The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

March 25, 2011

I’m An Environmentalist and I’m Not Having Kids

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It would be easy for me to feel self-righteous about my decision not to breed. According to many thinkers, population is the number one factor driving such problems as global climate change, pollution, and hunger. And children born and raised in affluent nations have a significantly higher impact on the planet than those born to more modest means. As one of my blogger friends put it, population “relates to everything – including the amount of plastic crap circulating in the ocean.”

So it would have been mighty selfless of me to deny my maternal instinct for the sake of the planet, right? But honestly, my decision not to have children had nothing to do with environmental concerns. I looked at my life, my goals, my physical and emotional resources, and despite my love for cute little babies, I realized there were other things I wanted to do with my life and that bringing a child into the world was not for me.

Of course, we’re all looking for outside validation of our choices, right?

So it was with great interest that I read Stephanie Weiss’s latest piece in the Huffington Post, “My Uterus Is Officially Closed for Business and I Have No Regrets,” in which she explains that despite her own baby cravings, she’s going to adopt someday instead of having her own kids. For environmental reasons.

At first, Stefanie’s plan sounded reasonable to me. I appreciated her non-judgmental approach to the issue. Instead of turning her piece into a rant about overpopulation, she calmly explains how she’s decided to take responsibility for her own impact on the planet, without judging anyone else’s decisions. In fact, she acknowledges the pain of childless women who do want children and have been unable to conceive, but then goes on to analyze how society pressures all women to have children and asks us to

Imagine, for a moment, if the option of not having kids were talked about in home economics or health classes in high school, just like everything else. If all our children were truly conscious decisions, perhaps we’d have a much happier, psychologically healthier world. And that’s not even counting what reducing the population would do for Planet Earth — making all our lives, the ones we’re living right now, safer from the ravages of climate change.

So, I posted the article on my Facebook page and got some comments that really made me think. One of my friends thought Ms. Weiss’s piece was premature, since she hasn’t actually adopted a child but simply plans to do it someday.

I feel like this would be a more compelling piece if this woman… had already gone through the adoption process. The truth is, adoption is HARD. Super super hard. And expensive. Having sex is … well, free. And …pretty easy. The barriers to adoption often stymie the most well-meaning intended adopters.

Hmm… good point. I wonder if Weiss will actually follow through with her plan.   Here are some thoughts from someone who actually did follow through.  BlogHer CE, Shannon LC Cate, wrote me:

I won’t say I decided not to have bio children to reduce the population, but rather that I am so pessimistic about the future I couldn’t bear the guilt of bringing new people into this mess. It’s a terrible, sad way to think, but it’s truly how I feel. So when I decided I wanted to go ahead and be a parent, adoption was my go-to plan.

Adoption was the right choice to make a family for me and there is much more to it than it just being another way to have kids (which is what I thought, originally). Adoption is its own special needs parenting–even if you aren’t parenting kids with special needs, adoption has a package of issues every adopted kid has to handle in one way or another. So I wouldn’t recommend people just swap it out for birth when wanting children.

(Also, there are not enough healthy newborn infants for all the people who want them. To adopt ethically, most of the time you are going to have to consider taking the children all those other people DON’T want.) But for my family it has been an excellent fit.

Other friends of mine questioned the ethics of adoption as an alternative to bearing one’s own children (for those who are physically able to conceive).

Deanna from Crunchy Chicken wonders if adoption “creates a market and you end up pushing the “trauma” of childbearing off onto the poor. In other words, the rich no longer have to go through the burden of carrying and bearing babies.”

And another friend worries that overseas adoption will promote

the activity of selling children. There are countries… where religious organizations pressure parents to give their kids to “rich Americans” so that they can have a better life. Of course they tell the adoptive parents all sort so horror stories about how that child was abandoned or starving, etc when in reality that was that was not the case.

Betsy from the blog Eco-Novice doesn’t believe population is the problem in the first place and does not think population control is the answer to our problems. Instead, she thinks procreation

…is a biological and psychological impulse, part of being human. Like needing to connect with the natural world. Humans have always wanted to perpetuate themselves. I personally think the fact that so many people do not want to have children now is what has been indoctrinated through our current culture.

