Environmental issues, Iraq and others

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Crucial environmental issues ignored for thirty years

Crucial environmental issues ignored for thirty years

Sir: Johann Hari's article "These small steps on climate change fall short of the drastic solutions we need" (15 September) is to be welcomed, in particular his admonition of Tony Blair for lack of joined-up thinking. However, it is fatuous to suggest that recent predictions (of "wars to secure dwindling food, water and energy supplies and tens of millions of environmental refugees") by the US security agency are "coming true faster than could have been expected".

In a keynote speech as long ago as 1969, UN Secretary-General U Thant warned of imminent global environmental catastrophe on exactly these lines and urged that unless decisive action was taken within ten years environmental problems would have "reached such staggering proportions that they will be beyond our capacity to control".

As early as 1972 an international, multidisciplinary group of academics, who called themselves the Group of Rome, published The Limits to Growth. The focus of the report was world population, resources and environment; the central prediction was that world population would double in 33 years, from 3bn in 1970 to 6bn in 2003: this forecast was spot on. To extrapolate from 2003, on present trends global population will double again to an unsustainable 12bn by 2036. The people whose reproduction will power this increase are already born. Most of this increase will be in poor countries, whose peoples inevitably aspire to Western living standards. Something will have to give. Escalating conflict over resources, especially water and agricultural land, pestilence and tidal waves of economic migrants are all inevitable.

We were warned over 30 years ago, by U Thant, the Group of Rome and many others, that action was urgent and, specifically, that by 2000 it would be too late. And yet the very issues that are crucial to our survival on this planet, namely exponential growth of population and per capita consumption in a world of finite resources, are not addressed.

Clyro, Powys

Blair knows what is at stake in Iraq

Sir: So the Prime Minister over-egged the pudding on Iraq's WMD in his laudable attempt to shoe-horn the US project into a UN mould. Big deal. Even without weapons Saddam could never be trusted and was not co-operating.

The US had decided to bring the festering matter of sanctions to a head because of its changed attitudes post 9/11. Ultimately Islamist fanaticism could not flourish without state support and therefore serious rogue states, especially where WMD were concerned, could no longer be tolerated, even if secular. You might not like the argument but then you might not be a New Yorker.

So Kofi Annan has something to say about illegality. Wake up folks. International politics is not a Sunday school. In the absence of a world government international law is to some extent what the great powers say it is - think of how the UN itself was founded - and the greatest threat to it comes not from countries with outstanding traditions of respect for the rule of law but from the ineffectiveness of its institutions. In that respect it is the French who have done most damage to its fabric.

To be sure, al-Qa'ida would not be in Iraq if Saddam were still there. But they would not have simply gone away either. This battle would just have been joined somewhere else and now that it has been there are more important things to do than moaning on and on about side issues. How anyone can doubt that civilised values are at stake (letter, 21 September) on the very same day that a man is having his head sawn off on video is beyond me.

London SW16

Sir: It is remarkable that Blair sees the ongoing carnage in Iraq as a "new war". This cycle of violence is called "post-war"; this is a term commonly used in conjunction with the word "planning". Possibly he may want to research this phrase before attacking any other nations?

Does our Prime Minister believe that a photo-op with Iyad Allawi and a speech characterised by Bushesque "goodies and baddies" rhetoric will distract from the flawed prospectus that has seen our troops drawn into what is arguably an illegal war? The line is not yet drawn under this issue and nor will it be by such a shameless stunt.

The "new war" speech has got to be the most patronising spin yet resorted to by No 10 in this pitiful saga. If we have a prime minister who is foolish enough to have seriously not considered a widespread insurgency as a likely aftermath of this invasion, perhaps he was also foolish enough to have not bothered to inquire as to what type of weapons threatened our interests enough to justify an invasion.

I can't decide which is worse - Blair's deceitful performance before the invasion of Iraq, or his substance-free bleatings since.


Greed at the top

Sir: If the compensation culture is indeed sweeping the workplace (report, 13 September), we need look not look far for the reason. Let us give a tweak or two to Mr Cridland's story (a worker falls off his bicycle outside the factory gates. To qualify for a payout, he claims untruthfully that the accident was inside the gate). Let us make the worker a director who hits a bollard in his company BMW. He was on his mobile phone, and is well aware that this will invalidate his insurance. Will he tell the truth, if he thinks he can get away with a lie? His colleagues would laugh him out of the executive washroom.

It is apparently accepted that directors and managers can be amoral in the name of enterprise, but workers can't. Business doesn't like tribunals because managers are put under scrutiny as well as workers. Many people severely damaged in the workplace are rendered too ill to bring a case within the time limit. So they don't get to a tribunal, and apply for invalidity benefit instead. If the Government really wants to attack the costs of invalidity benefit, they should attack the complacency, greed and dishonesty accepted at the top of business.

Seaford, East Sussex

Diet illusions

Sir: It is no miracle diet (Simon Carr, 16 September). If you eat less and exercise more you will lose weight. That shouldn't be a great surprise to anybody.

I went from 15 and a half stone to 12 and a half stone in around six weeks by fasting three to four times a week and eating mostly fruit and raw vegetables the rest of the week. I devised my diet after reading Fasting and Eating for Health and The Eat to Live Diet by Dr Joel Fuhrman.

What happens of course is that once you stop dieting, if you go back to eating as you did before the diet, your weight goes straight back on.

