Tag Archives: climate change

Commentary versus evidence in the climate / conflict debate

Climate change will force to UK to commit its armed forces to new overseas conflicts. This is the belief of Navy Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti. The impacts of climate change, he argues, will destabilise already vulnerable areas. Droughts, heat waves and floods will tip conflict prone areas into full blown war. The UK will have no choice but to respond. Our armed forces will be deployed across the world to protect British interests in the face of an unstable climate.

But is he right? It’s certainly a compelling story.

Morisetti is not alone in his views. In the US the Quardillenail Defense Review recently identified climate change as a new threat to American National Security. The four-yearly assessment by the Department of Defence scans ahead looking for new threats the US. The review identified many of the same issues as Morisetti. Increased frequency of disasters, droughts and displacement would tip the balance in already unstable places. A group of retired US military leaders reached almost the same conclusion.

The Centre for Naval Analyses – a Washington-based military thinktank – asked the retired military figures to asses the risks to US security posed by climate change. Again, the same answer. Disasters, displacement and food shortages would tip the balance. Places already on the edge of armed conflict will be tipped over the edge. The US military will be drawn into the conflicts. Either to protect US interests, or to offer humanitarian assistance. Either way forces will be deployed, lives will be at risk.

With such bold claims you’d expect some very strong evidence to back them up. After all, these military figures and experts are talking about how the armed forces will have to change over the next 50 years. They are trying to shape the kind of armed forces their nations will have. Politicians should rightly ask: what evidence is there to support their claims?

Let’s be clear: this isn’t about contesting the connection between human carbon emissions and the warming planet. This has been established for decades.

Further, we do not need to contest the connection between a hotter planet and various kinds of disasters. The connection between rising global temperatures and heat waves, flooding and increased storms is well established. It isn’t about questioning the link between these events and humanitarian disasters either. The evidence connecting altered rainfall, drought and food shortages is clear. The evidence linking increased rainfall, flooding and displacement is also very well established.

What I do want to question is the link between these humanitarian disasters and an increase in armed conflict.

This is where the academics get involved. As you’d expect, they don’t all agree. Before we delve into why they disagree about the climate – conflict connection its worth looking at how these researchers study it.

This group of academics use two kinds of data. First data about the weather. Changes in rainfall patterns. Data about temperatures and heatwave. Data about the frequency and intensity of hurricanes, typhoons and floods. Most of this comes from the Met Offices and Governments of countries all over the world.

What about data on conflict? Several conflict databases exist. The one most frequently used is compiled by the University of Upsala in Sweden. They gather data from governments, the media and the UN about how many people were killed or injured. They try to establish exactly when and where it happened. And which armed forces, rebel groups or insurgents were involved.

There is a heated debate about whether climate change was one of the forces that created the conflict in Darfur.

Now our academics try to combined various parts of these data sets and look for correlations. Are there more battled deaths in hotter years? Do more conflicts breakout in years with less rainfall? Do more people die in battle shortly after natural disasters? Using all this data the researchers can begin to answer these questions.

The answers to these questions have huge implications. If the relatively small changes we’ve already seen are leading more violence, then this is very worrying. What will happen as temperatures continue to rise?

The problem is, different academics have reach strikingly different conclusions. Some found powerful connections between altered weather patters and increased levels of conflict. Others found exactly the opposite.

These opposing conclusions lead to a heated academic dispute towards the end of 2014. Researchers Burke and Hsiang set about trying to resolve it once and for all. Rather than going back to the original data on weather and conflict, they tried a different approach. They took much of the existing research and work and asked whether – on balance – it pointed towards climate change increasing or decreasing violence. When all of the previous studies were looked at as a whole, what could they tell us?

Their conclusions were shocking. They found that the combined weight of 50 studies on climate and conflict pointed to a powerful connection. The affects of climate change, they argued, were already leading to an increase in violence. Even though some of the 50 studies pointed to a decrease, when looked at together, there was more evidence pointing towards a powerful increase.

