2018 Plenary Recap

Inclusion, legitimacy, diversity and socio-environmental justice in professional organizations

Elizabeth Beattie1, Michael Finewood2, and Teresa Lloro-Bidart3

1Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy, Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia, Musqueam,

2Environmental Studies and Science Department, Pace University

3Liberal Studies Department, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona


July 2018

The theme for the 2018 AESS Conference was “Inclusion and Legitimacy.” This was prompted by out-going AESS president David Hassenzahl’s comments on the need for professional and scholarly associations concerned with environmental issues to “understand who participates in asking questions and developing answers and whose information is used to inform decisions. That is, who is included and how they are included, and what information is deemed legitimate” (Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences, 2017). This theme is timely and critical, both in terms of the wider political climate in America and within the field of environmental studies and sciences. Environmental organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency are under attack and being stripped of their power, commitments to reducing greenhouse gases such as the Paris Accord are being ignored or revoked, and xenophobia is touted as acceptable foreign policy.

We opened the conference with a panel composed of Patricia DeMarco, PhD, Jacqueline Patterson, Ian Zabarte, and Elizabeth Beattie, discussing strategies for achieving inclusion, diversity, and legitimacy in AESS and similar organizations. Like many in our field, they are each working to increase the diversity of voices involved in conversations about environmental challenges and socio-environmental justice

DeMarco has dedicated her life to improving communities through social and environmental action and policy-making. To learn about her work, see . She opened the panel with a reflection on Hassenzahl’s remarks about the theme of the conference and the panel.

Thank you to Dave Hassenzahl for the vision of this conference and commitment to addressing the many issues where sustainability and environmental studies and sciences cross not only the silos within academia but also the great gulf between the academic and wider communities we all serve and are part of. His guide for our deliberations was the compelling observation that “those who are at greatest risk often have disproportionately less voice in policy making processes and less access to scientific, legal, and other expertise” (Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences, 2017). Inclusion and Legitimacy is a huge topic that encompasses so many issues. But the heart of the matter boils down to two driving questions: Who sits at the table where decisions are made? Who has standing to speak?

This arena is no longer the purview of ‘old White men.’ It is enriched and expanded to include stakeholders whose voices cannot be stilled: those who speak for women, for people of color, for Indigenous peoples, for the unborn of the 21st century, for the ecosystems of the living Earth. Academic specialists in environmental studies and sciences have an especially compelling place in the struggle to expand inclusion and legitimacy not only within the halls of academia but also in the global community, to give voice to the needs of all living things as part of the interconnected web of life.”

To close the panel, DeMarco asked the panelists, “What can organizations like AESS and their members do to be more inclusive and enhance legitimacy?”

In this post, we draw on the words of the panellists, to consider some of the ideas that emerged from their conversation in response to this question. While these are most certainly not all of the ideas that were discussed during the panel, they do provide guidance for how professional organizations such as AESS, in seeking to overcome our “unbearable Whiteness” (AlterNet Media, 2018), can explore strategies for becoming more diverse and inclusive. Having these important conversations is a necessary part of the ongoing process, and we must continue to engage in them. As AESS’ 2018 William Freudenberg Award winner, Dr. Dorceta Taylor, expressed, AESS still has a significant amount of work to do in these regards. Dr. Taylor is an environmental sociologist who examines environmental justice, particularly in the context of racism. Find more information about her work at .

Zabarte is the Principal Man of the Western Bands of the Shoshone Nation of Indians and a board member of the Native Community Action Council. He works to challenge governmental and industry claims about the risks to western Native American Nations associated with uranium mining, nuclear weapons testing, and nuclear waste disposal, and also advocates for Native American land rights. Find out more about Zabarte’s work at and . During the plenary panel, Zabarte spoke of the need to recognize corrosive patriarchal institutions that substitute cruelty for strength. He emphasized that many Indigenous societies are matrilineal and highlighted the importance of listening to women. Additionally, he has provided the following response to the question of how we can advance legitimacy and inclusion:

As an Indigenous person, my goal is to share the story of my Indigenous people, the Western Bands of the Shoshone Nation of Indians. While some error occurs through the use of the term ‘Indian,’ it is important to recognize, figuratively and literally, that the names we as Indigenous people are recognized by in Treaty negotiations with America are the names that identify us as legitimate sovereign nations with the ability to enter into international Treaty negotiations with other countries, such as America. The term ‘tribe’ is a more recent construct used to divide one people into groups based on the subjective organizational and managerial vision of the United States. The Western Bands of the Shoshone Nation of Indians has been divided into many ‘tribes’ and placed onto different reservations along with members of other ‘tribes,’ creating confusion. Stop using the word ‘tribes’ and look to the past to understand the organic, natural, and cultural origins of the Indigenous people of this land.

I can only hope that my speaking to the members of AESS provides some measure of understanding of the fact that Indigenous people walk in two worlds, holding both ancient knowledge and modern competency, and can provide leadership in an ever-changing world. To that end, we all benefit from vigorous debate. In his book, Indigenous Sovereignty in the 21st Century, Michael Lerma, PhD, explains that the farther a people go from their own creation story, the easier it is for them to take Indigenous peoples’ land and justify the taking. My goal is to help everyone, Native Americans and settlers in America, find and connect to their Indigenousness. What is your story? Finding your roots will help you or at least give you some understanding of Indigenous peoples’ perspectives and purposes in maintaining a connection to the places we are connected to Mother Earth.

Beattie is a doctoral candidate at the University of British Columbia, which is on part of the traditional, ancestral, unceded lands of the Musqueam Nation. She is a privileged, White female, as well as a Canadian settler. She believes that acknowledging the colonial history of the lands we occupy, as well as how our own privileged positionalities shape our own understandings of Place, is one way to begin to legitimize Indigenous voices as valuable and worthy of consideration within the academy. In her work, Beattie also considers how we can learn from children and from Place when we think about and teach about the environment. For example, she attends to the relationships between children and the many non-human elements that combine to create a Place, and the ways that Places act as agentic teachers, offering children different opportunities for learning through the presence of trees that can be climbed, animals that can be known and communicated with, and other direct, embodied experiences that shape the children’s meaning-making. The field of ESS can then learn from the meanings and understandings the children have developed. Find Elizabeth Beattie’s work at .

In order to ‘include’ these and many other voices, she believes we need to go beyond ‘inclusion,’ which suggests that we add seats to the table, but does not mean that we make structural or cultural changes ourselves or in our organizations. Instead of requiring under-represented groups to conform to the dominant ways of knowing and being, to sit at the table so to speak, we need to make changes that create a space that doesn’t have a table at all, and that welcomes multiple and diverse presences in the ways that they choose to come forward. Thus, Beattie suggests we talk about ‘diversity,’ and not ‘inclusion.’

Beattie puts forward three crucial steps that members of the ESS community, who are overwhelmingly White North American settlers, can take to welcome diversity in our professional organizations. First, listen to people of colour, Indigenous people, and people from other frontline and under-represented groups. Listen so that we begin to understand what their needs really are, rather than assuming that we already know. Second, learn about the history of oppression in North America and how it is so closely tied to the environment. Third, give up our own privilege and power, and work toward the empowerment of under-represented communities.

Patterson, the Senior Director of the Environmental and Climate Justice Program at the NAACP, spoke specifically about Black American communities which are so close to nuclear power plants that Red Cross aid workers aren’t allowed to set up relief stations in their neighbourhoods. She told of Black neighbourhoods denied levees, although it was certain that they would be destroyed by flood waters, because the cost of installing the levees was greater than the calculated economic productivity of the neighbourhoods. These examples of environmental racism, and the imbalance of power that allows people of colour’s lives to be judged and found wanting on an economic basis are appalling.

Patterson reminded us that the words we use don’t ultimately matter if the intention to make change isn’t also there. She also suggested that intentions need to be translated into actions, and that talking isn’t enough. Patterson gave examples of actions that can contribute to increasing socio-environmental justice, such as when White, male directors of organizations give up their positions and intentionally appoint highly qualified Black women to these leadership positions, knowing that Black women’s accomplishments and achievements are often overlooked or under-valued. Actions like these have a ripple effect, as organizations that welcome diversity in their leadership are more likely to attract a diverse group of applicants or members. Further, leaders from under-represented groups are strong role models for the children and students who may be interested in environmental fields, and will be encouraged by seeing people who resemble them in highly visible positions in environmental studies and sciences. Follow Jacqueline Patterson on Twitter at @jacquipatt and learn more about the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program at .

