August 24, 2016

Why I-732, the Carbon Tax Initiative, is a Win for Everyone

It is not often that a measure comes before the public that is wise, bipartisan, environmentally progressive, and helps address income inequalities in our State.

A measure of such immense promise that it could have profound, and very positive, impacts both in Washington State and around the nation.
What am I am talking about?  Initiative I-732, the revenue-neutral carbon tax that will be put to Washington State voters in November.

The key idea is to tax something that we don't want (carbon emissions into the atmosphere),  using the money to make our State tax structure more fair and less regressive (mainly by reducing the State sales tax).

Why don't we want more carbon in the atmosphere?  Because it is clear that increasing CO2 will lead to a much warmer atmosphere and a number of environmental disruptions.

For all the talk about climate change, mankind is doing very little to stop global warming.

Don't believe me?   Here is a plot of CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere for the past half-century.   You see much progress?  I don't.  In fact, the growth rate of CO2 concentrations is increasing.  We need to do more.  Much more.
I-732 is patterned after the proven and highly successful carbon tax in British Columbia and will:

1.  Establish a 25 dollar per ton tax on carbon emissions associated with fossil fuels.
2.  Reduce the sales tax by a full percent.
3.  Provide a Working Families Tax Rebate to provide up to $1,500 a year for 460,000 low-income households
4.  Lower the Business & Occupation tax on manufacturing to 0.001 percent of gross receipts, effectively eliminating the tax.

I-732 is designed to be revenue neutral, so that the money collected by the carbon tax is used to reduce other taxes.   Government will not grow as a result.

I-732 is extraordinary good policy for a number of reasons:

1.   It taxes what we don't want, and lets the market decide on the best approach to reducing CO2 emissions.  Much more effective than government micromanaging the economy or deciding winner/losers.  Folks on both sides of the aisle support this approach.

2.  It will reform the Washington State tax structure, one of the most regressive in the nation (no income tax, high sales tax), making it less onerous for low-income folks.  

3.  It will essentially eliminate the Business and Occupation tax on manufactures, which is a real burden to small and upcoming businesses.

A Bipartisan Example for the Nation

 I-732 would be the first bipartisan effort in the nation for addressing global warming from fossil fuels through a carbon tax.

It would be an influential example to the nation, showing that all sides of the political spectrum can work together to address a major environmental threat.

Environmentally minded conservative folks like I-732 because it lets the free market decide on how to solve the problem, while not putting a net tax on society.    Government doesn't grow.  

Environmentally minded liberal folks like I-732 because it deals with carbon pollution, while making our tax system less regressive.    Everyone wins.

Democrats and Republicans, include a number of major regional politicians, support I-732, as do free-market thinkers like Todd Myers of the Washington Policy Center. Recently, environmental policy experts at the Sightline Institute concluded that  "I-732 would launch Washington to a position of global leadership on climate action."  

The list of supporters of I-732 is long and deep, including major local leaders such as Congressman Jim McDermott, Mike McGinn, Ron Sims, Republican State Senators such as Mark Miloscia and Steve Litzow, environmental groups such as the Audubon Society and the Olympic Climate Alliance. And many more.

The Opposition

Unfortunately, there are some folks, generally on the far right and left, that don't support I-732.  Hopefully, reflection and facts will change their minds.  Why are some folks against I-732?

Some on the conservative side of the political spectrum don't believe that global warming is a threat and that humans could not possibly have a significant impact on the global atmosphere.   Their conclusions are wrong and are contradicted by the best science.
"The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in 
order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive"

Others worry about the impact on business, particularly heavy energy users. These include the Association of Washington Businesses, the Washington Truckers Association, some of the pulp and paper manufacturers, and a few farm groups.

These groups are mistaken. I-732 is BOTH pro-environment and pro-business. It offers predictability for energy costs, without government intervention. Economic analysis by Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI) found that by 2020 Washington, I-732 would stimulate a net increase of over 15,000 jobs, and an enhancement in WA annual GDP of over $500 million. The state Office of Financial Management also projects that I-732 will increase retail sales and other business activity.    I-732 essentially removes the B & O tax for manufacturers and there is  a 40-year phase for taxes on agricultural fuels.

In short, I-732 will be good for business.

