything – and they’re probably operating on minimal $$$, but is twitter the right medium? Climate change canvassed, debated and evaluated in 140 character messages doesn’t do it for me. Hopefully the website is on stage one and the questions and answers get a bit more in-depth treatment on that website.
    It’s great that you’ve done an analysis on question 1 – but are the Climate Vote members necessarily going to see it?

    As to the responses – the omissions may simply be because some parties don’t operate effectively in the twitterverse. Certainly could give them an out. Are the questions not being formally sent to their party presidents?

    It seems unfair to critique those who have responded, when no response is just unacceptable (provided they have been properly notified).

    • The ‘(sic)’ is unnecessary as the word is grammatically by definition entitled to be there and its pretty darn accurate imo

      climactic: adjective: acting as a culmination or resolution to a series of events;

  3. I think it would be a fair assumption that anyone opening the door to this room would see a massive elephant and would retreat very quickly, slamming the door behind them.

    Wait for the elephant to break down the door (or the walls) before acknowledging its presence. After all, dealing with abrupt climate change and appeasing the masses with the trinkets of consumerism and keeping the bansters’ Ponzi scheme going (just a little bit longer) are mutually exclusive concepts. And we know what is on the minds of politicians: votes, money, jobs, houses, votes, money, jobs houses, votes, interest rates, votes, jobs, houses, money, votes, exchange rates, houses, jobs, money, votes. There are no votes (well maybe just a few) in telling the people the truth about how they’ve been lied to for decades.

    The truth is, this crisis was identified 40 years ago, and ‘the powers that be’ decided that the agendas of corporations was more important than a future for humans. They’ve played their game, and are now ready hand over the entire appalling mess to the next generation, leaving them no resources to do anything.

    It takes a very special kind of mentality, that of a psychotic sociopath, to destroy one’s own children’s future. And complete lunacy to destroy one’s own, which is what the younger echelon of politicians are doing.

    We are in he early phase of the most rapid abrupt climate change experienced in the past 700 million years. If the so called safe threshold of 2oC has not been breached by 2025 I will be utterly amazed. Beyond that it will just get hotter and hotter. (11.500 years ago the temperature of Greenland rose by 16oC in 40 years, and CO2 was about 260ppm at the time). Never mind the facts. Perception is everything in this mad world these days. And enhanced shareholder value. Plus executive bonuses, of course.

    Carbon dioxide at 400ppm and methane (with a relative forcing factor of around 300, not the 23 that most people still believe) at 2ppm, and numerous positive feedbacks triggered will cause temperatures to rise so spectacularly most people (and governments) won’t know what hit them.

    By the way, the ‘best straight line’ fit from 1870 is entirely inappropriate. Try extrapolating the points form the last 3 years. That will give a better guide to where we are headed.

    • Sorry, but your number for the forcing from methane is wrong. Molecule for molecule I believe it’s about nine times more “effective” than CO2, which is quite bad enough.

      The higher numbers ascribed to methane’s “global warming potential” come from the GHG trading framework (i.e. to allow comparisons between gases) and depend on the timeframe specified. They also assume that the methane is from fossil or sequestered carbon sources, because they include an allowance for the extra CO2 left when the methane is oxidised in the atmosphere.

      None of that should be read as an attempt to minimise the danger from rapid release of methane from the Arctic sea bed or from melting permafrost. There’s enough of that to make any CO2 reductions we might attempt look puny.

      You’re wrong about probable near term temperature trends too.

      • ‘Molecule for molecule I believe it’s about nine times more “effective” than CO2’

        Gareth, it really doesn’t matter what you believe. I have discussed the relative effect of methane with Paul Beckwith of the University of Ottawa, leading researcher into greenhouse gas emissions, atmospheric chemistry and abrupt climate change, and he is in agreement that the factor lies between 200 and 300, and probably a lot closer to 300 than 200.

        The UNIPCC figures are flawed because they work on the basis of CH4 being oxidised to CO2, and then attempt to average the thermal effect over various time periods. And the whole thrust of UNIPCC has been to ‘not scare the horse’ while watering down the science and setting up financial scams to make it look as though someone was doing something when in fact they were not. Hence, practically every nation’s emissions have increased dramatically since Kyoto was first convened and the meltdown is accelerating.

