Your world. Your say: 31 March letters, part 2
Friday 31 March 2006
Remember the past
Sir: Unfortunately most of your correspondents, though undoubtedly well-intentioned, are dreadfully naïve if they believe that any of their more radical proposals are compatible with contemporary liberal democratic practice and the capitalist world order.
Increase VAT on certain goods and introduce other punitive price hikes! Commence a massive capital building project, or several, and hand out subsidies! Government must legislate to prescribe and proscribe a wealth of individual behaviour! Overturn the basis of socio-economic life itself, even! Well, we shall see just how quickly any of that happens, which party or parties support such measures and just how well they do at the polls.
Even if an all-party consensus could be reached on those radical transformations your correspondents rightly demand, new parties would surely emerge to challenge this consensus, offering not only to restore a portion of contemporary excess, but offering to demand less individual sacrifice to the common good, lower taxes and less intrusion in to personal behaviour. One need not resort to what I have come to call "vulgar Andersonism" to realise such parties would do well. A programme of public education would be ideal, had this already started at approximately the same time as the industrial revolution.
Finally, all this so far concentrates only at the level of the UK. Good luck to your radical correspondents convincing the United States, and China (and so on and so forth) to join the bandwagon.
The more seriously one takes the compound environmental problems facing the world today, the more pressing and the more troubling becomes the question of the compatibility of environmental action and both liberal democratic practice and the capitalist world order. If we must (still) radically transform the basis of socio-economic life in the name of something more reasonable and just, we must remember the fate (or fates) of the projects of the 20th century that sought a not dissimilar aim. Do we have the time for the tokenistic and piecemeal reform associated with liberal democracy and capitalism? Do we have the stomach (or the means) for anything more radical?
Sir: I support the introduction of carbon taxes on all fossil fuel use. Such taxes can be integrated with, and reinforce, the current Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) and would be easy to introduce and collect. Alternatively, expand the ETS to cover all sectors and set tight limits on the number of allowances issued.
The effect would be, of course, to raise energy prices for everyone, homes and businesses. This increase would provide the incentive for the full range of carbon saving ideas. Those that were good at saving carbon, and doing so cheaply, would flourish. Less cost effective ones would not.
Our politicians are naturally scared of measures that will raise energy prices. So those of us who believe that measures to combat climate change are imperative must be willing to say that, in general, higher energy taxes and prices are the way forward. Other taxes can of course be reduced! And high energy prices will reduce our use of OPEC oil and Russian gas, current sources of widespread concern.
Our politicians are also, naturally, worried about UK citizens incurring the costs of carbon abatement when others, such as the USA or China, are not doing so. I am willing to accept the costs. Setting a good example may persuade others to follow. If we wait for global agreement it may well be too late.
Government should resist the temptation to micro-manage carbon saving, with subsidies here, tax breaks there and regulations here, there, and everywhere. All these little measures end up confusing the public and often working against each other.
I do congratulate The Independent on its continuing efforts to keep climate change at the top of the news agenda.
Willing to change
Sir: I find it reassuring that Margaret Beckett acknowledges that the kind of action that is needed is more than just Government tinkering. However, I do think that the Government could be doing much more to drive home how serious this problem is and how action by all of us is urgently needed.
For my own part, I think people are much more willing to change their lifestyles than the Government thinks. It is big business that needs economic growth, not the individual. Give us a good reason to stop focusing on buying a load of old rubbish, to stop taking cheap holidays abroad, to stop commuting huge distances to work and we will stop. Instead tell us of the alternatives - unique items brought from local craftshops, good, fresh food from local farmers, quality time with good friends at a local restaurant, living where we work and building a sense of community back into our lives.
So many of the solutions to global warming would give us a better quality of life while costing us less money. But we are so lost in the media hype for all things superficial that so many of us don't realise how this can work. We need some proper leadership here to help us make the changes that are required.
Sir Climate change is a vastly over-egged issue. The common sense of the people recognises this, in that everyone prefers the benefits of new and cheaper engineering to the half-baked nonsense about a few damp polar bears, which we only get to see because of rather superb engineering in the first place.
The best responses to adverse environmental conditions are technology and wealth. The developing world, which if there were any adverse effects from global warming would be likely to experience the most severe of them, should be encouraged to continue exactly what it is doing anyway, which is to catch up with the West as soon as it can. If it's too hot, the effect can be ameliorated by an investment in air conditioning, which is getting cheaper every year. For instance, it was a luxury in cars 20 years ago and is now standard issue in even the most modest models. If there are going to be more storms, let's have more solid housing to compensate, which people want anyway.