But a group of rival academics were having none of it. Burke and Hsiang had excluded a number of key studies from their analysis. When these studies were put back in the mix, everything changed. The climate – conflict connection was much weaker. Further, Burke and Hsiang had also included some studies that were actually about crime, not warfare. And some studies comparing archaeological evidence about weather and conflict from civilisations hundreds of years a ago. Can these studies really tell us anything useful about organised armed violence in modern societies?

When these studies were removed from the mix the connection was weaker still.

So can we draw anything useful from this? First, none of the evidence – from anyone – says there will be an increase in inter-state warfare. It seems (fortunately) that climate change will not cause countries to fight each other. Further, none of the studies suggest that climate change will lead to fundamentally new kinds of conflict. There is some kind of connection between altered weather patterns and civil wars and inter-group violence (two non-government forces fighting each other).

The two sides of the academic debate disagree about how important climate change is. But they agree that when compared to the other forces that create conflict, it is not that important. Other problems – especially weak government institutions, poverty and vast disparities between rich and poor – are still the primary drivers of conflict. We must not ignore climate change as a force that might lead to conflict in the future. But if our aim is preventing conflict, then our focus should remain on tackling poverty, reducing inequality and helping countries build strong democratic institutions.

Image: Bob Bakker

Alex Randall coordinates the UK Climate Change and Migration Coalition. He is author several reports on migration and climate change. He writes regularly on migration, displacement and climate change for a number of outlets.

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Moving Stories: Pakistan. The voices of people who moved during flooding

This article was produced as part of our Moving Stories project.

“I go to get registered [as an IDP] and they dismiss me. I don’t want to live here. I don’t want my children out on the streets. In my village I have little but I look after my family. They throw food at me like I am a beggar. I have never begged for anything in my life, why do they treat me like this?” Shauquat Ali, displaced tenant farmer and father (Aljazeera)

Pakistan is highly exposed to the impacts of climate change. The IPCC have associated increasing temperatures with the severity of the monsoon rains and predict an increase in severity. Northern Pakistan faces increased risk of flooding and landslides. An increase of cyclonic activity will impact Southern Pakistan and the city of Karachi is at high risk from sea-level rise, prolonged cyclonic activity, and greater salt-water intrusion.

Pakistan’s vulnerability is increased due to its reliance upon water from the Indus river and tributaries, which supply two thirds of the water the county uses for irrigation and domestic use. The Indus is fed by the Himalayan glaciers, which are receding significantly, with the likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035.

Other factors make Pakistan vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Nearly half of the population is dependent on agricultural livelihoods; there is considerable rural poverty, urban unrest, land degradation and shortfalls in food production. Further urbanisation and industrialisation place more pressure upon water supplies which are already threatened by climate change.

“The rains came in the middle of the night, while most people were sleeping. When we woke up, there was water of about 2-3 feet and we did not know how to escape, because our village is far from the main road. The water was very dirty because the floods had damaged our [sanitation and water] facilities. I was very pregnant at the time, and our livestock are our livelihood so we didn’t want to leave them to die, so we did not know what to do. We were rescued in boats by the army and NGOs. We are thankful to be alive, but we lost our livestock and now we are trying to rebuild our livelihood by starting from the beginning.” Fatay and Zulaikar, husband and wife –  pastoralist family in Badin district (CDKN)

In July 2010, Pakistan was affected by heavy monsoon rains, which led to massive flooding in the Indus River basin. More than 10 million people were displaced, with about 20% of the country under water. The death toll was around 2,000. The provision of international aid was widely considered insufficient, with millions of farmers housed in refugee camps, and crops and cattle destroyed. Flooding struck again in 2011. The disaster affected 18 million people and destroyed 1.7 million homes.

In August 2012 following the monsoon floods, the region of Tharparkar experienced significant drought, forcing 600,000 people dependent on rainfed agriculture to internally migrate. The International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) put the number of displaced people at 250,000. The total number of people affected stands at 4.4 million.

