Fight against global warming, Terror Bill and others

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The Independent Online

Our civilisation is at stake in the fight against global warming

Our civilisation is at stake in the fight against global warming

Sir: Johann Hari ("Wind of change", 25 February) has taken global warming, the most important threat to civilisation since it emerged, and reduced it to an opportunity for town versus country infighting. There is no single solution to reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Windpower is a technology that is available now and which interfaces with our existing electricity supply system, but it is intrusive and is dependent on wind. With maximum build over the next 15 years, it is unlikely that the additional generation will match the power lost as nuclear plants are shut down.

To make any impact on carbon emissions, we must expand other new technologies, such as solar power, and consider retaining the nuclear contribution. One obvious opportunity is the chance to use North Sea oil and gas fields as carbon dioxide reservoirs, pumping back underground carbon emissions trapped at conventional power stations. Drax in Yorkshire contributes something like 7 per cent of national electricity supplies, so taking the carbon dioxide from this single source and returning it underground would have as big an impact as all the wind farms across our landscape today.

The real risk to climate comes from the potential to mine and burn massive coal reserves as oil becomes increasingly scarce and expensive. There is coal to fuel our economies for hundreds of years, but only at the expense of carbon dioxide levels that would make the present "worst case scenarios" fade into insignificance. If we cannot come up with enough new clean energy sources to ensure that cheap coal remains unburnt, we have to ensure that the carbon dioxide created from it does not get released into the atmosphere.

Putting things in such a broad global context makes them appear to be a matter for government action, not individuals. Wrong. If you care about carbon dioxide levels, why are you planning to take a flight to go on holiday this year?

There is an impression in much of what is written about global warming that the natural world will suffer most, but all the evidence is to the contrary. Massive climate change can be demonstrated from the geological record of the past 60 million years, but there are no mass extinctions to go with the switches from icehouse to greenhouse climates and back, and most of the species alive today have survived major climate and sea-level changes. It is people who live at the limits of what the planet can sustain, and who have erected political barriers across the face of the planet to prevent ourselves from moving with the climate zones as they change. If we get this wrong, we will suffer and our civilisation may be stretched to the limit. For most of the natural world, the beneficial effects of reducing our capability to harm their habitats will more than outweigh the inconvenience of climate change.

School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds

Terror Bill reveals an empty democracy

Sir: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (Opinion, 28 February) asks why is our democracy so flabby that the government is able to remove civil liberties so easily, and Andreas Whittam Smith provides part of the answer in his article on the same page.

He objects so much to the anti-terrorism Bill that he will take to the streets. Good luck to him. In our democracy the only people on the streets who get what they want are those prepared to commit violence or hold other people to ransom - as in the poll tax riots and the fuel blockades. Peaceful antiwar rallies and antiglobalisation actions are entirely ignored unless damage to property occurs. This is our democracy. We can write to the papers and huff and puff as much as we like, but whilst the Government has ultimate power over us and over Parliament it can do what it likes.

We seem to have forgotten that we have always been at risk from governments abusing their powers. Our electoral system has given Tony Blair such a large majority that Parliament can no longer properly safeguard the citizens and he can do whatever he wants.

I don't think there is anything we can do about it without resorting to violence. We have allowed this situation to develop by our indifference and our ignorance. We have the government we deserve, and, if we value our personal freedom we must get on with with living passive and unresisting lives so as to avoid drawing to ourselves the suspicions of our government .

Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire

Sir: Andreas Whittam Smith is right. Putting on the statute book a law which would turn this country into a police state will not be done in my name.

The name of my country is linked to the principles of civil liberty and the presumption of innocence. It is part of my country's heritage that no one should be imprisoned without being charged and given a fair trial. A government that seeks to change that traduces the good name of my country.

I shall not vote for a party led my a man who wants this to be a police state, or for anyone who supports New Labour's "descent into hell."

New Malden, Surrey

Sir: Andreas Whittam Smith wants to take to the streets over the Prevention of Terrorism Bill. He will have that opportunity on 19 March when huge numbers will march on the second anniversary of the Iraq war. A central slogan of the demonstration will be "No more terror laws." The connection between these anti democratic laws and the illegal war on Iraq is clear. Public protest is one of the best safeguards against a series of measures which if implemented would deny the right to dissent over a range of issues.

Stop the War Coalition
London WC1

Sir: Osama bin Laden has won. He promised to destroy the West and our elected government has obediently surrendered, abandoning habeas corpus, the presumption of innocence, justice, the rule of law and the separation of powers.

What we are now to get are accusations without evidence, indefinite detention without trial, confessions obtained under duress and a police force answerable only to the Government; just as in bin Laden's home town. (Make you own list of regimes which behave in this way, with similar justification.) And Tony Blair wants this as his legacy.

Henllan, Denbighshire

Sir: I can understand Charles Clarke and Tony Blair not wishing to involve judges in detention orders; our Home Secretary and Prime Minister could find themselves under house arrest for plotting to undermine the state - on the say-so of a judge. Or will the Government be establishing a praetorian guard to protect itself from its own gestapo?

