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Most plastic isn’t recycled, burns in fires at recycling centers

Most plastic isn’t recycled, burns in fires at recycling centers

Preface.  Plastics are just one of 500,000 products made out of oil and gas, but very important to just about every aspect of society, from making vehicles lighter so go further using less energy, to clothes, food storage, bags, toothbrushes, buckets, garbage bins, toys, carpets, fleece, plastic lumber, chairs, bottles and more.

The reason fossil fuels are used to make half a million products is that they are mostly just carbon and hydrogen: Natural gas 20% C 80% H, petroleum 84% C 12% H, and coal 84% C 5% H.

If you wanted to make plastics from something “greener” and more sustainable, what on earth is both abundant and chock-a-block with carbon and hydrogen that can replace fossil fuels? Let us start with abundant. The world is mostly made of soil, air, water, and plants. Dirt will not work, it’s 47% oxygen, 28% silicon, 8% aluminum, 5% iron, 3.6% calcium, 3% sodium, 3% potassium, and 2% magnesium. Air is nitrogen and oxygen. Water is hydrogen and oxygen, but no carbon.

That leaves biomass — plants such as trees, crops, and grasses, which has both carbon and hydrogen. But there’s a whole lot of other crap that would have to be removed at great energy and monetary expense since there’s also O, N, Ca, K, Si, Mg, Al, S, Fe, P, Cl, Na, Mn, Ti. Biomass carbon varies quite a bit, from 35–65% of the dry weight, and hydrogen roughly 6%.

But it also takes a lot of energy to use biomass instead of oil and gas, which flows through pipelines cheaply. Biomass has to be cut, transported, cut or mashed into tiny pieces, and conveyed to a plastics factory before it composts or spontaneously combusts.  And it’s expensive to remove some or all of the non carbon and hydrogen elements out.

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Hydrogen hopium: Storage

Hydrogen hopium: Storage

Source: Russel Rhodes (2011) Explosive Lessons in Hydrogen Safety. https://appel.nasa.gov/2011/02/02/explosive-lessons-in-hydrogen-safety/

Preface.

Preface.  What is hopium? Irrational or unwarranted optimism. An addiction to false hopes. A metaphorical substance that causes people to believe in a false hope (H + opium). And Hopium makes fuel cell hydrogen cars!  What could be more suitable for today’s post.

No container can contain hydrogen for long. Use it or lose it. Hydrogen is the Houdini of elements, the smallest of them all, and will boil off and escape no matter how many gaskets and valves there are on a container and at every pipeline junction.

Hydrogen can’t be distributed with existing natural gas pipelines or service stations because hydrogen leaks as well as corrodes metal. According to former Secretary of Energy Steven Chu (2020), hydrogen seeps into metal and embrittles it, a material problem that has not been solved for decades and may never be solved. Meanwhile, hydrogen is stored in expensive austenitic stainless-steel containers and pipelines that delay corrosion, which must be carefully maintained and monitored, since embrittlement can result in catastrophic explosions with loss of property and life.

Yes indeed, hydrogen is explosive which makes it difficult to use (Heinberg and Fridley 2016, Friedmann et al. 2019). If hydrogen escapes it can explode or catch fire ten times more easily than gasoline, set off with just a spark of static electricity. For example, due to a faulty valve, a Norwegian hydrogen station explosion was so strong that two nearby people inside their cars went to the hospital after their airbags were triggered. Around the same time, a chemical explosion in a hydrogen facility in Santa Clara, California resulted in a cautionary shutdown of all hydrogen stations in the San Francisco Bay Area (Siddiqui 2020)…

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Look Before you Eat

Look Before you Eat

Preface. This post is a book review of Be Wilson’s Swindled. From Poison Sweets to Counterfeit Coffee – The Dark History of the Food Cheats.

With likely world peak oil production in 2018, the price of food will rise relentlessly, since fossil fuels are used to fertilize, plant, harvest, distribute, package, cook, and refrigerate food, and oil is the master resource that makes food and all other goods possible through transportation.