“The water came at night and we didn’t have time to save our belongings; we had to chose whether to save our children and ourselves or our property and assets, so we chose to save our kids. We left everything and ran to save our lives.”
Unnamed survivor of the 2010 floods (World Food Programme)

Floods and natural disasters cause considerable forced migration within Pakistan. Pakistan receives roughly 8% of the total global funding available for dealing with displacement. There are 745,000 IDPs , the majority fleeing from fighting in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). But despite such a large IDP population, Pakistan is also a destination for international migrants in the region. It is the top destination for Somali refugees. There are currently 1.6 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan. The country is currently experiencing the world’s largest protracted refugee situation.

As well as vast numbers of displacees and the absorption of neighbouring refugees, Pakistan also has a long history of voluntary migration, which is largely split between unskilled labourers travelling to the Emirates and Dubai and more skilled workers heading for Europe and the US. Pakistani diasporas are amongst the largest and most extensive in the world, supplying remittances to families in Pakistan of $12 billion a year. The IPCC predicted that “circular migration patterns, such as those punctuated by shocks of migrants following extreme weather events, could be expected”. This is supported by the Asia Development Bank which suggests that “environmental factors are already an important driver in migration” and that “floods, cyclones and desertification have led in recent years to significant population movements, mostly from rural to urban areas”.

A fully referenced version of this article is part of our Moving Stories report. 



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How Should Refugee and Migration NGOs Work on Climate Change Issues?

This blog was first published on the Translocal Resilience blog

Should refugee and migration NGOs be involved in responding to climate change? How can these groups be involved in advocacy on the issue? And what (if anything) should be advocated for? These questions do not have simple answers, but this post attempts to put together a compelling case for coordinated advocacy and campaigning by refugee and migration groups.

Should migration and refugee organizations even be carrying out advocacy on migration linked to climate change?

There is a strong case for refugee and migration rights organizations becoming involved in advocacy around mobility linked to climate change. Over the last decade the arena has been dominated by environmental organizations. These green groups have been very successful at pushing the issue up the agenda. Their approach has been one that focuses on the negative impacts of migration. As environmental organizations their focus has also primarily been on galvanizing support around better environmental and climate policy, rather than better migration policy. There is a need for civil society groups that work with people who move to have a voice in this issue. Policy in this area must be shaped by civil society groups who work with and understand the needs of people who move, and grasp the nuances and controversies of carrying out advocacy on migration and displacement. There is a real need for refugee and migration NGOs to take a lead on advocacy in this area.

What should they be advocating for?

There is a clear difference between awareness and policy change. We cannot create political and policy change only by making people aware of an issue. When it comes to migration linked to climate change, where should advocacy be focused? What should NGOs be trying to change and how should they go about it? There are several promising channels for creating policy change. There is a need for new forms of legal protection that can protect people who move across borders during natural disasters. The Nansen Initiative is currently the key forum for the creation of this protection. However, there is also the possibility of addressing the issue through existing mechanisms such as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – where the negotiating text already contains references to migration and displacement. There are also open questions about whether several other international fora could be useful. Could this issue be addressed in the replacement for the Hyogo Framework? Could a Sustainable Development Goal focused on migration and could this help?

Why is advocacy on migration linked to climate change so difficult?

Of course no one pushing for social change has an easy job. But the issue of migration linked to climate change is particularly challenging. Both migration and climate change are deeply controversial topics. The relationship between climate change and migration is also complex. Over the last 10 years research has consistently pointed towards multiple forces – including the environment – interacting to change patterns of mobility. Most evidence suggests the relationship between climate change and migration is not simple, linear, or consistent. Creating compelling advocacy around complex issues can be difficult. Creating engaging stories out of such complexity is also hard. Further, mobilizing and working with affected communities presents a real challenge. Many people who have a climate change dimension to their movement do not necessarily see themselves as having been affected by climate change. Here at the UK Climate Change and Migration Coalition (UKCCMC), we try to address some of these issues through our Moving Stories project.

Alex Randall coordinates the UK Climate Change and Migration Coalition. He is author several reports on migration and climate change. He writes regularly on migration, displacement and climate change for a number of outlets.

