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Notes From Underground #4: Emergency Democracy

Notes From Underground #4: Emergency Democracy

It’s late in 1940, six months since the fall of France. Still a year to go before America joins the war. Meanwhile, Britain soldiers on alone – or so it likes to tell itself, the vastness of Empire folded conveniently into the background. Through the crackling of the wireless, the prime minister’s voice is unmistakable.

‘Every endeavour must be made to use the time available to produce the greatest volume of food of which this fertile island is capable. We shall all have to make changes to the way in which we eat and each household must now play its part in the way in which that food is grown. We have to look a long way ahead in this sphere of the war. We have to think of the years 1970 and 1971 and of the tonnage programmes which we shall be able to move and which we shall have to move across the oceans then.’

The mistake is glaring, absurd – yet this was the voice I heard in my head as I read the summary of the EAT–Lancet report on climate change and food, published in January, with its conclusions about the changes called for in our diets. In North America, an 84% cut in the average intake of red meat; for Europeans, a fifteen-fold increase in the amount of nuts and seeds we eat. All of this is to be achieved by 2050: a timeline based on reasonable assumptions and ambitious behaviour-change goals, for sure, but it doesn’t sound like a response to an existential threat.

The speech which Churchill actually gave that autumn, part of which was printed on the leaflets that launched the Dig For Victory campaign, urged Britain to ‘think of the years 1943 and 1944’.

* * *

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Courting Solutions to the Climate Crisis —  In All the Wrong Places?

Courting Solutions to the Climate Crisis —  In All the Wrong Places?

The problem deserves a solution on a more vast scale than can be supplied by a district judge or jury in a public nuisance case[i].
 
If ever there was a case that called out for judicial intervention and a court to answer the call, it is Juliana v. US and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. And yet, after four and a half years of filings, a divided three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals told the 21 young plaintiffs in Juliana, they didn’t have standing to pursue their case. All three judges on the panel were ap-pointed to the federal bench by President Obama.

Over the past two decades, the number of climate-related law cases has been on the rise. Whyis not difficult to discern.

The failure of political leaders—particularly at the federal level—to heed the growing body of scientific evidence that demands aggressive action to stem the rise of global temperatures has forced climate activists to seek judicial intervention. The courts are proving difficult to convince, however, for reasons having nothing to do with the science. In fact, the opposite is true. Most of the judges who have heard Juliana and other recent cases, as described below, have expressed a solid belief in the causes and consequences of Earth’s warming and the urgent need to defend against it.

Juliana is one of a group of novel theory law cases. The suits vary in the redress requested and the legal strategies employed. For example, cases like Juliana look to expand the public trust doctrine and make a habitable environment a protected right under the due process clauses of the US Constitution.

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The “Twin Threats” Facing Big Oil

The “Twin Threats” Facing Big Oil

Wolfcamp rig

The global oil and gas industry is facing the “twin threats” of the loss of profitability and the loss of social acceptability as the climate crisis continues to worsen. The industry is not adequately responding to either of those threats, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA).

“Oil and gas companies have been proficient at delivering the fuels that form the bedrock of today’s   energy system; the question that they now face is whether they can help deliver climate solutions,” the IEA said.

The report, whose publication was timed to coincide with the World Economic Forum in Davos, critiques the oil industry for not doing enough to plan for the transition. The IEA said that companies are spending only about 1 percent of their capex on anything outside of their core oil and gas strategy. Even the companies doing the most are only spending about 5 percent of their budgets on non-oil and gas investments.

There are some investments here and there into solar, or electric vehicle recharging infrastructure, but by and large the oil majors are doing very little to overhaul their businesses. The top companies only spent about $2 billion on solar, wind, biofuels and carbon capture last year.

Before even getting to the transition risk due to climate change, the oil industry was already facing questions about profitability. Over the past decade the free cash flow from operations at the five largest oil majors trailed the total sent to shareholders by about $200 billion. In other words, they cannot afford to finance their operations and also keep up obligations to shareholders. Something will have to change. 

