Which Would You Rather Have: More Or Better? Choose one.

The climate challenge and decision point for everyday citizens

Ecologists note that growth in commerce and the economy are primarily based on consumption, which is linear and limited because resources are finite. Growth in nature, however, is cyclical and unlimited because the decay of organisms produces materials that are recycled. Mulching is a prime example.

Less considered but equally contributing to the slowing and diminishing severity of the changing climate is a shift in thinking from quantity to quality. Ecologists promote “qualitative growth”  rather than quantative growth because it enhances the quality of life. According to systems theorist and ecologist Fritjof Capra “In living organisms, ecosystems, and societies, qualitative growth includes an increase of complexity, sophistication, and maturity. Unlimited quantitative growth on a finite planet is clearly unsustainable, but qualitative economic growth can be sustained if it involves a dynamic balance between growth, decline, and recycling, and if it also includes the inner growth of learning and maturity.”

Psychologists trace motivations and desires to a variety of physical, mental and emotional causes. Whatever they may be, everyday living is filled with choice-points. Growing up in a consumption-oriented culture, decisions relating to what we need and want come easily because so many products and services are on the shelf. Available. But as the above image attests, “everything has a price tag.” Our hesitation is often just affordability and priority.

Consumption proliferates in the bloodstream of American culture. The unwritten, unspoken but clearly understood and pervasive message is clear: Having things and having exciting experiences will make you happy. There’s even a well-trodden path to success in life, the American dream. Get your toys, books, desk, telephone, computer, car, college degree, apartment, job, spouse, house, children, stock portfolio, pension and retire in luxury. It brings to mind comedian George Carlin’s sketch A Place For My Stuff. 

… And when you leave your house, you gotta lock it up; wouldn’t want somebody to come by and take some of your stuff. They always take the good stuff. They never bother with that crap you’re saving. All they want is the shiny stuff. That’s what your house is, a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff! Sometimes you gotta move, gotta get a bigger house. Why? No room for your stuff anymore. 

George Carlin

When peoples’ homes, properties and material goods have been destroyed in a fire, flood or tornado they report, “At least we have each other.” Homes can be rebuilt. Goods can be replaced. Happiness is not  attained through acquiring, owning or consuming, not even collecting a variety of interesting or exciting experiences. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with these. It’s just good to be aware of what we’re considering at decision-points, so consumption is based on real needs and prioritized wants, ideally taking social consequences and the environment into consideration. 

Historically, because the modus operandi in science is measurement, money became the best way to assign value. Then, when movies and television came along they showed us that having more was sexy, fun and glamorous. Images of people having less were shown to be miserable. It’s a fallacy, of course. The tragic lives of many attest to the fact that extravagant wealth and high status are no guarantee of happiness. And many people around the world are happy despite their lack of luxury items and meager living conditions.

Ecologists recommend a shift in thinking, making life-decisions less about quantity and more about quality across the board—in material goods, services, relationships. Such decisions enhance the quality of life and at the same time lessen the ecological footprint and optimize sustainability.

 

The perpetual growth myth promotes the impossible idea that indiscriminate economic growth is the cure for all the world’s problems, while it is actually the disease that is at the root of our unsustainable global practices.

Brundtland, G.H., Author, Environment and Development Challenges: The Imperative to Act

 

I found it curious and on the mark that Dr. Capra cited “inner growth of learning and maturity” as contributing to sustained qualitative economic growth. For instance, it took a lot of maturing for me to realize that, in many instances, buying cheap is a false economy. It’s more economical to pay more for a high quality product that will last, than an inexpensive one that will need to be replaced.

A popular consumer attitude is summed up in the bumpersticker slogan, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Linda had a student who died unexpectedly in his freshman year of college while studying architecture. His dream was to design a great building. In high school, he’d built a replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater.  After hearing that he’d passed, she said to her class: “What you do today could be the most important thing you’ll ever do.” Relative to our topic, it matters less how much we get done or how much we have, far more important is how well we do what we do. And the joy it brings. In light of this, I’d revise the bumpersticker to say “He wins, who dies having fulfilled his purpose in life.”

 

Ecological healing requires our society to look beneath its consumptive symptoms and reorient toward qualitative development. To do so requires significant reprogramming, since our guiding narratives, from economic to scientific, embody quantitative thinking.

Charles Eisenstein, Author, Climate—A New Story

 

As the purpose of this blog is to express appreciation, I am grateful for the many companies that advises their customers to “consume responsibly.” I appreciate those in leadership positions who are finding ways to conserve and recycle their goods and packaging materials. And I acknowledge the many restaurants and employees who are giving customers the option of taking less or no plastic.

 


Email: smithdl@fuse.net

Portfolio: DavidLSmithPhotography.com

Photography Monographs. The pages can be turned in each book.

Reframing The Ecological Challenge

How we talk and what we see determines how we act

The Data

The climate has been changing since the Earth coalesced. It will continue to do so until it’s subsumed by the sun billions of years from now. The recent concern is that human beings have accelerated the rate of change—10 to 100 times faster than in the past 65 million years— to the point where the quality of life, perhaps even life itself, is being threatened.

In his 2001 book, The Weather Makers, Tim Flannery, Chief Commissioner of the Climate Commission of the Federal Government reported, “The Earth’s average temperature is around 60º F. A rise of a single degree will decide the fate of hundreds of thousands of species, and most probably billions of people.” A 2017 study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters estimates that Earth’s climate will be 1.5º F higher as early as 2026. By 2050, the physical world and lifestyles worldwide will be dramatically different. The ways in which it will be different is the challenge of this and the next three generations.”

A Statista report in September of 2020 noted that “The past years were the warmest years on record, where warming was driven largely by increased emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.

 

How We Talk

In Climate: A New Story, Charles Eisenstein advises against “reductionistic war thinking,” and talking about destroying problems, even if the problem is climate change. The language of war and destruction, he says, “is an extension of the culture of death, domination and control that has led us to the verge of collapse.”

Instead, he invites us to adopt a framework of love which gives us permission to trust what is innate to us, namely “our love of life and our desire to save it.” His observation brought to mind the many ways we talk about issues—the war on drugs, fighting wildfires, battling cancer, defeating ISIS and so on. The language we’ve been using, largely adopted from the media’s propensity toward sensational and confrontational news stories, ads and soundbites has contributed to polarization. Instead, the changing climate could be a challenge that unites us.