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Trapped Populations – Hostages of Climate Change and other stories

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Trapped Populations – Hostages of Climate Change

“When a natural disaster strikes, people are sometimes left with no choice but to leave the areas affected. Yet, for some, even this option might not exist. While many could be uprooted in search of a safer place to live, either temporarily or permanently, some may become “climate hostages”, unable to escape. “People around the world are more or less mobile, depending on a range of factors,” argues Prof Richard Black from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, “but they can become trapped in circumstances where they want or need [to move] but cannot.” IPS

Study links hot weather to violent conflict in Africa

We’re quoted in this article on Carbon Brief. The article and research provide a useful counter point to other stories this week that drew a strong connection between climate and conflict, and (wrongly) identified migrants as a powerful vector for the spread of violence.  ”Analysis of violent events in the past 30 years in sub-Saharan Africa reveals a link to high temperatures, a new study finds.However, the researchers say the impact of climate is less important than many other social and economic factors.” We argued: “This has important implications for future research and peacebuilding. It suggests that some conflicts in some areas might be sensitive to climate change, while others are not. It would be a mistake to design policy assuming that climate change will have a universal and consistent impact on conflict.” Carbon Brief

Climate change migration leads to disease vulnerability, according to researchers

We urge caution when discussing this research and news coverage. The news stories and new research raise genuine concerns. However there is a risk that headlines can slip easily into framings that see migrants as the principle cause of the spread of some diseases – while ignoring other social and political factors. From the news coverage: “Migration and disease brought on by climate change are some of the more precarious impacts looming over vulnerable communities, according to recent reports … The uptick in inter-regional migration is also responsible for an increased prevalence of disease, according to researchers. As more farmers flee their homes, researchers believe that the loneliness of being away from families leaves them vulnerable to contract HIV.Many migrants are also moving towards areas where sandflies are rampant, leaving them susceptible to leismaniasis. TckTckTck

Multilocality in the Global South and North

From the new Translocal Resilience blog: “On 18-19 September 2014, the Technical University of Dortmund held a conference on “Multilocality in the Global South and North: Factors, features and policy implications.” The name of the conference, although broad, has very real implications for our work at TransRe. In fact, Luise and Kayly presented on a panel about the spatial impacts of multilocality, using our project’s preliminary research as fodder for discussion.” TransRe


Alex Randall coordinates the UK Climate Change and Migration Coalition. He is author several reports on migration and climate change. He writes regularly on migration, displacement and climate change for a number of outlets.

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Our interactive workshop exploring migration and climate change using testimonies

Our Moving Stories workshop is a way for a small group to interact with a collection of testimonies from people who have moved due to environmental change. The workshop also explores the complex evidence connecting climate change, disasters and human movement.

1. Participants write five reasons someone might move. As a group they sort those reasons into “push” and “pull” factors.


This give the group a basic understanding of the forces that might make someone want to leave, and the forces that might attract someone to a new location. This distinction is one of the basic principles of understanding human movement.

Please get in touch If you’re interested in taking part in a workshop.

2. Then, in pairs, participants read a testimony of a migrant and place it on a scale between forced and voluntary migration. This introduces the group to a second key principle: the difference between choosing to move and being forced to move.

3. The numbers game. The group divides in two and matches up numbers with facts about migration and displacement.


This gives the group a sense of scale. It gives the group a clear indication of the number of people who move in total and the numbers of people forced to move by various different causes. Participants realise that some refugee camps exceed the size of many cities and that the number of people displaced in some countries is greater than the total population of many other countries.

4. The group uses information from the IPCC to organise and explore how various disasters are influenced by climate change. The group then look how each kind of disaster influences human movement.


5. The group analyse six testimonies from people who have moved and explore the environmental, social and political forces that have created their movement.


This gives the group a chance to explore how different forces combine to create different kinds of movement, and to examine how climate change can be one of those forces.

Please get in touch If you’re interested in taking part in a workshop.

Alex Randall coordinates the UK Climate Change and Migration Coalition. He is author several reports on migration and climate change. He writes regularly on migration, displacement and climate change for a number of outlets.

