Your world. Your say: 1 April letters
This week we asked The Independent's readers to make their contribution to the all-party inquiry on climate change. Here is a further selection of the responses.
Saturday 01 April 2006
Sustainable fossil fuels must remain part of the mix
Sir: Your excellent campaign on climate change regrettably misses two crucial issues which will determine the choices to be made by both developed and developing countries, therefore having a major impact on limiting global warming.
Security of supply trumps everything else in the energy debate for developed nations. Research and development will allow Britain to utilize her considerable indigenous reserves of coal and oil. There are already plans for the first 430MW clean coal power station to be built in Yorkshire. If we can guarantee security of supply and utlilize these new technologies, then we can lead by example in the World.
In the developing world, fossil fuels are likely to retain a significant role in the energy system through this century and far beyond, and the transition towards renewables and perhaps eventually nuclear will be gradual. Coal is needed as a secure, reliable, affordable and abundant source of low cost base load electricity.
Deliberately diverting from this lowest cost path by prematurely forcing fossil fuels out of the energy supply mix may not mean as much for wealthy countries, but for the poorer people on the planet, this requirement would divert critical resources that could be devoted to essential investments in clean water, health care, disease prevention, education and basic infrastructure. The West must accept the need to promote sustainable fossil fuels, in conjunction with the new technologies of carbon capture and storage.
There's nothing unusual about the way the planet is warming
Sir: Almost without exception, your letter writers implicitly accept - as if they were articles of religious faith - that emissions of carbon dioxide are environmentally harmful, and that dangerous human-caused climate change is occurring. The facts speak differently.
Carbon dioxide is a natural trace component of the atmosphere, the presence of which carries many benefits. The two most important being that carbon dioxide encourages prolific plant growth, and probably also causes mild warming. The latter fact notwithstanding, and despite a strong public impression otherwise, no simple or significant relationship has been established between the post-industrial increase in human emissions of carbon dioxide and increasing temperature.
Measurements from ground-based thermometers and independently from satellite and weather balloon sensors all agree (i) that a minor warming trend of a few tenths of a degree occurred during the last two decades of the 20th century, and (ii) that that trend has now flattened out.
Such rates fall comfortably within the multi-decadal warming and cooling rates of up to 3 degrees/century that occur commonly in the recent geological past. Ice core data from Greenland, and other geological data, show also that the magnitude of the late-20th-century warming peak has been nearly matched or exceeded many times during climatic cycling in both the recent and deep geological past. Thus neither the rate nor the magnitude of late 20th century warming can yet be shown to be in any way unusual.
You are correct in identifying a huge problem with "climate change", but the problem is political, not environmental or scientific. Climate policies in countries such as New Zealand (a Kyoto co-signatory with Britain) have descended to farce. One day a carbon tax is on, the next off. Politicians of all stripes reveal abysmal ignorance of the science of climate change on a daily basis. And that measures such as taxing farmers for farting cattle have been seriously entertained as public policy says it all.
A good place to start sorting out the mess would be to read again last year's House of Lords report on climate change, which contains much wise analysis, and at the same time to replace the Government's evangelistic advisors on the matter with better versed persons.
PROFESSOR BOB CARTER
MARINE GEOPHYSICAL LABORATORY JAMES COOK UNIVERSITY TOWNSVILLE, QUEENSLAND, AUSTRALIA
False arguments for doing nothing
Sir: Dominic Lawson ("Do you want to live in a country with rising unemployment and far less public spending?", 31 March) uses classic, erroneous apologist arguments for doing nothing about climate change.
First, there is no "significant minority of genuine experts" who doubt climate change. A recent study examining over 900 peer-reviewed papers on climate change, stretching back several years, found none disagreeing with the theory that humans cause planetary warming. These so-called "experts" deploy their arguments in the media, not in the scientific community.
Second, the classic argument is to say we are small and insignificant. It is true that our direct emissions are around 2 per cent, but UK's 100 largest companies are responsible - both directly and in the consumption of their products worldwide - for more than 12 per cent. The behaviour of UK companies, investments, and the Government that makes the laws in which they work, are globally significant.
Third, we never apply the argument that small changes are not worthwhile to other areas of UK policy. Imagine the British government saying that there are so many corrupt and inhuman regimes around the world that it is not worth bothering trying to sort out one or two. Or imagine them asserting that there is so much deprivation and misery in developing countries that our aid budget will make little difference so let's not bother with any. Did Lawson complain after we spent billions reclaiming the "insignificant" Falkland Islands of only 2000 people? This is the moral equivalent of Lawson's argument that we should take little action on climate, as the worst impacts of climate change will be felt in developing countries.