High thoughts must have high language.

Aristophanes (Greek philosopher)

 

Simon Sinek Says We Got Global Warming Wrong.  Michael Touchton explains Sinek’s criticism, that global warming has a marketing problem. “We’ve confused people with poor messaging and we’ve assumed that people’s better nature would lead them to act selflessly. Wrong.”

People need to be convinced, inspired, sold and left to feel like they’ve decided to act out of their own free will and self-interest.” Instead of talking about saving the planet 50 years out, he proposes that we talk about ourselves and loved ones being in danger. “We need to communicate exactly what the problem is in a way that people will immediately understand and emotionally feel. People get cancer… There is a cancer in our climate. And if we don’t act, there will be death.

Simon Sinek

 

What And How We See

Regarding significant issues like the rapidly changing climate, polarization is built-in by virtue of duality—opposing views. Rather than framing the matter in the language of competition, which encourages people to take sides and respond forcefully, sometimes violently, Eisenstein advises a shift in the frame to the language of love. “No matter the issue,” he says, “what’s required are shifts in perception and attitude toward—

  • I have a strong point of view, but I will keep an open mind, willing to be convinced of a greater good for all.
  • We are not in a war, battle or contest. We will work together to find the best decision, ideally not one that is right for me and wrong for you.
  • Both our views deserve to be heard with equal respect and serious consideration.
  • Both our views need to be supported by facts and debated with sound reasoning.
  • Because we are in this together, an enlightened change of mind is highly respected.
  • Lacking facts, our guideline for decision-making will be the optimization of benefit and minimization of harm to all—people, environment, society, world.
  • Before deciding, we will investigate and openly share the positive and negative consequences of our perspectives in consideration of people, environment, flora, fauna, society and planet.
  • Once a vote is taken or an impartial judge decides, we will accept the outcome gracefully and move on.
  • Maintaining a friendly and respectful working relationship is more important than having things go my way.”

 

Researching online for my screenplay, Love—Period!—about a musician who rises to prominence on concert stages worldwide because of his love of Earth and commitment to conservation—I appreciated the many celebrities who are articulating their concerns and personal lifestyle changes relative to climate change. Also, it’s encouraging that ordinary people, all over the world, are doing what they can to be part of the solution. There’s is not the language of war or the perception of a distant catastrophe, its the language of caring, personal responsibility and collaboration. Doing what can be done right now.   

All living systems heal in true relationship. We need a deep revolution in how we relate to the rest of life—not as dominators of nature, but as partners in an evolutionary process that is much greater than ourselves. Only love can give us the kind of courage and willingness to offer ourselves to the more beautiful world we know in our hearts is possible.

Charles Eisenstein, Author, Climate: A New Story

Our language and nervous system combine to constantly construct our environment.

Francisco Varela, Chilean biologist, philosopher, neuroscientist

 


Email: smithdl@fuse.net

Portfolio: DavidLSmithPhotography.com

Photography Monographs. The pages can be turned in each book.

Radiance

Light expanding from source / Source

Radiance

Early in my photographic life I formulated a guideline that has served me well to this day. Since light is the essence that reveals subject matter, and because my urge was to pursue essences, I adopted the practice of looking more for “qualities of light” than interesting subject matter. Because color tends to arrest the attention, my preferred medium for creative photography was and remains black and white, which emphasizes the qualities of form, texture and geometry.

Whether on location or in my basement studio, my first consideration was always the light—its angle, brightness, color, contrast and it’s modulation between soft diffusion and crisp specularity. Working in this manner and reflecting on the results over time, I noticed that certain qualities of light contributed to an evocative spiritual quality I refer to as numinance. For instance, the above image calls me to consider both the nature of light and its use as a metaphor for intelligence, ideas and “illumination” in the spiritual sense.

In science, the essence of light is still an open question. At the atomic level a unit of light is referred to as a photon, but that’s just a label to describe an energy that has a fixed speed but no mass and can behave as either a particle or a wave depending on how it’s observed. Photons are entirely different from matter, yet they give rise to and sustain matter. We know they’re produced when energy is either added or subtracted within an atom, specifically when an electron—best conceived as an energy field—“jumps” from one orbit to another, incredibly, without crossing the distance. Gazillions of these events happening together result in the streams of light entering my eye. Physicist David Bohm saw these emissions as information, content, form and structure itself, regarding light as “the potential of everything.”

The above image also evokes in me considerations of the first light of the universe, a result of the great expansion or Big Bang. A key property of light, like the universe, is that it expands in all directions at once, piercing the darkness. It’s this expansive feature that gives rise to light as a metaphor for birth, awakening, increased awareness and spiritual evolution. Deepak Chopra observed that, “In the dark we will always seek the light.” We are creatures who seek meaning, clarity and understanding. Literally, light throughout the cosmos is itself the source of our increasing understanding of the universe and our beginning. A photographer friend, Walt Weidenbacher, referenced light as a guideline for living when he said, “The world is as big as the candle we carry.”

Are we not all, potentially, radiant? Sources of light? Through transmission and reflection we reveal ourselves to each other and the world, and awaken within. Having been fortunate to cross paths with many individuals who radiate light through qualities of character, refined personalities and expanded consciousness it gives me joy to think of them and know that they’re illuminating the darkness, making a positive difference in the world.

Can you name three individuals that you know who are sources of light in your life? Now, besides acknowledging them, consider the nature of their light. What are they radiating? What are they reflecting?

Beauty is the radiance of spirit. —  Alex Gray, artist

About This Image

I’d been working with an image that had flare, faint lines of light streaming from the sun, and I wondered if I could reproduce them in the studio with the lines enhanced. “Flare” in a camera amounts to the scattering of light within the lens system, modified by the shape of the aperture, the blades that admit more or less light onto the film or digital chip. The brighter the light; the brighter the flare.

I set up a 4×5 camera on a tripod in the studio and pointed it toward a round and clear 250 watt quartz bulb about ten feet away. To insure sharp, high contrast and radiating lines, the source had to be as tiny and bright as possible without any kind of reflector or housing behind it. I positioned the camera and bulb so its filament was in the center in the frame. Then I turned out the lights to insure total darkness.