        The UNIPCC initial assessment for methane said 23 times CO2 over 100 years, which was subsequently upgraded to 34 times.

        They said 72 times CO2 over 20 years, on the basis of phony decay curves, and then upgraded that to 86 times CO2.

        However, none of those figures has any meaning in the real world because CH4 does not decay as postulated, In fact, and this stage every molecule that gets oxidised by OH ions and OH radicals get more than replaced by new CH4 molecules emerging from all the usual sources; so the concentration is going up. Therefore, what is important is the instantaneous abruption-reradiation potential.

        What is especially scary for anyone with a brain is that a methane burp, destabilised by excess CO2, could overwhelm the OH oxidation mechanism (rather as FCFs overwhelmed the O3 system) and lead to very long lifetimes for atmospheric methane molecules.

        Using an appropriate factor for methane we see why temperatures in the Arctic region are several degrees above normal and rising very rapidly as a consequence of semi-sequestered methane being released, and perhaps why the rest of the world is in meltdown.

        There has been very extensive discussion about this at numerous academic websites, and Natalia Shakova has recently provided a very explicit warning about the potential for destabilisation of methane clathrates, and implicitly, their potential to bring life-as-we-know-it on this planet to a fairly abrupt end by the middle of this century.

        Paul Beckwith recently noted that during Dansgaard–Oeschger events:

        ‘In the Northern Hemisphere, they take the form of rapid warming episodes, typically in a matter of decades, each followed by gradual cooling over a longer period. For example, about 11,500 years ago, averaged annual temperatures on the Greenland ice sheet warmed by around 8 °C over 40 years, in three steps of five years (see,[3] Stewart, chapter 13), where a 5 °C change over 30–40 years is more common.’

        and has postulated there will be a similar surge in temperature over the next two decades.

        Bearing in mind that the CO2 level is now 60% higher than then, we must expect the runaway meltdown which is underway to occur faster than that which occurred 11,500 years ago.

        I have spent the past 15 years warning about the dire effect that burning fossil fuels would have on temperature and ocean chemistry, and those warnings have been met with apathy and denial.

        Now we have reached the really interesting phase of the worst drought in history in California, much of Siberia on fire, dead trees across British Columbia, and still ‘nobody’ cares.

        • I have plenty of time for Paul Beckwith and his views, but he isn’t – and wouldn’t claim to be – an expert on the radiation behaviour of greenhouse gases. Your discussion is of global warming potentials, which are – as I said – a construct used to compare GHGs for trading purposes.

          I stand by my original comment, and am happy to provide references if you wish.

          Greenland is not a good proxy for global temperature, and especially not for NZ temps. Yes, we can expect regional warming to be both faster and in some places slower than the global average, and in the Arctic the consequences may well be disastrous, but there is still plenty we can do to try to limit the worst of the likely damage both regionally and globally.

          • Yes, I’d love to see the reference.

            I agree that Greenland temperatures are not representative of global temperatures; the further a location from the equator the greater the temperature rise. However, what happens in the Arctic determines what happens in the rest of the world.

            Incidentally, the assertion that is made by official bodies 2oC average rise in temperature is ‘safe and controllable’ is obviously not true. Numerous positive feedbacks have already been triggered, and there is no reason to believe they can be brought under control. Even the UNIPCC has admitted that, saying that ‘without geoengineering we’re toast’. Yet there is no evidence any of the proposed geoengineering schemes would work, and much evidence all would generate unintended consequences. Untried and untested pseudo-technology to the rescue when technology is the source of all our woes.

            Over 99.99% of the past 800,000 years the CO2 content varied between about 180ppm and 260ppm, averaging something like 220ppm; that is the level of CO2 humans and other extant life forms evolved for. not 400ppm and rising. Next May the CO2 concentration will be 404ppm or more.

            The obvious answer to the predicament, of rapidly phasing out the extraction and burning of fossil fuels will never be attempted because corporations set government policy. Hence, Canada pulled out of Kyoto and began expanding extraction of extraction of bitumen from ‘tar sands’; the US is desperately faacking everything it can find; Britain would frack if it could find anything to frack (test drilling in the great Weald Basin revealed ‘no gas’. It’s much the same in NZ; frack, drill dig, burn.