Worse, the UK has unparalleled advantages in the development of marine renewable technologies - lots of wind and wave, lots of coastline, lots of under-used engineering skills - but our ability to act as a crucible for these technologies and deliver genuine global leadership is being squandered by government penny-pinching and political focus on nuclear power.
DR. DOUGLAS PARR
CHIEF SCIENTIFIC ADVISER GREENPEACE UK LONDON N1
Sir: I wonder if he Dominic Lawson believes there is an infinite supply of oil to fuel the God of Growth into an infinite future?
His claim that "clean coal" technology can solve a problem he does not believe exists, is easy to demolish. The space, and the energy, that would be used in storing the sequestered CO 2 make this just another chimera, like the notion that we will all switch seamlessly to hydrogen-driven vehicles "when the time comes".
We have stark alternatives: we can recognise the truth that "there is enough for everyone's need, but not for everyone's greed", or we can follow the USA in its global resource wars - which are going to get worse. It's a tough choice if you can't manage to live without greed.
Sir: Can we have some clarification concerning the information included by Dominic Lawson in his commentary on Global Warming, that "the latest scientific evidence suggests that trees actually contribute to the supply of CO 2 into the atmosphere".
I was specifically taught to understand that trees photosynthesise to supply themselves with energy, in the process removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and converting that carbon dioxide into oxygen which they release into the atmosphere. We have all heard of how trees are "the lungs of the planet". Are we to now to believe that trees give more CO 2 off than they take in?
Sir: Thank you Dominic Lawson for injecting a bit of common sense into the environmental debate. Perhaps he should also have mentioned climate change over geological time. We are currently doing the equivalent of watching the FTSE 100 index drop steadily for two minutes and declaring the end to world finance as we know it.
Sir: I am bemused by Dominic Lawson's article about climate change. Like so many, he is still in denial. He attacks climate scientists as unduly alarmist, doubts the idea of severe climate change, and attacks Sir James King, Government Chief Scientist, as being unqualified in climate science. Well, I have very bad news for him, that he is not going to want to hear. Climate change is not only very real (there is overwhelming scientific evidence) but also it should properly be called "Climate catastrophe", because that is what it's impact on the Human Race is going to be.
The latest, hard scientific evidence is that the climate is not only changing, and radically, but that the speed of change is also changing. Climate change is getting faster, and faster, and faster. Like compound interest. Scientists call this an exponential curve. By 2050, climate will be changing, (for the worse) dozens of times faster than at present. Two thirds of the Greenland Ice-cap will be almost gone, vast areas of the West Antarctic ice cap will have slid into the sea, glaciers worldwide will have collapsed, and the water level of the oceans will be rising inexorably.
Although Dominic Lawson appears to have nailed his colours to the mast of George Bush and his neo-cons climate denial propaganda, it is none the less real, and all this will happen. Expect, by mid-century, wide-scale global social and economic collapse, failed states everywhere, and the near breakdown of the international system.
Even here, life in the UK will be very, very grim, with near starvation and shortages of everything, violent climate events that will make last years hurricane Katrina look puny, and a UK Government desperately trying to keep our society collapsing into something resembling a failed African state.
I note, of course, that Mr Lawson has nothing whatsoever to say about any of these near certainties of our future. Perhaps he should.He might even, before he publishes, ask scientists for the truth, about just how bad it's going to get. fact is always better than opinion.
DIRECTOR, OMEGA INSTITUTE BRIGHTON
Sir: Dominic Lawson couldn't be more wrong. As individuals and as a small island we do "have a chance to change the climate". And if we don't change our habits, for sure the climate will impose the "rising unemployment and far less public spending" he thinks we can avoid by not facing up to the problem.
A world with rewarding employment and good public services doesn't have to run on fossil carbon. As individuals and organisations, we can slash our carbon dioxide emissions easily, and long before any nuclear generation would even come on stream.
It is not just a choice, it is a moral imperative. We must lead by example. With a shared sense of purpose, we can show the world how to do it; and flourish by doing the right things to build a sustainable economy. What an opportunity for leadership! What a legacy for our Prime Minister!