The alignment turned out to be critical. Slight changes in the camera position made dramatic differences in the image, so I adjusted the alignment until the streaming lines of light were at a maximum—which turned out not to be dead-center. Since the amount of flare was different at different aperture settings there was no way to evaluate the exposure, so I exposed several sheets of film at different f-stops.

This image, photographed at f16, had the most prominent lines. The negative was very dense, so to bring out more of the gray areas in the halo’s I overexposed the paper. Even more exposure would have revealed the coiled filament in the bulb, so I left it white in order to generalize rather than particularize the source to give the image a numinous quality.


Email: smithdl@fuse.net

Portfolio: DavidLSmithPhotography.com

Photography Monographs. The pages can be turned in each book.

Environmental Ethics

What is the value of all living things?

Tecpan, Guatemala

Definition Of Ethics:

The basic concepts and fundamental principles of decent human conduct. It includes study of universal values such as the essential equality of all men and women, human or natural rights, obedience to the law of land, concern for health and safety and, increasingly, also for the natural environment. The Business Dictionary

I like this definition because it includes the environment as a universal value that deserves consideration and respect. When the top priority of industry leaders is profit, and when government leaders put the economy and jobs first, they view the environment as a resource, a means to those ends.Seeing environmental policies and regulations as an obstacle, they’ll block or override them.

Historically, this mentality has been fanning the flames of climate change since 1950—and it’s still happening. Accelerating actually. Profit-driven leaders are pressing the peddle to the metal,  turning away, not understanding or caring that the health and well-being of the world population is at stake. In the first place, it’s a problem of wrong-perception driven by the illusion of separation that results in self-centeredness and greed. Globally, it’s a psychological virus. And it thrives because the the antidote, moral-ethical thinking applied to the environment, is sadly lacking.

Ethics Can Be Learned

A study by Lawrence Kohlberg, cited by psychologist James Rest of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University offers hope:    

  • Dramatic changes occur in young adults in their 20s and 30s in terms of the basic problem-solving strategies they use to deal with ethical issues.
  • These changes are linked to fundamental changes in how a person perceives society and his or her role in it.
  • The extent to which change occurs in a person is associated with the number of years of formal education (college or professional school).
  • Deliberate educational attempts (formal curriculum) to influence awareness of moral problems and to influence the reasoning or judgment process have been demonstrated to be effective.
  • Studies indicate that a person’s behavior is influenced by his or her moral perception and moral judgments.
  • A person’s ability to deal with moral issues is not formed all at once. Just as there are stages of growth in physical development, the ability to think morally also develops in stages. 

Where Is Ethics Learned?

At Home

Primarily, moral-ethical awareness and practice derive from observing these in our parents.  Also, by having conversations about it. When an issue came up in my family, besides a scolding, part of the price was a healthy dose of discourse on right and wrong, good and bad, proper and improper behavior—and its consequences. Over an over, we heard “It’s not what we do.” “It’s not who we are.” “You’re better than that.” “The one you hurt most is yourself.” And in one way or another, these messages were reinforced by relatives. 

Religious Institutions 

Worldwide, most religions teach a code of ethics, principles that promote honesty, respect for others, selflessness, altruism and good deeds. Exposure to these principles fortifies one against the inclination to “take the easy way out. Religions provide the “brakes” through an emphasis on negative consequences. “You’ll go to hell.” “You’ll create negative karma that will have to be paid through suffering in another lifetime.” But there’s also the positive side: “If you’re good, you’ll go to heaven.” “You won’t have to endure the endless round of incarnations.” Having been raised in the Catholic tradition through high school, I was exposed to the history, as well as the principles of morality and ethics. 

Educational Institutions

Many colleges offer courses that involve ethics. At R.I.T. (Rochester Institute of Technology)  it was taught in a required philosophy class. I still remember a lecture where the professor said ethics was not acquired naturally, that it had to be taught, and that ethical behavior occurred as a result of an internal commitment made before an ethical dilemma presented itself. It made such an impression on me, I can paraphrase: “Ethics has to be carried in your back pocket like a wallet. When a situation comes up, you pull it out and you’re reminded of your commitment to be a person of principle, strong in character, unwavering in your resolve to do the right thing.” 

Life Experience

Acting unethically can and often does result in negative, even life-altering consequences. The trial and error method is learning ethics the hard way.

Business

Many corporations and smaller companies have a Code of Ethics designed to specify and regulate how they will and will not conduct their affairs. Infractions can be cause for dismissal. 

Discussions

Casual discussions with family members and friends often involve ethical judgments that have been made or need to be considered. Whether in the context of “gossip” or “small talk,” the opinions of others matters. It’s why “peer groups” are so important in early childhood development. Into adolescence and beyond, if being “cool” or just accepted is being “bad,” ethical considerations never come up. There could be a gun or knife in the back pocket, rather than an ethical reminder.

The Written Word

Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Kant and Thomas Aquinas are just some of the classical authors who have written about ethics. Since then it has been a topic in the arts, sciences, business, entertainment and mass media industries, including sports.  

Given that historically, the above resources were mostly available to families privileged with the means and access to higher education, and considering the lack of interest in the subject generally, it’s not surprising that many people have not been exposed to ethical thinking, modeling or instruction. 

Questions

As a contemporary field of study, philosophers in environmental ethics wrestle with questions of balance between human and nonhuman concerns. On the human side: Should ecosystems be used freely as a resource? What is the role of “beauty?” As an intrinsic value, does ethics  have a place in discussions of environmental considerations?

“Place” is also important to people. Should some places—environments— be protected? Why? For whom? How long? “Justice” is another consideration. One group may live on land that another wants for development or pass-through rights. And what of future generations? What will be the impact on people who don’t yet exist?

On the nonhuman side: Do all sentient organisms—insects, flora and fauna—need to be considered? What, if any, is their value? Are they equally significant? What about extinction? Which species are expendable? Which are not?

Perspective

Aldo Leopold, a famous American philosopher and forester, said that “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends to do otherwise.” Opponents to this view argue that “we can’t clearly identify the boundaries of ecosystems… And why would we think the integrity of a system mattered morally anyway?” 

