Lack of Environment

A blog on the politics and psychology underlying the denial of all our environmental problems

Archive for the ‘Economics’ Category

Mapping the evolution of climate change ‘scepticism’ in British newspapers since 1990

with 23 comments

This was supposed to be my latest attempt to explain my research idea to a lay audience. However, it has been pointed out to me that, in what follows, I spend more time highlighting the seriousness of the problem the motivated rejection of science has caused than actually describing how I will research the ways in which it has (or has not) evolved over time. This is unfortunate because the former is clearly not the purpose of my research. However, it is the raison d’etre of this blog. Therefore, I have decided to post this here anyway…

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If you deny a clear preponderance of evidence, you have crossed the line from legitimate skeptic to ideological denier. – Stephen H Schneider

DSCF1826xWhere did this idea come from?
In 2011, I completed an MA in Environmental Politics at Keele University. As part of this, I chose to research and write my dissertation on climate change scepticism in the UK. My inspiration for choosing this topic was reading two books:
Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth of Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway; and
Requiem for a Species: Why we Resist the Truth About Climate Change, by Clive Hamilton.

DenialOfScienceMy research involved analysing and categorising the arguments put forward by prominent think-tanks, scientists, economists, politicians, journalists and others that dispute the reality, reliability and/or reasonableness of the scientific consensus that humans are now the primary cause of ongoing climate change. I decided then that I would like to pursue this further as a PhD. Sadly, this proved harder to achieve than I had imagined but – having attracted a great deal of academic attention by starting my Lack of Environment blog on the subject and publishing my research as a book (see its Facebook page for details) – I am now doing just that. Well, sort of…

The key was finding the right PhD supervisor but, finding the right supervisor has meant focussing my research on newspapers; specifically the output of journalists and other commentators who seek to influence public opinion.

what ifWhat’s this all about?
I intend to research the historical development of the disputation of climate science in British newspapers since 1990. This will be done by keyword searches of online databases of newspaper content at specific times over the last 25 years. These will include the time of significant publications (e.g. IPCC reports) and events (e.g. extreme weather). The intention is to document the arguments of – and the counter-factual claims made by – those who dispute the reality, reliability and/or reasonableness of the scientific consensus (that ongoing change is primarily a consequence of the post-industrial burning of fossil fuels); and whether or not these have changed in response to increasing scientific confidence in that consensus.

Why does this interest me?
I believe this research will be of great societal benefit because the fossil fuel industry has spent much of the last three decades disputing the science indicating that our burning of its product is damaging the environment.

In so doing, it has copied a strategy invented by the tobacco industry to delay the effective regulation of its business; and a large proportion of humanity appears to have failed to learn from this recent history. Consequently, disputing the reality, reliability or reasonableness of the modern consensus regarding climate science can only be justified by the invocation of scientific or political conspiracy theories.

globalwarming_theoriesWhere is the conspiracy?
Conspiracy theory has been defined as the invocation of a more-complicated explanation for something (based on little or no evidence) in preference to the simplest-possible explanation (taking all evidence at face value).

However, there is simply no evidence for a left-wing conspiracy to over-tax and over-regulate people (so as to make everyone poorer). Whereas, there is a great deal of evidence for a right-wing conspiracy to under-tax and under-regulate industry (so as to make a few people richer).

Therefore, whereas there is no precedent for the global scientific community conspiring to manufacture alarm simply to perpetuate scientific research (i.e. conspiracy theory), there is a precedent for global industries conspiring to manufacture doubt regarding very inconvenient science (i.e. conspiracy fact).

sust devt iconWhat does this matter?
I shall leave the final word to James Hoggan, the author of Climate Cover Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming, and co-founder of the DeSmogBlog website.

“Democracy is utterly dependent upon an electorate that is accurately informed. In promoting climate change denial (and often denying their responsibility for doing so) industry has done more than endanger the environment. It has undermined democracy. There is a vast difference between putting forth a point of view, honestly held, and intentionally sowing the seeds of confusion. Free speech does not include the right to deceive. Deception is not a point of view. And the right to disagree does not include a right to intentionally subvert the public awareness.” – James Hoggan.

