Guest Opinion: Do your part to combat climate change — Get an EV

'Without the cars, simply put, we can't make it'

Most Palo Altans don't need to be convinced that climate change is real, human-caused and a major threat. The planet is already experiencing such symptoms as extreme weather events, and without major changes, sea-level rise will flood areas around the Bay and California will suffer permanent drought.

We all know that, but the challenge is so big that it's easy to feel helpless.

The commitments made at the recent Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris are a major step forward. However, scientists agree that the voluntary commitments made there are no more than half of what will be needed to achieve the goal of limiting the average global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) this century, the threshold at which many of the worst effects of climate change may be avoided.

The test will come in living up to the Paris commitments and increasing them at every opportunity. Governor Jerry Brown, who attended the conference, said it well: This is a historic turning point in the quest to combat one of the biggest threats facing humanity. Activists, business leaders and subnational leaders now need to redouble their efforts and push for increasingly aggressive action.

Congress is paralyzed, but states and local governments (subnational leaders) are taking action. Palo Alto is a leader, having among other things achieved carbon-neutral electricity. However, while that is a good first step, we still need to deal with natural gas and transportation, with the latter constituting nearly 60 percent of the city's greenhouse gas emissions.

Perhaps the biggest and most important step you can take today to reduce your emissions from transportation is to drive an electric vehicle. It is true that electric vehicles are only as environmentally friendly as the electricity that recharges them; China, for example is still heavily reliant on electricity generated by coal. But that's the beauty of our situation in Palo Alto, where our electricity is already carbon-neutral.

The importance of this step was highlighted in a Nov. 24 article by Matt Richtel in the New York Times, which quoted Mary Nichols, chair of the State Air Resources Board, as follows: "California has 150,000 electric cars, but that figure needs to grow tenfold in the next decade. ... Without the cars, simply put, we can't make it."

The cost of doing so is greatly reduced by the combined state rebate of $2,500 and federal tax credit of $7,500. With them, an exhaustive analysis by city utilities concluded, buying an EV is a "cost-effective alternative to buying an equivalently sized gasoline vehicle." (See

People hesitate out of concern for the limited range of EVs. However, charging stations are steadily becoming more numerous, and battery capacities are growing -- increasing the range.

Acquisition of an EV already includes a portable charger that can be plugged into any home socket. That provides only a "trickle" charge, but that's often enough to support local driving and recharging overnight.

In the case of multi-family apartments, however, outlets are often not available, and absentee owners may not be inclined to provide them, so the city may need to offer incentives. It will also be important to encourage companies to install chargers and outlets, so that people can recharge at work.

In the meantime, if a family owns both an EV and one gasoline-powered vehicle, they can preserve the latter for long-distance trips and use the EV for local errands, at one-quarter of the cost of fueling a gas-powered car. Maintenance costs are ridiculously low. (Another article in the Times noted that EVs require so little maintenance that some dealers, concerned about losing profits on service, don't like to sell them.)

So to repeat, here's an answer for those of us who wonder what we as individuals can do about an issue as big as climate change: Buy or lease an EV! They have a lot of advantages:

• You'll have the satisfaction of knowing that the electricity you use is carbon-neutral.

• By doing so, you'll be taking an important personal initiative to deal with climate change.

• You'll no longer be fattening the wallets of the Exxon/Shells of the world.

• The HOV sticker is invaluable in today's traffic.

• Avoiding trips to the gas station saves precious time.

• Last but in no way least, EVs are smooth and fun to drive.

You can learn even more about the benefits of EVs at

The city could also do a lot more to promote EVs. It's not practical for the city to subsidize them. However, it can do more to use its various public communications to correct misconceptions about them and educate the public about their advantages. For example, it has hosted one "ride and drive" event, where interested people could learn about and test drive various makes of EV, but it could certainly do more.

Palo Alto is a relatively small city, so it would be easy to feel that changes here would be too minor to have any significant impact. However, we really are a model that others emulate, so changes here have an impact far beyond our borders.

