An Open Letter to American Climate Change Deniers

My name is Curtis, and I believe that anthropogenic Climate Change is changing our planet in ways that are hurting and killing people, animals, and our environment at large.

But I am not writing this to convince you about Climate Change. Your mind is made up, you have your own sources, and that’s fine.

What I am here to do is tell you why you should consider converting to sustainable sources of power anyway, and why you should push your local government to divest from fossil fuels and invest in renewable energy.

My reasoning here is completely separate from the environmental issue. Instead it’s about the future of your local economy, and about social justice, especially for those who live on a limited income in your community.

The economic viability for renewable sources of energy have been in question for decades when compared to fossil fuels. But I am here to tell you that currently, there are many forms of renewable energy that are already cheaper than fossil fuels, and the leaps and bounds in the improvement of efficiency in solar and wind power just over the last decade have been tremendous, continuing at breakneck speed.

If that is true, you might ask, then why are fossil fuels still being pushed so hard? The answer is simple: supply and demand.

Fossil fuels are a limited resource, and the natural supply is dwindling fast. Even as our reserves get smaller, the cost for energy companies to obtain these resources will remain fairly static. Without investment in renewable energy, there is a near-future scenario where the limited supply of these resources will not be met with a decreased demand, keeping the price stable. Instead, the demand will stay the same or increase, while the supply constricts. This means that the price of fuel, oil, natural gas, and coal will start to increase exponentially, and people will be cornered into paying those monopolistic prices because we didn’t make the choice NOW to invest in renewable energy. The fossil fuel industry will reap record profits, and gain even more power than they already have over our government and our paychecks.

Those on a limited income will be hurt first, as they can no longer afford gas for their cars or to heat their homes. Across all income-levels, electric rates will steadily go up, and the choice to switch to renewables will be harder to pursue without the right policies and infrastructure already in place.

When it’s too expensive to transport food and resources to poor rural communities, people will be forced to leave their land in the hopes of surviving somewhere with renewables, crowding already crowded cities as financial refugees. The fossil fuel industries will always need somewhere to dump their waste, and this newly abandoned and devalued land will be the perfect place. Or maybe a wealthy real estate investor will buy it all up and start a new city over the old farmland. Either way, living off the land will no longer be a viable option. For reference, check out rural Louisiana’s current fishing advisories, downriver from the petrochemical plants along the Mississippi River.

Maybe you have already witnessed some of these changes in your community. How much did gas cost per gallon when you were a child? Has your electric bill gone up recently? What about income taxes? Have wages kept up with these price changes in your community?

There is a dirty little secret about the fossil fuel industry. They have spent millions campaigning and lobbying to expand their business, especially in the US. Our politicians on every level have largely caved to the mountains of money being shoved their way. But those energy companies don’t make most of their money through the cost per kilowatt-hour part of your electric bill. That is largely subsidized- by your tax dollars.

Maybe you have read about all the new pipelines crisscrossing our beautiful country, along with all the new power plants being built? Did you know that the energy companies don’t pay for those either? YOU do, in your electric bill. That’s where the rate increases come from- the price to produce and transport the electricity from fossil fuels hasn’t gone up that much, you are paying for those new pipelines and petrochemical plants, plus a nice little profit for the energy companies building them, who then turn around and sell the energy back to you. Or worse, turn around and sell the extra fossil fuels that you helped pay to produce and transport to foreign countries for a profit! All of this while destroying our countryside here in America.

If this doesn’t sit well with you, I will tell you that it doesn’t sit well with me, either. But we can do something about it.

Talk to your community leaders and raise this issue. You can always coordinate with environmental groups- even if you don’t agree with all of their views, they will help you gather information and resources to promote your cause. Talk to community church leaders and your own congregation. Write a Letter to the Editor of your local paper. Go to town hall meetings, and bring your friends!

Putting pressure on politicians is how to get policy changed for you and the people in your community, rather than for corporate interests. The fossil fuel industry doesn’t take days off, there is too much money at stake for them.

But imagine what is at stake for you.