So how to cope with future food shortages and improve your health? Whole grains, corn, lentils and dried beans not only last 10 to 25 years if stored properly, they’re cheap and healthy. Consider milling your own grains, and though this is a bit out of date, here’s a piece I wrote up for my book “Crunch” on how to do this:  Which Grain Mill is best?

Energy decline will make all goods more and more expensive and scarce, so maintaining your health is a key strategy to weather the long emergency ahead.  There is no plan to cope with the energy crisis yet, for many reasons.

Wilson makes it clear clear that cheating has always gone on and always will, especially in societies with laissez-faire governments who prefer promoting commerce to protecting their citizens.  In the United States and Britain, there is very little testing of chemicals added to food and most chemical additives don’t need to be listed on labels.

Food in many nations is sold on a “buyer beware” basis.  I personally can’t afford to test rats over decades with elaborate chemistry sets at home, so I try to cook from scratch with whole grains, vegetables, fruit, etc. And buy organic produce that are the most pesticide laden like peaches, strawberries, apples, and so on, see: Dirty Dozen – Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce – EWG

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Will global warming drive us extinct? A review of Peter Ward’s “Under a Green Sky”

Will global warming drive us extinct? A review of Peter Ward’s “Under a Green Sky”

Preface. Thank goodness for world peak oil production in 2018. And peak coal in 2013. Since oil is that master resource that makes every product and activity possible, including oil itself and coal and natural gas, peak oil means peak everything.  Oil, specifically the 25% of a barrel that’s diesel, is used by nearly all heavy-duty trucks, locomotives, and ships. Petroleum and natural gas are the for 500,000 products. And fossils are essential for products needing high heat in their manufacture, like cement, steel, iron, glass, ceramics, microchips, bricks and more — there are no electric or hydrogen substitutes and with peak oil in 2018, no time to invent them.

So I would argue we don’t have enough fossil fuels left to reach the hothouse world Ward proposes.  You might reply that tipping points have been or will be reached, methane from permafrost, the amazon rainforest turns into grass and so on.

Sure, but there are negative feedback loops. Diatoms evolved about 100 million years ago and consumed so much CO2 they created the polar icecaps for the first time.  They are doing very well with the increased CO2, dying, and sinking to the ocean floor in even greater numbers. Nor are methane hydrates likely to ever be exploited or released all at once.  And see these posts about why we may not be driven extinct by climate change and at worst reach low-medium IPCC projections.  And CO2 rates in the Permian and other extinctions were as high as today’s, so it’s not true that what’s happening now is unprecedented, and lasted for 10,000 to 20,000 years of volcanic pulses from deep in the earth, boiling their way to the surface via coal, natural gas and oil deposits…

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Hydrogen hopium: green hydrogen from water

Hydrogen hopium: green hydrogen from water

Additional steps not shown in above figure: getting water to the electrolyzer, compress or liquefy to -423 F before storage, the trucks to deliver H to stations costing $75 million each, since pipelines are super expensive and may leak, corrode, and explode (Zhao 2018)

Preface. For all the reasons why hydrogen is not going to replace fossil fuels, see the other posts in they hydrogen category, especially Hydrogen: The dumbest & most impossible renewable.

As the Russian war with Ukraine is making clearer, we are far from being able to abandon fossil fuels, so perhaps why there’s ever more hopium articles in the news so that people don’t panic and behave badly, one last desperate attempt to keep people hopeful that we can and must move to renewables saving the world from climate change.

Hydrogen is the dumbest, most ridiculous energy alternative. It is insanely far from being renewable with the highest negative energy return of any alternative, because far more energy is used than you ever get back to split the hydrogen from natural gas or electrolyze it from water, compress or liquefy it, construct incredibly expensive and short-lived steel containers and pipelines, and deliver the hydrogen to non-existent hydrogen fuel cell heavy-duty trucks, locomotives, and ships. Fuel cell technology is far from commercial from the transportation that keeps all of us alive.

Hydrogen from water using electrolysis is 12 times more costly than natural gas, so no wonder “renewable” hydrogen from water is only made when an especially pure hydrogen is required, mainly by NASA for rocket fuel.