Taking all that into account, the climate activist group Carbon-Free Palo Alto is advocating a goal of having an EV in every Palo Alto household within the next eight years. That literal goal may be unrealistic, but as with our goal of "zero waste or damn close," it's worth shooting for. We already have more Priuses and Teslas than most if not all other cities.

Let's show the rest of the world that Palo Alto means business when it comes to climate change -- get a cool, clean EV!

Walt Hays is a member of Carbon-Free Palo Alto, chaired the Green Ribbon Task Force that led to the city's first Climate Action Plan, and can be emailed at

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22 people like this
Posted by Mountain Mike
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 23, 2016 at 1:14 pm

Maybe if you were going to buy a new car, anyway. If not, it might be better to keep your regular, old car going. After all, it has already been manufacured.

39 people like this
Posted by An Engineer
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 23, 2016 at 1:24 pm

EVs merely hide their emissions elsewhere. That electricity has to come from somewhere. On a well-to-wheel basis, an EV's carbon footprint is the same as a comparable conventional auto.

7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 23, 2016 at 1:48 pm

That "long tailpipe" issue depends a lot on where you get your electricity from. Palo Alto's electricity is nominally zero-carbon (though part of that is from buying carbon offsets). So if you charge your EV here, you do indeed produce lower emissions than ICU cars - although not zero because of the emissions used to build the car in the first place.

7 people like this
Posted by IdoMyPart
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 23, 2016 at 3:13 pm

Just by living here, I am ahead of 99.9% of the population, given the mild climate, and resulting lower heating and cooling loads. We could all drive Humvees and still be way ahead.

43 people like this
Posted by Caleb
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 23, 2016 at 3:25 pm

This is so sad. EVs have two big pollution problems.

1. While the car doesn't create air pollution, the power is generated by a facility that does. And in many cases that facility is located in a low-income, minority neighborhood. So they get to swallow our pollution. A typical Palo Alto solution. Shove the problem down somebody else's throat. And don't tell me that Palo Alto's city power comes from renewable resources. It's not true. We didn't hook up special transmission lines to solar farms and windmills. We get our power off the grid like PG&E does. We call our power "renewable" because we make investments in windmills and solar, and those sources put their power into the grid. But the actual power that goes into Walt's car probably comes from a coal-fired plant in a slum somewhere.

2. When an electric car rolls off the production line, it has already been responsible for 30,000 pounds of carbon-dioxide emission due to activities such as lithium mining. The amount for making a conventional car: 14,000 pounds. That's according to an analysis in Journal of Industrial Ecology. (Web Link)

All the electric car does is shift the problem to somebody else. A typical Palo Alto solution.

33 people like this
Posted by An Engineer
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 23, 2016 at 5:01 pm

"That "long tailpipe" issue depends a lot on where you get your electricity from. Palo Alto's electricity is nominally zero-carbon (though part of that is from buying carbon offsets)."

Palo Alto's electricity supply comes directly from The Grid, like every other city around here. Grid electricity is a perfect amalgam of a variety of generator types. The majority are carbon emitters. Financial shell games and wishful thinking at City Hall can't change that. Palo Alto's so called zero-carbon electricity is a PR illusion. Palo Alto citizens should demand the truth.

12 people like this
Posted by Disappointed
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 23, 2016 at 6:23 pm

It's always good to read the comments to well intended articles like these. [Portion removed.] The author's point is that we all must do our part. So if you're not happy with the grid, then call up Solarcity to install panels on your roof (and save on your bill while you're at it). Then get an EV (and get rid of your gas bill while you're at it). Then you can spend all your savings on an annual vacation. How is that so hard? Stop being negative and get creative. Californians have no excuses with abundant sunshine and the best EV subsidies. All you [portion removed], just test drive an EV before you condemn them, and read this so you have your facts straight:
Web Link

29 people like this
Posted by An Engineer
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 23, 2016 at 7:27 pm

" up Solarcity to install panels on your roof (and save on your bill while you're at it). Then get an EV (and get rid of your gas bill while you're at it)."