Sir: Dominic Lawson states that the United Kingdom's contribution to global warming is negligible, and it is China that we should be worrying about. But virtually everything for sale in the British high street these days seems to be made in China. Multiply that level of consumption across Europe, the USA and other developed nations, and it becomes plain that many (perhaps most) of the 500 new coal-fired power stations that Lawson says China will need, will be spewing out carbon on the behalf of people who live in wealthy countries.
SOUTH PETHERTON, SOMERSET
Sir: A very sound editorial decision to run the Dominic Lawson opinions on global warming on 31 March, in the midst of the "Your World, Your Say" campaign, proving that freedom of opinion is alive and well at The Independent. Had it run in the 1 April edition, it might have been presumed to be a hoax.
Sir: In vast cities like New York and Chicago people keep their homes hot enough to wear summer clothes indoors right through their bitter winters. Turning the heating down a few degrees and buying a few sweaters would be a very easy way to make a big difference to climate change.
More wool, less oil
Sir: Living, as we do in North Wales, surrounded by sheep, and tired of seeing people in TV newsrooms etc walking around in short-sleeved shirts in mid-winter, we have a simple motto here. It is environmentally sound, supports local industry and saves us money as well. And it easy to remember: More Wool, Less Oil.
PLAS NANTGLYN, NANTGLYN
Legislate for change
Sit: It is odd that George W Bush is ridiculed for advocating abstinence as a solution to the spread of Aids yet many of your readers are proposing the same thing as the answer to climate change. Logically it is the perfect answer - but let's be realistic. Cars are more comfortable than bicycles, planes are faster than boats and they're both here to stay. Legislation has to be the way forward. As Chris Rock once said about Cadillacs that last 100 years: "You know they can do it, but they ain't gonna do something that dumb."
Hospitals' fuel bills
Sir: It was recently reported on The Daily Politics (BBC2), that a single hospital trust has spent £37m on fuel in the past year. I think the public should be informed about how much carbon is generated by every public body, adding an environmental strand to annual audits. High polluters should be named and shamed. I can cut my emissions at home, but as nearly a third of my income disappears in tax, I feel entitled to demand emissions cut from the government, too.
Say no to homes abroad
Sir: Your newspaper is giving us our say on "saving the planet". May I suggest you play your part and stop carrying advertisements for properties abroad (21 in this week's Property section alone), as this necessitates more flying, which increases carbon emissions.
We cannot meet our 2010 targets
Sir: At last the Government has admitted that its plans to meet the 2010 climate change targets have not and will not work. Maybe now they will actually listen to the advice and opinions of the experts - the scientists, green activists and those who truly care about the state of our environment.
Climate change is a global issue affecting millions of people in so many different ways. Forty per cent of the world is already short of fresh water and unless we work together against climate change this figure will have risen to 50 per cent within the next 30 years.
With 21 renewable technologies that are affordable, safe and clean, and the ability to meet our electricity needs three times over with the use of wind power at sea alone, the UK can easily and effectively make that change. Sadly Tony Blair's desperate attempts to meet the Kyoto targets have ignored this potential and steered us down the unnecessary road of nuclear power.
The simple fact is that we're still not serious about demand reduction and this has to be a major plank if we are to even come close to meeting the targets in 2010. The Government must have a "hands on" approach with consistent funding and proactive policy development, making it easy for everyone to make the change and save our environment from disaster.
JEAN LAMBERT MEP
(GREEN PARTY, LONDON) EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, BRUSSELS
Woking: a borough for others to emulate
Sir: If Woking Borough Council can reduce the CO 2 emissions connected with its estate by 77.4 per cent, via a series of measures put in place since 1990 (details available via a search on the internet) why cannot every other local authority in the country do the same? Politicians react to public pressure, so as many as possible concerned individuals should write to their candidates in the forthcoming local elections asking them what they propose to do to reduce emissions, and stressing that voting decisions will depend on the response received. An effort by local authorities to do something about their own emissions would have the further benefit of affecting the behaviour of local residents, because the local authority would be bound to publicise their achievements, and put in place various incentives for businesses and residents to save energy.
Sir: One of your correspondents observes "in Germany, being environmentally aware has just become part of the natural fabric of society". Here in Northumberland, within the authority of Alnwick District Council, such awareness is rapidly becoming part of the natural fabric of our society too. Here every household is supplied with two wheelie bins, one for general refuse and one for recycling. The bins are emptied on alternate weeks. Should someone fail to put out their bin, especially the recycling one, eyebrows would be gently raised. There is therefore social pressure to recycle.