DeMarco closed the panel with these words:

As we struggle to examine our own ingrained prejudices and biases, it is helpful to recognize that we are all more alike as humans than different in culture, religion, race or political persuasion. In our common humanity we can respect the dignity and value of all humans, and empower voices to speak of their experiences with the confidence of being heard as legitimate witnesses. As environmental scholars and scientists, we can bear the common responsibility to give voice to the living Earth so the decisions made in the halls of power will preserve Earth’s life support system for current and future generations.


Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences, (2017). “Plenary Panel Announcement for the Association of Environmental Studies and Sciences 2018 Annual Meeting,” [website]. Retrieved from on July 3, 2018.

AlterNet Media, (2018). “The Unbearable Whiteness of Green,” [website]. Retrieved from on July 16, 2018.

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Practicing What We Preach: Reflections on the Pros and Cons of Transdisciplinary Research in Erongarícuaro, Mexico

Erin C. Pischkea, Lucía Pérez Volkow b, Laura Danitza Aguirre Franco b, Mayra del Carmen Fragoso Medinab

a Postdoctoral researcher, Environmental and Energy Policy, Michigan Technological University, USA

b Master’s student, Biology, National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), Mexico

Jump to the Spanish version below.

Recent trends suggest that transdisciplinary research and teaching have several benefits, including the ability to approach problems with multiple methods and analytical frameworks, the integration of diverse and local perspectives, the capacity to view problems from both the bottom up and top down, and the integration of non-academic partners. Transdisciplinary approaches often lead to robust project outcomes and direct, context-specific solutions to challenging socio-environmental issues. For these reasons and more, organizations such as AESS have several practitioners devoted to the use and promotion of interdisciplinary research and teaching. Despite these benefits, actually doing interdisciplinary research is challenging. Working in large, diverse teams can be more time-consuming and frustrating, particularly when compared to conventional discipline-based projects and courses. Universities and funding agencies can also be hesitant to support these projects and courses due to their relative nascence. It is therefore critical that scholars share experiences so we can collectively work towards improved processes and outcomes.

In this spirit we seek to share the challenges and benefits from our experience as master’s and doctoral students participating in an interdisciplinary two-week short course on conceptualizing the management of socio-ecological water systems in Michoacan, Mexico. The-Inter American Institute for Global Change Research ( funded the course, which Patricia Balvanera from The Institute for Ecosystems and Sustainability Research at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) designed. Four other UNAM professors from the natural and social sciences instructed the course. The course was carried out on the UNAM campus in the city of Morelia and course-related fieldwork was conducted in Erongarícuaro (hereafter Eronga) in November 2016. Professors employed interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research approaches in the course: we were taught how to integrate disciplines in our research design (it was interdisciplinary) but we conducted transdisciplinary fieldwork because we collaborated with an NGO on the ground.

Students, faculty and community members in Erongarícuaro, Mexico

The course involved the aforementioned faculty along with 17 biological science, agroecology, civil engineering, economics and policy science students from across the Americas working with five enthusiastic Eronga community members who were in charge of forming a Municipal Council for Sustainable Development NGO. The emerging NGO had identified problems managing the municipal water system and were eager to come up with solutions. The course provided an excellent opportunity to work with a rural Mexican town and to learn about water management challenges. The students were tasked with answering: What are the risk perceptions surrounding the hydro-social cycle of the María Valdez spring, as well as the vulnerabilities and threats surrounding its use? A critical course outcome was for students to understand the value of conducting transdisciplinary research as well as producing solutions for the NGO.

In the brief timeframe we came up against several design and implementation challenges worth sharing. First, it was important to the professors that course participants develop and maintain an interest in multiple scientific disciplines, but interest was difficult to sustain over two weeks. The majority of the students were from the natural sciences, making it difficult to create a truly interdisciplinary research design for the class project because many participants were reluctant to break from the methods they were familiar with. Having a more balanced number of students from various disciplines may have encouraged students to entertain and use a wider array of methods.

