Global warming demands action, Terror Bill and others

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Global warming crisis demands action, not despair

Global warming crisis demands action, not despair

Sir: Michael McCarthy's article (7 March) about the need for something really urgent to be done about global warming uses the Manhattan Project as an example of the commitment needed. Closer examination of how the project was conducted in detail makes it seem even more relevant to our current predicament.

The project had the task of making a practical atomic bomb as fast as possible. They were faced at the outset with a most serious technical problem. Most Uranium is in the form Uranium 238. This will not sustain the nuclear chain reaction needed to produce an atomic blast. A very small amount of natural uranium is in the form of U235, which will support an explosive chain reaction.

Extracting the small amount of U235 from the mass of U238 is extremely difficult. There were three separate technologies known that might be able to do this. They worked in the laboratory, but whether they could be got to work on the required industrial scale on time was unknown. Rather than choose which one to develop the Manhattan Project worked on all three approaches at the same time.

In the same way there are a number of promising energy technologies that emit no greenhouse gases. They include solar panels, wind turbines, tide rotors, biofuels, combined heat and power, ocean wave power and carbon dioxide sequestration. All of them need further development and testing.

There is also a huge need for a way of storing electricity. Better batteries perhaps. Or hydrogen fuel cells running on hydrogen made from water using electricity. These also need very large investment quickly if we are to get away from using fossil fuel in cars.

Pessimism is surely understandable; but despair is unwarranted. There are plenty of possible solutions to the problem but action is needed rather than the rhetoric McCarthy objects to so strongly and correctly.

London N19

Stand by for the big round-up of 'terrorists'

Sir: As the Government tries to get its Bill on terrorism through Parliament, we are told that there around 200 suspects who need to be dealt with under the new measures. We are further told by the Home Office minister Hazel Blears that primarily the threat comes from those of Muslim origin. We are also told that a terrorist act is most likely during the coming election period.

Are we therefore to expect hundreds of arrests of Muslims during the next few weeks immediately following the passage of the measures through Parliament? If this does not happen are we to expect another inquiry as to why the intelligence has failed us again? Could it be that, once again, we will be told that that the intelligence was flawed but nobody is to blame?


Sir: Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the proposed house arrest and control orders is that such measures could literally last a lifetime.

I can envisage only four conditions whereby the suspects' detention could come to an end. The first would be that their innocence was established. But as the detainees would not know the details of the charges against them, it would appear impossible for them to prove their innocence. At the same time, it would seem most unlikely that the authorities would or could establish such innocence without admitting that the quasi-incarceration was unjustified in the first place.

The second scenario which could bring the detention to an end would be that evidence came to light which would enable a prosecution.

The third would be that the war against terrorism came to an end, but as George Bush declared, in his address to Congress in September 2001, that that war "will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated", we can expect it to last for generations.

At least those locked up in Belmarsh could get out by leaving the country. The subjects of these new orders may be detained until the fourth possible condition, their death or descent into madness.


Sir: House of Lords an anachronism? I think the reaction to Labour's terror bill might give one pause for thought. I do wonder whether perhaps in the wake of this and fox hunting debacle Tony Blair might be more supportive of a fully elected chamber, as they may prove to be more malleable, albeit less effective in their constitutional role, than the present second chamber.

St Samson-sur-Rance, France

Secular funerals

Sir: Rebecca Smith (letter, 4 March) is quite right that families arranging a funeral will often accept the religious service they are offered, rather than make an active choice at a difficult time, though well-informed funeral directors should be offering families the alternative of a humanist funeral.

However, I would take issue with her assertion that "anybody" can read and say a few words about the deceased at a funeral. While some families will feel able to conduct a ceremony themselves, choosing the most appropriate words for the deceased and the family and reading them clearly and audibly on the day without breaking down in tears is far from easy for those closely involved. Trained, accredited and experienced humanist officiants who are happy to spend time with the family to create a ceremony that celebrates the life of the deceased are now widely available and are often the best choice for a non-religious family.

Executive Director
British Humanist Association
London WC1

Was Bush right?

Sir: Why is it a "difficult question" whether Bush was right? I am surprised that your report (8 March) does not remind us that he invaded Iraq not for freedom and democracy but entirely for his own ends, maiming and killing countless thousands of innocent civilians and conscripts, a process of horror and devastation that continues daily.

If, as a by-product of this crime, some countries are frightened into talking the talk about change, does that make the crime OK?


Sir: While it is right to say that "if anything akin to democracy eventually transpires in Iraq, it will be thanks to the determination of Iraqis themselves" (leading article, 8 March), the will of the people could not have been realised without the removal of Saddam. Anyone with a concept of the brutal nature of the Baathist regime should appreciate that.

When Iraqis went to the polls, hundreds of millions of Middle Easterners suddenly appreciated the basic rights denied to so many of them. This is turn gave democrats strength and put pressure on their authoritarian leaders to instigate some reform. It therefore smacks of wilful blindness to say that the link is "tenuous" between the invasion of Iraq and the current steps towards democracy in the region.