And Betsy adds,

When lots of people choose not to have children, a society becomes more hostile towards children. Think of the dirty looks parents get on airplanes and in restaurants…. And while environmentalists worry about population growth, demographers are worrying about the dire consequences of population collapse.

Regardless of your opinion about whether overpopulation is the cause of our environmental woes, Abby at The Green Phonebooth wants us to at least be able to talk about it. In her piece, “7 Billion Elephants in the Room,” advices readers to:

1. Reduce your consumption… of everything. About 20% of the world’s population uses 80% of the resources and has the most impact on environmental degradation….
2. When you need to buy something, buy fair trade….
3. Support programs and organizations, politically and/or financially, that promote women’s rights, education, and family planning in the developing world….

But most importantly, let’s talk about the population issues. As environmentalists, let’s stop ignoring the environmental elephant in the room.

So what do you think? About population, procreation, adoption, and women’s reproductive decisions? Is adoption a more eco-friendly alternative to procreation? Or does it just create a whole new set of problems?

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107 Comments on "I’m An Environmentalist and I’m Not Having Kids"

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My name is Hight priest Odudu of the SPELL TEMPLE order100.100@aim.com and I am a professional traditional healer and master in spells that specializes in love, money, power, success, happiness and witch craft, Pregnancy, Inheritance Properties, win back his divorced husband back. Can you help with any problem or wish, you may have.* * I have more than 30 years experience in the field of magic / spiritual healing. Over the years I have worked for thousands of clients in more than 80 countries worldwide. My services are highly in demand, which is proof of the success I achieved on… Read more »
Lynn from OrganicMania.com
Wow! 105 comments….how did I miss this one? Beth, some folks in my neighborhood adopted for environmental reasons. They would have been able to conceive…he had a vasectomy. Many people took it hard, especially because this is a good looking, well educated, successful couple. Many folks made comments like, “Our society NEEDS people like you to reproduce.” Interesting…. It took me a long time to decide to have kids. Had 9-11 never happened, I might still be more focused on climbing the corporate ladder. My eldest was conceived a month after 9-11. It changed everything for me. I agree with… Read more »
Brooke, you make a great point that is on my mind quite a bit – that is the fact that although we feel we are making individual choices, if you took all the choices of all individuals and plotted them statistically, you’d find that they fall into the typical distribution curve where a few have many children, a few have none and most fall in between. In other words, human behavior of any kind follows the curve of other phenomena – like throwing dice. So it makes me question free will…though each of us certainly believes he/she is making a… Read more »

I’ve never really understood how making the personal choice to adopt over having a biological child really helps to reduce population. Most children are not planned and obviously the ones given up for adoption are not. Just because I might make the choice to have one child or no children, doesn’t stop another person from having 12 children. In most developing countries where the population is increasing dramatically women don’t even have a choice of planning their pregnancies.

One commenter on this post said that their family line (theirs and their spouses) has remained stable for the past 100 years. I.e. parents had a child or two, parents died, child(ren) married and had a child or two, then died, etc. My family line has been quite the opposite. I recently read my great-great grandfather’s memoir. He and his wife had 13 children. By the time he was 80 years old he proudly reported that he and his since deceased wife had exactly 100 descendants. My own parents both came from families with 8 children. My parents had six… Read more »

Amberrayh, thanks for that last part. Yes, I feel like I want more ways to interact with children, too. I wish sometimes I hadn’t lived so far away from my neices and nephews when they were small. And by the way, I’m from a Mormon family too. But not Utah Mormon. My parents were both converts — and only children.

Environmentalist. (Biological) Parent. Mutually Exclusive? |

[…] catching up on my blog reading, and I came across this post from Beth Terry at My Plastic Free Life, which asks the question: [W]hat do you think? About […]

I could write an entire blog entry about what I think on this topic. Fact is, I have 3 kids that I do not regret having. But, if I were to have to go back and do it over again, knowing what I know now? I might not have done it. First of all, over breeding is DEFINITELY a problem. When something eventually goes wrong, and people are fighting each other to survive, we don’t have enough for all these people. Just look at the mess the U.S. has become. It’s tragic how disgusting this country is, right now. Involved… Read more »
Hi SimplyCJ, Your beliefs are your own business, but how can you say the population of the world is not ours to control? Clearly, we DO have the ability to make choices about and control our own reproduction, through any number of means. And if those means were exercised by people on a global scale, it WOULD amount to us controlling the population of the world. Acting as if we can’t exert control on the population of the world sounds like a rather convenient abdication of real responsibility for our actions to me, for with knowledge and power (which as… Read more »

I’m also an environmentalist, but I believe in God. We were made to procreate and children are His gift to us. The population of the world is God’s to control, not ours. Allow yourself to be lead by God. If he calls you to parenthood, then be thankful and embrace the joy of it.