Great idea. Now do a reality check. Homework assignment: Select a common EV, like a Leaf. Find out its battery capacity. Then calculate how long it takes to charge the EV using a solar array on your roof, accounting for the varying angle of the sun (there are websites that assist such calculations). Estimate your daily solar-charge mileage in the winter and summer.

33 people like this
Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 23, 2016 at 11:43 pm

As a Stanford PhD Physicist, I am always disappointed to read comments of scientifically illiterate folks like Walt Hays.

I do enjoy driving a BMW i3 EV because 1) it is fun, 2) no gas engine maintenance, and 3) it is cheaper. In no way I drive an EV because I think I'm saving the planet,... because the equivalent energy comes form somewhere.

Actually, the long term issues relating to battery production and recycling may prove to be a pollution problem.

11 people like this
Posted by Justin
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 24, 2016 at 1:47 am

Getting solar panels and charging an EV are two unrelated actions. In almost all circumstances, solar panels will reduce the generation of some gas generator slightly while they are producing. Charging an EV will mean slightly increased output of a gas generator somewhere in the West.

Palo Alto can say it's electricity is carbon neutral but that's just an accounting gimmick. If many other cities in California claimed to be truly carbon neutral AKA bought only carbon-free electricity from the Western grid, it would be absurdly expensive.

That said, in the long term, EVs increase demand for electricity, and it is possible that new capacity built to accommodate increased demand is zero carbon. However, the more capacity we need to build, the more expensive electricity will be, damaging the (diminishing) economic benefits of EVs So it can be complicated to truly assign an emissions value to an electric vehicle.

29 people like this
Posted by Apple
a resident of another community
on Jan 24, 2016 at 2:15 am

If you want to help the environment, don't replace you car with an EV. Just take the bus/train/uber/bike/walk where you need to go.

Just because we live around Silicon Valley doesn't mean the solution to every problem is the latest "hot" product. Conservation and efficiency improvements will do more for the environment. Plus, it will be cheaper for society's wallet.

Government EV and home solar subsidies are expensive, and frankly misplaced from a public policy standpoint. We give rich folks who can afford EV and solar a big tax break. That money could better be used to help the poor make their homes more energy efficient, which would also help them become less poor through energy savings. Mandating higher mile per gallon standards, cleaner gasoline, and more efficient home appliances are way cheaper to implement and improves environmental results faster.

3 people like this
Posted by Plane Speaker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 24, 2016 at 2:19 am

Engineer, your comments are leaving out that when you buy grid
electricity you are buying into a supply system that is always changing,
and whenever we get serious about it will change very quickly and
substantially. For instance if we built 5 times as many nuclear reactors
as we currently have we would have no carbon emissions at all.
When you freeze your purchase into buying a gas car, not even a hybrid
you add to the problem both in your car and the cumulative
momentum it adds to the existing system. A gas car is a national
liability at this point, if not a global one.

While it is true that cars require quite a bit of energy to run, there is
not reason why solar energy from a rooftop can't be part of that mix.
I notice you did not come up with any example numbers yourself.

It is not that hard to figure out given the mileage of a normal car,
and how much energy is in a gallon of gas approximately how much
energy it takes to move a car. Then look at how much energy in
gasoline is really applied to moving the car, how much just goes up
in heat. and how much goes to movie the mass of gasoline itself,
and a huge engine. The numbers are not so bad ... but I too do not
have them, though I did do some rough calculations. The major
problem is one of limited charge and limited distance, and that
number has gone up from the first Pluggable Priuses that could
only go 3-5 miles to the supermarket to the newest electric cars
that claim they can go 200 miles now.

Many parking lots have solar panels covering them and if people
have short commutes that would help them charge up if they are
low. Part of engineering is to be aware of your biases and do a
reality check every so often.

Plus, we also just do not calculate the real cost of gasoline, the
externalized costs of pollution, sickness, miltary security, etc.