-Curtis Hren

Founder, Lieutenant Planet

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Louisiana’s Most Unpopular Attraction: Cancer Alley

When people think Louisiana, they think of New Orleans and Mardi Gras, of raucous debauchery and drunkenness. They also may think of truly unique cuisine, music, and culture from a historically contested piece of land, handed back and forth between different European colonizers. Maybe they think of the mysterious swampland that covers much of the Mississippi River delta.

Louisiana indeed has all those things- But after staying and studying for longer than a vacation would allow, one begins to really see Louisiana’s dark side. It is a state full of desperation, hustling, struggle, toxicity, and death. And the state’s largest attraction? An 85-mile corridor of extreme environmental degradation and injustice between Baton Rouge and New Orleans along the Mississippi River, housing more than 150 large industrial plants and refineries for oil, natural gas, plastics, phosphate, and more, un-affectionately called Cancer Alley.

Cancer Alley has a population wherein around 20% of people live below the poverty line, and a suspiciously large amount of that population develops mysterious, toxicity-related illnesses and cancers. The poorest are more likely to live closest to these industrial giants, in places where literally everything is contaminated. In an industrialized country that refuses to provide its citizens with universal healthcare, environmental injustice is often a nail in the coffin for people in these communities.

The air here is polluted, often to the point where the stench from these factories is unbearable, and your eyes water and burn. A light coat of grime coats everything. The water is also polluted, both from accidental spills and intentional (and somehow legal) dumps of chemical and radioactive wastes into injection wells underground, where there is more an “Out of sight, out of mind” mentality rather than any guarantee those waste products won’t leach into the aquifer or the watershed at large. The toxins in the water then affect the seafood that many depend on, in bitter irony, for survival. The latest list of “Fish Consumption and/or Swimming Advisories” for Louisiana can be found here, along with an interactive map here.

Lobbying and corruption from some of the richest fossil fuel and other industrial giants in the world make all of this possible, in an area largely forgotten or given-up on. The EPA and the state tend to turn a blind eye to the area, saying everything is mostly safe. But most of those conclusions seem to be based on short-term standards, not long-term living situations. According to the CDC, Louisiana consistently ranks among the states with the highest rates of cancer, along with many other states along the Mississippi River.

And the problem keeps getting worse. As other companies and tycoons look to take advantage of this perfect spot for industrial building, supported by tax incentives, standards for self-reporting emissions, and a lack of real oversight, locals are not included in the conversation. With every new plant, property values drastically decrease, trapping many in an area that will, because of that same decrease in value, now get less funding for schools, medical facilities, police, and other necessities for a thriving community.

The long chain of transformative wealth that could have taken place since the time of institutionalized slavery has been stolen in Cancer Alley. African Americans have been trapped here at a much higher rate than whites, as much of that potentially transformative wealth was invested in family homes, passed down for generations, that are no longer worth enough to be considered an investment. Homes of sick factory workers with little opportunity and no options for healthcare. In Cancer Alley, though slavery was abolished long ago, it still blows in the wind, burning your eyes and blackening your lungs.

Carbon dioxide is a major GHG, but locally, is one of the least dangerous chemicals in the air.

Recently, Louisiana has continued in its steadfast jog towards the obliteration of its own communities and the health of their most vulnerable populations. The Department of Natural Resources announced earlier this month that it has approved the permit, against much local backlash, for the construction of a new plant in the 5th district of St. James Parish, in the middle of Cancer Alley. The permit goes to Formosa Plastics, a Taiwanese company with a checkered environmental past in Baton Rouge and Texas, and well as Taiwan and Vietnam. Formosa will also get a $1.5 billion tax break to build its new plant through the state’s Industrial Tax Exemption Permit, destroying another hundred acres of wetlands to do so.

Every single one of these factories and plants in Cancer Alley are bleeding sores on a body of pollution. What’s worse, every one of those sores is in more danger of bursting every year due to Climate Change. Hurricanes are becoming stronger and more frequent, and have the potential to rip these plants apart, spewing their insides everywhere. All of the pollution in the water that actually makes it out of the delta goes straight into the Gulf of Mexico, feeding red tides and expanding dead zones. In other states, injection wells are thought to be the cause of increasing seismic activity, which would be devastating here. Open and abandoned oil wells are scattered all over Louisiana as well, with nobody to close them because of lack of oversight and enforcement.