Written by Martin Lack

1 June 2014 at 00:02

Why do our politicians not act on IPCC advice?

with 12 comments

Washington and Cook - Climate Change DenialI am hereby delighted to invite all my readers to indicate (by voting on a question [on the Survey Monkey website] that I have created) why they think our politicians continue to fail to respond effectively to the increasingly stark warnings (such as IPCC AR5 reports) from the scientific community?

With reference to my response to a recent comment on my blog, the choice seems to me to be either:

(a) they understand the risk of continuing inaction but believe taking action would be electorally suicidal;
or
(b) they discount the warnings because they choose to believe that technology alone will solve the problem.

What do people think? Is there another explanation?
Please vote at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/TKNBN5P

If you feel you must insert an alternative explanation (the survey question allows this but I would prefer that people choose from the above options), please feel free to comment below as well (or instead).

N.B. This survey will close on the 13th of May and is not part of my PhD research.

The Arctic 30 are back – please help Shell say no to Gazprom

with one comment

Latest email from Greenpeace:

Hi,
Five months ago, they tried to silence us. They arrested our activists, and threw them in jail for peacefully protesting oil drilling in the Russian Arctic. The oil giants thought they could scare us away with intimidation. But as long as the Arctic is in danger, we’ll take action to protect it. We’re ready to do whatever it takes to prevent an oil spill in the home of the polar bears. This morning, 80 activists confronted a tanker carrying the same oil the Arctic 30 protested against to a refinery in Rotterdam. Seven of the original Arctic 30 joined them. 

Join the action, tell Shell and Gazprom that Arctic drilling is a losing battle.
As dawn broke, a dramatic chase unfolded with the Rainbow Warrior chasing the Russian tanker into Rotterdam harbor and the Esperanza speeding in to support the Warrior. As the tanker slowed down to turn, the more nimble Rainbow Warrior slipped in front and put itself between the tanker and the dock where it was to unload the oil. Dutch police then quickly stormed the Warrior taking control of the ship and arresting the crew. They are safe and are currently in contact with colleagues on the ground. This isn’t just any oil. It’s the first ever Arctic oil extracted from ice-covered waters by Shell’s partner, Gazprom. It comes from the Prirazlomnaya platform, where the Arctic 30 were violently arrested following a peaceful protest last year.No Arctic Oil
These aren’t just any activists. Despite spending two months in jail for their last protest, seven of the Arctic 30 are back, defiantly fighting for the Arctic. Their fellow brave activists witnessed their unjust detention, but refuse to be silenced.They know the Arctic is too valuable to lose. They aren’t alone. You, me, and over 5 million people are standing with them.

Plagued by our daring actions and relentless pressure, oil giants and investors are finally waking up to the risks of drilling in the frozen north. Just last month, Shell backed out of their Arctic drilling plans. If we keep up this momentum, we know we can win. 

As a citizen and consumer, you have the power to resist the destruction of the Arctic. We engage in peaceful civil disobedience because public confrontation is often the only way to get results from billion dollar companies.

But only you, and our millions of dedicated supporters, can amplify our voice.

Click to stand up against Gazprom, Shell, and all Arctic destroyers. 

Wherever they go, we’ll follow. For every plundered drop of Arctic oil, we’ll make sure the other oil giants pay the price of humiliation and infamy. However they try to destroy the Arctic, we’ll be there to stop them. Thank you for standing with us.

Ben Ayliffe
Arctic Campaigner

 

Slow Down Climate Chaos

with 4 comments

slow down climate chaos

On motorways, your car will use about 33% less fuel if driven at 60mph instead of 80mph.

In my car, this equates to approximately 10p/mile instead of 15p/mile.

As such, for me, it has been an easy behaviour modification to make.

However, as so many seem unable to do it, I have decided to put this sign in the back window of my car.

Written by Martin Lack

24 April 2014 at 12:26

BBC Panorama on the Energy Crisis in the UK

with 13 comments

The BBC have very helpfully posted the recent Panorama programme ‘Energy Bills: Power Failure’ on YouTube (as embedded below). Presented by Tom Heap (who regularly does spots on CountryFile), it is very fair-minded and includes contributions from a wide range of people. Therefore, even if you do not live in the UK, I would recommend watching the programme because: it is very good at describing the problems that we all face; and makes it crystal clear that we must find a solution (but does so in a way that somehow avoids being dogmatic).