Why I’m Not Having Kids — Jen Henderson

[…] some degree, I still don’t. The other day, though, I read a thoughtful blog post by Beth Terry, environmental activist and crusader against plastic. In it she talks about the complexities of […]

Population: Bomb or Bullshit? « Eco Lesbo Vego

[…] I’m an Environmentalist and I’m Not Having Kids by Beth Terry at My Plastic-free Life (formerly Fake Plastic […]

Dear Trendy, Thank you for stopping. I don’t think you read the comment thread above (understandably, b/c it is quite long), or you might have seen this, which I will reiterate for your benefit: “And PLEASE, can we stop saying that it’s “natural” to want to have kids, as if it is somehow “unnatural” to choose not to procreate?”” -EcoCatLady Your remarks about what is “natural” are insulting to those of us who don’t fit your definition of “natural,” and your comment about what women were “created” for reinforces gender stereotypes, and therefore sexism. Please be more careful about generalizing… Read more »
The topic was a little over the edge to me. I am all up for doing what I can to help the environment but not having kids to offset my carbon footprint? This is just too much for me. As a mom of two, I can tell you that there is a huge emotional deep connection between me and my children. I couldn’t imagine asking someone to forgo this. As a mom, I have a better appreciation and understanding of my family and other people because I am a mom. I feel more connected to humanity. I am all about… Read more »

Hi Trendy. I understand that this is an emotional topic, but I hope you realize no one is asking anyone else to forgo having children. Quite the opposite. The post is about personal choices and teaching women and girls that they actually have a choice. It’s natural for some women to be moms, but it’s also just as natural for some women not to be moms. And thinking about our childrens’ impact on the environment can influence how we raise the children we choose to have.

I have two kids. I would actually like to have a third. I consider myself an environmentalist. I feel some conflict about this, as I know that my children are undoubtedly going to have a high carbon footprint, based on their typical North American lifestyle. Having fewer children is one way to help solve some of the environmental issues we’re facing, yes. But I think it’s unrealistic to expect many or most people not to have children at all. For many people, reproduction is a deep biological compulsion. And so I think the ultimate solution has to be to change… Read more »
I believe the children are the future — Ecology + Family + Lifestyle

[…] some degree, I still don’t. The other day, though, I read a thoughtful blog post by Beth Terry, environmental activist and crusader against plastic. In it she talks about the complexities of […]

Brand new here. I have a lot of feelings about this subject, but the one thing I’d like to address is the idea of expecting your kids to be like you when they grow up. So many of my friends are the black sheep of the family. . . and hey- that works both ways, you know! A family of liberals could end up with an “Alex Keaton”! When it comes down to it, I’m just uncomfortable about the idea of bringing kids into the world with those kinds of expectations. It actually seems unfair to me. They are people.… Read more »
I’ve been meaning to comment. Good topic. I hear environmentalists all the time say that they won’t have babies and no one who cares about the planet should, yada, yada, yad. But really, the women who care about the planet will pass down the values we need to treat the planet and its inhabitants better. Like teaching our children how to grow their own food and get them back in touch with the earth. Buy mostly local and organic food, make, reuse and barter, etc… I am pregnant with baby #2 at age 41 and I am an environmentalist! I’m… Read more »
As a mother who is currently pregnant with my fifth (!) child (despite our efforts to be done at three, incidentally), I was almost afraid to click on this post. It has certainly crossed my mind more than once that I have no right bringing more people to the planet. I have resigned myself to the fact that my children and I will just have to work that much harder to make up for my selfish choices, because I utterly adore life with my family and even though my last two were not planned I am massively thankful for them.… Read more »
Adoption is not always that easy. My husband and I have always planned on adopting, but it didn’t work out. With him in the military, we’re not in one place long enough to adopt a newborn (the wait is generally well over the 4-6 years that one posting lasts). We both feel uncomfortable with international adoption. We tried to adopt a 10-year-old boy with ADHD and OCD through social services – a difficult to place child if ever one existed – but it fell through because we couldn’t guarantee that we’d be staying in the same province. My heart was… Read more »
I think the screech of “overpopulation” is just one more way that we blame the people with the least power for all of the world’s problems. Have you seen those comparisons of like, how many Bangladeshi’s does it take to equal one middle class American (something like 60?) And how many to equal one of the top 1% of the US who have amassed all of the world’s wealth and have multiple mansions, yachts, personal jets, etc? The people who will suffer most from the consequences of climate change (and other environmental catastrophes) are the people who have played the… Read more »

