Your world. Your say: 31 March letters, part 1

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Use taxes to encourage the development of renewable energy

Sir: A stick-and-carrot approach is the only way towards solving the problems of excessive carbon emissions, both at home and in other countries.

The only stick that ever seems to do any good is money, in the form of a cost, such as a carbon tax, which is clearly visible at the time of payment. Thus, on a smaller scale we should immediately adopt the approach of several other countries to make an explicit charge for every plastic bag issued by a shop. Non-energy efficient devices such as incandescent light bulbs should also attract tax and be marked with an explicit carbon tax notice in the same way as a cigarette packet warning (or they should just be banned).

On a larger scale the chancellor should announce that the road tax on fuel-inefficient vehicles will rise over a period of a few years to a significant amount, such as £1,000. The recent increase to £210 is a joke which only seems to indicate that the Government doesn't really take this issue seriously. The same explicit carbon tax should clearly be applied to cheap flights from the UK.

The main purpose of these new taxes should be to change public attitudes. The tax revenue generated should be used explicitly to encourage the development and use of renewable energy and improve energy and transport efficiency. Renewable energy will clearly be a very major industry in the near future and we certainly need a few new industries in which we have a significant presence. Public transport costs must be reduced. Car sharing using the internet to link people together should also be encouraged.

Hopefully, leading by example and showing that renewable energy and energy conservation is a realistic alternative will encourage countries such a the US, China and India to follow. This is where the major effort will have to be made if we are to save the planet roughly as we know it today. There is simply a massive amount that can be done today if only the will can be found, and future technologies such as covering desert areas with solar panels, sea/island wind farms and tidal power generation would seem to offer further hope and not necessitate nuclear expansion.



Mere lip service

Sir: Thank you for this opportunity to contribute to the debate on climate change. I am appalled that national and world leaders can manage no better than lip-service to the issues.

The problem won't be solved without sacrifice. Can you imagine Winston Churchill saying, "We'll fight them on the beaches, but only if it won't affect our prospects for economic growth"? The enemy we face, global warming, is more powerful, more dangerous and more subtle than Hitler's armies ever were. We must mobilise like never before to defeat it. We need inspirational leaders, not hand-wringers.

International co-operation is needed, but lack of it is no excuse for inaction. It's no good saying "Oh, but the Americans ..." or "Oh, but the Chinese..."

Of course individual action is needed - we should turn off those unwanted lights, turn down the heating, insulate, use public transport (except aviation), cycle, walk, not leave the PC on 24/7, eat locally produced food. But these things alone will not be sufficient. We also need national government action to enforce the sacrifices that will be needed. In a democracy, this will be difficult unless the people actually buy into the project, which is why I say we need inspirational leaders who will look beyond the five-year life of a parliament.



All mouth

Sir: I felt physically sick reading Margaret Beckett's self-congratulatory piece "There is no magic solution to end carbon dependency" (March). "We have a leadership role ... played successfully ... immensely proud ... forefront of the action ... ambitious plans..." Anyone with half an eye on Blair's actions will know that in his environmental record he has maintained his unrivalled ability to disappoint.

He and Beckett are all mouth and no trousers. When it comes to legislating, as opposed to talking, they are friends of big business, not the earth. Blair's record is symbolised by the failure to entertain Contraction and Convergence as a means of planning our recovery, and in his naive and ill-informed belief in nuclear power as the magic solution to carbon dependency.



Sir: I am disappointed at Margaret Beckett's response to the damaging effects of climate change . Being "at the forefront of action to tackle climate change" means very little when few other countries consider it a priority, or even acknowledge its existence.

One way that will ensure the Government misses its own C02 emissions targets, is to prioritise road-building schemes over public transport funding. To use a very recent example, the Transport Secretary, Alistair Darling, announced on 28 March that the Government had pledged £209m to the Mersey Gateway project; a second road bridge connecting Runcorn and Widnes, to be used to allow more cars easier access to Liverpool. This announcement comes just months after the transport minister Derek Twigg refused to grant funding of £170m to help finance a tram initiative - widely supported by residents - in Liverpool.