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It’s the hottest decade–ever

It’s the hottest decade–ever 

As the decade comes to a close, environmentalists are looking back over the last ten years of supposedly ‘natural’ disasters and extreme weather. It’s alarming: there are absolutely no signs that the global climate crisis is under control.  

It just keeps on getting hotter. While Canadians are enjoying a balmy winter (which officially started on December 21, when temperatures were way above seasonal in Toronto), Australians are once again being scorched half to death. 

Temperatures peaked on December 21-22 in Victoria and South Australia with  several areas exceeding 48°C.  The heat and bone dry conditions have sparked numerous bushfires. New South Wales has been placed under a total fire ban as firefighters battle to contain more than 100 fires burning around the state, including the 400,000-hectare Gospers Mountain megafire in Wollemi national park in the Blue Mountains.  Across the globe in California, the 2019 fire season, which so far has counted close to 7000 fires, is still not over. Moreover, fires are flaring up in places where they have rarely been seen before—in the Arctic tundra and in Siberia above the Arctic circle. The chart on the left shows the startling spike in carbon emissions from Arctic wildfires that has occurred this year.

Emissions of CO2 from Arctic wildfires

It’s not hard to figure out that the increasing number of wild fires might be sparked and fanned by rising global temperatures. Meteorologists are already saying that 2019 is the planet’s second-warmest year on record, rounding off the hottest decade on Earth since those records begun. Eight of the ten warmest years have occurred this decade, and the other two were just a few years before. The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) headlined their latest assessment by saying that “2019 concludes a decade of exceptional global heat and high-impact weather”.

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Trudeau will fuel the fires of our climate crisis if he approves Canada’s mega mine

Trudeau will fuel the fires of our climate crisis if he approves Canada’s mega mine

Alberta’s oil sands produce one of the dirtiest oils on the planet. If the Teck mega mine is approved, the damage to our planet will be colossal

The Syncrude Oil Sands site near to Fort McMurray in Northern Alberta. Bitumen Oil Sands Tar Sands Oil refinery Canada Photograph by David Levene 22/4/15 *** FIRST USE INTENDED FOR POTENTIAL EYEWITNESS IN CONJUNCTION WITH SUZY GOLDENBERG ‘CARBON BOMB’ INTERACTIVE PLANNED FOR MID-MAY 2015***
 ‘Less than two months ago, two-thirds of Canadians voted for parties vowing to do more to fight climate change.’ Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

This week, the Canadian government is in Madrid telling the world that climate action is its No 1 priority. When they get home, Justin Trudeau’s newly re-elected government will decide whether to throw more fuel on the fires of climate change by giving the go-ahead to construction of the largest open-pit oil sands mine in Canadian history.

Approving Teck Resources’ Frontier mine would effectively signal Canada’s abandonment of its international climate goals. The mega mine would operate until 2067, adding a whopping 6 megatonnes of climate pollution every year. That’s on top of the increasing amount of carbon that Canada’s petroleum producers are already pumping out every year.

The Teck mega mine would be on Dene and Cree territory, close to Indigenous communities. The area is home to one of the last free-roaming herds of wood bison, it’s along the migration route for the only wild population of endangered whooping cranes, and is just 30km from the boundary of Wood Buffalo national park – a Unesco world heritage site because of its cultural importance and biodiversity.Advertisement

Alberta’s oil sands produce one of the dirtiest oils on the planet, and they are the fastest-growing source of carbon emissions in Canada. The industry is expanding rapidly and is already responsible for more carbon pollution than all of Quebec. Oil and gas is now the largest climate polluter in the country, exceeding all greenhouse gases from transportation.

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Memo from a Climate Crisis Realist: The Choice before Us

Memo from a Climate Crisis Realist: The Choice before Us

If we don’t take these 11 key steps, we’re kidding ourselves. Second of two.