Betsy’s last sentence struck home with me.

“If having children is not an appropriate choice, why bother saving the Earth in the first place?”

I don’t see a purpose in saving the world for the world’s sake. I am an environmentalist for humanity’s sake.

If people don’t want to have children – I totally support that. But as some noble sacrifice for the earth – that just doesn’t ring true to me.

“If having children is not an appropriate choice, why bother saving the Earth in the first place?”

i am a mom of one amazing 22-month-old girl. i have been an environmentalist for years, but i do want to comment that many new parents become environmentalists because they finally get it: they see the dangerous things that go into their child’s mouth (which they didn’t care about before the child); they are more willing to plan for the future, in terms of caring for our earth (whereas before, ‘the future’ was more just a few years down the line, instead of ‘the next generation’); they recognize that they need to model proper behavior to their children (instead of… Read more »
From Comment 24 above: (snipped etc.) Hank on Fri, 25th Mar 2011 1:10 pm The world can support a finite number of people. It’s a problem that will fix itself. (I agree, and, unfortunately, the fix, given current trajectory/momentum of EVERY human folly, will include a world no longer viable for human life. We’ve already tipped the scales in favor of chaos, which will swing us right off the planet…not many agree with me, yet. Dead Humans Walking. IMHO, we’ve already “booted the pooch”. I love the name of this blog. I often consider how the Pacific Gyre will have… Read more »
Well Beth, You are certainly entitled to your opinion. And I agree with you. LOL Even though I would love to adopt a child, being a single man, society and government frowns upon the practice. I find I am a Sexual Suspect because I don’t want a wife. Not having a child with someone is my choice, and like you say it is not an environmentalist one. It is a factual one. I am not likely to make anyone pregnant and since I can’t become pregnant my self, that seems to close the door. I think that if anyone who… Read more »

At this point fortunately, people are still able to make these decisions for themselves. Having said that, I do applaud all the adoptive parents, and when it comes to legal foreign adoptions, I love it that the ethnic mix of our little white bread/Miracle Whip community (97% white) is changing, if only slightly. Embracing diversity will help us all.

Hi again EcoCatLady! I think we do have a problem not just looking forward, but also considering others outside of our small circles. The way I see it, we as a species are ALREADY in a crisis. Look at what’s happening all over the globe with climate change and pollutants and so many other problems! And I think it’s sad to see people debating whether or not there “will be” a crisis when there already is for others whom we should be helping and at least not hurting. And not to diminish what others are facing, but it’s not smooth… Read more »
@ Meg – I totally agree that we need to reduce both our population and our consumption in order to avert a crisis. I think that means that we need a new economic system, one that isn’t dependent on constant growth. Don’t know how to get from here to there though. You know, the other thing that always sticks with me when it comes to this sort of discussion, is that we’re all arguing about what we need to do in order to avert a crisis… or I suppose some are arguing that there is no impending crisis in the… Read more »

Many mothers (all the ones I know) pump their milk so when someone else is watching the baby, the baby can drink it. Also, there are those mothers who are just **not able** to produce enough.