In my view, it comes down to the kind of world we want for ourselves, our children and the generations that come after them. Do we want a world without—(enter any living thing or landscape)? Do tigers, polar bears, mountain gorillas, sea turtles, orangutans, Sumatran elephants or rhinos have value beyond their utility? If so, here’s the $64,000 question: What are we willing to do, possibly to sacrifice, to keep them alive, healthy and reproducing?

A man is ethical only when life, as such, is sacred to him, that of plants and animals as well as that of his fellowman, and when he devotes himself helpfully to all life that is in need of help.

Albert Schweitzer


Email: smithdl@fuse.net

Portfolio: DavidLSmithPhotography.com

Photography Monographs. The pages can be turned in each book.

The Climate Is Precipitating Change

While governments and industries move at a glacial pace, citizens and NGO’s are getting ahead of the storm

Climate change has a long history. In the last 650,000 years, there have been seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat, with the abrupt end of the last ice age about 7,000 years ago marking the beginning of the modern climate era—and of human civilization. Most of these climate changes are attributed to very small variations in Earth’s orbit that change the amount of solar energy our planet receives. The current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is extremely likely (greater than 95 percent probability) to be the result of human activity since the mid-20th century and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented.”

NASA

The Situation

The climate is increasingly in the news due to global warming. Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luise write in The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision, “Since the Industrial Revolution, human activities have generated excessive greenhouse gas emissions, causing massive amounts of heat to be trapped in the atmosphere. The principal sources of these human-induced gasses are the production of CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation, and the emissions of methane from the management of livestock. Warmer air means there are more energy and moisture in the atmosphere, and this can lead to a variety of consequences—floods, tornados, and hurricanes, but also droughts, heat waves, and wildfires… The most alarming discovery has been that human emissions of greenhouse gasses have caused the Arctic to warm about twice as fast as the rest of the Northern Hemisphere.”

As ice melts it exposes the darker ocean waters, which absorb heat rather than reflecting it back into space, the reflectivity of ice is diminished before it even melts and air pollution combined with soot from wildfires leads to greater absorption of heat which accelerates melting. Further, the warming of the atmosphere deepens the meandering of the polar jet stream pushing ice and snow from the Arctic to the south and warm air from the south to the Arctic, resulting in the more frequent and severe weather conditions we’ve been experiencing in recent years. 

For millennia, atmospheric carbon dioxide had never been higher than 300 parts per million.  According to NASA, beginning in 1950 the level spiked dramatically to the current level of 420 ppm. The global temperature is rising; the oceans are warming and becoming acidified; ice sheets are shrinking; glaciers are retreating; there’s decreased snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere; sea levels are rising; the extent and thickness of Arctic sea ice is declining rapidly; record high temperatures are being exceeded regularly and the warming of the atmosphere and oceans are causing major shifts in species extinction and avian, animal and sea life migratory patterns worldwide. 

Notice the alligator, bottom right

The Good News

Writing in A New Climate For Theology: God, the World and Global Warming, Sallie McFague says there are some encouraging perspectives. “If all economic and governmental institutions worldwide were to take the necessary measures through taxes and incentives to ensure lifestyle changes throughout all levels of the human population, the task could be accomplished. We could stabilize greenhouse gas emissions so as to keep the global temperature at approximately 2°C by the end of the century. In other words, climate change is not necessarily an apocalyptic event that will destroy human life and other life on our planet. We know what needs to be done, and we have the technology to do it.”

 

We must enact a civilization-wide unifying purpose: to restore beauty, health and life to all that have suffered during the Ascent of Humanity.

Charles Eisenstein, Author of Climate: A New Story

Even Better News

Especially encouraging is the proliferation of nongovernmental organizations (NGO’s), non-profit, voluntary citizens’ groups, recognized by the United Nations, organized locally, nationally or internationally oriented and driven by people with a common interest to perform a variety of service and humanitarian functions. They bring their concerns to Governments, advocate and monitor policies and encourage political participation by providing information. In the ’60s there were 20,000 of these. With the advent of computers that number has skyrocketed to an estimated 10 million. 

Because they’re funded by donations and run mostly by volunteers, they’re not hindered by short-term financial objectives or political partisanship. That means they can focus on long-term and complex issues such as climate change. Because they enjoy a high degree of public trust, they have already been effective in rallying people to their causes and making change happen when governments couldn’t.

In The Systems View Of Life, Fritjof Capra says the global coalition of NGO’s, combined with global communication technologies has produced a global “civil society” that forms an interface between the state and its citizens. “While the nation-states have been losing power, a new kind of civil society, organized around reshaping globalization—humanizing it on behalf of the health and well-being of people, ecosystems and the planet—has gradually emerged. (Remember my posting on “emergence”?) Indeed, dysfunctional systems, by their divisiveness, ineptitude and inability to act are precipitating the emergence of systems that can act decisively. 

Dr. Capra provides an example in the area of agriculture. “If we changed from our chemical, large-scale industrial agriculture to organic, community-oriented, sustainable farming, this would contribute significantly to solving three of our biggest problems. It would greatly reduce our energy dependence because we are now using (In the USA) one-fifth of our fossil fuels to grow and process food. The healthy, organically grown food would have a hugely positive effect on public health, because many chronic diseases—heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and about 40% of cancers—are linked to our diet. And finally, organic farming would contribute significantly to fighting climate change, because an organic soil is a carbon-rich soil, meaning that it draws CO2 from the atmosphere and locks it up in the organic matter. Today, hundreds of systemic solutions are being developed all over the world to solve problems of the economy, environmental degradation, energy, climate change, food insecurity, and so on.”

We hear people say they want to do something about climate change and global warming, but besides the seeming little daily practices cited in last weeks blog “Earth House Rules,” they don’t know what. One huge contribution we can make is to appreciate and support the emergents, people who know what to do and are doing it. Online, I found a long list of A-list entertainers, sports heroes and other celebrities who are dedicated to making a difference. Another option is to call up the list of NGO’s, pick a favorite cause and sign on as a supporter.

The NGO’s by category

 

In our view, climate change will determine the destiny of mankind, so it is imperative that our generation makes the right choices.