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A rational world with a good grasp of reality would have begun articulating a long-term energy and consumption wind-down strategy 20 or 30 years ago.

That first query was this: The modern world is deeply addicted to fossil fuels and green energy is no substitute. Am I wrong? Read my fact-based argument here.

Today I ask: 

Question 2: Human nature and our methods of governance are proving incapable of saving the world. We need to ‘get real’ about climate science. Am I wrong?

Remember the self-congratulatory hubbub following “successful” negotiation of the Paris climate accord in 2015? Was all that ebullient optimism justified? The Tyee is supported by readers like you Join us and grow independent media in Canada

Consider that in the past 50 years, there have been 33 climate conferences and a half dozen such major international agreements — Kyoto, Copenhagen and Paris the most recent — but none has produced even a dimple in the curve of rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations. 

And things are not about to change dramatically. The 2019 Energy Information Administration International Energy Outlook reference case projects global energy consumption to increase 45 per cent by 2050. On the plus side, renewables are projected to grow by more than 150 per cent, but, consistent with the trend I rudely pointed out yesterday, the overall increase in demand for energy is expected to be greater than the total contribution from all renewable sources combined. 

Fact: Without a massive rapid course correction, CO2 emissions will continue to climb. This threatens humanity with ecological and social catastrophe as much of Earth becomes uninhabitable.

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Techno-fix futures will only accelerate climate chaos – don’t believe the hype

Techno-fix futures will only accelerate climate chaos – don’t believe the hype

Don’t expect the future to turn out like popular 1960s TV show The Jetsons. 

Thanks to the efforts of climate activists, the climate and ecological emergency has never been more prominent. But acknowledging the problem is just a starting point. Now this momentum must be harnessed to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reverse habitat destruction.

To accelerate this transition, we need a vision of the future – and there are many out there. The problem is that some of these visions severely misunderstand and underestimate the nature of the crises we face. If we rally behind the wrong one, we may end up propelling the planet all the more quickly towards destruction.

Building a future in sync with the natural world will not be easy. Our collective imagination is bound to ideas that have delivered us to the cusp of environmental catastrophe. The ways we worktraveleat, and even think are all locked into systems that perpetuate the use of fossil fuels, encroach on the natural world, and exploit wealth and resources from the Global South.

This means that to avoid the worst of climate breakdown, we have to transform every aspect of society as we know it. But to do this well requires deep understanding of why industries have been allowed to pollute the upper atmosphere, and how we can build economic and political infrastructure to stop emitting greenhouse gases and degrading ecosystems.

Worringly, this understanding is sorely lacking in two of the most popular emerging visions of the future – ecomodernism and left accelerationism. In a nutshell, both envisage that technological progress will allow us to address climate and ecological breakdown while also dramatically increasing production and consumption.

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he New Age of Protest

The New Age of Protest

Photograph Source: Marcus Coblyn – CC BY 2.0

Led by young people, climate strikers blocked traffic on two mornings at the end of last month in Washington, DC. On the first day, protestors chained themselves to a boat three blocks from the White House, and 32 activists were arrested. On the second day, activists targeted the EPA and Trump International Hotel. It was a not-so-subtle suggestion to commuters stuck in their cars on those mornings to think more favorably about public transportation or telecommuting. It was also a potent reminder, as Congress remains polarized on so many issues, that some paralysis is healthy in the nation’s capital.

The DC protests were part of a global climate strike that involved an estimated 6.6 million people. In New Zealand, 3.5 percent of the population participated. Melbourne, Berlin, and London each had rallies of 100,000 people. In Seattle, over a thousand workers walked out of Amazon headquarters, demanding that the company reduce its carbon emissions to zero.

It wasn’t just the children of the privileged in the industrialized world who were out on the streets. Protests took place in 125 countries and 1,600 cities, including 15 cities in the Philippines, throughout India, and all over Africa.