There are those on the left side of the spectrum, who oppose I-732 because it is revenue neutral.   These folks have nothing against a carbon tax but they reject revenue neutrality.  They want to use the revenue from a carbon tax for government programs (such as supporting renewable energy efforts) and to assist low-income folks, who they believe are preferentially hit by climate change.

But there are problems with their approach.  Government has  a very poor track record in supporting winners and losers in the energy sector (consider the 500 million lost by supporting solar cell manufacturer Solyndra).    More seriously, removing revenue neutrality will undermine the ability of the measure to be bi-partisan (it would destroy support by Republicans and conservatives).

There is no way major progress can be made on reducing greenhouse gases in the U.S. without the support of both Democrats and Republicans.   Furthermore, there is little evidence that greenhouse gas warming is preferentially hurting low-income folks in WA State, and, in any case, I-732 will reduce the sales tax and provide a working families rebate that will greatly aid low-income individuals and families.
A major failure, costing half a billion dollars, that should not be repeated.

In short, the "progressive" and "left-leaning" folks opposed to I-732 should reconsider the issue and understand that I-732 supports their environmental and social agenda, while dealing with the issues of others on the political spectrum.
Groups that need to reconsider their opposition include some labor groups, social actions groups such as the "Alliance for Jobs and Energy" and the Sierra Club.   Governor Inslee, who says he is passionate about dealing with climate change, needs to get on board (the Democratic party is split on this issue).  They need to decide whether their top priority is to protect the environment or grow government.  They can't have both.

There are those who oppose I-732 because an initial analysis by the WA State Office of Financial Management concluded that the initiative would reduce state income by about $200 million a year.  This is a red herring.  First, this estimate is based on false assumptions and is incorrect.   But even if they were correct, this amount is nearly in the noise level (less than 1% of the state annual budget) and corrections could easily be made by the state legislature.

Finally, there are those who say "why bother"?   Washington State is only a small part of the problem, they suggest.  We are already fairly energy efficient because of massive hydro resources.  My answer to this (reasonable) question?

Everyone is a small part of the problem and thus everyone needs to act.  Only if everyone does their part (in reducing carbon emissions) can we make real progress in dealing with global warming.  This is related to the well-known concept of the tragedy of the commons.

Our effort will be an example to the nation and hopefully will stimulate progress towards a national carbon tax, which could have a MUCH larger impact.  And folks around the world look to the U.S. for leadership;  thus, our progress could have global impacts.

I-732 would represent a bipartisan effort, thus demonstrating that folks of all political beliefs can work together for critical environmental needs.  It has happened before (the bipartisan Clean Air Act of the 70s).  It could happen again.  The U.S. has proven time and again that we can do amazing things when we work together (like travel to the moon).

Read more here:

In summary,  I-732 is a chance for citizens of Washington State to make a meaningful step towards reducing carbon emissions, will make our State tax system fairer and less regressive, will foster business and economic activity, and will serve as a positive example to the nation of environmentally effective bipartisan action.

Announcement:  Climate Talk and I-732 Fund Raiser

On September 28, I will be giving talk  in Seattle on the Climate Surprise:  Unexpected Climate Impacts of Global Warming on the Pacific Northwest.  I will review the latest research and describe some  regional "climate surprises" that may well occur.   This talk will be sponsored by CarbonWa, the organization behind I-732, and will be a fundraiser for their efforts this fall.

To find out more or to secure tickets, please go here or  here ( There is both general admission seating ($20) and an opportunity to help further ($ 100, with a wine and cheese reception before).  Of course, even bigger donations would be very welcome and helpful.


  1. There is no question that the climate has warmed during the past 300 years since the peak of the Little Ice Age. There is also no question that CO2 is a greenhouse gas and all else being equal, the emissions would result in some warming if CO2 rose to higher levels in the atmosphere. Yet, there is no definitive scientific proof that CO2 is a major factor in influencing climate in the real world. The Earth’s climate is a chaotic, non-linear, multivariant system with many unpredictable feedbacks, both positive and negative. Primarily, this is a discussion about the role of atmospheric CO2 in the maintenance of life on Earth and the positive role of human civilization in preventing CO2 from trending downward to levels that threaten the very existence of life.