Wang Yi, Chinese Foreign Minister at 2019 G20 Summit

 


Email: smithdl@fuse.net

Portfolio: DavidLSmithPhotography.com

Photography Monographs. The pages can be turned in each book.

 

Acknowledgement

Bearers Of Light

Late evening, New York city. Men hauling pipe on a busy sidewalk. I see shadows, light, pedestrians and aging cement. More deeply, I see manual workers playing their part to deliver materials to others who will used them to fix a problem, maintain a system or realize a dream. Although I can’t tell much about these individuals beyond their forms and a hint of clothing, they speak to me of the masses of people who provide the goods and services that keep the society running—the everyday people whose hauling, building, cleaning, repairing, collecting, moving and monitoring activities are essential yet not glamorous.

I’m reminded of a luncheon I attended at the headquarters of a multinational corporation. Waiting in the lobby for my host, I read their impressive statement of mission and values. I was introduced to the CEO and other officers. Professional dress at every level. Personable and professional interactions. Luxurious facilities. The details of the meeting are lost to me now—except for one that I will never forget.

After lunch my host, a relatively new department manager, led me to a place where we dropped off our food trays. Behind the open window, an older woman wearing a hairnet and apron busily took the trays as we slid them to her so she could move them onto a conveyor belt headed for people who separated the items on their way to the dishwasher. My host and I were talking but she stopped. “Excuse me David,” she said. She turned and set her tray down, but held onto it so the woman couldn’t take it. “Hello!” she said, looking her in the eye. “I just want you to know how much I appreciate what you do here.” She said something else, but I didn’t hear it. A line was forming in back of me. Moving on, I asked my host if she knew this woman. She didn’t. “I think it’s really important to acknowledge people for what they do,” she said. I asked if everyone there did that and she answered, “Probably not. But I have to.”

Indeed. Acknowledgement. She probably made that woman’s day. Certainly, she made my day. And the best part, it left such an impression that I have ever since wanted to emulate her simple words of kindness. And so this image calls me to acknowledge and appreciate the hard working and largely unnoticed individuals—particularly those I encounter—who keep everything running. They constitute the foundation of the social pyramid. And without them, it could not stand.

We’re a country that acknowledges only those who stand on the victory podium, but some of my heros come in last.

Bud Greenspan

Earth House Rules

What we can do to affect positive change for Earth and humanity

In Ken Burns’ documentary, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, a paradox was cited where Congress debated over whether or not the Grand Canyon should become a “national park” or remain a “national monument.” The former restricts a park against any human use other than tourism. I cite it here because it very well represents the distinction we made between “surface ecology” and “deep ecology” in a prior posting. At base, it points to aspects of human nature that often come in conflict—the urge to “use” the material world in order to build, create wealth and expand, and the urge to “appreciate” it toward lifting the spirit and enriching the soul. In essence, when it comes to the environment, we have and continue to oppose the physical and the spiritual (in the reverence sense, not the religious).

Historically, there are at least two primary reasons for this divide: the perception of God, other people and the world as other and separate, and the biblical injunction to subdue the Earth. In New Climate For Theology: God, the World and Global Warming, theologian Sallie McFague refers to the former as the deistic model. “It sees the world as totally secular, divorced from God—and from human beings, except as a ‘machine’ for our use. The relationship between God and the world as well as between human beings and the world is utilitarian: we and God are ‘subjects,’ whereas the world and all its other creatures are “objects. This utilitarianism (italics mine) is in large measure why we are presently in our global warming crisis.”

And it’s roots, says Charles Eisenstein in Climate: A New Story, “are in fundamentalism of all kinds, a disengagement from the complexity of the real world… that offers certainty, a lockdown of thought into a few prescribed pathways.” His reference is Genesis 1:28 of the Christian Bible that says: “God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.’” We’ve done that, and as a result, we’re racing toward global catastrophe.  

If the cause of our crisis is the illusion of separation from God, the earth and each other, which allows for the use of the planet to fulfill human needs, wants and aspirations, then the cure requires a shift in perception—from the idea that we are separate, independent operators, to seeing ourselves as members of one species and one interdependent and interconnected living system. Systemically speaking, the health and well-being of each member depends on the health and well-being of the whole. And vice versa.

Perceptions are choices we make. We can shift out of necessity (the hard way), or the gentle way by acting with wisdom and foresight. With climate change and the sixth extinction already underway, leaders globally are choosing the hard way, preferring short-term gains, passing off consequences to the environment to future generations. In such a climate, what can we, everyday people, do to affect positive change?

 

What could change the direction of today’s civilization? It is my deep conviction that the only option is a change in the sphere of the spirit, in the sphere of human conscience. It is not enough to invent new machines, new regulations, new institutions. We must develop a new understanding of the true purpose of our existence on this Earth. Only by making such a fundamental shift will we be able to create new models of behavior and a new set of values for the planet.

Vaclav Havel, President of the Czech Republic 1993-2003

 

When it comes time to vote, we can vote our conscience. Personally, I appreciate candidates who evidence the perception of the world as one, integrated and interdependent whole; individuals committed to sustaining, ideally enhancing, the health and well-being of all people, environments and animals; people with light in their eyes, not just dollar signs, people who put the needs of others above their own preferences and gratifications. Especially, we need leaders who demonstrate empathy, the capacity to vicariously experience the feelings, thoughts, and experience of others—all others.

This is a tall order, so it’s no wonder that the modern era is experiencing a crisis in leadership. Nonetheless, the whole—family, community, nation, species, planet—can flourish when all its parts are secure and cared for. That’s the challenge of leadership.  It’s why the business world trains executives in “servant leadership,” and why students of ecology are encouraged to think of themselves as “stewards” of the planet.