Students and faculty discuss a concept map of the socioecological system in Eronga

An additional challenge was around engagement with diverse perspectives. Students were encouraged to interact with community members during the course, but despite collaborating with a NGO to outline goals and gain access to the community, outreach in Eronga and true collaboration was limited to a few NGO staff. Therefore, community members who were experiencing water management issues were not wholly invested in our research because the request for help from UNAM had come from a small group of people from the NGO.

Finally, Eronga has an Indigenous Purépecha population that has its own unique practices, symbolic values ​​and environmental beliefs that were unfamiliar to the students and faculty. Most of the NGO staff were non-Purépecha, which further highlighted a disconnection between the small NGO’s interests and those of the Indigenous community members.

While we had many challenges in reconciling Indigenous, local non-Indigenous, and academic interests on the ground while working Eronga, it was a stimulating and worthwhile experience. Students learned from people in disciplines other than their own and got hands-on experience working with the NGO. As a group, we collaborated with a diverse group of people to approach a problem and collectively design a research strategy that went beyond a purely academic exercise. Applying theoretical concepts in Eronga allowed students to learn (via trial and error) how to conduct transdisciplinary research by seeing a problem from a community organization’s perspective and working with it members to begin to solve it.

A water conservation mural in Eronga

The successes and challenges of such a course provide opportunities to make recommendations for others who wish to conduct transdisciplinary research and teaching projects. Although there are no silver bullets, we feel similar endeavors should pay close attention to:

  • The facilitation of knowledge-sharing between disciplines in the classroom as well as in the field. In our case, students only realized the utility of the course design after having to listen to themed lectures, reflect on them, write about them in assignments and then meditate on them in the field. The application of the material in the field helped the students to make concrete connections between theory and practice.
  • Consensus among all groups involved (students, professors, community members) during the research design phase, particularly regarding communication skills. Collaborators should seek to present group work to all involved audiences to build a coherent body of collective knowledge.
  • The amount of time actually needed for data collection and analysis. Conducting transdisciplinary research is often more time-consuming than other types of research. Faculty, students and NGO staff members worked daily to design our methodology, meet with community members and collect data. After students dispersed once the course ended, it became more difficult to interact with community members from Eronga and find common meeting times when small groups could work on writing the final report to present to the NGO.

Course participants in Eronga

The authors would like to thank Mayra Sanchez Morgan for her help in reviewing the Spanish-language version of this post.

Practicando lo que Predicamos: Reflexiones sobre los Pros y Contras de la Investigación Transdisciplinaria en Erongarícuaro, México

Erin C. Pischkea, Lucía Pérez Volkow b, Laura Danitza Aguirre Franco b, Mayra del Carmen Fragoso Medinab

a Investigadora postdoctoral, Programa de Política Ambiental y Energía, Michigan Technological University, EEUU

b Estudiantes de maestría, Bióloga, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), México

Tendencias recientes sugieren que la investigación y la enseñanza transdisciplinarias tienen varios beneficios, como la capacidad de abordar problemas con múltiples métodos y marcos analíticos, la integración de perspectivas diversas y locales, la capacidad de ver los problemas de abajo hacia arriba y de abajo hacia arriba y de arriba hacia abajo y la integración de participantes no académicos. Los enfoques transdisciplinarios a menudo conducen a proyectos con resultados sólidos y soluciones directas, específicas y contextualizadas a los contextos de problemas socioambientales desafiantes. Por estas razones y más, organizaciones como AESS cuenta con varios  investigadores dedicados al uso y promoción de la investigación interdisciplinaria y la enseñanza. A pesar de estos beneficios, hacer investigación interdisciplinaria es un reto. Trajabar en equipos con muchs investigadores de differentes disciplinas puede resultar lento y frustrante, sobre todo si se compara con  proyectos y cursos convencionales basada en una disciplina que no se desarrollan en contextos transdiciplinarios. Asi mismo, universidades y agencias de financiamiento pueden estar reticentes a apoyar este tipo de proyectos, cursos y talleres debido a su relativa inestabilidad. Luego entonces, es imporante para los investigadores y demas participantes de este tipo de proyectos compartir sus experiencias con el fin de trabajar de manera colectia en la mejora de procesos y resultados.