2 people like this
Posted by GenosGranny
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 24, 2016 at 8:05 am

EVs are cleaner greener cradle to grave (not my words) Web Link
But the traffic here in MV/PA is terrible. Just sitting in it, one could run out of power...

1 person likes this
Posted by JustTryOne
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 24, 2016 at 9:30 am

Like you, I am reading all of the conflicting opinions and statistics regarding EVs. That kind of crosstalk always benefits the status quo and apathy. How about this? Next time you are in the market for a car, just test drive an EV as well. They are so fun to drive! My life is better without the gas station visits, oil and coolant changes, and clunkiness of gas-powered. Just plug it in at night to top off.
If we wait for all the numbers and statistics to work out, nothing will change. Go electric, centralize the power distribution, then solutions for clean electric generation will have a huge and immediate impact on our society. Either way, the next generation of transportation will most likely include lots of electric self-driven cars, so get ready everyone!

13 people like this
Posted by Tell It Like It Is
a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 24, 2016 at 9:54 am

Good thing the manufacture of Silicon (and all the other materials that make up a solar panel) creates no Carbon, and the extraction of the basic raw materials has no impact on our environment.

Finally a "free Lunch" for everyone !

Like this comment
Posted by Tell It Like It Is
a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 24, 2016 at 10:05 am

[Post removed.]

32 people like this
Posted by Stan
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 24, 2016 at 1:08 pm

While electric cars certainly offer many benefits, solving green house gas emissions really isn't one of them. Not everyone can afford an EV, even with rebates, but that didn't factor in here. As pointed out by many, even though EV's don't produce emissions themselves, which certainly has local benefits, the source of electricity almost certainly generates emissions, as are the costs of building high tech equipment. A similar argument has been made to justify the CA High Speed Rail project... it's Green! but all those pr-puff pieces completely ignore the tremendous emissions alone generated by the manufacturing of the millions of tons of concrete needed to lay the rail track that experts predict will take decades of 'clean' operation in order to even offset the concrete emissions.

For comparison, one shipping container ship, which basically has no emissions regulations that I am aware of, generated as much pollution as 50 million cars! Furthermore, the emissions of the global stock of automobiles is comparable to the emissions of only 15 average container ships. Fifteen. Granted this report is several years old, but how many container ships are there moving around SF Bay on any given day? Is it likely that one container ship emits more pollution in than the entire auto emissions in that same day?

Perhaps there are bigger targets in the green house emissions game than your average driver.

7 people like this
Posted by Stan
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 24, 2016 at 1:10 pm

The report I refer to above:

Web Link

38 people like this
Posted by FYI
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 24, 2016 at 3:15 pm

Many utility companies, including PG&E, are now charging large monthly fees to people who have solar panels, apparently to make up for the money they are not getting.

Other utility companies are threatening to no longer reimburse homeowners for energy not used, and apparently this is not illegal.

In CA, the PUC refuses to do anything about this.

Then there is the problem with the length of time it takes for solar panels to pay themselves off--good quality panels require 20 years or more to do that. Most people don't live in a house that long.

Then there is the problem with cheap Chinese panels. They have a shorter life and can ruin your roof ( we learned this in a very expensive way, resulting in buying two new roofs in five years. Chinese panels had to be removed)

Until the cost comes down and the quality goes up--and the problems with utility company defiance are solved-- hold off on solar installation.

2 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 24, 2016 at 3:50 pm

"EVs merely hide their emissions elsewhere. That electricity has to come from somewhere."

Not true. I have had solar panels for many years now even with two EVs in my household, we produce more electricty than we consume. Solar panels have come down in price and there are a myriad of deals for those who can't afford to buy them outright.

3 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 24, 2016 at 4:32 pm

The most climate friendly thing you can do in this regard is to not buy any car. Our vehicles spend most of their time parked and are underutilized. I'd much rather pay for a self-driving taxi service than own a car if they could be made convenient enough. Better for the environment and the pocketbook.

13 people like this
Posted by An Engineer
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 24, 2016 at 5:29 pm

""EVs merely hide their emissions elsewhere. That electricity has to come from somewhere." Not true. I have had solar panels for many years now even with two EVs in my household, we produce more electricty than we consume."