  2. MacD,
    The science is very emphatic about this. The planet will warm with increasing CO2. The atmosphere is chaotic, but the radiative effects are overwhelming. No way around it...cliff

  3. Discussion on the impact of the Carbon Tax in British Columbia:

  4. Great post, Cliff. Very clearly presented. Thanks. We need to grab this opportunity to put a price on carbon and begin to move us away from fossil fuels.

  5. Cliff the problem is I don't trust the socialist Democrats running WA state government. So I vote no.

  6. The problem is that the premise of this bill "it's revenue neutral" is untrue. The state department of revenue determined that it would actually be revenue negative with the current language. And as a result this bill is opposed by: The Washington State Democratic Party, The Washington State Labor Council, The Washington Environmental Council, The Sierra Club, Fuse Washington, The Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy, and Climate Solutions.

    We need a carbon tax, but definitely not this carbon tax.

  7. Sounds great for the environmental benefit, but this is a convoluted bureaucratic nightmare only a State employee could write a statement for its passage. This initiative is fraught with pitfalls and unintended consequences.

    I worked for the State while in college, I know how you guys think.

  8. Like most other taxes, this will benefit the rich at the expense of the poor.

    Are we also going to tax the rainforests in South America, Africa and Borneo for the billowing clouds of CO2 from the rotting vegetation they emit? Will the volcanoes and fumaroles pay their fair share? The human contribution is only around 5%, to a trace gas that is already near saturation in the narrow bands where it does absorb.

    Any effect from increases to CO2 are overwhelmed by clouds, water vapor and the hydrologic cycle.


  9. A homeless guy with obvious mental health issues stopped me on the street today, and said "It's not going to get better. Might as well not fight it." Seems appropriate.

  10. A tax on companies will trickle down to higher prices for us all. A carbon tax is a joke. Adaptability is the answer. If the planet gets warmer adapt. If the planet gets cooler adapt.The wholesale change of our economy while 3rd world countries do what they want is senseless. WA state's contribution would be the same as adding a cup of ice water to Lake Washington and hoping it cools off.

  11. Cliff, well written article as usual but after reading I have a hard time believing a statewide carbon tax will have ANY impact on the global climate! Let's be honest, the only way we as a nation can make any sort of measurable impact is if we do something on a NATIONAL scale. And even that could take decades to slow atmospheric CO2. Do you really think China, Russia and India are going to slow there use is carbon fuel any time soon??? Unless we can come up with a viable, renewable and affordable alternative to gasoline, our CO2 levels will continue to rise and this feel good initiative will do nothing more than redistribute income in our state and give the progressives another reason to pat themselves on the back. Unless I see hard proof it will have a measurable, positive impact on our environment, I am voting NO.

  12. The only action that will have any difference is discovering something that makes fossil fuels obsolete. It isn't wind or solar (too unreliable), and not uranium/plutonium fission (ties to weapons programs). Maybe it will be thorium, maybe we'll work the kinks out of controlled fusion. But that's where the effort should be, if we seriously believe that CO2 production is that hazardous.

  13. Why is wind and solar too unreliable?
    Collect Solar and wind when the sun is shinning and the wind blows and store that energy in batteries for our cars, trains, and some day... planes.

    My jaw drops when I still hear people say that humans digging up and burning massive amounts of Co2 into our air cannot have any effect.

    The sun with increases in battery capability is all we really need.

  14. And great article Cliff,

    Maybe you can do a comparison on what other countries are doing to combat climate change in comparison with the USA.

    Thanks again

  15. Well - Cliff - you were successful with saving KPLU - and I hope you are successful in your promotion of I-732. Thank you for your efforts. Hey Folks - we got to start somewhere!

    But yes - something does have to happen on the National Level like what Van Hollen proposed in the US House:

    The fact that there are climate change deniers posting on such a reputable Science blog (above) as this one - is hugely ironic. Come on folks - take off the tin foil hats (and stop listening to conserva-tainers for your science news)!

  16. You may vote in favor of this measure, but don't for a minute think that anything the government does will be "revenue neutral," lower taxes, and not result in growth of government. If you believe any of this can happen, I've got a bridge I'd like to sell you.

  17. So, if you want something reduced and you tax it to discourage more of the same, what happens when you are successful? Much like the cigarette taxes, trying to reduce smoking, and 'it all goes to a good cause', which now depends on this 'bad behaviour' continuing (to support the good cause) instead.