Deciding to tap into this social aspect of recycling, the Council is currently running a pilot scheme which promotes inter-community competition with cash prizes for the communities with the highest recycling rates. There are even league tables (the Premiership and Division One) which are regularly published in the Northumberland Gazette.
Lest you think otherwise, I am not a Councillor; my wife and I only moved here to retire two years ago and we are grateful to live within such an enlightened local authority.
CANON TONY CHESTERMAN
Sir: Early last year I realised that efforts were being made by private industry to market new forms of producing energy in the home, known as microgeneration. The design of solar panels has moved on, from merely providing heat to warm up cold water supply tanks in lofts, to a more sophisticated form known as photovoltaic cells. Other forms of energy production include the mini wind turbine and a boiler system which heats the house and also produces electricity (CHP).
The main snag is the high cost of installation. Mass production would bring down the cost dramatically. But how do you stimulate demand? Last autumn, a number of all-party MPs, supported by letters from numerous councillors (myself included), shepherded a Bill through a Second Reading to be debated in committee in Parliament.
This Climate Change and Renewable Energy Bill hopefully will equip local councils with powers to insist on developers building in microtechnology into all new housing schemes and will give existing home owners financial assistance to install them. In the meantime, some councils, (Woking, for example) have already taken the initiative and have introduced innovative schemes incorporating microtechnology.
CLLR DEREK LOVE
LICHFIELD DISTRICT COUNCIL STAFFORDSHIRE
Nuclear power is our only option
Sir: Consider the alternatives to nuclear power: "clean" coal - produces carbon dioxide; natural gas - produces carbon dioxide; biomass - produces carbon dioxide; wind and solar power - dependent on a predictable climate, which is the very issue we are trying to address; conservation - how does one convince India and China to give up on their living standards goals?
Nuclear power is a dependable and proven source of energy, and it does not produce greenhouse gases. Disposal of radioactive waste is a problem that must be solved, but it is technically feasible, and in fact is more of a political issue. Besides, the problem of nuclear waste is dwarfed by the problems that will accompany climate change.
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS, USA
Get real: rationing won't be workable
Sir: Among some of your readers sensibly measured views on climate change and energy issues (30 and 31 March), there was the predictable anti-growth litany of controls and rationing. Come on, folks, get real! People barely accepted this kind of thing when they could see Hitler's bombers in the sky: Would they really feel the same about a contested theory which might only be relevant a generation from now? Corruption would flourish as people sought ways around stifling, impractical bureaucracy: ask the Second World War generation.
Keep 4x4s in slow lane
Sir: An effective and quick way to deter people buying 4x4s and large people carriers would be to ban them from the fast lanes of motorways. This would make them so un-cool sales would fall.
Too many people
Sir: "Population growth" is the big climate change issue that dare not speak its name. Successive governments have run scared of a sensitive issue and assiduously avoided it. Of the estimated 60 billion souls who have ever lived, around 6 billion are alive today. No wonder we're in trouble, and its time for a grown-up debate on the subject.
The killer fact is that we are a pernicious species content to breach environmental limits, reliant on the kind of technofix solutions that have contributed to our present problems.
Insane rail fares
Sir: As an example of best intentions being thwarted - the cost of a return "saver" train ticket to attend a family event in Cornwall some five weeks away will cost £206.20, return from Derby. We don't really want to drive - apart from the energy consumption and pollution per person - it's hell on wheels! Nevertheless the prospect of paying in excess of £400 for two of us to have a few days away in England is risible. Even allowing for petrol costs and other running costs - right down to wear and tear of windscreen wipers - it is cheaper to drive. To add insult to injury, a local poster informs me that I can fly to Geneva for £25!
Let's get tidal
Sir: Our tidal power resources are greater than the whole of Europe's put together and also exceed all the power we generate by burning gas, oil and coal. The technology has been mastered, components are in production and a successful pilot plant is operating in the entrance to Strangford Loch. Why don't we exploit our strengths?
J P C BANNERMAN
Sir: Unless every citizen makes a contribution we will get nowhere. In school much more should be done to create sustainable consumers of the future: air travel is an easy way to add CO 2. If citizens were shown from childhood how to enjoy life without flying away to other countries this would help. This could be done by engaging young students with their local environment - wildlife in particular.
New nukes, please
Sir: Until a radical new technology is developed, nuclear power is the only sensible answer. A few kilos of concentrated highly toxic matter is much easier to deal with than dispersed tonnes of emissions. It's time to stop talking and start building.
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