Some questions I would like help in answering are as follows:
1. What is the instrumental music used in the opening night-time sequence in Blackpool?
2. Why do so many poor people use the most expensive (pay-as-you-go) way to heat their homes?
3. Can we give Angel Gurria (Secretary-General of OECD) a Nobel Prize for plain-speaking?
4. How can anyone avoid concluding that Ed Milliband is an opportunist and a con-man?
5. Why did the CEO of RWE nPower not admit profit margin on generation (as opposed to sales)?
6. Is the need for decarbonisation actually incompatible with power generation being privatised?
7. Why has carbon capture and storage not been made a priority in order to continue burning coal?
8. Is it realistic to think that (in a post-carbon era) energy will ever be cheaper than it is now?
9. When will the UK government admit that fracking is not actually low-carbon and (thus) not the answer?
10. Has Michael Fallon not read the BGS report that says only 10% of shale gas is probably recoverable?

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UPDATE (23/12/2013): I think the answer to Q1 is “Burn”  by Ellie Goulding (see comments below).

Greedy Lying Bar Stewards guilty of crimes against humanity

with 17 comments

Last week, I finally got to see Craig Scott Rosebraugh’s brilliant Greedy Lying Bastards documentary about the industry-funded campaign to discredit climate science and scientists. Even for someone like me – familiar with the subject matter – there was a great wealth of detail packed into this 90-minute documentary and/or the extras on the DVD.  Therefore, even if (unlike me) you got to see the film at the cinema, I would recommend that you get it out on DVD as soon as you can.  Indeed, as with Chasing Ice, you might even want to consider buying your own personal copy to keep for posterity (or for use in any class action Law Suits you may pursue at some future date).

Ecologists are prone to pointing out that trees cannot migrate.  They also don’t respond well to mandatory evacuation orders and – along with houses – tend to get burned in forest fires.  Thus, Greedy Lying Bastards begins with news and home movie footage of the June 2012 fires in Colorado, with the poignant voiceover – of what the devastating fires were like to witness first-hand – provided by some of those who lost their homes as a result:  To me, the most striking thing is that, in many cases, the homeowners complied with the evacuation orders but did not expect to end up homeless.  The message being fires come and go but, though they did not appreciate it at the time, the 2012 fires were on an unprecedented scale and out-of-control.  Although Rosebraugh could not have known it when he embarked on the production of this documentary, sadly, this has since become an all-too-familiar storyline.

Record-breaking fires, droughts, floods, freezes and storms have now become annual events:  This is what anthropogenic climate disruption  – as opposed to global warming – looks like and, it seems, we may have to get used to it.  Climate is not weather; and no single unusual weather event is indicative of climate change.  However, climate is the term used to describe the typical weather expected (in any one place) on the basis of long-term observations.  Therefore, when you have (as we do now) frequent and repeated instances of unusual weather in many different parts of the planet, this is indicative of what objective scientists – both liberal and conservative – now call global anthropogenic climate disruption.  

As Michael Mann points out early on in the documentary, the term ‘positive feedback’ sounds like a good thing but, as is now becoming painfully obvious, it is not.  A better term would be ‘vicious circle’:  As a result of a variety of vicious circles, the change that humans have caused is now becoming self-reinforcing and – unless we take concerted action – this will soon accelerate beyond our capacity to stop it:  Given the kind of responses required, the scientific consensus view is that we now have very little time to take action to prevent (effectively) irreversible change from also becoming unstoppable.

Another early contributor to the documentary is Kevin Trenberth who – echoing the subsequently-published ‘Climate Departure’ research of Camillo Mora (et al) – points out many places are already recording unprecedented rainfall and temperature events.  However, as he does throughout the documentary, Rosebraugh juxtaposes scientific facts with human examples of the consequences of those facts:  Such as the 30% reduction in crop yields experienced by third generation farmers in mid-Western states like Kansas – Farmers who say the droughts of 2011 and 2012 are unprecedented in living memory.  Such people do not need climate scientists to tell them that it is significant that this should have happened two years running.