The global climate strike is just the latest mass protest this year. Demonstrations have roiled Hong Kong since the beginning of the summer. Tens of thousands of people poured into the streets in Moscow through the fall to protest restrictions on local elections. Thousands of Brazilians thronged major cities to condemn their president’s handling of the Amazon fires, and the same outrage prompted people to gather with placards in front of Brazilian embassies all over the world. Protests against Venezuela’s leadership that broke out on January 1 have recently dwindled even as demonstrations to remove Haiti’s president have heated up and security forces have cracked down on Iraqis protesting the corruption and inefficiency of their government.

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Yes, the Climate Crisis May Wipe out Six Billion People

Creator of the ‘ecological footprint’ on life and death in a world 4 C hotter.

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UBC professor emeritus William Rees provides the grim calculations for humanity if climate change goes unchecked. Photo by Nick Wiebe, Wikimedia.

One thing the climate crisis underscores is that Homo sapiens are not primarily a rational species. When forced to make important decisions, particularly decisions affecting our economic security or socio-political status, primitive instinct and raw emotion tend to take the upper hand. 

This is not a good thing if the fate of society is at stake. Take “hope” for example. For good evolutionary reasons, humans naturally tend to be hopeful in times of stress. So gently comforting is this word, that some even endow their daughters with its name. But hope can be enervating, flat out debilitating, when it merges with mere wishful thinking — when we hope, for example, that technology alone can save us from climate change. 

As novelist Jonathan Franzen asks: “If your hope for the future depends on a wildly optimistic scenario, what will you do 10 years from now, when the scenario becomes unworkable even in theory?”

We needn’t bother Roger Hallam with this question. He can scarcely be held up as a “messiah of hope.” Quite the contrary. Hallam, a co-founderof Extinction Rebellion, has been desperately warning of societal collapsefor years. 

But on Aug. 15, in a memorable session of the BBC’s HardTalk, Hallam irritated multiple cultural nerves by claiming, on the basis of “hard science,” that six billion people will die as a result of climate change in coming decades. 

More specifically, our ruling elites’ inaction and lies on climate change will lead to climate turmoil, mass starvation and general societal collapse in this century. Normally unflappable HardTalk host, Stephen Sackur, just couldn’t wrap his mind around Hallam’s unyielding assertions.

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Extinction Rebellion: What is it?

Extinction Rebellion: What is it?

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The climate crisis is turning average law-abiding people into raging law-breaking eco rebels, by boatloads. Extinction Rebellion (ER) is at the forefront, demanding that governments declare climate emergencies and take urgent action.

In that regard, ER, which started in the UK, says government must reduce carbon emissions to Net Zero by 2025, or else! Social chaos will spring loose from within the darkened shadows of a raging climate, bringing civilized society to its knees and within current lifetimes. For proof, read the science, which says it all. We’re doomed without taking action to cut greenhouse emissions to Net Zero.

In that regard, in November 2018 ER activist extraordinaire Jenny Shearer super glued herself to a railing outside the glorious golden-trimmed gates of Buckingham Palace in expectation that: “This will get the Royal family to come and join us.” Meanwhile, another 2,000 ER activists brought a coffin, which symbolized a “sure-fire death sentence” facing the “next generation” vestiges of the present-day crisis.

For ER warriors, the climate crisis is like a freight train with failing breaks barreling down a mountainside headed for a massive wipeout of society. Regrettably, it’ll happen way too soon to take comfort today.

This coming October 31st marks the one-year anniversary of ER from beginnings on Parliament Square on October 31st 2018 when the ER leaders announced a Declaration of Rebellion against the UK government, expecting a couple hundred people to attend. Surprisingly, 1,500 showed up to exercise their right to peaceful civil disobedience whilst breaking the law and getting arrested.

Shortly thereafter, 6,000 ER activists peacefully blocked five major bridges across the River Thames. They planted trees in the middle of Parliament Square, and dug a hole for a coffin. Additionally, they lie down in streets or at entryways to public buildings, bringing parts of London and other UK cities to a standstill.