Closer to home, there are everyday things we can do to reduce our impact on the environment:

  • Take shorter showers.
  • Ask for paper rather than plastic cups in restaurants—and always tell the server why.
  • Use paper straws—or none at all.
  • Take reuseable bags to the grocery store.
  • Reduce meat intake.
  • Buy organic where possible.
  • Wear a sweater rather than turn the heat up.
  • Fly less. Use the phone or video conferencing for work meetings.
  • Turn the lights off, except when necessary.
  • Shop closer to home.
  • Walk or ride a bike rather than drive short distances.
  • Choose a low mileage vehicle.
  • Ride the bus or carpool.
  • Improve the energy efficiency of our houses.
  • Recycle as much as possible.
  • Turn electronic devices off overnight.
  • As much as possible, wash only full loads of clothing.
  • Avoid aerosols, pesticides and lawn chemicals (that kill worms and insects,  etc.)
  • Have tools repaired or sharpened rather than replacing them.

 

Making small changes to my personal consumption habits means my dollar will start putting pressure on companies that are wasteful, environmentally damaging or polluting. With more people shopping local, clean and ethical you can bet the lure of profits in greener consumer products, will inspire change on a large scale.

Amie Engerbretson, Professional Skier

 

Earth House Rules

If we care about the planet and all its creatures, we’ll think about the consequences of our actions and do the right thing—even if others are not and when no one is watching. In the source cited above, Sallie McFague, writes that “Earth is a home, not a hotel.”  As such, she provides three simple guidelines that she calls “Earth’s House Rules.” Whenever I see people observing these practices, I am uplifted.

Take only your share. Since all creatures must have food in order to survive, distributive justice becomes a necessary and central human behavior. The whole, the planet, cannot flourish unless the parts are healthy. Hence, “Take only your share” is not a plea for charity to the disadvantaged; rather, it is a law of planetary well-being. 

Clean up after yourself. This home is the only one we will ever have. We must reuse, not use up, everything on the planet. In a healthy ecosystem, everything is recycled: we need to structure our societies on that model. This will not be easy, for our consumer culture thrives on its exact opposite—throwing away. 

Keep the house in good repair for others. The house is not ours; we do not own it. Rather, it is on loan to us for our lifetime, and we must sustain it for others. 

Indigenous people around the world lived these rules naturally because they believed the world and everything it contains is alive. They understood interconnection and interdependence at every level. There was no division between the physical and the spiritual—in human beings or the world. Balance had to be maintained, otherwise, the life force would die and the world would end. Fortunately for all humankind, Congress saw fit to establish the Grand Canyon as a national park. Had they not, it might have been strip-mined with hotels and electronic billboards dotting the rim.

 

There is no “safe place” on earth where pollution, global warming, acid rain, and so on can’t find us—and the places we think are safe can turn out to be the most dangerous… One of the most important forces behind behavior change is the belief that things can be different, that what we do makes a difference. A common motto of many NGOs—“A different world is possible”—rests on this belief in the human ability to imagine alternative worlds and to work for their realization. We must begin to see ourselves as interrelated and interdependent with the animate and inanimate elements of our planet and begin to follow earth’s house rules of limited use, recycling, and long-term sustainability.

Sallie McFague, Author, Blessed Are The Consumers

 


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Irritable? Got A Case Of The Blahs?

Gratitude can turn it around in short order

Gratitude: From the Latin gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness depending on the context. 

What It Does

Gratitude works in at least two ways. It shifts negative thoughts to positive thoughts by recognizing that something in life is good. And because the specific good we think about is external to us, it takes us out of ourselves. The trick to transforming the thought or feeling that “Things are really screwed up” into “All is well; it’ll get better” is to let your song gratitude for a specific good expand into a chorus of things you’re grateful for. And sustain it.

The Science

In Neurodharma: New Science, Ancient Wisdom, and Seven Practices of the Highest Happiness, psychologist Rick Hanson advises to “Grow the good that lasts in your brain and your life.” In one study, he found that focusing on an experience for 20 seconds is long enough to create “positive structural changes in the brain.” And that gratitude in particular, “gives space for positive thoughts and experiences to expand as if we’re re-experiencing them.” The structural changes he sites include the stimulation of the hypothalamus, which regulates stress, and the ventral tegmental area, which plays a significant role in the brain’s reward system that produces feelings of pleasure.

A white paper entitled  The Science of Gratitude, prepared for the John Templeton Foundation by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, reported in 2018 that gratitude has deep roots in our evolutionary history. One study reported that the desire to repay generosity suggests that gratitude “may have evolved as a mechanism to drive reciprocal altruism, thereby turning strangers into friends and allies who are more likely to help one another.” Other studies report that gratitude arose as a mechanism for social adaptation, that specific genes could underlie the experience of gratitude, and that parenting, prayer and a host of other social and cultural factors are linked to gratitude.

Individual Benefits

The paper cited above associated gratitude with better physical and psychological health, increased happiness, life satisfaction, decreased materialism and less suffering from burnout. “More grateful cardiac patients reported better sleep, less fatigue, and lower levels of cellular inflammation.” “Heart failure patients who kept a gratitude journal for eight weeks were more grateful and had reduced signs of inflammation afterward.” Other studies found that “more grateful people experience less depression and are more resilient following traumatic events.”

Children can benefit as well. “Gratitude journaling in the classroom improved students’ mood and a curriculum designed to help students appreciate the benefits they have gained from others successfully taught children to think more gratefully and to exhibit more grateful behavior.” And  adolescents who demonstrated gratitude “are more interested and satisfied with their school lives, are more kind and helpful, and are more socially integrated.”

Social Benefits

The report also indicated that “Gratitude inspires people to be more generous, kind, and helpful or prosocial. “It strengthens relationships, including romantic relationships, and may improve the climate in workplaces. More grateful people are more helpful and generous. It’s important in forming and maintaining social relationships.”

Researchers referred to the “find, remind and bind” function of gratitude. “By attuning people to the thoughtfulness of others, gratitude helps them ‘find’ or identify people who are good candidates for quality future relationships; it also helps ‘remind’ people of the goodness of their existing relationships; and it ‘binds’ them to their partners and friends by making them feel appreciated, encouraging them to engage in behaviors that will help prolong their relationships.”

The Practice 

Several studies observed that keeping a gratitude journal or writing a letter of gratitude can increase one’s happiness and overall positive mood. Especially important in writing is the language we use. In The Science Of Gratitude: How It Affects Your Brain And How You Can Use It To Create A Better Life, Anna Powers reported a double-blind study where 300 participants wrote letters of gratitude for three weeks straight. “What really made a difference in mental health improvement was not the abundance of positive words, but rather a lack of negative ones! Thus, indicating that gratitude shifts our frame of mind to a positive state of being and allows us to have a better psychological experience despite what we may be going through externally.”