            Guy McPherson sums it up climate catastrophe here:


            and included numerous references, including Tim Garret’s paper which clearly demonstrates that operating an industrial economy and having a planet to live on are mutually exclusive concepts. We know which will be chosen.

            The only ‘hood news; is that peaking of net energy associated with peak oil and the export-land model will demolish current economic arrangements between now and 2020.

            However, that is unlikely to help save the planet because humans will then burn anything that comes to hand, tyres, plastics and trees etc.

          • What are you guys arguing over? Methane is serious by any measure of it’s forcing.

            Given the planet has been very hot in the past positive feedbacks are likely very powerful. There have been periods of both rapid temperature and sea level rise, such as meltwater pulse 1a.

            Agree it’s certainly not too late to reduce emissions.The potential for positive feedbacks only makes this more urgent.

        • Thank you, I get it, CH4 is methane.
          Wikipedia: “In general, methane reactions are difficult to control.”

      • It’s good to see numbers which aren’t related to the GDP or taxation levels. It is time for a massive paradigm shift on the whole world’s part, that is everyone who uses fossil fuel energy. After recent revelations re: social media
        I’d say a lot of calm is called for as well as informed news feeds and meditation.
        Please explain the CO2 and ppm in very simple terms. Thank You.

        • Nature began pulling CO2 out of the atmosphere hundreds of millions of years ago via the formation of coal, oil, methane and carbonate rocks, By 800,000 years ago nature had the CO2 level down to about 220ppm, and had trapped a lot of methane on continental shelves in the form of methane clathrates. The wobble in the Earth’s orbit caused periods of warming which resulted in CO2 being released into the atmosphere, in a series of peaks of around 260ppm.

          Humans worked out how to dig up humungous quantities of coal, then oil, then methane, and burn them, resulting in the CO2 level rising to approximately 400ppm, which causes severe overheating.

          Since it takes a long time to warm the oceans, the system is not at equilibrium, and will continue to warm even if emissions ceased tomorrow.

          Most of this was well understood 40 years ago, and some of it was understood 100 years ago.

          Politics is not driven by reason or science. It is driven by rorts and exploitation, elf-aggrandisement, self-enrichment etc. and the avoidance of discussion of all fundamental truth.

    • Afewknowthetruth – you are getting a bit carried away.

      In the 1970’s the world was all worried about the coming ICE AGE. I will repeat that – the coming ICE AGE.
      Here is a good compilation of the media reporst from that time

      So – climate disasters have been with us for some time – nothing new.
      Theres also nothing new about changing climate.

      Theres also no doubt that in the last 20 or so years the climate has warmed, and some think its all the fault of humans – a possibility.

      But the most useful thimng that we can do is plan to live with it. Every prediction is that if it is man caused then it will be around for a long time EVEN IF WE STOP USING CARBON FUELS TODAY – so that isnt not a useful solution.

      • Nice one Barry – it’s not a problem but if it is a problem we can’t fix it. At least you didn’t pull out the “a bit of warming is good for us” line.

      • I really do not see what climate trends in the 1950s and 1960s (when atmospheric CO2 was about 320ppm and methane was below 1ppm) have to do with the current predicament (now that the CO2 level is 400ppm and methane is about 2ppm). You might as well discuss the ice fairs held on the Thames 300 years ago for all the relevance 1950s trends have today.

        Sure temperatures were dropping slightly 50+ years ago, but do note that the downward trend was reversed in the later decades of the 20th century, and both CO2 and temperatures are rising like never before -NZ 2oC above normal in June 2014, and this year’s Arctic Sea ice on track to be a new all time record low in the history of humans. I don’t suppose you have noticed that California is in the worst drought in history. And it’s all going to get a lot worse.

        ‘But the most useful thimng that we can do is plan to live with it.’

        Nobody under the age of 60 is going to thank you for that kind of ignorant, complacent, apathetic attitude towards planetary meltdown.