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False hopes for a Green New Deal

False hopes for a Green New Deal

If the ‘Green New Deal’ is our best answer to the climate crisis, then we have no answer to the climate crisis.

Image: Julian Stratenschulte/DPA/PA Images

In recent months the ‘Green New Deal’ has given hope to many on the Left as a promising solution to climate breakdown. Having been championed by the Sunrise Movement and figures such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders in the US, excitement for the Green New Deal has spread to the UK with the launch of the ‘Labour for a Green New Deal’ campaign.

Successive local Labour Party branches have passed motions in support of the programme, and the UK Labour Party itself has launched consultations for a ‘Green Industrial Revolution.’ Recently, the progressive think-tank Common Wealth published a ‘road map’ for implementing sweeping reforms for a greener and fairer economy, providing the most detailed description yet of what a Green New Deal might look like.

The Green New Deal promises everything. Its advocates anticipate a green industrial revolution led by workers, forging a power-grid run on renewables, a new and luxurious electrified transport system and affordable homes retrofitted for energy-efficiency. Our economy will be one of ethics and environmental stewardship, producing only what is socially-useful, with low-carbon lifestyles for all and with investors investing for sustainable ends. We will see employment for all, workers on shorter hours enjoying high-paid green jobs and a democratised workplace. Equally as important, the UK will enact this great renewable transition without perpetuating colonial resource extraction abroad. It all sounds too good to be true.

That’s because it is. Basic enquiry into the details of the Green New Deal reveals a failure to confront the political and economic realities leading to climate breakdown.

Capitalism’s dilemma

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BC Government Frets Over Climate Change While Heavily Subsidizing Fracking Companies

BC Government Frets Over Climate Change While Heavily Subsidizing Fracking Companies

Worse, the giveaway probably isn’t needed, with the global industry desperate for new gas fields.

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Fracking does not need subsidies to be profitable. But we still hand ’em out. Photo via Shutterstock.

We’re in a climate crisis. So why did the B.C. government give oil and gas companies $663 million in subsidies last year so they would produce more fracked natural gas?

The NDP government hasn’t declared a climate emergency. But it commissioned a report that warns of more severe wildfire seasons, water shortages, heat waves, landslides and more.

Despite that, the government handed almost two-thirds of a billion dollars to fossil fuel companies — $130 per person in the province — so they’ll extract more methane, more quickly. (The numbers are all from the always-interesting Public Accounts released last month by the province’s auditor general.)

Which is perverse in a time when we’re warned of climate disaster.

British Columbians own the oil and gas under the ground. Companies pay royalties to the government for the right to extract and sell it

Since 2003, the B.C. government has been putting natural gas on sale. It has cut royalties to subsidize the industry’s road construction and reward any operators who drilled in the summer.

And most significantly, it started offering the gas at a deep discount for companies that drilled “deep wells.” The industry argument was that they were riskier and more expensive; the government had to sell the gas more cheaply to encourage companies to drill. It increased the discounts in 2009 and 2014, giving even bigger breaks to the fossil fuel companies. (Who were also big BC Liberal donors.)

The discounts — subsidies from taxpayers who have to pay more to make up for the lost revenue — have enriched fossil fuel companies for more than a decade.

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The Vancouver Sun’s Op-ed Denying a Climate Crisis a Symbol of Wider Journalistic Malpractice

The Vancouver Sun’s Op-ed Denying a Climate Crisis a Symbol of Wider Journalistic Malpractice

A journalist’s role is to seek truth, especially in the face of an emergency. But the media is not doing its job.

BC wildfire
‘By publishing op-eds such as this, their newspaper isn’t serving the truth. It is polluting the public square by propagating what the best science tells us are untruths about the most pressing problem of our age.’ Photo BC Wildfire Service.

So I was disappointed when that misery coincided with the Vancouver Sun’s publication of an op-ed column by University of Guelph economics professor Ross McKitrick claiming we only have a “vague inkling” that we “might” be in a climate emergency a “decade from now.”