From Life After Fossil Fuels: A Reality Check on Alternative Energy:

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How the grid works, why a distributed grid won’t work

How the grid works, why a distributed grid won’t work

Preface. This book is a good primer on how the grid works, worth the price to me just to understand Volt-Ampere Reactives (VARs). Renewables don’t provide them, but they’re essential for keeping the grid stable and not coming down. Angwin describes VARs as a bit like “riding a bicycle. The energy you put into the pedals will move the bike forward, but you also have to put some energy into maintaining your balance, or you’ll fall over and won’t be able to move forward at all. If you are a good bicyclist on a smooth road, the “maintaining your balance energy” will be small. If you are a poor bicyclist who swerves around a lot, or if you’re on a bad road, the “maintaining your balance” energy will be larger. In either case, the “maintaining your balance” energy is necessary. That energy is also a parasitical drain on your energy effort: it doesn’t move the bike forward. A well-run grid is like a good bicyclist on a smooth road. Rotating electric machinery puts VARs on the grid, and if the entire grid was thermal (nuclear, gas, coal) and hydro units, there would rarely be a problem with VARs. These systems all run with rotating electric machinery.  But wind turbines and solar make direct current that needs to be changed into alternating current, and that process does not put VARs on the grid in the same fashion. (Some older and bigger wind turbines do put VARs on the grid.) Messing up the VARs can also mess up the grid, so this is another place where the BA must be aware of what is happening on the grid.”

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The French Energy Sobriety Plan

The French Energy Sobriety Plan

Preface.  Below is the announcement of the French Energy Sobriety Plan by Prime Minister Borne. The energy crisis is coming to all nations, and we should all be implementing their action plan (and family planning, birth control, abortion, limited immigration).

It’s hard for me to imagine a U.S. politician delivering this speech, though it will have to happen when fracked oil declines at 80% a year within 5-10 years. Though if fascist republicans are in power, they are more likely to “ration” by price, blame the Middle east, and start a war. Or blame Democrats and start a civil war.  If that sounds extreme, please read some of the books here.  Democrats are more likely to give a similar speech, very reluctantly, since Jimmy Carter wasn’t re-elected partly due to a similar one, known as his “malaise” speech (here).

After the speech I summarize the 50 pages of the French energy sobriety plan. What a great title. A good one for Richard Heinberg if he writes a sequel to “The Party’s Over”.

***

French energy sobriety announcement by Mrs Élisabeth Borne, French Prime Minister, on the goal of reducing energy consumption by 10% in two years on October 6, 2022. 

Seven months ago, by brutally attacking Ukraine, Russia changed the world order. The strategic upheavals are superimposed by an energy crisis. Russia has chosen to blackmail its gas, provoking, in Europe, the risk of a shortage for this winter and a surge in energy prices. Faced with this, some are proposing to submit to Russia, accept its terms and abandon Ukraine. To listen to them would be to turn your back on a member of the European family and deny our values. It’s not an option. We will continue to support Ukraine. Continue to pressure Russia. Take action and give us the means to get through this winter in the best conditions.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Peak lithium makes transportation & electricity storage pointless

Peak lithium makes transportation & electricity storage pointless

Preface.  The lithium batteries in cars need electricity to recharge, but the electric grid can’t stay up with just wind and solar, that’s why natural gas is the energy storage today. Nor do pumped hydro or compressed air energy storage scale up.  And battery storage doesn’t either.

Barnhart (2013) found that the only utility-scale battery for which there were enough materials on earth to store 12 hours of electricity production were Sodium sulfur (NaS) yet the main batteries being developed for both utility-scale electricity storage and automobiles is lithium.  To provide enough energy storage for just 1 day of electricity generation in the United states, li-ion batteries would cost $11.9 trillion dollars, take up 345 square miles, weigh 74 million tons, and need replacement after 15 years (DOE/EPRI 2013).  Multiply that by 28 since at least four weeks of energy storage are needed to cope with the seasonality of wind and solar. That doesn’t leave much if any lithium for cars. Vazquez (2010) also points out that lithium does not grow on trees, and the amount needed for utility-scale storage is likely to deplete known resources (Vazquez 2010).