Bear in mind that "we produce more electricity than we consume" only states the sign of a difference between two unknown quantities, totaled over the utility billing cycle. It does not show that your cars are getting all their energy from the sun. You have some homework to do.

Do you ever plug in your EVs at night?

Do you supplement their charge elsewhere?

Have you ever tried disconnecting your panels from the grid and charging your EVs ONLY from them? A few weeks on this regiment would be instructive.

If not, have you metered the power going into your EVs when they're plugged in and the sun is shining? Is their kilowatt draw more or less than what your panels are producing at the same time? Have you repeated that measurement under mid-morning, noon, mid-afternoon, and overcast conditions? How do you measure your panels' instantaneous power output?

Why not try the educational exercise I proposed to "Disappointed" in a prior post?

14 people like this
Posted by The_Case_Against
a resident of another community
on Jan 25, 2016 at 6:20 pm

[Portion removed.] Plenty of issues remain with the MGW hypothesis and it is not unreasonable for people to question it.

The percent of the planet that we can actually measure, the length of time we have quality measurements, the failure of several predictions and the multiple restatement of the forecasts, models and data sets deserve constructive criticism.

Even if the rebuttals of the theory ultimately are proven false they play an important role. When you take the position that the theory is fact or that people who still question it are less intelligent then you just turn your ideas into propaganda.

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of another community

on Jan 25, 2016 at 6:23 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

1 person likes this
Posted by Volt Owner
a resident of another community
on Jan 26, 2016 at 3:40 am

To "An Engineer"

From a Chevy Volt owner, and a solar panel owner.

No, we don't track the exact origin of every electron and how it goes up and down the world or reality and knowing where every bit comes from.

But those of us who are trying are...hey, doing something. Sure, we may only be putting a small dent in the universe, but every dent counts. With your attitude towards it, you might as well not vote because your one vote clearly can't, by itself, change an election.

Our solar panels do put our more electricity than we use, including our EVs. The Tesla home battery system we have ensures we can use that electricity day and night, regardless of the planet's rotation. And while yes, the payoff is a long term investment, 5 years in we are 75% to having saved the amount spent on our solar panels.

Add to that the self-sufficiency and ability to power our home in case of emergency, such as earthquake or power outage...

I'm not going to argue that we are 100% clean. I have a Volt, and sometimes, yes, I use gas when I need it. But over 5 years I've used just 160 gallons, where as for some people that's enough for five weeks. So I'm pretty damned happy at the weekly money's I'm saving, that I'm denting the extent of what I require from the grid, and that I'm setting a good example.

Is it perfect? No. But if I couldn't do anything if it was perfect I wouldn't have done anything since 1977.

Signed, a happy early adopter.

7 people like this
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 26, 2016 at 5:35 am

Volt owner @ another community,

You are benefiting from having solar panels, reducing your utility costs - good for you; you should also be thanking all your neigbhors who subsidized the rebates you got.

You are benefiting from driving a Volt, reducing your transportation costs - good for you; you should also be thanking all your neighbors who subsidized the rebates you got.

But you are still using fossil fuels to charge your Volt, your home battery back up system, etc. Like during the winter when the solar panels produce a lot less than during the summer. And purchasing carbon offsets is paying a fine for littering.

8 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Jan 26, 2016 at 7:36 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I owned two 100% electrical vehicles for eight+ years and when I estimate their environmental impact, including the environmental cost of manufactiring and of battery recycling, they were a negative contribution to the environment.

A much better environmental investment is solar hot water - I have had solar hot water for over 40 years and it just keeps chugging out the dollar and envionmnetal savings.

11 people like this
Posted by Lettuce_vs_PotatoChips
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2016 at 8:19 am

Wind and solar don't have the energy density or reliability to make them efficient for high demand activities. We create that illusion by subsidizing them and temporarily aggregating their power at a greater cost to others.