That comment may surprise some readers of the Sun, which has a storied past and was the most-read newspaper in Western Canada according to the most recent report from News Media Canada. After all, many of them have already experienced that emergency as a result of the climate change-fuelled wildfires which devastated British Columbia in 2017 and 2018, cloaking the Lower Mainland in smoke. It may also surprise readers who have seen this summer’s satellite images of the Arctic on fire.

And it would almost certainly surprise the scientists who authored three major peer-reviewed studies on climate change that were published a day after McKitrick’s column. Commenting on those studies for the CBC, climatologist Gavin Schmidt said they underline the fact the global heating we are seeing is “unusual in a multi-centennial context” and that we are to blame for it.

In fact, we have much more than a “vague inkling” that there is a climate emergency given the voluminous scientific research and observable evidence supporting that conclusion. 

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Pursuit of profit won’t solve climate crisis

Pursuit of profit won’t solve climate crisis

Effective democracy needs “a widespread sense of responsibility for the common good”

Every answer has a cost. Every choice exacts a penalty. A new book reminds readers there are no easy answers to the climate crisis.

LONDON, 24 June, 2019 − Resolving the climate crisis demands radical political change, a British author argues: the end of free market capitalism.

You could turn the entire United Kingdom into a giant wind farm and it still wouldn’t generate all of the UK’s current energy demand. That is because only 2% of the solar energy that slams into and powers the whole planet on a daily basis is converted into wind, and most of that is either high in the jet stream or far out to sea.

Hydropower could in theory supply most of or perhaps even all the energy needs of 7 billion humans, but only if every drop that falls as rain was saved to power the most perfectly efficient turbines.

And that too is wildly unrealistic, says Mike Berners-Lee in his thoughtful and stimulating new paperback There Is No Planet B. He adds: “Thank goodness, as it would mean totally doing away with mountain streams and even, if you really think about it, hillsides.”

This is a book for people who really want to think about the state of the world, and how to get to zero-carbon emissions as swiftly as possible, and in a way that preserves a decent life for the 11 billion or so who will people the planet by 2050. And, of course, everything boils down to energy

Enough for everyone.

The sun delivers around 16,300 kilowatts to the Earth’s surface for every person on the planet: enough, he says, to boil an Olympic-sized swimming pool of water for each and every one.

Trudeau Declared a Climate Crisis, then Backed Trans Mountain Again

Trudeau Declared a Climate Crisis, then Backed Trans Mountain Again

Opponents slam approval of potentially ‘catastrophic’ pipeline expansion.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announces the second approval of the Trans Mountain Pipeline in Ottawa with fellow cabinet ministers. ‘We listened to community concerns and we are acting on community ideas.’ Photo by Sean Kilpatrick, Canadian Press.

A day after declaring a “climate emergency,” the federal government approved for the second time the expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline that it now owns. 

In announcing cabinet’s decision, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said fighting climate change and growing the economy are complementary.

“We need to create wealth today so we can invest in the future,” he said. “This project has the potential to create thousands of solid middle class jobs for Canadians.”

Opponents, including the B.C. government, slammed the decision and justification, saying the project puts the coast at risk, as well as tens of thousands of jobs that depend on a clean environment. 

The existing pipeline from Edmonton, Alberta to Burnaby, British Columbia has capacity to carry 300,000 barrels of oil and petroleum products a day. The $7.4-billion expansion project would triple that.The Tyee is supported by readers like you Join us and grow independent media in Canada

The federal government approved the pipeline expansion in 2016, but a Federal Court of Appeal ruling overturned the approval, finding that the government failed to adequately consult First Nations and that the National Energy Board’s review of the project should have considered tanker traffic and the threat to southern resident killer whales.

A year ago, the federal government spent $4.5 billion to buy the existing Trans Mountain Pipeline and take over the expansion project from Texas company Kinder Morgan.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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