Letters: Climate change: it’s worse than we thought

These letters appear in the Saturday 22nd March edition of the Independent

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Contrary to your headline “Climate change: the official prophecy of doom” (18 March), it would appear that the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report is a masterclass in understatement.

The projection, for instance, that global warming will, by the end of the century, “cause violent conflict, displace millions of people and wipe trillions of dollars off the global economy” is even now historical. Food riots and water scarcity have already generated massive unrest, civil wars and millions of refugees across North Africa and the Middle East.

The impacts of extreme temperatures, droughts, floods, forest fires, and rising sea levels on food production, economic productivity and capital assets currently cost some $1.2trn a year – and all  from a “mere” 0.8C rise  in temperature.

Given the need for robustness in the face of hostile scrutiny, giving only the safest of conclusions is understandable. However, this conservatism fails to capture the real dangers.

Since the last IPCC report in 2007, the science has become steadily more alarming. Evidence now suggests that climate sensitivity is at the top end of the previous range of estimates. The widely adopted policy limit of 2C, once seen as the boundary between acceptable and dangerous climate change, is now viewed by many climate scientists as the threshold of very dangerous change. Growing evidence suggests that 1.5C represents a probable tipping point for large-scale methane release from permafrost and the Arctic Ocean, as well as for Greenland ice melt. On current emission trajectories, the world is heading for a 4-6C global average temperature rise by the end of the century.

Action on climate change depends on prevailing perceptions of risk. Limiting these only to near certainties is falsely reassuring.

Nigel Tuersley, Tisbury, Wiltshire


The otherwise excellent article by your environment editor on the draft of the new United Nations report on global warming included the puzzling claim that “the impact on the UK will be relatively small”.

The IPCC makes no such suggestion, and it is not what the evidence indicates. As pointed out by the national Climate Change Risk Assessment, which the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs published in January 2012, the UK faces increasing direct consequences from man-made global warming, such as higher risks of coastal, river and flash flooding, heatwaves and droughts.

It is certainly true that poor countries will be hit harder by climate change than rich countries, such as the UK, which could spend ever larger amounts of their wealth on building longer and higher flood defences and other resilience measures. But the UK will not be able to insulate itself from the indirect effects of climate change impacts in other countries, which could lead to the displacement of hundreds of millions of people and the creation of widespread conflict.

The UK is already experiencing climate change, with the seven warmest years and four of the five wettest years all occurring from 2000 onwards, and the recent floods caused by the wettest winter on record. These impacts are being felt after just 0.7C of global warming, so the consequences of a rise of 2 degrees or more will be very much more severe in the UK and across the globe.

Bob Ward, Policy and  Communications Director,  Grantham Research  Institute on Climate  Change and the Environment,  London School of Economics and Political Science, London WC2


Osborne plans for pensions plunder

So now we can all take out our entire pension fund and do what we like with the cash – how democratic it sounds (report, 20 March).

But, just like the plunder of pension funds by the previous administration, this action by Osborne is to achieve a quick harvest of tax revenues.

Thousands of people will take out their entire pension pots over the next two years. They will get 25 per cent of the fund tax free – the remaining 75 per cent will, in most cases, incur a 40 per cent tax. It is this huge tax-revenue bonanza that interests our current administration.

The consequences to ordinary pensioners of today and tomorrow will be catastrophic. Many will blow the money and eventually become a welfare burden. Those who “save” the money will see it dissolved by inflation.

The few who try to buy annuities will see annuity rates collapse due to the diminished fund bases.

None of this matters in the short-term thinking of today’s politicians. The current administration will enjoy the benefit of this plunder; the next administration of whatever colour will also welcome  the revenues.

But the long-term consequences will create more poverty and huge welfare costs.

Martin Deighton, Woodbridge, Suffolk


No doubt our Chancellor and his chums, drawing on their classical education, remembered that the population of ancient Rome could be pacified by the provision of bread and circuses and decided to  give us their modern version – a penny off a pint and a game of bingo.

Our rulers should visit the people of the northern provinces where they will realise that the major  issues are not the price  of woad, but the provision of food banks.

John Dillon, Birmingham


The idea of freeing people to take control of their savings seems entirely sensible. Some worries have been expressed that retired people will “fritter away” their capital, but I think it’s more likely that they will give too much away to their children for deposits on property, eventually impoverishing themselves.

Susan Chesters, Winchester


Let’s have a clean break from Scotland

There are good reasons for the English to prefer a “Yes” vote in the Scottish referendum. “Yes” or “No”, either way we cannot go back to the way things were. So it would be better to make a clean break now rather than contrive a further devolution muddle.

Like the Irish, after independence many of Scotland’s best graduates will still come to England for the greater opportunities available. The English just won’t have to bear the costs of educating them any longer. For similar reasons, businesses will tend to move their headquarters to England, leaving, at most, branch offices in Scotland.

If it’s “No” this time then the Scottish nationalists will just agitate for another referendum in a few years’ time. The uncertainty and disruption won’t go away until they get a “Yes” answer. In the interim England will be left with a disgruntled and resentful population across its northern border. Will we end up pursuing the terrorists of some future “Scottish Liberation Army”?

Martin McCaig, Titchfield, Hampshire


The last line of your editorial “The power of No” (18 March): “No less important, in an ever more globalised world, the ties that bind the UK – economically, politically and socially – make more sense rather than less”, truly resonates on a personal emotional level for me.

I am Nigerian by birth, educated in Edinburgh and Glasgow (highers, sixth-year studies, first degree and masters in process engineering), so I was brought up Scots and consider myself one. I am married to a man who is half English and I live in London. A yes vote would break one of the ties that bind.

Yemi Raiwe, London N13


A vote for  Saint Edmund

Following John Williams’s justifiable downgrading of our patron saint (19 March), surely renewed efforts should be made to revive the 2006 and 2013 campaigns to consider the alternative: St Edmund (841-869), who was martyred by the Vikings and was subsequently recognised as England’s patron saint. Not only was he indigenous but his cult became widespread and was only eclipsed by the introduction of the mythical “St George” by Richard I on his less than triumphant return to England after the Third Crusade. It was as late as 1400 that this “saint”, of Anatolian origin, was finally accepted as the sole holder of the title of “national saint”. Many are in favour of such a change, particularly the English Companions which, from its foundation in 1966 as the premier Anglo-Saxon appreciation society, has lobbied for this historically logical title change.

Russell Webb, Ringwood, Hampshire


Boiling blood at  the checkout

The thing which really makes my blood boil is when I place my bag ready to receive items and it pipes up “unexpected item in the bagging area”. I ask you what else would you expect to find in the “bagging area” than a bloody bag?

Christopher Anton, Birmingham


Much of your correspondents’ dissatisfaction with self-service checkout machines seems to be concerned with their audible function (Letters, 19 March). Why do they not press the button to switch the sound off?

Dennis Wang, Tunbridge Wells, Kent