I have never heard any global warmist identify the crucial year, when, exactly, the Earth hit the right temperature. Was it 1973? Or 1936? Or 1066? Please advise. Obviously you have a view on this, otherwise you would have no basis for suggesting that further warming is the catastrophe you claim.
Target cheap flights
Sir: Simply add £50 to every air ticket. Tourists won't stop coming to London simply because it's more expensive than Düsseldorf. It's already a rip off but none of them have noticed.
CLEVEDON, NORTH SOMERSET
Stop airport expansion
Sir: Growth in air travel must be halted immediately and all plans for airport expansion scrapped. There is no such thing as a cheap flight in environmental terms and "hefty"(Tony Blair's term) taxes must be introduced to make cheap flights a thing of the past. Despite several calls from other EU countries and environmental groups, this government has refused every opportunity to curb this growth. The £9.2bn annum subsidy aviation currently enjoys could be used to subsidise public transport.
Sir: Difficult to know what was the most irritating feature of your global eco-whinge-in ("Your World, Your Say", 29 March). Was it the starry-eyed banality of suggestions that we just change the mindset of the world's population, the chilling totalitarianism of those wanting to ban everything from car-ownership to light bulbs, or the number of writers convinced that theirs was the "only" solution?
Alcohol in cars
Sir: I drive a diesel car and I am sure it would run perfectly on a diesel/biofuel mix. It angers me that I am not able to buy this at the pumps, when countries such as Brazil have been using alcohol in their vehicles for years. Recently the duty payable on vegetable oil for propelling vehicles was increased, making it out of the question for most diesel drivers.
Sir: A couple of major impact items (and so easy to introduce) are immediate enforcement on all new buildings to be fully eco-friendly and two years' notice of an end to the sale of all gas guzzling vehicles.
The latter could also make our roads safer (and on that tack, as a cyclist, I would like to see all roads of less than a two-car width restricted to a 20mph speed limit, which would be another environmental benefit).
If such a ban could also eliminate the rantings of Jeremy Clarkson that would be another bonus.
Already too late
Sir: Having followed the global warming "controversy" for 30 years now I believe there is only one conclusion that can be drawn. Human beings are naturally improvident. We can't accept what we can't see or feel. There will never be sufficient political pressure for our leaders to take the actions that have to be taken with regard to global warming, and already it may be too late.
Instead of agitating for taxes on gas guzzlers, halting airport construction, and all the rest, we should start shifting the debate towards dealing with the consequences. We're going to have to live in a globally warmed world.
Which, unfortunately, is rather unpredictable. It may include a mini-ice age for northern Europe, should the Greenland Pump quit altogether. That means a thorough examination of how Britain and the rest of Europe might survive a fairly quick descent into a clmate similar to that of Labrador.
Here in the USA, there will be a sort-of market driven reaction. The first whiff of which is now being felt by homeowners along the Atlantic coastline, who are discovering that house insurance is either impossible to obtain or is going up by an order of magnitude, or more. All as a result of insurance companies finally waking up to the perils of hurricanes of the calibre of Katrina. We'll have to see whether the Republican Party decides that market forces in this case must be softened by some kind of government intervention to soften the blow and allow wealthy homeowners to continue building extravagant homes on the vulnerable shoreline.
For the UK, for Europe, I would suggest that a massive programme of research into nuclear fusion (not fission!) might be the smartest possible move. To keep warm, to keep moving, to keep the streets clear of abundant snowfall, will all require lots of energy in what may be a mini-ice age. And, should the Labradorian conditions not prevail, then that energy will be essential for air-conditioning and constructing dikes, because London will have a climate like that of Lagos within a century and the oceans are going to rise.
ELLENVILLE, NEW YORK, USA
Sir: A massive expansion in nuclear power is the only way to meet our CO2 emission targets and set an example to the rest of the earth, thus preventing dangerous climate change. A large amount of additional generation capacity needs to be built anyway in the UK (and in other major economies including China).
Renewables require massive subsidies whilst only producing small amounts of energy. Intermittency costs, and the danger of surges in supply to the grid, also count against wind. At present prices, nuclear is price-competitive with fossil fuel alternatives such as gas.