Cancer Alley, and Louisiana in general, is in desperate need of saving from the corruption that Big Money plays in its politics. Those at the top are destroying what is left of one of the most important hubs of trade and cultural diversity in American history. Cancer Alley is a social and environmental blight on the United States, barely containing itself from becoming a World Event scale environmental catastrophe.

At this point it seems that the only thing that can save a state so deep in a socioeconomic and environmental sinkhole would be sweeping federal green-initiative mandates targeting environmental injustice at the expense of environmental offenders.

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Paul Odiwuor Ogola and The Permoafrica-Centre

Recently, Lieutenant Planet began a closed Facebook group, with a membership curated from a page of the same name, as well as from other environmental groups around the world. The hand-picked members are people that are passionate and/or prominent in their communities on matters concerning environmental/sustainability problems and their solutions. Environmental engineers, foresters, EPA staff-members, sustainability students/teachers, and activists abound. Within the budding campaign of getting people onboarded one-by-one, there was a permaculturist that has done some amazing work in Kenya and was happy for the opportunity to reach out, which sparked an agreeable conversation and provided insight to the environmental problems and solutions in another part of the world.

Paul Odiwuor Ogola, 36, was originally an artisan blacksmith, but due to the pressures of climate change and extreme poverty in his area, is now a permaculture teacher and designer in Homabay county, Kenya, in the southwestern part of Kawiya village. The village has a population of about 1,800 people, and is relatively isolated. Fresh water for drinking and agriculture is hard to come by in the area, which in turn made food scarce as well.

Paul had the chance, through a scholarship, to attend permaculture classes. He graduated as a permaculture teacher and designer, and brought his knowledge home. There he coordinates the Permoafrica-Centre, a decentralized permaculture and organic farming project dedicated to spreading the permaculture knowledge and techniques for the betterment of the community.

One of the many Permoafrica-Centre’s projects

Permaculture is the design and development of sustainable and self-sufficient agricultural ecosystems. The focus is on using less resources, like water, to produce more crops. There is also a focus on the environmental revitalization of the surrounding area- this helps to promote nutrients in the soil, pollinator populations, etc.

An approved Community Based Organization with the Kenyan Government, Permoafrica-Centre is not only a community of farmers, but of teachers and students. The organization has now touched 12 different villages with a total of 250 farmers that have been taught concepts in permaculture design and maintenance.

The challenges have been numerous. The relative isolation of the areas in question, as well as low levels of outside investment and high levels of internal poverty, make growth an uphill battle. But the official participatory commitments of the Permoafrica-Centre for its farmers, students, and teachers set the stage for success:

  1. Treating all people with respect, dignity and fairness.
  2. Taking both personal and group responsibility including: being accountable for our actions, measuring and sharing our contribution to the community, making and keeping commitments.
  3. Demonstrating openness, honesty, clarity, good faith and integrity in all our communications and encouraging shared leadership in our community.
  4. A participatory decision-making and conflict resolution process.

The Permoafrica-Centre initiative has touched many young lives through the education of permaculture and basic life skills in an environment that fosters healthy communication and togetherness. Through the organization, students can also learn techniques in basketry, blacksmithing, pottery, tailoring, fishing, beekeeping, and more. In this way, the initiative helps to support entire communities of people with trade skills and access to fresh food.

Paul’s story is one of risk that came with great reward for his community. He left his job and home in search of something that could help, and when he found it, he came back and put it to good use, enriching the lives of everyone around him. I can only hope Lieutenant Planet might be able to some good as Paul has done in Kenya.

If you are interested in learning more, Permoafrica-Centre now has an official website! In it, you can meet the people involved, see their photo gallery, and learn about their teaching programs. You can also offer much-needed support for permaculture teachers, life-skill teachers, and the ongoing needs of an expanding farming program that is helping to feed thousands of people in an impoverished area.

Fighting The Plastic Problem

You most likely see discarded single-use plastics lying around every day. In the city, they might be on the side of the road, in an alleyway, or falling out of an overfilled trashcan. On the shore, they are strewn all over the beach, and little pieces of plastic are hanging out inside most of the marine life. Farther out to sea, the Great Pacific Garbage patch is twice the size of Texas. In rural areas, plastics and Styrofoam get pushed around by the wind until they end up stuck in the brush, to slowly break apart into smaller pieces over the years. Even the peak of Mount Everest is covered in plastic trash.