Thus, non-hydro renewables still only make up a small percentage of our electricity generation in our state. Our electric or hybrid cars really run on coal, natural gas, nuclear or hydro generated energy. They are great learning prototypes but let's not kid ourselves that they are ready or would have a net positive effect with wholesale adoption.

2 people like this
Posted by An Engineer
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 26, 2016 at 4:36 pm

"To "An Engineer"

From a Chevy Volt owner, and a solar panel owner."

Sorry, I almost forgot. When did you last test the area under and around your solar panels for lead and other noxious chemicals that rain might have leached from them? I would recommend an annual assay.

2 people like this
Posted by aregard
a resident of another community
on Jul 2, 2017 at 9:17 am

I've done the homework, and installed the panels, and drive two EVs off the roof of my house. Without the cars, the math didn't add up to install panels, because my electric costs were so low to start with. I did it anyway. Life isn't always about conserving money -- sometimes you conserve other things like the environment.

We bought the panels and the EVs (and we're the kind of people who drive cars for 20 years so this was a push up for us). Our gas bill has gone from $300/month to about $25/month (Volts have gas range extenders). We regularly run our electrical meter backwards.

Now, I GET IT that not everybody can do this. Not everybody plans to be in one house for 20 years. Not everybody can afford to buy new cars when the old ones go. Not everybody's house is situated ideally for easy solar installation. People rent. People are struggling to get by. I UNDERSTAND. My point is, if those of us who CAN do this DO do this, everybody wins in the long run.

Let's win in the long run, OK?

7 people like this
Posted by My solar panels
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 2, 2017 at 11:15 am

My roof, and that of a friend in LAH, were ruined by solar panels.

Moisture accumulated under them, causing toxic molds, which ate right through all of the roofing material.

Our friend in LAH had the panels installed when a new roof was installed-- a huge waste!

2 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 3, 2017 at 1:17 am

An EV is nice, but marginally will it really do that much to slow or stop Planetary Hotboxing?
I think probably not. The greatest factor by far is our animal farming system ...

Excerpt from Time magazine: Meat: Making Global Warming Worse by Bryan Walsh

In a 2006 report, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) concluded that worldwide livestock farming generates 18% of the planet's greenhouse gas emissions — by comparison, all the world's cars, trains, planes and boats account for a combined 13% of greenhouse gas emissions. Much of livestock's contribution to global warming come from deforestation, as the growing demand for meat results in trees being cut down to make space for pasture or farmland to grow animal feed. Livestock takes up a lot of space — nearly one-third of the earth's entire landmass. In Latin America, the FAO estimates that some 70% of former forest cover has been converted for grazing. Lost forest cover heats the planet, because trees absorb CO2 while they're alive — and when they're burned or cut down, the greenhouse gas is released back into the atmosphere.

Then there's manure — all that animal waste generates nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that has 296 times the warming effect of CO2. And of course, there is cow flatulence: as cattle digest grass or grain, they produce methane gas, of which they expel up to 200 L a day. Given that there are 100 million cattle in the U.S. alone, and that methane has 23 times the warming impact of CO2, the gas adds up.


Cries to buy new cars, and new hybrid or electric cars, if they are needed are probably helpful, but they are much more helpful to the bottom line of car companies. Nothing we are doing is really going to moderate this global catastrophe, and the effects that used to be predictions are now coming true, and most of the predictions have been "conservative".

4 people like this
Posted by An Engineer
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 3, 2017 at 3:58 pm

The major advantage of an EV is short trips, which are very rough on a gas or diesel engine, and which also produce maximum pollution per mile. For longer trips requiring recharging the battery, be prepared to spend 30 to many, many more minutes at charging stations along the route, depending on your battery capacity and the charger's rating. The tradeoff with a bigger battery is longer distances between charges, but with a longer stay at the charger to fill it. Not to mention the time spent waiting for your turn at a plug.

Here's your opportunity, you Silicon Valley types: build casinos with chargers and rake in their money while they fill up.

"... installed the panels, and drive two EVs off the roof of my house."

That must be spectacular.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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