As an environmentalist, you probably know that breastfeeding is how to feed a baby. And so, I ask why use the photo of a baby drinking out of a bottle to illustrate your point? Formula-feeding (whatever your opinion on it) has a huge impact on the environment (cans, bottles, byproducts, etc.). There are lots of photos babies drinking mother’s milk as mammals are wont to, which is the environmentalist way. (You could argue that the bottle has expressed breastmilk, but not evident…) Just sayin’

I realize I am late in the game here, but I just wanted to chime in. I come from a family of 8. My father was self-employed, my mother a full-time homemaker (and bookkeeper for my dad). We all worked in our organic garden, raised rabbits for food, wore hand-me-downs and handmade clothing (my mother sewed). We also canned food, ate fish caught from nearby lakes. Because of the nature of our “big” family, I think we were more resourceful with our consumption. It seems that the families I knew that were smaller had more money to buy more things… Read more »
@EcoCatLady Thanks for sharing that video! How sobering! I urge everyone else to watch it. And here is the playlist link: https://www.youtube.com/user/PeacefulKancer#p/c/CD787B1AEC2B2D91/0/Hps7hIalV7o So, I’ve been thinking more and more about this issue and reading the comments, too. It seems that we can’t look at this as either/or, reducing population or reducing consumption. We really have to do both. People have mentioned that improving the quality of life for people in developing countries would reduce their population growth. Yes, it would, but it would increase their consumption, too, and probably make things worse from a purely environmental perspective. That is not… Read more »

I am probably so late on this posting that nobody will read it but…

Get the new $10 video game called Fate of the World. You are given the responsibility to keep the world going, economically and ecologically. The game is elegantly designed, easy to play (not to say it is easy to accomplish the goals!) and it is impossible not to learn about all the interactions of things.

Check it out. It’s a great educational tool and has had rave reviews.

@ EcoCatLady You said: “And PLEASE, can we stop saying that it’s “natural” to want to have kids, as if it is somehow “unnatural” to choose not to procreate?” OMG yes. You are so after my own heart here. Language is so, so, important to me, and I think how we talk about the world is a big part of how we understand it. I’m always the one at the party asking people to please refrain from using gendered insults (like “b*tch” and “d*ck”), or ableist insults, like “lame,” or other oppressive insults, like “gay” or “ghetto.” And I think… Read more »
Sarah – I would argue that both Malthuse and the Elrich’s were correct, they just got the timing wrong because they didn’t anticipate the advent of the green revolution. The problem is that all of this great food-procucing “technology” is based on petroleum, which is a finite resource. I’m sure this will sound “alarmest” to you, but how do you see the world continuing to produce food at the current level once the oil runs out, taking all of the ammonia based fertilizers with it? It seems to me that in the end the green revolution will only end up… Read more »
@ Sarah Johnson You said: “Other posters on this blog keep repeating that an increased population on a finite resource is unsustainable. And while the land area of the Earth is finite, it’s carrying capacity is NOT. The reason man has thwarted global famine is because we keep INCREASING the carrying capacity of the land through technological and agricultural advances.” Which just seems so patently shortsighted to me. Yes, we can keep using resources more and more efficiently (thus increasing carrying capacity), but in the end, there’s only so much energy and resources available on our planet, thus, there IS… Read more »
I have two beautiful daughters that I am teaching to be earth friendly…We try to grow our own food using compost as fertilizer…I have taught them how to make eco friendly cleaners and they in turn are doing the same with their friends…When I was young and childless I did ask couples w/o children why they chose not to have them…I was curious and wanting info for myself…It was not to judge at all…I told them I was proud of them for sticking by their decision and not to let anyone push them…I know families that abuse resourses…It is disturbing… Read more »
Let’s examine your apple analogy another way. Instead of looking at how long it takes each group to eat the bushel of apples, let us consider the energy and resources it takes to GROW the apples in the first place. Say I take five individuals and give them each their own plot of land, say a 1/2 acre, give them them apple seeds or even young saplings, and let them each grow their own apples. Each individual will have to water, fertilize, prune, mitigate pests, and tend their own plot. Apple trees require full sun to grow, so each individual… Read more »
I have the same belief about the future. The world cannot sustain 9 Billion people in a functional manner. It is not possible. look at the pollution overcrowding and poverty around today with close to 7 Billion 2-3 more Billion people will be a collosal hell hole. If your missing that parental instinct adopt a dog or cat. They are just as fun allot easier to take care of and will remain loyal till the day they die. Which cannot be said for every human child. The cause of all the worlds problems. Pollution destruction of habitat hunger poverty are… Read more »
Population, reproduction and the environment: a thoughtful discussion… | This Wild Life…
[…] This is the first time I’ve ever seen/read/heard such a peaceful, thoughtful and nuanced discu…. Every other time I’ve read an article or heard people discussing it, it seems that most people take extreme views, one way or another, and aren’t actually interested in thinking about the very complicated and varied opinions involved in this issue. Most people seem to have their minds made up and aren’t interested in changing their thinking at all, no matter what anyone else has to say. It was SO refreshing and extremely thought provoking reading this blog post, and for the FIRST TIME… Read more »