Single-use plastics are a part of our every day life. Mass production of plastics began in the 1930’s, and many new kinds of plastic were invented and mass-produced in the coming decades. Plastics were lauded as the new, cheap, and effective medium of production. Polystyrene could be made into a solid form (like plasticware) or a foam (like Styrofoam), and revolutionized take-out in the food world. PVC started replacing metal pipes other building materials. Polypropylene alternatives replaced a lot of tools in the medical industry, and could be used to make dishwasher-safe plastic food containers. Finally, polyethylene became the most common plastic in the world, used primarily for single-use packaging, including plastic bags, wraps, and bottles.

Many plastics are synthetic and derived from petrochemicals (chemicals derived from petroleum). They take an incredibly long time to break down because their chemical makeup doesn’t easily interact with outside chemicals. So once a single-use plastic is made, it’s generally around for the long haul. And being derived from petrochemicals means that it takes limited natural resources from the Earth to be made in the first place, so plastics are a double-whammy of environmental degradation.

So how much plastic is out there? One estimate puts the total global mass-production of plastics at 8.3 BILLION metric tons, with 6.3 billion metric tons now being waste, accumulated in landfills or the environment at large. Only about 9% of the plastics ever produced have been recycled, and another 12% have been incinerated (which comes with its own environmental hazards).

To put it in perspective, the amount of plastic humanity has produced, mostly since 1950, would cover the entirety of Manhattan in trash about two MILES deep.

It was always known, by its very nature, that plastics would eventually smother the planet. But a blind eye was turned to its environmental impact due it’s cost-effectiveness. That’s right, plastics are just another limb on the cephalopodic body of the crimes against humanity perpetrated by the petrochemical industry.

But now that this knowledge is mainstream, the question is, what can we do about it? Well thankfully, there are now a plethora of options:

  1. Recycle, recycle, recycle! Push your representatives in government for resolutions facilitating plastic recycling in your community. Many communities have implemented programs that give households recycling bins, free of cost, that are picked up the same as trash. And remember, no one person made this mess- Resolutions for recycling targeting large-scale businesses can potentially have a much bigger impact.
  2.  Opt for non-plastic options. This includes things like bringing your own bags to the grocery store, using a reusable water bottle instead of single-use bottles, and buying from bulk-markets to avoid plastic packaging.
  3. Spread the word about plastic alternatives! Bioplastics are a revolutionary industry, and replacing petrochemical plastics with biodegradable alternatives on a large scale would drastically slow down production of new plastic waste.

Sometimes movements like this can seem impossibly large. After all, plastic is literally everywhere, so is tweaking my lifestyle and talking about alternatives really going to make an impact? If you do it in the right way, ABSOLUTELY. And it becomes a much smaller problem with just a little bit of perspective:

First, it is important to understand that there is a fundamental flaw in market capitalism that nobody really talks about. Usually, the market is coerced by the “invisible hand” of supply and demand. But as you get to the poorer communities, that theory reaches its mathematical lower limit. When people don’t KNOW about, or can’t AFFORD something, then there is no DEMAND for it, at least as far as the market is concerned. This means there is no reason to SUPPLY it.

With contemporary economic inequality being as robust as the petrochemical industries profit margins, the only way to show market demand is to BE VOCAL about your demand. The world at large cannot afford to keep producing plastic waste as it is now- we will drown in it, and they will keep producing it until we do, because it’s CHEAP. But now that we have other cheap alternatives, we must make our voices heard in support of those alternatives whilst denouncing petrochemical plastics.

How do we make our voices heard? Well, just like your mama told you, actions speak louder than words. Those tweaks in your habits produce demand (or lack thereof) in the market. Becoming involved in your local community is another way to make your voice heard. Many, especially in the younger generations, view group gatherings at town halls as excruciatingly analog. But I will let you in on a little secret- That just means that if you are one of the few people that DO go to these meetings, you will usually have a much larger voice than you would expect. You will also find like-minded individuals who were passionate enough to take that leap with you, and from there an activist community is formed! Setting up cleanups in problem areas will beautify your community, and it is often easy to get local media outlets involved, helping to draw attention to the issue.