    Nope, not buying that gov't (especially in a localized area only) can or even should approach the issue this way. Government cannot fix it with taxation. It's only a 'feel good' solution and puts resources directly into the hands of those who have demonstrated time and time again that they are not able to be good stewards...

  18. See how this checks out with the Citizens' Climate Lobby advocating for a carbon fee and dividend.

  19. Michael: wind and solar only survive because of government subsidies, and account for a very small portion of electricity produced in spite of billions of dollars being shoveled at them. They only work well in certain geographic regions, and there are very stubborn problems involving storage and transmission.

    Whatever replaces coal, oil, and hydroelectric (since now dams are "bad" as well) will produce power continuously. So far the most promising technology is nuclear fission, but fearmongering has made it next to impossible to build new plants. The two well-known disasters have been due to poor design (Chernobyl) or improper siting (Fukushima). Other well-known incidents (Three Mile Island for instance) resulted in no significant release of radiation and no casualties.

    The reason I say "if we really believe CO2 is a serious problem" is because we allow scare tactics about nuclear power to prevent us from using this very obvious and completely carbon-free energy source for electricity, preferring to engage in fantasies about covering entire states in solar panels. Which need to be replaced every ten years or so.

    Cutting edge research is happening with reactor design overseas, using decades-old ideas developed here in the US, but which we are effectively prevented from pursuing here.

  20. 1. Anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is a theory that needs further scrutiny, particularly because it has been politicized. There are good reasons to doubt that CO2 is responsible for the 20th century warming. For example, start at minute 5:00 on this scientific presentation:
    2. Perhaps the tax is revenue neutral today, but once the state has a hand in a new pocket, what is to stop it from raising total revenue later? Once they get a hand in the pocket, does the state ever take that hand back out of that pocket? What if the climate cools?

  21. Thanks Cliff, it is nice to see you believe in the effects of CO2, thanks also to the people who made thoughtful and intelligent remarks here.


    And also, save the dumb remarks about a so-called Socialist government (whoever said this has no clue what a real socialist government system is). And adapt, really? How does one adapt when seas have flooded out low lying coastal areas in the world, displacing millions? And even if you can build walls high enough to keep the sea out, like they are now proposing in NYC, how many trillions is it going to cost to do around the world? And tax people, get over yourselves as well. You can't have your cake and eat it too! I am not for wasteful taxation at all, but some taxes absolutely go where they are intended to. Perhaps taxing is not a way to do it, but drastic steps need to be taken. Green energy obviously needs to explode and do away with coal fired garbage plants. I live in Central Washington and wished that I didn't. You can see the ignorance and selfishness, and just plain stupidity of many folks here, not all. If people could get over their selfish ego trips and not have 10 vehicles on their property, not drive pickups for regular duty and actually use something simple as energy saving bulbs in your home. But in this world, me me me, like a little child, rules the day! Well shame on me me me, and shame on ignorance and stupidity and more so cowardice. Sit back and twiddle your thumbs, but the change is coming, whether you like it or not. And as the old saying goes "If you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem." In other words, figure it out!

  22. Hi Cliff I want to agree with your comments and recommendation a conservative who believes warming is occurring, and that we should do something about it...I'm concerned about government inventing a new way to tax us more than present. I know you say this is revenue neutral, which of course is an analysis and a snapshot of today. Does the bill allow or perhaps give government the ability to increase this new tax 'easier' than what would be required to raise the sales tax? Say, for example, they can raise the tax in some committee vs going to the people? This is my concern. Thanks.

  23. Until the environmental lobby comes out for realistic alternatives to fossil fuels (like Nuclear), I'm afraid proposals such as these will never have their intended effect. I used to be a card - carrying zealot for The Sierra Club, The Nature Conservancy and the Environmental Defense Fund, and when they all went over the edge of sanity and went all in for Crony Capital payoffs like solar and wind I began to go against their operations. Their screeching about fracking has been almost as ridiculous, even after the EPA recently signed off on it's safety and efficacy. Until they get in line with reality and stop with their rampant lawfare against verifiable alternative energy sources, these kinds of ideas will wind up serving as conduits for more needless taxes in the service of additional useless government functionaries.