Flipping back from citing examples of scientists with a history of industry-funded denial of environmental problems caused by industry – like Fred Singer and Pat Michaels – Rosebraugh then takes the viewer off on a trip to to Kivalina in Alaska… Kivalina is a Inupiat community on the shores of the Chukchi Sea (i.e. north of the Bering Strait separating Siberia and Alaska), which will now have to be relocated because of excessive coastal erosion.  As one of the community leaders points out, sea ice and/or pack ice used to protect their coast but now, given long ice-free periods in almost every year since 2004, coastal erosion is unmanageable. Interestingly, in 2008, events at Kivalina were the trigger for a class action Law Suit against 24 Energy Companies in the USA – similar to the action taken against the Tobacco companies a decade earlier.  Sadly, this case was dismissed by the District Court in Northern California on the grounds that “regulating greenhouse emissions was a political rather than a legal issue and one that needed to be resolved by Congress and the Administration rather than by courts”.

The most shocking thing in the movie, however, is perhaps sight of a February 17, 1993 memo from within the Tobacco giant Philip Morris, which reveals the birth of the industry-funded campaign to deny climate science.  In a reality-inverting style that might even have surprised George Orwell, this front group was named ‘The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition‘ (TASSC).  Thus it was that, with the help of ideologically-blinded scientists like Fred Singer, the tobacco industry helped finance the setting up of supposedly-independent groups that would campaign to protect their industry’s interests.  However, as the memo reveals, beginning a practice that would later become known as ‘Astroturfing’, they made sure these fake ‘grassroots’ organisations would not be linked to their industry by ensuring they campaigned against things other than tobacco.  These included GMOs, nuclear power and nuclear waste but, top of the list, was global warming.  So it is that Rosebraugh reveals the counter-intuitive fact that the Fossil Fuel industry did not just copy the Tobacco industry’s idea of denying science:  Climate change denial was in fact the Tobacco industry’s idea.

With memos like that dated February 17, 1993 in the public domain, how is it that we are still arguing about whether or not industry funds the denial of inconvenient science?

Moving forward to the post-Tobacco era of denial, Rosebraugh reveals all the links between Exxon Mobil, the Koch Brothers, Americans for Prosperity and the Tea Party.  The one glimmer of hope in all this must therefore be the electoral failure of Mitt Romney (and now Ken Cuccinelli too).  Is it too much to hope that those who deny science have now become unelectable?  The recent victory of Tony Abbott in Australia suggests it may be too early to say on a global scale but, in the USA at least, it may be that those who wish to pick a fight science and history are now going to lose.

This brings me to what I see as the second really alarming thing in the documentary – the revelation of the full significance of term ‘Citizens United’.  As a UK citizen, my understanding of this subject was, to put it mildly, somewhat confused.  I had thought this was just the idiosyncratic name given to a court case in the USA that resulted in Corporations being treated as individuals – thus allowing much greater scope for them to influence the outcome of elections.  In plain English, this could be described as a corruption – if not outright abrogation – of the democratic process.  However, as Rosebraugh illustrates, such a notion is just the tip of a very large iceberg.

Towards the end of the documentary, the Senior Attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, one Joel Reynolds, reduces our human predicament to a very simple assertion:

We face a choice between the survival of the planet and the survival of corporate profit.  

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This brings me briefly to mention the extras included on the DVD, which include the following:

1.  An explanation of how and why the IPCC is not a politically motivated organisation by Achim Steiner – the Director of UNEP.  Ardent believers in the Agenda 21 conspiracy for Communist World Domination via the UN will of course say to themselves, “Well he would say that wouldn’t he!”.  However, such zealous believers – such as these guys – need to actually listen to what he says and then come up with some actual evidence to demonstrate that he is lying.

2.  A factual summary of the effects of lobbying in the USA, which highlights the 1 billion US Dollars fossil fuel companies spent between 1998 and 2011 – $147 million in 2010 alone.  They used this money to: protect their $4 billion/year subsidies; to block cap and trade legislation (or any other effective legislation to put a price on carbon pollution); to preserve a weak legislative framework that allows them to pollute our atmosphere with impunity; and to promote policies favourable to their profitability.  And how was all this achieved?  Primarily by means of a network of over 700 political lobbyists on Capitol Hill, which is more than one for every elected representative.