South Croydon, Surrey

Sir: Those who like to characterise Tony Blair's relationship with George Bush as that of poodle and master may wish to reconsider this view in light of the international meeting in London where practical steps were agreed to create a viable Palestinian state.

The British government has been pressing for some time for movement in the peace process and an earlier attempt in 2003 was made difficult when the Israelis prevented the Palestinians from getting to London. The death of Yasser Arafat, though, and the Prime Minister's relationship with the US President have now helped the US to re-engage with the process, such that the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, was also able to be present at the meeting, where she urged Israelis to avoid taking actions that could harm the fragile peace process.

Without the relationship of trust between the British government and US administration, would such progress have been possible? Despite opprobrium from some quarters, the Prime Minister has remained steadfast in his commitment to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and this is now producing results. For this he should be applauded.

London N10

Musical exile

Sir: I would like to amend the version of my status regarding Singapore which appears in David Lister's "Brimful of Asia" (28 February). Rather than "fleeing" the country I simply became a British subject in 1978 and remained in the UK where I had by then completed my schooling and musical training.

Having thereby missed out on two years of compulsory active military service in favour of a performing career - which the army training would have rendered impossible - a threat of prison has prevented my return to Singapore despite many pleas on my behalf.

This has become a very painful situation since my parents are now old and can no longer travel. I still sincerely hope one day to be able to amend this state of affairs and return both to see my family and to perform there once again.

London W11

Islamic dress codes

Sir: Andrea Clyndes (Letters, 7 March) knows nothing about Islam if she thinks Muslim women are "prudish" and "puritanical" and dress as they do because they are "ashamed" and "afraid of the female body". The exact opposite is the truth. It is precisely because Muslims respect and value their bodies that they do not wish to expose them to anonymous public gaze.

Of course we English cannot help thinking the way we do because we inherited our distorted idea of Islam and of sexuality from western Christianity which, when it laid down the basis of our culture and thought, decided sex was bad and all pleasure sinful. The Church rigorously condemned Islam precisely because of its more positive and humane view. For example, the Koran insists all adult Muslims have a fulfilling sex life and it sees the purpose of sex as (shock, horror!) physical pleasure, and not procreation as our Christian tradition insists.

If we are so advanced, where is the Western version of Arabic love poetry and The Perfumed Garden? Quite simply, it doesn't exist.

Cirencester, Gloucestershire

Sir: The digambara, or "sky-clad", sect of the Jain religion consider it a crucial religious observance to wear no clothing whatever. Can we assume that their children are now entitled to go to school in such a natural state?


Feeding illusions

Sir: Why is it that when dealing with agriculture and the environment ("Food costs £4bn more than we think", 3 March) the media slip into some never-never land of their own? Why is unscientific science tolerated here where it would not be in, say, physics?

The reality is that British agriculture cannot survive without subsidies; without them even more food will have to be imported using even more food miles. Farmers are not going to subsidise uneconomic production on their farms out of other income.

Organic production is extremely inefficient; there is no way that the world can be fed like this. Yields are simply too low, losses too great. If embraced on a large scale in the UK, again even more imports will be needed with the same result.

Let us have some common sense.

Alton, Hampshire

Sir: Your correspondent Alan Malcolm (letter, 5 March) raises the spectre of malnutrition if city dwellers are denied imports of such things as bananas, oranges, cane-sugar, lemons, grapes, rice etc.

Those things could not be freely imported during the Second World War, but surviving Londoners emerged generally better nourished in 1945 than they had been in 1939, thanks to the carefully devised dietary controls imposed by ration books. Obesity was not much of a problem, but nobody starved.

Milton under Wychwood, Oxfordshire

Due process in Ulster

Sir: Gerry Adams is right that the people accused of the murder of Robert McCartney are entitled to "due process" (Monday interview, 7 March), but, having observed years of IRA "due process" in Northern Ireland, I doubt I am the only one who finds it hard not to puke when I hear him make the observation.


Flying record

Sir: The answer to Michael Shoesmith's question, "Who defines 'round the world'?" (letter, 8 March) is the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI). From the website "The FAI's rules state that a record attempt must start and finish at the same airfield and cross all meridians of the globe. ... The course must not be less than 36,787.559 kilometres (around 23,000 miles) which is equal in length to the Tropic of Cancer ... The course must also be kept away from the North and South "Frigid Zones", defined as being at latitudes of over 66degrees 33minutes."

Surbiton, Surrey

Sir: Well done Sir Richard Branson for providing the funds to make it possible to establish a record for flying round the world. Any chance you could see your way to similarly fund improvements to the appalling Virgin Trains service from London to Holyhead, so that I may arrive home from work in record time?

Mickle Trafford, Cheshire

Final argument

Sir: Your correspondent Joe Walmwell is right to name T H Huxley as Bishop Wilberforce's opponent in the evolution debate at Oxford in 1861 (Letters, 7 March). Some years later, on hearing of the death of the bishop after being pitched on his head while riding, Huxley remarked, "For once, reality and his brain came into contact, and the result was fatal."