And what’s the point of electrifying cars? That only replaces gasoline. But it is diesel that’s needed, peak diesel is the real existential crisis, since large trucks, locomotives, and ships burn diesel. Without this transportation civilization ends within a week.  I explain this in greater detail in my book “When Trains Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation“. The main reason trucks can’t run on batteries is that they weigh too much in long haul, tractors, harvesters, bulldozers, fire, logging, mining and myriad other essential heavy duty trucks doing the actual work of civilization. Plus over 80% of U.S. cities have no rail or ports and depend on trucks alone.

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Dozens of reasons why solar power can’t replace fossil fuels

Dozens of reasons why solar power can’t replace fossil fuels

Preface. All solar (and wind) do is add to the giant bonfire of burning fossil fuels — which still provide two-thirds of the power for the electric grid. Electricity is just a fraction of how we use energy, over 80% is fossil fueled because electricity can’t replace their use in fertilizer, transportation, half a million products made out of fossil fuels (i.e. plastic) and so on. Without natural gas, the electric grid won’t be able to stay up since there are no other options for storage that scale up.  All of this explained at great length in my books.

When you hear things like “solar power provided 100% of California’s power today”, no it didn’t. For a few hours it provided 100% of ELECTRIC power, and the money lost by all the other power providers that had to shut down, the ones that actually assure reliability to the grid since solar and wind are extremely unreliable and seasonal, means that they have to spend less to maintain their facilities, shortening their lifespan, especially coal and nuclear which take many hours to ramp up or down.

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Solar power contraptions require oil for every single step of their life cycle

Look at all the fossil energy used to make solar panels in this youtube video: How It’s Made Solar Panels

If solar power and concentrated solar power plants can’t produce enough power to replicate themselves entirely over their life cycle, plus produce the energy needed by society, then they are not sustainable. Every single step of their life cycle depends on fossil fuels, from diesel mining trucks, diesel ships to take the ore to facilities that use fossil fuels to crush the rock, coal blast and smelting furnaces, transportation of the myriad parts from all over the globe to the manufacturing facility, and finally delivered to the final site, where workers arrive in gas-burning vehicles over petroleum asphalt roads.

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Dawn of Everything Conclusion

Dawn of Everything Conclusion

Preface. Clearly for their conclusion to make sense you’ll need to read the book and see the evidence for yourself.  Since they challenge just about all of the ideas currently in fashion, you can find some pretty damning reviews of their book, but do not believe them, the several I’ve read entirely misstate what was actually written, the old straw man fallacy of inventing something that they didn’t say and shooting it down.  And their attitude is not at all “we’re right, you’re wrong”, no, quite the opposite.  They’re hoping to stir up fruitful avenues of inquiry, different and more meaningful ways of looking at the past, and my hope is that rather than try to invent a steady state / degrowth economy, that ecologists will team up with experts in anthropology and archeology to discuss the best sustainable ways of life from the past, how to avoid authoritarian kings, brutal agricultural societies, and more.

Here is part of their summary, and at greater length below (though they are constantly summarizing arguments throughout the book, another reason you need to actually read it).

“In trying to synthesize what we’ve learned over the last 30 years, we asked question such as “what happens if we accord significance to the 5,000 years in which cereal domestication did not lead to the emergence of pampered aristocracies, standing armies or debt peonage, rather than just the 5,000 years in which it did? What happens if we treat the rejection of urban life, or of slavery, in certain times and places as something just as significant as the emergence of those same phenomena in others?

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Corn for ethanol & soy for biodiesel tremendously destructive

Corn for ethanol & soy for biodiesel tremendously destructive

The Green Gold Rush to make biodiesel has begun in earnest in California. It would not be profitable without subsidies from LCFS credits, federal RIN D5 credits, and  Blenders Tax Credits at $3.32 a gallon, which is enough to cover production costs, according to Van der Wal, biofuel advisor at Stratas Advisors in Singapore.