In the digital world, sharing content can have some impact, but CREATING content is much better, because it adds to the content pool to be shared and makes an issue larger. One ridiculously simple way to create content regarding single use plastics is by taking pictures of plastic trash with company labels on it and adding it to the hashtag #isthisyours on social media. Making this part of your daily routine can create a lot of noise, especially if you also tag your location.

These are things that everyone can do. The generations that exist today will determine the livability of our planet within the coming decades. We already live in a world of climate change, mass extinction, and rising oceans full of plastic. Our complacency will directly correlate with an early death in a toxic world for our children. Action is the only option.

We must fight for our planet, and we must take steps to hold the institutions that knowingly helped to cause these disasters accountable for their actions in such a way that the future of humanity will have something to look back on as they set the direction for the way forward.

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A Defense of The Green New Deal

The Green New Deal. Most recently formally proposed by rising star Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a lot of you have heard about it, and are already seeing opposition to it, especially among the GOP. Some of you may not be paying attention, thinking that this resolution is just an environmental initiative.

It’s not.

The Green New Deal is a sweeping reform of our democratic processes, financial institutions, and methods of promoting the values of equality, freedom, and the American Dream. It aims to effectively dismantle America’s forced slide into inequality, fascism, and corporate oligarchy. It is the culmination of progressive thought in the new millennium, wrapped up in a plan to promote sustainable practices and combat climate change by cutting pollution and emissions.

So why is there so much backlash? Because the GND also takes aim at the largest financial institutions in the country, and the world. Some of these institutions have helped put a lot of politicians in office, again not only here, but all over the globe- Corporate entities that have the power to start coups and overthrow governments, often using our own media and military through their ownership of our representatives and media conglomerates. The GND aims to break apart the clumps of power that have been allowed, in direct opposition to the wellbeing of the public, to consolidate behind the scenes over the last few decades.

And those powers are worried. Because all of this is wrapped up in a resolution that doesn’t directly call out any of these institutions.

What it does call for:

“Providing all people of the United States with-

  • High quality healthcare;
  • Affordable, safe, and adequate housing;
  • Economic security
  • Clean water, clean air, healthy and affordable food, and access to nature.”

And also, to “achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers… [and] to invest in the infrastructure and industry of the United States to sustainably meet the challenges of the 21st century.’

What it targets, directly:

  • The stagnation of hourly wages since the seventies
  • Worsening socioeconomic mobility
  • The top 1%, relating to the accruing of 91% of gains after the Great Recession in 2008
  • Racial/gender wealth dividesInjustice against indigenous peoples and deindustrialized communities, the poor, and disabled
  • Fossil fuel research/expansion
  • Emissions and pollution sources
  • Anti-union groups –
  • Domestic and international monopolies

Who that worries/concerns:

  • Any large corporation that operates via a business plan that depends on low-paid labor
  • (Predatory) financial, medical, and insurance institutions
  • The elitist and prejudiced communities
  • Fossil fuel and other industries that try to use eminent domain and police power to push pipelines though disadvantaged communities or indigenous lands
  • Big banks, Big Pharma, Big Energy, Big Agriculture, and the MSM
  • Any other industry that hurts public health and wellbeing through pollution and emissions

So, this Green New Deal is bound to get backlash from these entities, and the representatives that they have in office. Goes along with the territory.

There are also, however, others that think the language is not enough. That it is too vague and lacks a specific roadmap. That it doesn’t propose a means of payment for its sweeping infrastructure overhaul. That it has no clear outline for a managed decline of fossil fuel production. But Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is playing a sly game of political poker.

You see, the Green New Deal already existed with far more prominent teeth, as part of the official platform for the Green Party during the November 2018 elections, and originally introduced by Jill Stein in the 2016 presidential elections. In other forms, it goes even farther back than that. So all those on the right that say it’s a leftist pipedream are immediately discredited by the simple fact that Ocasio-Cortez’s GND is actually fairly centrist.