        However, if you are prepared to live with less food at a much higher price, no water coming out your taps, inundation of all low-lying regions of NZ (that’s most of Napier, all of Hastings, all of Christchurch and half of Auckland gone) then I suppose that’s up to you.

        By the way, do you work for Shell? Or BP? Or some other loot-and-pollute corporation? it’s usually people with a vested interest in short term gain at everyone else’s expense who defend business-as-usual.

        • No – I dont and have never worked for shell etc any more than you have. Yes I drive a car. Yes – I am a retired farmer.
          And if – as some scientists predict thats it too late to do anything about it – I will have to live with Napier and Hastings etc being inundated – after all these people are saying that no matter what we do thats going to happen. If they are right – then I see absolutely no sense in doing anything else but preparing to live with the consequences. You telling everyone that they are just selfish dumb idiots isnt going to achieve anything.

          And for all I know a bit of warming might be good for us. History tells us that most human and agricultural improvements have happened in the warmer periods and most disasters have happened during colder periods – so I wouldnt write off a bit of warming as completely undesirable.

          The attitude people like you exhibit is likely to put everyones back up and achieve nothing – as has happened all around the world as governments effectively ignore the likes of you and the IPCC actiovists and take half hearted steps that look like something is being but in fact nothing is. being done.

          • Hmm, grasping at straws won’t help our grandkids as their survival is jepodised by what we do,

            Our ignorance will not protect them or anything else.

            !972 the report called LTG was released and widely circulated.

            Reviewed by the CSIRO in 2008 and found to be right on track with the worst outlook -Scenario One.

            It is much more than climate change you and I will be facing.


            Look at scenario one graph. Food peaks about now and drops away. That is what is happening but a little earlier than predicted.

            Population starts to fall after that.

            So warnings are not new and still they are ignored even with increasingly consolidated scientific consensus available.

            IPCC has cobbled a mitigation plan to attempt limiting temperature rise to 2 deg C.

            But it cannot work without employing technology that has yet to be developed. It is a dream. Kyoto has been ignored so what chance has IPCC mitigation suggestion plan got.

            Many people are prepared and even desperate to try anything and sacrifice the way we live for a chance to limit rise and runaway. We may not have much of a chance, but it will most probably be defeated by those who don’t want to change or continue to ignore their part.

            Those with a death wish for their kids future and the human race.

          • ‘And for all I know a bit of warming might be good for us.’

            A bit of warming leads to runaway warming, and runaway warming leads to a largely uninhabitable planet by the end of this century if not well before then…… not only for humans but for practically all vertebrate species and a lot of invertebrate species.

            That means humans wipe out not just themselves (all our descendants ) but also all elephants, giraffes, orang-utans, tigers, ostriches, corals, shellfish, dolphins, whales etc. The whole lot gone in a matter of decades because humans were (are) so stupid and greedy.

  4. Um ? I have questions based upon an observation of a friend of mine . If sea ice melts into the sea and lets be mindful that ice has more volume than liquid water so when ice melts it takes up less space then doesn’t that mean that sea levels will in fact fall ? And is it not so that for all the ice above the water line and not yet creating melted ice volume in the ocean is but a fraction of the ice that exists actually IN the oceans at this present time . So , if all ice melts everywhere we’d see significant LOWERING of ocean levels ? Isn’t that a freaky idea ?
    Another friend of mine who’s only fault is that he wears his trousers far too high but is otherwise a brilliant man , a scientist and an aircraft engineer claims that Global Warming was as a result of a lack of sun spot activity and showed me convincing graphs and other details that supported his claims .
    The previous ice melt theory friend and a scientist also ( Botany ) wrote about his other theory , that the ozone holes were caused by a chemical reaction kick started by atmospheric nuclear weapons testing during the ’50’s and ’60’s . ( Too late to go back on that one sadly ) . Holes that let in radiation and I assume heat etc ?
    He also claimed that Global Warming hysteria served one primary purpose . Employment for many , many scientists and a mechanism to profit from , and control us by corporations with vested interests in that hysteria . Disaster Capitalism on a Global Scale . Isn’t Halliburton involved in the Carbon Credits Trading Scam ? Sorry , I meant ‘ scheme ‘ . Halliburton ? The same company that had Donald Rumsfeld on it’s board of directors ? The same company that George W Bush awarded a contract to , to suck oil from Iraq after they were freed from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein ?
    I believe the Globe is warming alright . Don’t get me wrong .
    What do you think ?