This is a perfect example of the Government ignoring the causes - and the solutions - of climate change. Margaret Becket suggests that as individuals, we should act responsibly "in the choices we make... [about] how we move around". But increasingly, the only attractive option is to use a car.

As Margaret Becket recognises, the Government has a leadership role to play in tackling climate change. But to do so, they must legislate against polluting industries, whilst increasing investment in our public transport system to improve the safety, frequency and reliability of services and which will encourage more people to leave their car at home.



Hit gas-guzzlers

Sir: Thank you for starting this long overdue debate. Here is my two-cents' worth

People should be encouraged to save energy by progressive pricing on electricity, gas and water, instead of the current case where discounts are sometimes applied on higher use. The revenue generated should go entirely into providing free or low-cost insulation, solar panels, and other energy-saving measures.

Public transport costs must be cut drastically. At the moment there is no cost benefit to using public transport - in fact, it is usually more expensive than driving, even taking into account parking costs. This situation must be reversed before people will abandon their cars.

All energy-saving items should be VAT-free.

Gas guzzlers should have a £10,000 surcharge minimum applied at purchase time.

Aircraft should pay duty at the same rate as cars for their fuel.

All company car benefits should be abolished except in those cases where the car is necessary to the actual business in hand, such as a plumber's van or delivery service.

Subsidies should be removed from the arms industry and poured into energy and climate research. Although I am not a believer in the techno-fix, small ameliorations may be possible which could be all the difference between surviving and not.

Population control must be addressed. Failure to do so could make everything else irrelevant.

The Government must lead, not follow. Get rid of the chauffeur-driven car for ministers.

Consumption must be cut.



Don't waste heat

Sir: Power station waste heat represents the single biggest energy waste of our society. Typical power station fuel efficiency is around 35 per cent, the remaining 65 per cent going up the stack. Use of waste heat for town heating can improve fuel efficiency to over 70 per cent: we can halve the amount of fuel typically consumed to provide power and heating. Russia uses town heating as normal practice.

So, take Britain's aging power generators and replace them with ones located close to major towns and cities. Install hot water and heating systems and we will easily meet our Kyoto target.



Too many people

Sir: Nice climate supplement, but too much fiddling while Rome burns. Reduce the number of climate changers and climate change will go away. Without an effective population reduction policy for our overcrowded planet, nature will introduce her own human cull.

We can all live like emperors if there are few enough of us doing it.

It's the numbers, stupid!



Sir: Your Extra today (29 March) threw up a multitude of excellent ideas which could be implemented right away. Yet only a couple of letters mentioned the fundamental problem: that the world simply has too many human animals on it.

Is mention of this the last taboo? Although overcrowding is so obvious, nobody dares say that three children is too many, and four, proudly announced even by our leaders, is simply unacceptable. And putting enormous resources into "fertility treatment" is a ridiculous activity.



Sir: The amount of greenhouse gas emitted is determined by the product of two factors: energy consumed per head and number of heads. Everyone (nearly) agrees that the first needs restricting. Why does no one advocate running down the number of heads? By natural wastage, of course; I am not suggesting a cull.



Work together

Sir: I am appalled that it has taken this long for the climate change debate to really begin to enter the consciousness of the nation. Politicians are by nature short sighted, as their goal is re-election. Despite generally trying to think and act positively on this issue I often have moments of despair and feel that it is too late. The rate of change of action and attitude if we are to "save the planet" will have to be immense.

The problem with trying to change people's attitudes is that one individual will not make a difference. If millions of people used paper on both sides before they threw it away or avoided turning on more lights than necessary in the evenings it would make a difference, but there is no motivation for one person to do this. Even if Britain were to make a significant change in its emissions, this would not be of any value unless the United States do the same, so it is easy to shift the blame and claim that it is not worth our while.