3.  An assessment of the poor quality of media coverage of the climate change issue:  Put bluntly, climate change is the consequence of a great many journalists to differentiate between objective scientific fact and prejudiced unscientific opinion.  Sometimes, although now quite rarely, those who deny the nature of reality do manage to put forward a genuine scientist.  However, by indulging in what Max Boykoff calls “He said, she said” journalism, some media outlets fail to assess – or report – the motives and/or special interests of those putting forward minority views.  This failure is either irresponsible (willful ignorance) or disingenuous (ideological blindness) – or is just evidence of incompetence.

4.  Case study 1 – Peru:  As in many other parts of the World, glaciologists have used photographs taken almost 100 years ago to determine that about 70% of the glaciers left in Peru after the last Ice Age have now disappeared.  This did not shock me half as much as discovering that, as the glaciers have disappeared, the local climate has become more extreme.  Given my life-long interest in geography, however, I really should have been able to work this out for myself:  Proximity to glaciers high up in the Andes Mountains has exactly the same moderating influence upon climate as does proximity to the sea in low-lying areas (i.e. maritime climates have less overall variation in annual and diurnal temperature than continental climates).  As a result, local high altitude farmers have seen a 50% drop in crop yields and an increase in disease and mortality in their animals.

5.  Case study 2 – Uganda:  In 2010, months of unusually heavy rain resulted in mudslides.  However, even more remarkably, many farmers in Uganda now say that their climate has changed:  Since 2007, there has been no recognisable seasonality to rainfall and as such no specific time to plant crops or harvest them.

I think all this can be summarised as follows:  Anthropogenic climate disruption is already here; and with it has come increased levels of malnutrition, starvation, suffering and premature death.  The only question that therefore remains is this:

How bad must things get before the morally reprehensible political lobbying of the fossil fuel industry – which is perpetuating energy policy paralysis – becomes socially unacceptable?

The imprudence of being earnestly Oakwood

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As for the flat Earth, the debate is over.

I concluded yesterday’s post, entitled ‘The importance of being earnestly wrong’, by quoting a wonderfully circular argument from Oakwood.  This was the assertion that “…you cannot show any one of these [opinions] to be inaccurate, except by appealing to ‘the consensus’…”   In reality, the scientific consensus regarding climate science is no more the subject of legitimate debate than the consensus views that: the Universe and the Earth were not created in six days little more than 6000 years ago; the Sun does not orbit the Earth; humans did not co-exist with dinosaurs; and the Earth is not flat.

There are therefore some things about which we humans are no longer wrong (with the exception of those whose approach to science is prejudiced by their ideology or theology).

Yesterday’s post also contained a TED video of a March 2011 talk, entitled ‘On Being Wrong’, given by Kathryn Schulz.  This is so good – and so fundamental to appreciating the predicament that Oakwood is in – that I have embedded it here once again.

Schulz warns against automatically assuming that people with opposing views are either ignorant of all the relevant facts, intellectually incapable of processing the information, or deliberately stating things they know to be false.  However, she also makes the fundamental point that most people don’t know they are wrong – they are just as convinced that they are not wrong as those who are actually right.  This makes it critically important that everyone be willing to accept that they may be wrong.  I have done this a lot; and I still do it regularly.  However, with regard to climate science, I repeatedly find myself coming back to the logical proposition that:

Doubting the science can only be justified by asserting that the consensus is unreal, unreliable or unreasonable.  This does not require all scientists to be liars; but it does require the vast majority of genuine experts to be either stupid, mistaken or mendacious.

Not only would such (implausible, improbable, or insidious) things be without precedent (and require an awful lot of people to be wrong or corrupt), there is also a clear precedent – in the tobacco industry – for the business-funded disputation of highly inconvenient science (which only required a few people to be corrupt in order to fool an awful lot of people).