    • You can easily prove yourself wrong by putting some ice in a glass of water and marking the level. When the ice has melted the level will be the same because ice displaces it own mass of water.

      As the water warms the level will go down a miniscule amount until the maximum density is reached at about 4oC, After that the level will start to rise as the water expands with rising temperature.

      What matters is not that ice in the Arctic Sea is melting but the effect higher sea temperatures will have on ice that is on land, especially Greenland. The melting of that ice will raise sea levels by around 7 metres. And as all the oceans of the world warm up you can add another metre of two.

      No worries, it’s not likely to happen before 2040, depending on how the positive feedbacks self-reinforce and mutually reinforce.

      • Isn’t the Antarctic ice shelf thingie adding 1 mm per year?, and that is doubling every 4 years at the moment = 128 mm in 7 doublelings*, you are going to notice 5 inches.
        * 28 years?

  5. Most people think that the Climate Change Disaster Scenario is a self serving rort. It satisfies the ‘end of the world, repent, do as I say mentality’ that has been with us through the ages.

    At its core is a minimum of facts extrapolated by computer programmes tweeked this way and that. These predictions of doom are not playing out well and why should they ? Man is not in control of the Universe, a sobering realisation. Nor do we understand as much as we like to boast.

    In ten years this issue will be as relevant as the Millenium Bug. That had something to do with computers too.

    • The comparison with the Millenium Bug isn’t a good one. That one went away because it was 99% fixed in time – true there was quite a lot of hype at the time but I can tell you that I was in meetings between big players in 1998 who wanted assurances from each other there wasn’t going to be a problem. One of NZ’s largest companies couldn’t even get their billing run started when they put the date forward to after 2000. It was a scramble to get it all done that the public didn’t hear about and teams were in place on 1/1/2000 if there was a problem.

      One of the reasons the Millenium Bug got dealt to was there was a Y2K Readiness Commission set up that ran a public and private campaign to minimise the threat. It also assessed the risks across central government, local government and the private sector and quietly went about ensuring the big guys were not going to have a problem. It has seemed to me that a similar body should be set up to deal with Climate Change.

  6. National seems hell bent on forcing all to pay that high price, when modest action now would be both affordable and far-sighted.

    Oh, it won’t be all people paying that high price – there’ll be a few psychopaths making a profit out of it. Well, That seems to be National’s take on the matter.

  7. From Afewknowthetruth-
    ‘Even the UNIPCC has admitted that, saying that ‘without geoengineering we’re toast’. Yet there is no evidence any of the proposed geoengineering schemes would work, and much evidence all would generate unintended consequences. Untried and untested pseudo-technology to the rescue when technology is the source of all our woes.’
    Slagging technology when that’s what feeds, clothes and houses all your readers, and gives you this pulpit for your views, is a bit pointless.
    We’ve put the results of many million years of natural carbon sequestration into the atmosphere in only two centuries – of course natural sequestration processes won’t deal with all that CO2 in a few decades. Yet if the CO2 stays as high as it is long enough for all the fast feedbacks to kick in, the Arctic ice cap will disappear, methane from melting permafrost and probably from undersea clathrates will increase rapidly, and we can expect galloping deglaciation. Obviously, if natural sinks don’t cut it, we need some unnatural ( or enhanced ) ones. There are a number of ‘pseudo-technologies’, as you call them, which might speed up the breakdown of methane, in the water column and in the atmosphere, convert dissolved CO2 to algae or limestone, and maybe lower the albedo in the stratosphere, at the cloud tops, or at the sea surface. Sure, they’re untested, but if the alternative, according to James Hansen, is a Venus style runaway greenhouse, then we’d better get testing. That’s in addition to the complete decarbonisation of the economy, of course. People will vote for a clear course of action, if shown the alternatives. When the message is ‘ You’re all gunna die!’ they will just try to ignore it.

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