At what proved to be the end of my diet, I attempted an 18-day fast. On the ninth day I travelled by ferry from Fishguard to Rosslare. As soon as I got on the ferry I could smell the Irish breakfasts being served, and I was led by my nose straight to the restaurant. I had a marvellous breakfast, complete with Irish white pudding, and had at least two Irish breakfasts during my five days in Tralee. Within six weeks I had regained all of the weight I had lost.

The only way to lose weight permanently is to change your diet permanently. The only use of Mr Carr's "magic" diet and mine is as an initial high-loss diet, followed then by a permanent change of diet. Mr Carr himself said that he could well be back to 18 stone by Christmas. It's not worth punishing yourself for such a short-term gain.


Risks of living

Sir: You report on how high-heel shoes are crippling 10-year-old girls (18 September). I am 62 years old. I have survived mile-high slides in parks, sliding in frozen playgrounds, sledging, eating candyfloss with sticks inside, fireworks, walking to and from school alone, crossing a city to visit my grandparents alone aged 11, going to the cinema alone or with friends aged 12-plus, living near unfenced railway lines, playing tennis in the street, going to parks with my younger sisters in tow, mild bullying, spending my pocket money on rubbish, eating sweets, reading unsuitable comics and books, wearing stiletto heels to dances, walking home alone from parties in Glasgow, my one and only cigarette at university, drinking in pubs, loving sexual encounters, travelling alone across Europe aged 18.

All these experiences I remember with enormous affection. I am so glad I grew up in the 1950s. I was brought up sensibly to assess risk and then live as I chose.

The world is a more dangerous place now, but we must equip young people to live in it, not wrap them in cotton wool. Down with Nanny Britannia.

St Boswells, Scottish Borders

Lib Dem opportunity

Sir: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's analysis of the Liberal Democrats' opportunity is spot on ("I will be voting Lib Dem but with little enthusiasm", 20 September). The real opportunity to turn a well of cool support into a tide of Lib Dem votes is the war on terror.

Tony Blair has, like George Bush, chosen this as his political territory and Charles Kennedy needs to take him on. He should build on the brave position he took on Iraq and articulate with passion a pragmatic alternative to the Bush/Blair offering on terror.

Palestine, Chechnya, Iraq - please Mr Kennedy, tell us what your party would do to resolve the issues at the heart of Islamic terrorism.

London SW4

Sir: Why so unenthusiastic about voting Liberal Democrat? While I agree with Yasmin Alibhai-Brown that the Lib Dems don't offer the radical plan of change that many in Britain have been aching for since the Thatcher era, let us be grateful for a mainstream party that is challenging New Labour's war crusade and privatisation frenzy.

Wouldn't it be great for the British people to vote in a party with an agenda for reform? Blair duped us in 1997: let us not be duped again.


'Children first'

Sir: I wholly disagree with Jillian Abbott's views that putting the children first keeps marriages together (Letters, 20 September). We have been married 38 years. The reason our marriage has worked, which enabled us to bring up our children together, is because we valued each other's needs, putting them first where necessary and have talked about problems and issues, helping each other along. The important thing is for each partner not to put their own needs first, and not to use emotional blackmail.

Of course the childrens' needs were very high on our list of priorities but if either of us had ever felt that the only reason we were staying together was for the sake of the children it would have been highly detrimental to our marriage and a heavy burden on the children. Doing things "for the sake of the children" can often be a highly charged form of emotional blackmail.

London N2

Wittgenstein on TV

Sir: Howard Jacobson takes me to task (11 September) for not wanting to act the headmaster by sending some kinds of programme into the outer darkness. He even questions whether I would be prepared to commission a programme about Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.

As a matter of fact, one of my proudest moments in television was commissioning a three-part series on Nietzsche, Heidegger and Sartre for BBC 2, and the Tractatus is a firm favourite. So if Howard fancies a crack at it, he should certainly get in touch. If not, then he could just consider Proposition 7....

Director General, BBC, London W12

Brave Harmison

Sir: Many congratulations to Steve Harmison, the England cricketer. His decision to refuse to tour Zimbabwe this winter on moral grounds is a shining example to his team mates, and many other public figures in this country. His is a brave decision, but one which he should not have been forced to make on his own. Shame on the cowards in leadership.

Sway, Hampshire

Europe's triumph

Sir: The splendid achievement of our European golfers demonstrates what Europeans can do when they work in unison. No single European state could have even come near the USA. Let us hope that the people of Britain will learn the lesson and not allow themselves to be deluded by the anti-Europeans into going into isolation. Britain is part of Europe and the EU is our future.

Tydd St Giles, Cambridgeshire

Sir: Can it be mere coincidence that the best odds available last week about Europe winning the Ryder Cup are identical to the best odds available this morning about Senator John Kerry winning the forthcoming US presidential election?

Director, Betting Research Unit
Nottingham Trent University

Women drivers

Sir: Although Andy Carpenter's sweeping generalisations about women drivers (Letters, 21 September) contain a grain of truth, they do not support the withdrawal of lower insurance premiums for women. On the contrary, they mean that accidents caused by women drivers typically occur at much slower speeds than those caused by men, leading to correspondingly less injury and (what interests the insurance companies) smaller claims. If I had to choose being in an accident with either an 18-year-old boy racer or a dithering granny, the decision would not be a hard one.