  24. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good, folks. Seems like a good, bipartisan place to start.

  25. Amazing how many climate change deniers frequent CM's blog.

    China, India, Japan and South Korea are NOT major fossil fuel producers. They import most of their fossil fuels. I worked with India's Bharat Coal Coking Limited (BCCL) as a consultant many years ago. India's domestic coal production can only support a small fraction of India's electrical needs. Most of their coal is imported from Australia. These Asian nations are not invested in protecting their fossil fuel industries. On the other hand, Australian politics is in climate denial to protect a booming fossil fuel industry.

    Although I support the carbon tax, it is not a solution. I don't find CM's argument compelling enough to vote in favor. Other scientists make more compelling arguments to support reducing carbon emissions.

    To read a better blog regarding AGW, I recommend Dr. Ricky Rood:

    The Centralia coal fired power plant is scheduled to be converted to a natural gas power plant. Natural gas has a lower carbon footprint than coal but it is not carbon neutral.

    Over the next 20 years, the United States is likely to experience a revolution in transportation. Self-guided autos and trucks will dominate new sales. Many of these vehicles will be electric not IC engines. The gasoline tax used to support transportation infrastructure will be broken and will need to be replaced by some other tax.

    Electrical demand in the U.S. will accelerate. Oil demand will decline. Renewables like solar and wind can be built quickly.

    Coal, unless it uses carbon capture, should be prohibited.

    Our planet is already locked into about a 3C rise in temperature relative to the 20th century average. Variance in climate is showing signs of exceeding climate model predictions.

    Attempting to attribute climate change to any one event is foolish. Recognizing changes in the pattern is central to viewing climate change. Changes in the global frequency of excessive precipitation events, long-term drought, record heat and average temperature is climate change.

    There will be attempts to attribute AGW to the recent Louisiana flood. Out of context it is easy to attribute the flood to natural variability. But in the context of the numerous other excessive rain events in both the US and the globe and it fits with a pattern of increased frequency of excessive rain events.

    I grew up in the upper Midwest. It's not uncommon for training summer thunderstorms to drop 1 to 4 inches of rain. But over the last month, I've seen localized +10 inch rainfalls in southeast Minnesota and a couple days ago +7 inches along the Minnesota/Iowa state line (drowning one unfortunate man driving to work in the early morning). Large pools of standing water were visible from the weather cam atop the University at Decorah, Iowa. This is not normal!

    A warming Earth will experience pockets of cold surrounded by much larger areas of above average temperature.

    I thought last July would be cool or at least average for Seattle. I was mistaken. SeaTac's average max was only 0.2F above the 30 year average but the overnight minimum was about +2F. It has become unusual for Seattle to have a cooler than average month.

  26. Mark - who are you to decide what is 'normal' weather? All I get from you is more unicorn solar/wind. That stuff will never replace baseload generation from fossil fuels. One does not have to deny that climate change is happening to also call bullshit on 'renewables fairy'.

  27. Mark says: "Amazing how many climate change deniers frequent CM blog"

    It is a fairly common phenomena. Judith Curry or Roy Spencer show quite plainly that there is a gargantuan community of politically oriented climate science contrarians who require the legitimacy of true expertise in order to validate there own socio/political attitudes. Validating such attitudes is not at all the same as validating the science. 99.999 % of them are fishing for afirming expert opinion. They are not participants in science, so much as observers and ultimately, cherry pickers of opinion that can be used to confirm their own preconceived notions.

    I mean to use the term contrarian as opposed to skeptic, which I think is a wholly inappropriate term as it implies skill. It is a gross fallacy that anyone can be a skeptic, especially when talking about highly complex and technical subjects such as climate science or even taxation policy. Skepticism is a process, and process, if expected to be efficiently applied, is highly dependant on the skill that directs it. Very importantly, the term "skepticism" does not infer outcome. It is a process designed and implemented to determine "best", not support the predetermined. Contrarianism describes an attitude, not a process. The distinction is important if basic human psychology has anything to do with it, and it certainly does!