A partir de lo anterior, estudiantes de doctorado y maestria que participamos en un curso interdisciplinario de dos semanas sobre conceptualización del manejo de sistemas de agua socio-ecológicos en Michoacán, México buscamos compartir nuestra experiencia, principalmente beneficios y desafios de la misma. El curso fue financiado por el Instituto Interamericano para la Investigación del Cambio Global (, diseñado por Patricia Balvanera del Instituto de Investigación de Ecosistemas y Sustentabilidad de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). Fueimpartido por  cuatro profesores de la UNAM de las ciencias naturales y sociales. El curso se llevó a cabo en el campus de la UNAM en la ciudad de Morelia y se realizó trabajo de campo en Erongarícuaro (en adelante Eronga) en noviembre de 2016. Los profesores emplearon enfoques de investigación interdisciplinarios y transdisciplinarios en el curso: se nos enseñó cómo integrar las disciplinas en nuestro diseño de investigación (era interdisciplinario) pero realizamos trabajo de campo transdisciplinario porque colaboramos con una ONG en Eronga.

Grupo en la hacienda

El curso incluyó 17 estudiantes de ciencias biológicas, agroecología, ingeniería civil, economía y ciencias políticas de differentes paises del continente Americano y cinco profesores que trabajaron conmiembros de la comunidad Eronga quienes estan  a cargo con mucho entusiasmo de formar una organización no gubernamental (ONG) denominada Consejo Municipal de Desarrollo Sustentable de Erongarícuaro. La ONG haidentificado problemas emoergentes para gestionar el sistema municipal de agua y esta ansiosa por encontrar soluciones efectivas. El curso brindó una excelente oportunidad para trabajar con una comunidad rural de México y aprender sobre los desafíos de la gestión del agua. Durante el curso, los estudiantes reflexionaros sobre las siguientes preguntas?: ¿Cuáles son las percepciones de riesgo que rodean el ciclo hidro-social de la primavera de María Valdez, así como las vulnerabilidades y amenazas que rodean su uso? Un resultado crítico del curso fue que los estudiantes entendieron el valor de la realización de investigación transdisciplinaria, así como el desarrollo de soluciones para la ONG.

Durante el desarrollo del curso, nos topamos con varios desafíos de diseño e implementación que merecen ser compartidos. En primer lugar, era importante para los profesores que los participantes del curso desarrollaran y mantuvieran un interés en múltiples disciplinas científicas, pero el interés era difícil de mantener durante dos semanas. La mayoría de los 17 estudiantes eran de ciencias naturales, por lo que era difícil crear un diseño de investigación verdaderamente interdisciplinario para el proyectoporque muchos participantes estaban reacios a romper con los métodos que conocían. Un número más equilibrado de estudiantes de diversas disciplinas pudiera haber alentado a los estudiantes a entretener y utilizar una gama metodologica mas amplia.

Students and faculty discuss a concept map of the socioecological system in Eronga

Un reto adicional fue trabajar con diferentesintereses y perspectivas. A pesar de que se alentó a los estudiantes a delimitar metas de trabaoj y a interactuar con los miembros de la comunidad durante el curso y no unicamente con los miembros de la ONG, esto no ocurrio y la colaboración se limitó unicamente al personal de ONG y al alcance en Eronga. Por lo tanto, los miembros de la comunidad que estaban experimentando problemas de manejo del agua no fueron totalmente involucrados en nuestra investigación porque la solicitud de ayuda de la UNAM provenía de un pequeño grupo de personas de la ONG.

Finalmente, Eronga tiene una población Indígena Purépecha que tiene prácticas únicas, valores simbólicos y creencias ambientales que no eran familiares para los estudiantes y los investigadores. La mayoría del personal de las ONGs no eran Purépechas, lo que propicio  una desconexión entre los intereses de la pequeña ONG y los miembros de la comunidad Indígena.