Please learn the facts before you choose your worldview. Here are some facts about overpopulation based on numbers from the UN.
http://overpopulationisamyth.com/overpopulation-the-making-of-a-myth

I was married for many years before having a child at 41. It was not a ‘planned’ pregnancy . . . I decided that if I got pregnant it was meant to be. That was 15 years ago and the most cherished day of my life. I love my son dearly and he is not only a gift to me but a contribution to the world. I respect anybody’s decision not to have children of their own. Not everyone should be a parent and I have high regard for anyone making this conscious choice for whatever reason. Our planet is… Read more »
I think we have too many people on this planet, and I considered that heavily when deciding whether or not to have a child (I now have a one year old). However, I also know that my environmental impact with child is drastically smaller than the environmental impact of the average American. I feel that I more than make up for it, and hopefully I’m breeding a little eco-warrior. I think it comes down to education. People need to understand the impact they are making so that they can decide accordingly. I think if more people were aware, they wouldn’t… Read more »
Thanks for the article. My wife gave birth last Feb. and I contemplated many of these issues (for my thoughts I’ll include the post I wrote for my website: . The recent National Geographic issue (a few months back) talked about hitting 7 billion, but the columnist argued it’s the consumption that is the big issue (which was touched upon in your article). I also threw up a short post a few weeks back about a new “Three Rs”.(http://2ndgreenrevolution.com/2011/03/10/toward-a-new-set-of-three-rs/) While Reduce, Reuse, Recycle are still great and essential, I wanted to add a few more. I’d love any additions to… Read more »

what underbelly said

I suppose full disclosure from me, too: Degrees in anthropology, English literature, and a Master’s degree in teaching. A degree in anthropology requires study of population drift and population dynamics, and I find the subject so captivating that I continue to study them even after my formal schooling is complete. I understand that a linear A=B=C is oversimplifying the situation. However, all I am contending is that more people=more consumption of resources. Absolutely, some socieities live with less of an impact on the planet (let’s compare Americans to indigenous Papua New Guineans). Say we present each group with a bushel… Read more »
Hi Beth. Great thought-provoking piece, but I am surprised that you didn’t mention anything about the issues surrounding family planning. Like how many women in our country do not have the luxury of safe, easily accessible reproductive health care. Or, how Republicans in Congress are trying to bring Planned Parenthood to its knees, which is an organization that has been key in providing access to reproductive health care to the poor. Or, the A-word. You know, abortion. One of the things that frustrates me about the debate surrounding population explosion is that family planning is often left out of the… Read more »

I don’t think that there is any right answer about which is “better” for the environment. We made the decision to have 1 child. There were several reasons behind it and one did include the environment. It is our hope that we can pass on our passion for the environment to our son so he can be a responsible citizen.

Robbie @ Going Green Mama
If you’re going to adopt, why travel halfway across the globe to do it? There are plenty of children in this country who need help, whether waiting for adoption or in the foster system. Giving a child hope is an incredible task – there are so many statistics showing how children in the foster system tend to wind up having “societal” issues – low graduation rates, early pregnancy, criminal records… Besides, one *could* argue it is a worse environmental impact for overseas adoption, seeing that we’re (1) bringing children halfway across the globe and (2) instilling our commercialist values on… Read more »
There is clearly a lot that goes into this issue. One major point is that linking procreation entirely to environmentally impact (as well as severing the link completely) is an oversimplification; see Sarah Johnson’s comments. What seems to be coming up more often in the comments, though, is a desire for each of the personal stories (have / do not have children, adopted / would not adopt, etc.) written here to be supported by society. Ideally, I would wish for a world where everyone has access to education/knowledge about life with/without kids, the impact of having/not having kids, and is… Read more »
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