    As an example, the hostility to a carbon tax is contrarianism, an intransigent cultural attitude generally held by particular philosophical mindsets. If Skepticism is applied to the question, empirical evidence from around the world of carbon taxes in action will erode the pessimism. Only intransigent contrarianism (or cynicism) can ignore the evidence in favour of firmly held faith. To be fair, this is as much a problem with any political allegiance, as some have already pointed out with the hostility toward hydro or nuclear power, most typically expressed by those who wail the loudest about catastrophic AGW. They are also best described as contrarians, not skeptics.

    I didn't say a hostile attitude should stop or disappear, only evolve under weight of evidence. If one finds they have difficulty following this dictum, you may just be a contrarian, not a skeptic.

  28. No argument on the needing to do something part, but don't support this tax as I don't see it as something that will change people's carbon using bahaviors. Now gas will cost more. OK. Who is going to drive less as a result? No clear indication given in the for argument as to how much carbon will be saved. I content none really. The accounting for similar "successful" bills is dubious.
    I would be much more in favor of a system that incentivized performance contracting energy efficiency, and alternative energy installations. Both of which as proven to actually reduce carbon emissions.

  29. Alex - If that is what you believe then either join James Hansen's cry to rapidly build out breeder reactors to power our world with decaying plutonium or prepare your grandchildren for a vastly changed world.

    Renewables are no more, "Unicorn" "fairy" "bullshit" than Hydro power damns on the Columbia river built by that socialist president FDR. Abundant Hydro electricity created the aluminum industry which generated the American airplane industry. During WWII, it saved our fanny. We used the aluminum to build the B-25 Mitchell. Sixteen B-25s were flown by the Doolittle raid to bomb Japan.

    Calling renewables BS is BS.

    Hydro power is just windmills in the river. Coal, oil and natural gas are just decayed plant remains from 200 million years ago. Plants combine solar energy with CO2, water and nutrients to make leaves and stems which we burn to make steam which turns a wheel to generate electricity (windmills for steam). Solar cells use N and P type silicon to directly create electricity. Yes, silicon, that unicorn material that we use to make CPUs and RAM (computers).

    Simply raising the cost of carbon based fuel with a tax to discourage use like tobacco and alcohol is a waste of time. It makes some people feel like they are doing something when they are not.

    We all know the Carter Administration installed solar panels on the White House and the Reagan Administration immediately removed them calling them a "Joke".

    At the same time, IBM called the PC a toy and gave the industry away to two kids, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

    I've listened to global warming deniers quote 50 year old science theories and outright misinformation. They are crazier than IBM's belief that Big Iron was the wave of the future and PCs are just toys.

    Who am I to say what is normal? I'm a retired meteorologist and computer programmer who is now pursuing his other love, botany. Growing grey and attempting to impart my experience on the next generation.

    Here is what NOAA has to say:

    and another

    Scroll down to view the graphic showing that upper Midwest extreme rain events have increased by 37%.

  30. From reading the comments there appears to be much misunderstanding of the potential for renewables such as wind energy. It is already a major player. Of all the new electrical power installed in the US in 2015, wind energy was the largest contributor. Many states obtain more than 10% of their electrical power from wind. The country can easily obtain 20% by 2030. Any two of the Great Plains states has enough capturable wind to power the entire country - OK, given some storage and more transmission lines. Texas has enough wind to supply the country ten times over. Mark Jacobson and team of Stanford U have shown how renewables can supply 100% of ALL energy requirements by 2050. Check it out. Storage: start with all cars going electric representing at least 30 kWh sitting in the garage.

  31. I agree that a carbon tax could be a powerful tool,and I understand making the initiative revenue neutral. What I'm struggling with is why there was a decision to eliminate the B&O taxes specifically on manufacturing. Why not reduce, but not remove, the B&O taxes for all businesses, similar to the 1% sales tax idea? The other part of the initiative that concerns me is that it reduces taxes for some of the wealthy and helps lower income folks, but it is not revenue neutral for the middle class. If the average family pays $300 in carbon taxes (per initiative sponsors) they would have to spend $30,000 a year in taxable goods to get an equivalent sales tax reduction. Most middle class families do not have $30,000 free to spend after paying their mortgages/rents, property taxes,tuition, medical expenses, federal taxes,groceries,insurance etc.


Please make sure your comments are civil. Name calling and personal attacks are not appropriate.

More Wildfire Misinformation at the Seattle Times

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