Psychology professor and gratitude researcher at UC Davis, Dr. Robert Emmons, recommends two key components in practicing gratitude—“Affirm the good things we’ve received, and acknowledge the role people played in providing goodness in our lives.” 

Mindful: Healthy Mind, Healthy Life is a website that describes ten ways to practice gratitude.  Among them, are making a vow to do so. “Research shows that making an oath to perform a behavior increases the likelihood that the action will be executed.” Use visual reminders. “Because the two primary obstacles to gratefulness are forgetfulness and a lack of mindful awareness, visual reminders can serve as cues to trigger thoughts of gratitude. And think outside the box. Look for little things, situations and circumstances, that elicit joy or appreciation.

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them. — John F. Kennedy

 

Frequently, I find that thoughts of gratitude are triggered by encountering someone in real life or on television who can’t do some of the things I take for granted—like hearing and walking. Also, people who don’t have what I consider a necessary part of everyday living—like showering in water that’s as pure as what we drink, having a warm bed to sleep in, refrigeration, a washer and dryer, telephone and computer… Oh my!   

My favorite comment on gratitude comes from a dear friend who passed away a few years ago. A comment in his book, The Mystical Sense of the Gospels: A Handbook for Contemplatives, speaks to gratitude’s highest vibration.  

 

There is a gratitude that is generic, nonspecific, not tied down to any single benefit or  blessing. It is just a generalized welling up of love, a thanks-for-everything, unspecified gratitude. It gives wings to the soul, and it begins to partake of the boundlessness of God. It elevates the spirit above all that is finite and all but fuses with or dissolves into God. 

James M. Somerville

 

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Planetary Stewardship

For us to survive the planet must thrive

To sustain is to maintain. With regard to ecosystems, sustainability isn’t enough. While protecting and invigorating certain ecosystems may be all that can be done to preserve what would otherwise be lost, the word “sustainability” allows us to continue to see the world as composed of “resources” to be used—ideally in ways that don’t contribute to greenhouse gasses. Further, the word relegates human beings to the role of manager, as if the planet is a machine that we can control. Nature cannot be controlled; we can only respond to it. We cannot sustain life as we know it, or as it has been. Attempts, though good and necessary, will always be partial and temporary.

 

Sustainability invites a linear response to a nonlinear problem. But Earth is not a machine; it is alive, and it will remain hospitable to life only if we treat it as such.

Charles Eisenstein, Author, Climate: A New Story

 

What is our proper response to change? How can we best relate to nature and life processes in ways that both sustain and enhance? Leave it alone? We can’t. As the population increases at an estimated 82 million people per year, racing toward 8 billion, the demand for resources will only grow. 

Paleontologists have identified five mass extinctions during the past 500 million years. “Estimates of current extinction rates due to deforestation and the destruction of other habitats, indicate that the Earth is now in the midst of a sixth mass extinction (Elizabeth Kolbert: The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, 2015). This one, according to the 2010 report of the Royal Society of London “is caused, for the first time, by the activities of a single species: Homo sapiens.”

 

Concern with the environment is no longer one of many ‘single issues.’ It is the context of everything else—our lives, our businesses, our politics. The great challenge of our time is to build and nurture sustainable communities and societies.

G. Tyler Miller, Author, Living in the Environment

 

The Old Paradigm

The fundamental dilemma underlying the major problems of our time seems to be the illusion that unlimited growth is possible on a finite planet… Our current economic system is fueled by materialism and greed that do not seem to recognize any limits… It’s maintained by economists who refuse to include the social and environmental costs of economic activities in their theories. Consequently, there are huge differences between market prices and the true costs, as, for example, for fossil fuels… These movements are facilitated by ‘free-trade’ rules, designed to support continuing corporate growth. Economic and corporate growth are pursued relentlessly by promoting excessive consumption and a throw-away economy that is energy and resource-intensive, generating waste and pollution, and depleting the Earth’s natural resources.

Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi, The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision 

 

The Good News

We created a relationship to Earth that is no longer viable. Knowing this, we can create a more appropriate relationship, one of stewardship.

We do not need to invent sustainable human communities from scratch but can model them after nature’s ecosystems, which are sustainable communities of plants, animals, and microorganisms. Since the outstanding characteristic of the ‘Earth Household’ is its inherent ability to sustain life, a sustainable community is designed in such a manner that its ways of life, business, economy, physical structures, and technologies do not interfere with nature’s inherent ability to sustain life… This wisdom of nature is the essence of ecoliteracy.”

Does sustainability mean lowering our standard of living? Not at all. It does mean that we have to do more with less, but as Paul Hawken argues, “Once we start to organize ourselves and innovate within that mind-set (of sustainability), the breakthroughs are extraordinary. They will allow us to achieve greatly superior rates of resource productivity, which in turn allow us to be prosperous, fed, clad, secure.”

Fritjof Capra, Author, The Hidden Connections: A Science for Sustainable Living

 

Writing in Scientific American, Capra and others maintain that the innovation at the heart of sustainable living will be a powerful economic engine. “Addressing climate change,” he says, “is the biggest job creation program there is.”

In last weeks post, “Nature’s Wisdom…,” I identified the basic principles of ecology, perceptions of nature that can affect a shift toward sustaining and enriching the Earth. They include interdependence, life processes are cyclical, complex living systems require sunlight and nature thrives on cooperation. Embracing these and acting accordingly is the way of planetary stewardship. For me, In a nutshell, it’s love—right relationship enhances the lives of who and what we love.

 

In a strange paradox, we who have unprecedented power over the planet are at the same time at its mercy: if it does not thrive, neither can we.

Sallie McFague, Author, Blessed Are The Consumers

 


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Life Matters

All forms of life have value in themselves; equal right to grow and flourish

Cultural historian and ecotheologian Thomas Berry distinguished between “shallow” and “deep” ecology. He said the former is based on the belief that big ecological problems can be resolved within an industrial, capitalist society by fighting pollution and resource depletion in order to preserve human health and affluence—basically the aim of the “environmental movement.” Deep ecology, however, “operates out of respect for all forms of life and accords them equal right to live and blossom.” (My italics).