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Climate, migration and neoliberalism, rejecting “climate refugee” term, legal protection

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Climate, migration and neoliberalism

We are very excitied to heading to Lund, Sweden to be part of the conference. The conference asks: “What is the relationship between neoliberal imaginaries, discourses and policy-making and the phenomenon of climate change-induced migration? As scholarly and policy debates about the relationship between climate change and migration gather pace, very few scholars have sought to ask how this relation might be understood within the wider political economic context of neoliberalism.”

Pacific Islanders reject ‘climate refugee’ status, want to ‘migrate with dignity’, conference hears

“I have never encouraged the status of our people being refugees,” Kiribati’s president Anote Tong said from the conference sidelines. “[But] we have to acknowledge the reality that with the rising sea, the land area available for our populations will be considerably reduced and we cannot accommodate all of them, so some of them have to go somewhere, but not as refugees.” ABC News

Migration Seen Through the Prism of Climate Change

“Norwegian minister of foreign affairs, Jonas Gahr Støre affirmed that back in 2011 at theNansen Conference on Climate Change and Displacement: “Human displacement due to climate change is happening now. There is no need to debate it.” The realisation, somehow, has not hit authorities in Pakistan, who remain in a state of denial. This, despite the reality of having witnessed a movement (albeit a slow one) of people from rural to urban centres, due in part to climate-related events which have been taking place over the last several decades.” Climate Himalaya

Professor Jane McAdam interviewed regarding Pacific Islanders and the term ‘climate refugee’

“They have long been described as climate refugees: the hundreds of thousands of people living on low-lying Pacific islands who may be forced to migrate if rising sea levels leave their homes uninhabitable. But it is a term Pacific leaders say is loaded with political connotations and does not reflect the true dimensions of the problem. “They see [refugee] as a negative term that connotes victimhood and people in need of protection by the international community,” Professor Jane McAdam, director of the Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law at UNSW, told the ABC.” UNSW

Why gender disaster data matters: ‘In some villages, all the dead were women’

“Data on the 2004 tsunami found that women were more affected than men. It’s time to recognise gender in disaster response. Disasters triggered by climate change are not blind to gender and age. They affect men and women, the old and the young, very differently. Sex and age are some of the most powerful indicators of how individuals will experience a disaster: who survives and who dies. Despite this, we have worryingly little data on the issue. Guardian

Alex Randall coordinates the UK Climate Change and Migration Coalition. He is author several reports on migration and climate change. He writes regularly on migration, displacement and climate change for a number of outlets.

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Survival migration, Pacific islands, migration and social inequality

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The Age of Survival Migration

“”Survival migration” is not a reality show, but an accurate description of human mobility fuelled by desperation and fear… More than 52,000 children —mostly from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador— were detained when they crossed the border without their parents in the last eight months, says the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). IPS

Migration- Moving away from the effects of climate change may be the smart thing.

“There’s a small thread of anti-immigration green politics, and environmental rhetoric gets used by anti-immigration groups (even climate sceptic ones) but the problem is usually larger than that. More broadly, the issue of immigration is a good example of how climate change can intersect with other political controversies. Climate change aggravates already heated immigration rhetoric; likewise, immigration can disrupt climate discussion.” Road to Paris

Opportunity Costs: Evidence Suggests Variability, Not Scarcity, Primary Driver of Water Conflict

“Water’s critical role in the survival of human life, combined with imminent changes in its relative abundance, has understandably generated concern that it will be a cause of future conflict… But contrary to popular belief, a new study by Colleen Devlin and I finds that water variability, rather than scarcity, may be the biggest climatic driver of interstate conflict.” New Security Beat

Moving up and moving on: Migration, climate change and community resilience

“Titi wants better for his family. At the age of 13 he moved from an outer island to South Tarawa, the capital of Kiribati, to accompany his older sister who had found employment with the Government… Already in a difficult situation due to a lack of economic opportunities, his family also feels the pressures of climate change as rising water levels reclaim and diminish useable space on the island.” UN ESCAP