Countries need to work together and to introduce more radical legislation and measures that take effect higher up in the energy supply.



Go on foot

Sir: There is an African saying: "If you can't do a lot, then do a little." I think we could all make a start by not taking half a ton of metal with us to buy a newspaper. Better for the planet, and for our health.



It's time for unity

Sir: Climate change needs to be taken out of the political arena. There needs to be a cross-party consensus, or else parties will be too scared about making a stand for fear of losing votes and power. Something drastic needs to be done now and the only way is if all parties agree. Politicians need to sit down and agree this now as it is the single biggest challenge facing our planet and is not going to go away.



Sir: I do not think any of the actions necessary, from plastic bag reduction to cleaning up big business, will happen without legislation. It is not easy to change without some incentive or push to do it. Government across all parties must take the lead, despite any unpopularity.



Leaders must lead

Sir: We in the US have taken a big PR hit from Europe because our government was honest in saying the Kyoto targets could not be met. You report that they cannot be met as long as the world continues to pursue economic growth instead of policy. In the field of energy we need a Manhattan Project-style effort to convert the means of our civilisation from wasteful energy practices. This has not been proposed by any government so far. Peoples can achieve great things when led to greatness.



Use gym energy

Sir: There is a lot of unused energy around. Why not harness the wasted energy of all that exercise in gymnasiums? Offenders sentenced to community service could also create electricity by pedalling.



Resistance to change

Sir: I agree with the proposals outlined by Colin Challen MP in The Independent on 28th March. I believe that carbon rationing and a process of contraction and convergence are a proportionate response to the threat as it is currently understood. However, I believe that the implied changes to lifestyle will need to be imposed to a great extent, and that this will not be possible without near universal political consensus.

I have tried to understand why it is that with a couple of exceptions, no-one I know is particularly worried about global warming - certainly not the extent that they intend to make even minor change to their own lifestyles. The following seem to be factors: lack of knowledge, misplaced optimism that things probably won't be that bad, and that technological fixes will emerge; a belief that the most catastrophic effects will be felt elsewhere than in Britain; failure to imagine what that might mean for the people left in the places on earth which can still support a comfortable lifestyle (let alone to engage with the moral implications); an assumption that things won't get nasty in people's own lifetime; a belief that there is insufficient proof that global warming is man-made to justify any response beyond Kyoto.

My own modest efforts - taking my own bags to the shops, not flying, sometimes making it into the office without using my car - are generally greeted with amused bafflement, whilst cycling harmlessly along the side of the road seems to be a positive invitation to verbal aggression from drivers.

Those seeking to tackle global warming at a national and international level should not underestimate the extent to which ordinary people do not perceive this issue as a direct threat to their own wellbeing.



Run for the hills

Sir: I think the situation now on the issue of climate change is one of hopeless inevitability. We, as a species, are simply not going to stop using fossil fuels, or slow down our economic growth. Even if we stopped all harmful activity right now, we could still be in trouble.

It will take drastic action by a government to make any significant changes. This would involve action such as an outright ban on unnecessary travel that involves carbon emissions, the end to cheap flights, the use of large engined vehicles for utility/ haulage use only, compulsory insulation of every house in the country. Sadly, no government would dare to introduce these measures until the situation is way too late..

I have been impressed with the Independent newspaper's dogged campaign over the past few years to try and heighten awareness, but on the other hand, have been dismayed by the continuing argument from the majority of the public who think that the reports from scientists on climate change are exaggerated.

This is is particularly the case in the USA. I have just spent a large amount of time over the past 18 months in America, and have found that many in that country not only deny there is a problem, but actually take offence at any suggestion that their country could possibly be seen as the main offender when it comes to carbon emissions. Without a serious change in attitude, we have had it.

I really hope I'm wrong, but in the meantime, I have begun to teach myself survival skills. I am a mountaineer, and fully intend to get ready to run for the hills when the water starts lapping at my front door. On the plus side, it should stop us all worrying about our pensions.