In The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision, Fritjof Capra elaborates this distinction: “Shallow ecology is anthropocentric, or human-centered. It views humans as above or outside of nature, and as the source of all value, and ascribes only instrumental, or “use,” value to nature. Deep ecology does not separate humans—or anything else—from the natural environment. It sees the world not as a collection of isolated objects but as a network of phenomena that are fundamentally interconnected and interdependent. Deep ecology recognizes the intrinsic value of all living beings and views humans as just one particular strand in the web of life.” He goes on to say that ecological awareness is spiritual in its deepest essence, a “mode of consciousness” where the individual feels a sense of belonging and connectedness to the cosmos as a whole.

Charles Eisenstein summarizes our situation succinctly in Climate: A New Story. “Earth is not a machine; it is alive, and it will remain hospitable to life only if we treat it as such… “so far we have been destroying its tissues and organs.” Why? Because worldwide, economies were designed to promote the acquisition of wealth with little to no regard for ethics or environmental degradation. The perception of the earth as a perpetual growth machine encourages a posture of maintenance and repair when something bad happens. “Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke.”

And really serious problems? With enough money, human ingenuity and technology will fix them. Build a dam, raise the height of flood walls, purchase more equipment, enlist more volunteers and provide better training for first responders, declare states of emergency, enact legislation to bolster emergency response budgets, call out the National Guard, invest in more sophisticated technology in order to detect future crises. These are good and necessary fixes after a crisis, but these are band-aids. They don’t address the whole system. Attributing causes to “nature” just renders us helpless. But we’re not. Economies were structured by people, and they can be restructured. We’ll look at some of the possibilities in future postings. For now, I’ll stick to the topic at hand.

The band-aid fixes cited above amount to enforced caring. We act because we have to. Lives are at stake. In business, we refer to this as “crisis management.” Once the breakdown is healed, the system returns to normal functioning—except for those who lived through a tragedy, as we’re seeing in Puerto Rico.

The goal of virtually all national economies is to achieve unlimited growth, even though the absurdity of such an enterprise on a finite planet should be obvious to all… Undifferentiated economic growth is the root cause of our mountains of solid waste, our polluted cities, the depletion of natural resources, and the energy crisis; and because the continuing expansion of production is driven mainly by fossil fuels, it is also the root cause of the multiple disasters arising from peak oil and climate change. 

Fritzof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi, Authors of The Systems View of Life   

“Why should I care? Nobody else does.” Our national discourse seems to indicate that is true. What is being talked about in the nightly news? Murder, active shooters, polarization, race relations, domestic abuse, corruption, drugs, celebrity gossip, natural and man-made disasters. A while back, a friend of mine politely asked his neighbor why he threw a half-eaten sandwich and french fries on the front lawn of their apartment. To paraphrase, the man replied, “Nobody cares about me, why should I care about anybody else?” If we all felt that way, the earth would already be a gigantic garbage dump with toxic air and water.

Why should I care about my home, property, the streets in my community, the food we eat, the parks we visit, security, health, education, the earth and life itself? There’s only one answer capable of sustaining us, and that’s love—caring enough about the quality of life for all living beings, love of the whole system, sufficient to redesign what isn’t working for humanity and the planet. With that, we can amend our lifestyles, economies and politics in ways that sustain and enhance the earth and her life-giving processes. 

Hollywood, the mass media, mass marketing, and the advertising industry, in the interest of generating ever-higher profits, have inadvertently convinced us that “the good life” and the “American Dream” are had through the acquisition and consumption of material goods. In the race to win an ever-increasing share of prosperity, greed, competition and corruption have become business as usual. And if you’re rich enough, you won’t get caught doing something illegal—or you can buy yourself out of it if you do. With some exceptions, corporations and governments are continuing to treat the earth like a money-making machine, a resource to be exploited. Trouble is, the earth is a finite living being and we’re sucking the life out of it.

Climate change and global warming deniers, backed by corporations and governments—especially ours—act as if this machine can continue to churn out wealth for the few at the expense of the many. I believe a day will come when the corporate powers and fossil fuel lobbyists will wake up and find that, worldwide, a groundswell of people who care deeply about their health and well-being and the flourishing of the planet, will be enacting a new, sustainable, whole systems design. From what I read, those people are connecting and the design is on the drawing board. Stay tuned.

Here’s just a sample:

  • CERES: CERES promotes sustainable business practices and solutions by working with more than 80 companies. Their Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR), includes 100 leading investors collectively managing more than $11 trillion in assets.

 

  • Conservation International (CI): CI works with scientists, local communities and practitioners in the field to protect nature, global biodiversity and human communities. It has supported the creation, expansion and improved management of nearly 50 million acres of marine and terrestrial protected areas, and its data collection has led to the discovery of more than 1,400 species new to science.

 

  • Doctors Without Borders: Provides emergency medical aid to people affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters or exclusion from health care. Since 1971, the organization has treated tens of millions of people in over 80 countries. In 1999, it received the Nobel Peace Prize.

 

  • Food and Water Watch: Works to make food, fish and water safe, accessible and sustainable. They’ve raised consumer awareness of the environmental and economic costs of bottled water, and have helped dozens of communities — from Stockton, California to Trenton, New Jersey — fight the privatization of public water supplies.

 

  • Greenpeace: The largest nonviolent, direct-action environmental organization in the world with 2.8 million members. Greenpeace’s work focuses on climate change, oceans, forests, toxins, nuclear energy and sustainable agriculture.

 

  • Heifer International: Has provided over 20.7 million families—that’s 105.1 million men, women and children—with animals and training in sustainable agriculture so that they can feed and care for themselves. Founded over 70 years ago by a U.S. farmer, the organization focuses on ending hunger and poverty.

Source: The 14 Most Influential Sustainability NGO’s (Non-Governmental Organizations). When you’re thinking about charitable contributions, this is a great place to see who’s doing good in and for the world.

 

The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman life on Earth have value in themselves… These values are independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman world for human purposes.

Arne Naess, Author of The Ecology of Wisdom; Writings by Arne Naess

 


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