To promote new build, the Government needs to provide a stable regulatory environment. The renewables obligation should be extended to a non-carbon obligation including new nuclear. Guaranteed minimum electricity prices could be offered to investors or a "capacity payment" reintroduced.
The Government should provide a "bank" of suitable nuclear sites, based on the existing British Nuclear Group and British Energy nuclear sites, but also including the initiation of planning procedures on new sites. Perhaps two rival consortia would emerge with plans based on the Westinghouse AP1000 and the European Pressurised Water Reactor.
The UK should build between 35GW and 80GW of nuclear capacity over the next 10 to 20 years, to account for electricity needs plus requirements currently satisfied by fossil fuels such as transport. The first few reactors of each type should attract a subsidy to account for first-of-series regulatory and other costs.
Apart from these initial subsidies, the transfer to a near zero-carbon economy would be relatively costless. It would, however, require a transfer of resources towards domestic capital investment and away from the import of natural gas. Finally we need to educate and train at least 20,000 new nuclear engineers.
GONVILLE AND CAIUS COLLEGE CAMBRIDGE
Basic needs enough
Sir: Global warming shows us how important it is that we recognise our ultimate dependence upon the environment of which we are part.
We are totally reliant on the planet to provide us with food, water and shelter and all of our so-called wealth comes from it. We must recognise that the reason we in Britain are able to enjoy the lifestyle that we do, is because we are borrowing the ability of future generations to meet their needs and robbing the Third World of their share of resources to support our extravagance.
We must realise that money is not the source of happiness and that once our basic needs have been met it is no longer necessary to have more of it. I am sure that most people would agree that family and friends are far more important to them than fast cars or luxury holidays. If this is the case it is in our interest to protect the environment in order to insure that we can continue to support those things that are most important to us.
It is my hope that the climate change debate will ignite this will to change within us all and that the Government will implement the necessary changes needed to steer the country away from the economic, environmental and social collapse which is otherwise inevitable. We must learn to live at peace with ourselves, with each other and with nature and the Government must support us in this.
ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE STUDENT UNIVERSITY OF PLYMOUTH
Sir: Together with many people, I firmly believe that Contraction and Convergence, the science-based, global climate policy framework proposed to the United Nations since 1990 by the Global Commons Institute, is the only solution to the climate change conundrum put forward to date that would actually work in practice.
Energy efficiencies and renewables do have a part to play but they cannot deliver the massive cuts in emissions that are needed or deliver them in the time frame that is necessary. We must not be in any doubt about this time frame: it is not up to us. Sophisticated as climate modelling is, we cannot properly set a time frame beyond needing to act now.
Contraction and Convergence would involve tough negotiations before drastic action but the alternative is unthinkable.
We must not give up
Sir: Britain must demand and implement action on climate change because the US won't - to its disgrace. I hope the government in London continues to take the lead on this important issue and does not give up or give in, despite setbacks. Nothing less than the future of the entire planet is at stake.
LIZ SCHEVTCHUK ARMSTRONG
COLD SPRING, NEW YORK, USA
Sir: There has only ever been one statement from President Bush that I felt has been worthy: his remark that America is addicted to oil. But so are we, and if for no other reason than security of supply we need to look beyond our energy-intensive lifestyle. Global warming is real but most people are too short-sighted to change without encouragement, leadership and financial penalty. So governments should be taxing aviation fuel and setting car tax bands far enough apart to make choices count.
Sir: I think we need to proceed with our changes whether the US agrees or not. Let's show them up and lead the way. I would like to see all newly built houses and business premises with photovoltaic roof tiles and solar panels as standard. Now the Goverment has introduced grants, the cost on a new house will be marginal over the term of the mortgage. Further incentives on non-fossil fuel dependent cars should be increased and the traditional type of vehicle phased out.
Sir: Landfill sites produce harmful greenhouse gases which contribute towards climate change. By reducing our reliance on landfill, through more waste reduction, reuse and recycling, there will be a huge reduction in the amount of harmful gases produced. Recycling and creating recycling products for consumers represent fantastic opportunities to use our valuable waste as a resource rather than burying it.
Too quick to blame
Sir: It seems to me that it's just too politically expensive for any government to oblige voters to reduce their carbon emissions. We are just too fond of our lifestyles. And who are we to blame our developing neighbours for wanting to live just like us? The public believes that it's either too late or it isn't serious enough yet.
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