A pesar de que tuvimos muchos desafíos en la conciliación de los intereses Indígenas vs. locales no Indígenas vs. académicos mientras trabajábamos en Eronga, fue una experiencia estimulante y valiosa. Los estudiantes aprendimos de personas provenientes de disciplinas diferentes a las nuestras y obtuvimos experiencia práctica mientras trabajabamos con la ONG. Como grupo, colaboramos con un grupo diverso de personas para abordar un problema y diseñar colectivamente una estrategia de investigación que fuera más allá de un ejercicio puramente académico. La aplicación de conceptos teóricos en Eronga permitió a los estudiantes aprender (a través de ensayo y error) cómo llevar a cabo investigación transdisciplinaria analizando un problema desde la perspectiva de una organización comunitaria y trabajando con ellos para comenzar a resolverlo.

A water conservation mural in Eronga

Los éxitos y retos de este curso ofrecen oportunidades para hacer recomendaciones a otros que deseen llevar a cabo proyectos de investigación y enseñanza transdisciplinarios como las que siguen a continuation:.

  • La facilitación del intercambio de conocimientos entre disciplinas tanto en el aula como en el campo. En nuestro caso, los estudiantes sólo se dieron cuenta de la utilidad del diseño del curso después de escuchar conferencias temáticas para posteriormentereflexionar y escribir sobre ellas para llevaras a cabo en la practica campo. La aplicación del material en campo ayudó a los estudiantes a establecer conexiones concretas entre la teoría y la práctica.
  • Consenso entre todos los grupos involucrados (estudiantes, profesores, miembros de la comunidad) durante la fase de diseño de la investigación, particularmente en relación con las diferentes habilidades de comunicación. Los colaboradores deben tratar presentar el trabajo de grupo a todas las audiencias involucradas para construir un cuerpo coherente de conocimiento colectivo.
  • La cantidad de tiempo realmente necesario para la recolección y análisis de datos. La realización de investigaciones transdisciplinarias suele requerir más tiempo que otro tipo de investigación. Los profesores, estudiantes y miembros de las ONGs trabajaron diariamente para diseñar la metodología, reunirse con los miembros de la comunidad y recopilar los datos necesarios. Una vez finalizado el curso, una vez que los participantes se dispersaron, la interaccion con los miembros de la comunidad de Eroga fue muy dificil. Tambien se dificulto encontrar tiempo para que los diferentes participatnes s reunan en grupos pequenosa para finalizar el informe final y presentarlo a la ONG.

Course participants in Eronga

Los autores desean agradecer a Mayra Sanchez Morgan por su ayuda en la revisión de la versión en español de este post.


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JESS Issue Release

Announcing the March 2017 issue of the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences.

A sampling of the Table of Contents can be found below. View full list.

Note: AESS Members receive full access to JESS. If you would like to become a member to access JESS, join today!

To submit a piece for publication, review guidelines.

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Getting Published in Interdisciplinary Environmental Journals

Getting Published in Interdisciplinary Environmental Journals


A career in environmental studies and science, especially when it includes academic teaching or research, is likely to involve publishing in related journals. Often, publication is expected or strongly encouraged for successful career development. Because environmental studies and sciences encourages interdisciplinary research and collaboration, publishing will often involve writing with the style and substance appropriate to journals with this interdisciplinary perspective.

This essay, growing from our experience in environmental studies as program directors, journal managers, editorial board members, teachers and writers, offers information, advice, and encouragement about successfully preparing these publications and selecting the right journals for their submission.

Enjoy the excerpt above? Members have full access to the document. Join today to read through the full resource prepared by Walter A. Rosenbaum, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal for Environmental Studies and Sciences and Kim Smith, Professor Environmental Studies and Political Science at Carleton College.

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Member Spotlight: Abby Lindsay

Informal housing on the outskirts of Lima

Informal housing on the outskirts of Lima

Abby Lindsay, AESS Board Member (June 2014-2016), is a Global Environmental Politics doctoral student at American University’s School of International Service in Washington, DC. This summer she completed nine weeks of fieldwork in Peru. She traveled to seven cities and successfully completed 70 interviews with key stakeholders, which will contribute to her dissertation research about urban water governance.

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