So, then, because I think it highly instructive – and since it is impossible to breach the confidentiality of someone who chooses to remain anonymous – Oakwood’s email to me is reproduced below (entirely without permission) with rebuttals included in bold text:

“You are entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts.”  Yes, that applies to everyone.  Here are a few facts:

IPCC models did not predict the current temperature pause.  If the IPCC has [now] said ‘because of what we know about the ocean’s massive heat capacity compared to the atmosphere, and the potential for aerosols from growing economies such as India and China, a 15 to 20 year pause is possible’. Of course, they didn’t say that [before], and only come up with the theory after the event.  The IPCC do not do the modelling; they merely synthesise the results and summarise the implications.  This is therefore statement of belief in either widespread scientific incompetence or political conspiracy.  Furthermore, since (1) ice continues to melt (at sea and on land); (2) sea level continues to rise; and (3) ocean pH continues to decline, warming has clearly not stopped.  See also ‘How reliable are climate models’ and ‘Global Warming Has Stopped’ on SkepticalScience (SkS).  

Proxy temperature data studies cannot reproduce instrumental data for recent decades – when temperatures are at their highest. Therefore, we cannot rely on them to say anything about previous ‘high temperature’ episodes, such as the MWP.  This is a complicated issue but this argument has been comprehensively and repeatedly discredited.  For example, see ‘Response by Marcott et al’ on Real Climate (with links to other sources of info).  As for the MWP, see ‘How does the Medieval Warm Period compare to current global temperatures?’ on SkS.

While so much is made of the Arctic’s ‘record’ low, little is said about the Antarctic’s ‘record’ high, except ‘well that’s different’.  Antarctica is geographically isolated and affected by the hole in the ozone layer but, despite this, the West Antarctic and the Antarctic Peninsula are warming as fast as the Arctic.  See also ‘Antarctica is gaining ice’ on SkS.

The IPCC finds NO convincing link between extreme weather events (floods, drought, hurricanes) and global warming. Their best is ‘medium confidence’ (for heavy precipitation). (More warm days and fewer cold days is not ‘extreme weather’, but simply a logical outcome of the fact temperatures rose over the 20th C). The IPCC has been repeatedly shown to understate all kinds of risk.  Historical analysis of weather in the Northern Hemisphere has shown that extreme weather is becoming more frequent.  Multi-decadal change like this cannot be explained without reference to human activity.

IPCC and climate scientists have no idea when the pause will come to an end. Their ‘accurate’ models cannot tell them. This does not matter.  Arguing that warming has stopped requires falsification of the evidence that increased atmospheric CO2 is the dominant factor.  See ‘It’s not us’ on SkS.

The 97% consensus includes most AGW-sceptics, including me. That is: CO2 is a greenhouse gas; its concentration has increased over the 20th C; it has very likely made some contribution to warming.   This myth has been repeatedly debunked.  This piece on the RealSceptic blog is the best source of information I have yet seen on how and why this argument is entirely bogus.

There is general agreement amongst climate scientists that a doubling of CO2 on its own will create about a 1dgC rise.  CO2 is not acting alone and it is the totality of change that is causing problems.  Apart from that facet of reality, this is a very misleading argument, as explained by Michael Mann himself on the LiveScience blog

Anything more relies on the belief/assumption that positive feedbacks will significantly outweigh negative feedbacks. Ongoing change despite a pause in surface warming implies warming effects are outweighing cooling effects.

But, we’ve had all these discussions before. But you cannot show any one of these facts to be inaccurate, except by appealing to ‘the consensus’ and making nonsensical statements about ‘believing all scientists to be liars’. No, Martin, the practice of science is not about saying: ‘If you disagree with me, you’re calling me a liar’. I have not called Oakwood a liar but, I must admit, he/she does seem to be remarkably incapable of accepting that he may be wrong.

It’s about proper open debate.  The fact that the vast majority of ‘sceptics’ are libertarians and/or free-market ideologues proves that the ongoing ‘debate’ is driven by policy implications not any residual uncertainty regarding science. See this excellent essay by Stephan Lewandowsky on The Conversation blog.

While still a minority, there are plenty of climate scientists and experts who do not believe AGW is a major threat.  For this to be valid the pool of “climate scientists and experts” would have to be broadened to include all kinds of scientists whose expertise is not relevant.  Since we do not generally allow this when discussing evolution or cosmology, why should we do it for climate science? 

Of course the answer to that final question is that, as with evolution and cosmology, some people are ideologically opposed to accepting the nature of reality.

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