He said “It’s a mind-boggling amount of money, you will make a lot of money as long as all these subsidies come in.” Without this money, biodiesel is an energy sink, with very low EROI.

Biodiesel competitors already in the market have already locked up much of the tallow, cooking oil, and other resources Marathon and Phillips hope to use (Bloomberg 2021). And California doesn’t grow many soybeans because of water shortages, so importing soy will increase CO2 via transportation emissions here and the CO2 from tractors and trucks in other countries or the U.S.

Corn and soybeans are very destructive to the environment, eroding more topsoil, causing more pollution, global warming, acidification, eutrophication of water, water treatment costs, fish kills, and biodiversity loss than most other crops (Powers 2005, Troeh and Thompson 2005, Zattara and Aizen2019).

Food versus fuel. Over 40% of the corn crop becomes fuel, not food at a time when 43 million Americans need help with food stamps (USDA 2020) and the high unemployment rate from Covid-19 could drive the need for food aid up to over 54 million people (Lee 2020).

Too many pesticides.  Corn and soy are especially destructive because they need a lot of pesticides. Of all pesticide use on crops, corn’s share is 39.5% and soybeans 22% (Mclaughlin and Walsh 1998, Padgitt et al. 2000, Pimentel 2003, Patzek 2004, Fernandez-Cornejo et al. 2014). I don’t want to say they have a drinking problem, but shall we say they have a “dependency problem.”…

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Implications of Refinery closures for Homeland Security & critical infrastructure safety

Implications of Refinery closures for Homeland Security & critical infrastructure safety

Preface. The talk of electric vehicles saving the world from greenhouse gases is nonsense, a red herring to distract everyone from what’s really at stake, and from the material requirements to build them with rare earth and other scarce minerals, and the immense amount of fossil energy required to make them in mining, smelting, manufacture and transport of thousands of parts, and so on. But just focusing on greenhouse gases is a very sneaky way to ignore myriad obstacles.

Cars are just 14% of emissions, and EV only replace gasoline, not the diesel essential for heavy-duty trucks, locomotives, and ships, the kerosene for airplanes, the lubricants essential for all motors, including EV, or the road asphalt EV and diesel trucks move on. EV are less than 1% of cars and always will be, they are too expensive for all but the richest 5% who also have garages and want one and live in places where heat and cold won’t reduce performance and battery life.

A National Laboratory scientist on Chinese gasoline, refining, and petroleum products:

Over the years I have taken the opportunity to ask oil companies about how they would deal with a demand slate stripped of it gasoline fraction, given that that is about the only fraction being targeted by electrification. Chevron’s answer was fairly simple: “It’s our profit center so we’d probably close the refinery” (thus no oil products). Two years in a row I asked the same question to Exxon during some briefings, and both times they said they were “looking into it” and would get back to me (but they never did)…

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Food shortages as the energy crisis grows and supply chains break?

Food shortages as the energy crisis grows and supply chains break?

Preface. This is a long preface followed by two articles about how supply chains and complex tractors may be affected by energy shortages and consequent supply chain failures in the future.Which we’re already seeing as massive numbers of ships sit offshore waiting to be unloaded, and a shortage of truckers to deliver goods when they do arrive.

Supply chain failures will only get worse, affecting food supply and making the prediction of 3 billion more people by 2050 unlikely.  We are running out of time to replace fossil fuels with something else that is unknown and definitely not commercial for transportation, manufacturing and other essential services and products. Even the electric grid needs natural gas to stay up, no matter how many wind turbines or solar panels are built (Friedemann 2016).

The reason time is running out is that global conventional oil, where 90% of our petroleum comes from, peaked in 2008 (EIA 2018 page 45), and world oil production of both conventional and unconventional oil in 2018 (EIA 2020).