London SE4

Restaurant guides

Sir:Dominic Prince's article "Bring me the head of Egon Ronay" (26 February) took me to task for printing a review of Love's Restaurant in Leamington Spa, whereas it has closed for business, but he omitted to mention that the entry is prominently overprinted with "Closed 2005".

Heston Blumenthal is quoted complaining that I wrongly said "bread ice cream" and "crab syrup" were on the Fat Duck's menu. I never said anything like it. Another error is that I "bought back" my name, whereas it was returned to me by a High Court decision.

It is unfair to quote a commentator excluding us from the list of guides about which "at least you know" that the test meals have been bought by themselves. Our average expenditure on some 270 restaurants was around £70-£80 paid by my company. Every one of the inspections was anonymous. There were four inspectors, but from the article it appears that I did it all myself.

As to Mr Prince's ageist comments questioning my sense of taste and smell, I am content to let the public and food critics judge the validity of my and my guide's opinions.

London SW3

Muzzled coursing

Sir: Michael Smith suggests the use of muzzles in hare coursing (letter, 25 February). This is certainly practical at enclosed meetings in Ireland where escapes are provided for the hares after a race of no more than 400 metres. The hare is rarely forced to turn more than three or four times and in a great many courses it reaches safety within 20 seconds without ever being threatened.

In the open a greyhound, deprived of the ability to catch, could turn a hare 10 or more times over 60 seconds or until it collapsed from exhaustion. Energy expended and stress, being relative to speed, determination and number of turns, is likely to result in severe or even fatal complications.

Oswaldkirk, North Yorkshire
The writer is retired veterinary surgeon

A-levels are easier

Sir: I disagree with Allan Friswell's remarks on A-level exams (23 February). When I took the Oxford and Cambridge Board's A-level French (and German), in 1976, there were six papers per language. These were, as I remember: a 90-minute prose translation into French, a two-hour essay paper in French, a two-hour translation (two passages) into English, a three-hour literature paper in which one had to answer on four texts, a 30-minute dictation and an oral.

The vocabulary was not restricted by any prescribed topic areas, and it was expected that an A-grade candidate would be able to write in all tenses including the past historic and imperfect subjunctive.

Today I have been teaching French and German for a little over 20 years, and the syllabus for A-level has been revised at least twice. Today's candidate for the AQA's A-level has to sit three papers at A2: a 15-minute oral, a two-hour listening/reading/writing paper which includes a minimal amount of translation from and into French, and either a paper requiring two essays on a selection of set topics or the coursework option of writing two 700-word essays in French with access to background materials, unlimited time, a dictionary, word processor and spellchecker.

The topic areas are set out quite precisely for AS and A2 so that vocabulary can be largely anticipated.

A-level languages nowadays are certainly more practical than they used to be. However, the course is much less intellectually challenging and it is possible for today's top candidates to gain their A grades with much less competence, knowledge or study time than in the past.


Alternatives to MMR

Sir: It is unfair of Brenda Dick (letter, 21 February) to accuse those who avoid the MMR vaccine of relying on others to ensure public health. There is a third option, namely single vaccinations. The availability of this option is limited and requires a significant financial commitment. It does, however, allow the pursuit of protection against the diseases involved whilst avoiding any potential concerns over MMR.

Those who opt for single vaccinations are not helped by the actions of some of the suppliers of such services. Once the decision to opt for single vaccinations is made, parents are locked into a course of action which the company concerned can appear all too ready to take advantage of. Lack of flexibility regarding the timing of treatments and letters demanding advance payments within seven days to avoid the loss of appointments awaited for over 18 months betray disregard for customer care.

Given the lack of alternatives to MMR and the difficulty of pursuing what few there are, it is no surprise that many opt out of vaccination completely. The real question to be asked is why there is such an absence of real choice.

Guisborough, Yorkshire

Iraq war advice

Sir: In light of the comments by the Attorney General about his advice to the Prime Minister over the legality of the war in Iraq in which he stated that he had asked for a personal assurance that there was evidence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, it is essential for the good governance of this country that the written advice of the Attorney General is released at once.

Civil Rights Barrister

Human Rights Lawyer
London WC1

Two nations

Sir: Dennis Reed, of the Local Government Information Unit (letter, 28 February), applauds Steve Richards' advocacy of more local control of local government finance-raising. I'm not convinced. Poor areas need more money to be spent on them; but they have the least ability to raise it. The more that local people are responsible for raising their own community money, the more disparity there will be between poor and prosperous parts of the country. Is this what we want to happen?


Monster country

Sir: I would join Sian Berry's Alliance Against Urban 4x4s (Motoring, 1 March) like a shot, if she deleted the word "urban". In remote rural Herefordshire, many of my neighbours own these vehicles. The recent proliferation has wreaked havoc with the roadside verges (the lanes are too narrow for 4x4s). Where the habit here has long been to wave a greeting at anybody you meet in the lanes, now I am much more likely to shake a fist. There is no justification for these monsters. My Fiat Uno copes with occasional icy roads without difficulty.

Walterstone, Herefordshire.

Ireland's revenge

Sir: As an Irish supporter one of my first thoughts after Ireland's magnificent 19-13 rugby victory over England was the uncharacteristic wish that England's Charlie Hodgson had put over one more penalty - to give us the highly symbolic score of 19-16.

London N11