To contrast, the Green Party’s version of the GND calls specifically for:

  1. Free quality healthcare and education, as well as complete student loan forgiveness.
  2. Creation of a federal bank that manages distressed properties and expands rental and home ownership assistance
  3. The right to affordable utilities
  4. Nationalizing the Federal Reserve and breaking up the big banks
  5. Establishing a 90% on bonuses for bailed-out bankers
  6. Supporting the formation of public banking systems that operate as non-profits
  7. Revoking corporate personhood
  8. Replacing big money control of election campaigns with public funding and equal access to airwaves
  9. Abolishing the Electoral College
  10. Repealing the Patriot Act
  11. Reducing military spending by 50%

The problem that Ocasio-Cortez’s GND is vague is protected by the fact that it was not introduced as a piece of legislation, but as a proposed resolution. It was designed to give the public and representatives something tangible to grapple with. And the fact that it addresses very real problems like climate change and socioeconomic injustice means that this version will age well, as these problems will only become more pressing. And as they do, this GND will pull public perception on environmental issues to a more progressive place. It will give the Green Party’s platform more exposure, whilst simultaneously highlighting the complete lack of any other kind of plan to address these issues.

The Green New Deal won’t be built in a day. But now it’s in the public eye, and it isn’t just a catchphrase anymore. It is a plan with steps toward environmental and economic sustainability that isn’t something that some other country is doing or that is impossible to do here. This proposal gives the public a real, tangible, and validated conceptual design for the future of the United States and all Americans.

Mosaic Plant Under State and Federal Scrutiny in Louisiana- “Emergency Conditions”

The environment in Louisiana has long been held hostage by a plethora of giant factories and plants in the middle of the state. They use the Mississippi River as a source of freshwater for their operations, and are surrounded, in many cases, by fields of sugarcane or other crops. The oil industry is prevalent here, along with oil-user industries, like plastics producers. The story of the month, though, comes from the phosphate industry. Mosaic, a phosphate mining and processing company that also has heavy operations in Florida, is currently working under investigation by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality as well as the Feds at the Environmental Protection Agency.

The scrutiny comes after it was found that the north face of one of their phosphogypsum stacks was shifting. A stack is basically an area where acidic, toxic, and radioactive slurry runoff from the mining and processing of phosphate is dumped. As the solids settle to the bottom, the dumping site “stacks” upon itself, forming a giant, above-ground pool of incredibly acidic, environmentally unfriendly wastewater. The goal is to skim the top of the pool after a settling period for reuse. Of course, heavy rain can force the hands of the plant managers, and excesses need to be pumped into new stacks, or in some reported cases, pumped into “deep injection wells” underground, which can come with a litany of environmental issues in itself.

The stack in question- from the road, about a half-mile mile away, I still couldn’t get the entire length of the wall in frame.

The stack in question is gigantic- It’s 3000 feet long and over 187 feet high. And the north slope is shifting at a “half-inch to 0.6 inches per day,” according to DEQ spokesperson Greg Langley. The cause of the shift isn’t apparent, but a sudden failure of the wall would be environmentally catastrophic, and the site is operating under “emergency conditions.”

The plant is nestled next to the Mississippi River, upstream from New Orleans. Experts say it would be unlikely that much of the runoff would actually make it to the Mississippi for geographical reasons and the high land buffer between the plant and the river, but it could affect the Blind River to the north and all the land in between. It could also affect surrounding communities- in Florida, there are preliminary reports of high cancer rates near phosphate plants, which might be due to the radioactive nature of phosphogypsum and the runoff.

Satellite view showing relative size of the stack to other bodies of water.

The release of excess runoff into nearby waterways in Florida is seen as a possible contributing factor to harmful algae blooms that have plagued the state and the Gulf in recent years. Runoff is legal to dump if sufficiently diluted. Otherwise, there are no real options for dealing with these waste sites- they sit like open sores, waiting for some catastrophic natural event, like a sinkhole or a hurricane, to breach the stacks and release the waste into the surrounding environment.

Satellite close-up view of the stack and the Mosaic plant

Currently, Mosaic is constructing a road leading through the sugarcane fields to the north of the stack in order to allow access for large trucks to start dumping sediment to create a “buttress” in case of a breach in the north wall, according to Langley. They are also pumping what they can out of the 500-million gallon reservoir in hopes of slowing down the rate of shifting, but with a week of rain on the Louisiana horizon, it might be too little, too late.


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