In the unlikely event you don’t know why this is scary, consider that we are alive today thanks to heavy-duty transportation, which runs almost exclusively on diesel, four billion of us are alive due to finite natural gas derived fertilizer, 500,000 products are made out of fossil fuels, and much of our essential manufacturing (cement, steel, metals, ceramics, glass, microchips) depend on the high heat of fossil fuels. There is not much time to come up with processes to electrify or use hydrogen to replace fossil fuels, which don’t exist yet, let alone rebuild trillions of dollars of infrastructure and a new unknown energy distribution system, triple the electric grid transmission system, and replace hundreds of millions of vehicles and equipment to run on “something else” (Friedemann 2021).

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Limits to Growth: Natural gas fertilizer that feeds 4 billion of us

Limits to Growth: Natural gas fertilizer that feeds 4 billion of us

Preface.  In chapter 4 of my book “Life After Fossil Fuels: A Reality Check on Alternative Energy“, I explain how it came to be that fertilizer is made out of natural gas, using the energy of natural gas, and why it allows at least 4 billion of us to be alive. Yet natural gas is finite. And now there are shortages due to high prices.  In the U.S. Congress voted to allow natural gas to be exported several years ago, partly to help Europeans not become dependent on Russian gas and fall into their sphere of influence.  But now it’s costing farmers all over the world so much many will go out of business. In the U.S., especially small farmers who don’t get subsidies like the huge farms do.

High Natural gas prices in the news:

2022 Rising price of fertilizer is forcing NC farmers out of the business. North Carolina farmers say the cost of fertilizer has tripled over the past two years and is threatening to drive smaller farms out of the business entirely. The spike in cost has left family farms looking for ways to stay afloat while still producing enough food. As one of the most essential tools in agriculture, fertilizer makes up 15% of all farming costs in the U.S., according to the American Farm Bureau Federation. But since September 2020, the cost of fertilizer nationwide has spiked up to 300% as demand for its primary ingredients like ammonia and liquid nitrogen has soared. One farmer said that “Now everybody’s going to chicken litter, and we can’t even find the chicken litter now to do for our farm.”

***

2021 This Chemical Is in Short Supply, and the Whole World Feels It. New York Times.

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As oil declines, the threat of a greenhouse earth & extinction from climate change decline

As oil declines, the threat of a greenhouse earth & extinction from climate change decline

Carbon sequestration, wind, solar, geo-engineering, and other remedies are trivial compared to the effect declining fossil fuels will have on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The natural rate of decline today is 8.5%, exponentially increasing, and offset by 4%, so the gap will continue to grow wider, with petroleum eventually decreasing by 6% and more a year in the future.

Climate change is also a symptom of overpopulation and overshoot of the planet’s carrying capacity. If family planning became the green new deal, there would be a chance for all problems to be reduced in severity.   “Renewables” are certainly not a solution since transportation and manufacturing can’t be electrified or run on anything else (see Chapter 6 and 9 of “Life After Fossil Fuels”).

Climate models developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) show a range of greenhouse gas trajectories. The worst-case IPCC scenario is Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 8.5. This predicts a rise of temperature by 5°C, and this is the scenario you read about daily in the newspapers as being the most likely “business as usual” future. But lately many scientists think around 3 °C (RCP 4.5 to RCP 6) is more likely (Hausfather and Peters 2020).

Geologists have a far more optimistic outlook.  Using realistic fossil fuel reserves in climate models, they predict an outcome from RCP 2.6 to RCP 4.5 (Doose 2004; Kharecha and Hansen 2008; Brecha 2008; Nel 2011; Chiari and Zecca 2011; Ward et al. 2011, 2012; Höök and Tang 2013; Mohr et al. 2015; Capellán-Pérez et al. 2016; Murray 2016; Wang et al. 2017).

The IPCC scenarios do not model fossil fuels at all, since their assumption is that we will be burning fossil fuels, at exponentially increasing amounts until 2400. The IPCC RCP 8.5 hothouse world scenario assumes a fivefold increase in coal use by 2100 (Ritchie and Dowlatabadi 2017), even though coal production may have peaked, or will soon (see chapter 6 of “Life After Fossil Fuels”).

So rather than becoming crisply well-done, perhaps we’ll scrape by with a medium rare sunburn.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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