Understanding the Islanders: Climate migration in context

“The populations of small tropical islands are particularly vulnerable to climate change. Over the past decade, a number of media outlets and organizations have presented various figures showing that rising sea levels or changing weather conditions will force millions of people in low-lying areas and small island states to migrate. Research Associate Himani Upadhyay of The Energy and Resources Institute in India is sceptical of such calculations. “There are so many figures circulating which speculate [on] the number of future climate refugees, without giving due attention to understanding the term climate refugee,” says Upadhyay.” Acclimatise

Mobility, Climate Change and Development in Pacific Small Island Developing States

In the increasing global discourse on the complex nexus between migration, climate change and development, Pacific Island countries occupy a distinct and important position… In the global discussion on climate change, the Pacific region has been central. Several countries are identified as being among the most vulnerable places in the world. This is especially critical with rising sea levels: atolls and small island countries which will be more exposed to storms, flooding of low-lying areas, and reductions in the quality and quantity of fresh groundwater. Moreover, increased incidence of droughts and greater tropical cyclone devastation are also significant. IOM

Workshop: Social inequality and social justice in environmentally-induced relocation

The workshop will bring together experts and young scholars from different disciplinary backgrounds, as well as practitioners to provide a platform for dialogue. Through the lens of the crucial concepts of social inequality and social justice, it will inquire into approaches that enhance the human agency of those affected by relocation policies in the context of climate (adaptation and mitigation) measures. Maastricht Centre for Citizenship, Migration and Development

Alex Randall coordinates the UK Climate Change and Migration Coalition. He is author several reports on migration and climate change. He writes regularly on migration, displacement and climate change for a number of outlets.

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Climate change and displacement in Panama and the moral voice of small island states.

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Climate change and displacement in Panama: Applying the Peninsula Principles

A new [Displacement Solutions] report applies the 2013 Peninsula Principles on Climate Displacement Within States for the first time to a specific case of climate displacement along the Gunayala coastline of Panama. DS sent a two-person mission comprised of Colombian human rights lawyer Carlos Arenas and renowned Dutch photo-journalist Kadir van Lohuizen to Panama in April to work with the Gunayala indigenous community which is already experiencing large-scale displacement because of climate change. Displacement Solutions

Nauru ambassador: moral voice of island states must be heard

Marginalised small island voices key for credible Paris deal, says ambassador Marlene Moses. Global attitudes towards small island nations must be overhauled if the UN’s climate summit is to come to a credible conclusion, according to Nauru’s UN ambassador Marlene Moses. … But the spectre of mass migration is unlikely to spur action at an international scale, said Moses, who said that raising the relocation issue at the UN climate talks was unlikely to help their cause. “Already the signs are there that climate change is an existential threat. If they are disregarding that now, I wonder whether using this as a tactic will draw international attention. It will be a bit of sensationalism, but in the long term I really do wonder whether it can be used as a tactic,” she said.” RTCC

U.N. Conference Set to Bypass “Climate Change Refugees”

IPS News reports that a UN conference of small island states will ignore the possibility of changing the refugee convention to include people displaced by climate change impacts. However, we argue that altering the 1951 Refugee Convention is actually unlikely to to help people who move due to climate change.

From the IPS story: “An international conference on small island developing states (SIDS), scheduled to take place in Samoa next week, will bypass a politically sensitive issue: a proposal to create a new category of “environmental refugees” fleeing tiny island nations threatened by rising seas. … Sara Shaw, climate justice and energy coordinator at Friends of the Earth International (FoEI), told IPS, “We believe that climate refugees have a legitimate claim for asylum and should be recognised under the U.N. refugee convention and offered international protection.” IPS

From our report Creating Legal Protection:  “… in reality there are a number of serious challenges to the proposition (Updating the Refugee Convention). Firstly, there is the challenge of unpicking the root cause of the migration and distinguishing between slow-onset degradation and rapid climate disaster. If untangling climate change from the other causes of someone’s movement is difficult, then enforcing the updated convention could be impossible.” UKCCMC

Alex Randall coordinates the UK Climate Change and Migration Coalition. He is author several reports on migration and climate change. He writes regularly on migration, displacement and climate change for a number of outlets.

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