Plant trees

Sir: I scanned the letters today (29 March): tons of good suggestions, but there seems to be very little mention of trees. I am a very ordinary guy from Slough, and work as a hospital porter, but I have planted around 600 trees in my life (British native species) despite having no garden or land of my own. Hopefully this has "locked-up" quite a lot of carbon, as some of my trees have now reached heights of more than 30ft.

My methodology is to look around my local area, find green spaces (parks, fields, waste land), find out if the land is publicly owned, and if so, ask the council if I can create a "mini-wood" on the land. Usually they are delighted to have a member of the public willing to do this. I plant "whips" (small broadleaved trees) which are around 18 inches tall, and cost about 75p each. It's something everyone could do; it's cheap, and it doesn't go against anyone's politics, philosophy or religion.



Get ethical

Sir: Consumption is the key driving force of the global economy and when we realise that we must consume less we will be on the right track. We must also become ethical consumers and send the right signals to the manufacturers of products about the sort of world we want to live in.

Fair-trade, energy efficient, organic, local, seasonal, minimum impact, long-life, repairable, recyclable, second-hand - these should be the items on our shopping lists. If the cost of an energy efficient light bulb was the same as a standard bulb, everyone would buy one. It is these easy gains which the Government must tackle first.



Sir: We are all very concerned about climate change but we all need to do something and not just the politicians. As consumers we can complain to manufacturers who continue to put bright LEDs on electrical equipment.

We recently installed a Sky box in our bedroom and not only has the Amstrad-made box got a green standby light that cannot be switched off unless you pull out the plug, but it also has a bright blue LED light illuminating the letters "SKY" which purely advertises Sky and keeps us awake!

I have spoken to Sky regarding this and have had an unsatisfactory response which would take too long to explain here. Unfortunately Sky is not alone and there are many other manufacturers of electrical equipment who are equally irresponsible.



Way to disaster

Sir: Yes, we need multinational agreements about the future. But we also need to act at national, local and individual levels; the lower the level the more immediate the action and its effect.

My instinct told me long ago that the pursuit of unbridled economic growth is the way to disaster. Contraction and convergence with carbon rationing, which I thought was first suggested by Mayer Hillman in his seminal book How We Can Save The Planet, is the only way disaster can be avoided, and even then, our future is far from assured. Any government which refuses to follow this course is condemning the human race to oblivion.

A popular uprising needs to occur all over the world with massive demonstrations to show lily-livered governments that we can read the signs and that we, the people, want immediate and radical action. I am prepared to make sacrifices, to give up my car, to give up flying - I already have done - to consume less, and I am certain that many others are equally willing.



Subsidise transport

Sir: Why does the Government not put our money where its mouth is by massively subsidising a frequent and reliable public transport system throughout the country, the subsidies to be paid for by a tax on aircraft fuel?



Target oil companies

Sir: Now that car manufacturers are responsible for recycling the cars they make, isn't it time that the oil companies were made to pay for the damage burning their product causes. I wouldn't be surprised if they became instant converts to energy efficiency, and they have the funds to develop methods of capturing carbon out of the atmosphere.



Wear a pullover, Blair

Sir: I would be more inclined to take Tony Blair's deep concern about climate change and carbon emissions seriously if he didn't give interviews in his shirt-sleeves in mid-winter. If he turned the heating down five or ten degrees and wore a pullover, at least when he is lecturing us all about how we waste energy, it wouldn't be so monstrously hypocritical.



Don't glamorise travel

Sir: One of the things newspapers can do is stop glamorising cars and air travel. The Independent leads the way in publicising global warming, but you still have a motoring section that glorifies 0-60 time, and your travel section takes us around the world, and you love telling us how cheap it can be. All newspapers do this. It's a microcosm of the whole problem. We will continuously aspire to higher living standards. This requires increasing energy use. How do you stop us aspiring?



Heat is on

Sir: Might it be more effective to call it Global Heating?