Greenhouse emissions, legal and others

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Going underground is the solution for greenhouse emissions

Going underground is the solution for greenhouse emissions

Sir: Bishop Montefiore asks how large reductions in carbon dioxide emissions are to be achieved by 2050 if renewables and conservation are not effective (Opinion, 22 October). The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) report that he cites states very clearly that "baseload plants: either nuclear or fossil fuel with CO 2 recovery and disposal" may be required in this event.

Capturing the CO 2 that is given off when fossil fuels are burnt to make electricity or, in the future, to make hydrogen, breaks the link between using fossil fuels and putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The CO 2 can be compressed and injected underground into special boreholes 1km deep or more. Combined together this is called CO 2 capture and storage (CCS). CCS is a "bridging technology". It could be implemented quickly to help stabilise CO 2 emissions over the next 50-100 years, allowing time for the many changes involved in moving towards long-term global sustainability.

It is important that CO 2 stays in the ground for at least 10,000 years. We know that gases have been held in oil and gas reservoirs underground for millions of years. The UK''s offshore oil and gas fields are available to store CO 2 - provided we make a start soon, before they are closed down and abandoned. This will also allow more of the UK's oil and gas to be extracted, replacing imports. Additional CO 2 can be stored underground offshore in deep aquifers, layers of porous rock that are sealed but didn't happen to trap oil and gas in the past so just contain salty water. Total UK offshore geological storage capacity probably exceeds one century of CO 2 emissions.

Ways to capture carbon dioxide from power stations and hydrogen plants are available now, with commercial guarantees. The UK offshore industry has already studied CO 2 injection, and concluded it is technically feasible. UK and international researchers are actively examining the potential environmental implications of CO 2 capture and storage. But CCS, like most low-emission technologies (including nuclear), will inevitably cost more than just emitting CO 2 to the atmosphere, typically adding between 1p and 2p/kWh to electricity costs, so won't happen until there is a clear demand to deliver significant cuts in actual UK CO 2 emissions.


Previous convictions will mislead juries

Sir: You are right to draw attention to the Government's cavalier attitude towards the principles of a fair trial (leading article, 26 October). The proposals to disclose not just previous convictions but charges to juries in theft and child sex abuse trials will open the floodgates to thousands of miscarriages of justice.

Having served as a juror, I know how many ordinary people, when confronted with an array of sometimes conflicting evidence, long for the apparent certainty to be obtained from knowing "whether he's done it before". This will be a charter for prejudice and principally serves the purpose of enabling the police to secure a higher rate of conviction - regardless of whether the true criminal is caught or not. This will boomerang over time on the court system, with an inevitable rise in the number of appeals arising from wrongful convictions.

The reputation of English justice - already tarnished through repeated wrongful convictions for terrorist offences and now detention without trial - will suffer further and victims will ultimately be poorly served by this appalling descent to kangaroo courts and lynch-mob justice. Parliament should be prepared to reject this shameful measure.

London SW5

Sir: There is much to be said for the disclosure of previous convictions. Presumably the defence would want a jury to know when their client has a clean record or a prosecution witness has a conviction for perjury. If we can trust juries at all, surely we can trust them better with more complete information. It is for counsel and judge to argue and explain how this does or doesn't fit into a rational case.

Some protest at the loss of our ancient liberties. But, under our ancient system, the accused was liable to hang after his first conviction. The question of subsequent disclosure was somewhat academic. A trial based upon a clean slate was a one-off event, not a regular fixture to be replayed throughout a criminal's career.

Those who have been convicted and released might reasonably be regarded as being paroled on condition of keeping themselves above suspicion. This is no more draconian or discriminatory than the accepted practice of giving repeat offenders progressively longer sentences.

Farnborough, Hampshire

Sir: Thank you to Martin Wright (letter, 28 October) for pointing out that a wrongful conviction results in the guilty party going free.

The criminal justice system is administered by fallible human beings: mistakes will therefore be made, innocent people will sometimes be convicted, and guilty people will sometimes be acquitted. Every effort can and should be made to minimise the incidence of mistakes but they will happen.

It is vital therefore that the system be weighted so that the mistakes, when they happen, are in the direction of the "least bad" option. And what is that? With a wrongful acquittal a guilty person goes free. Bad. With a wrongful conviction an innocent person is punished and a guilty person goes free. Much, much worse.

London SE22

'Hobbit' discovery

Sir: To anyone familiar with Gulliver's travels in the South Seas, it must be clear that the discovery of Homo floresiensis enables us to pinpoint much more precisely the location of Jonathan Swift's Lilliput.

Swift was not a fantasist, and his tale is corroborated by, and perhaps even based on, the journal of Antonio Pigafetta, Magellan's secretary, the first European record we have of a journey through the eastern islands of the Indonesian archipelago (in 1521). Pigafetta goes on to recount what their Moluccan pilot tells him of the islands they sail past but cannot visit. Thus we learn of the pygmies on "an island called Aruchete where the men and women are no taller than a cubit, and have ears so large that of one they make their bed, and with the other they cover themselves".

So Homo floresiensis - long before this new and exciting discovery - had made his (and her) entry into European culture through Pigafetta's journal, and has lived on in world literature thanks to Gulliver's immortal visit to their faraway kingdom.

Department of Dutch
University College London

Sir: Wonderful to see news of the discovery of a new human species on your front page. But when, oh when, will you get rid of your he-man approach to archaeology?

First, the language - it's the history of humankind that's been rewritten, and these are surely ape- people. And second, the picture - you report that remains of up to eight individuals were found, including the partial skeleton of a female. But the illustration shows a male, all on his own. As the evidence from the excavation demonstrates, men did not evolve in heroic isolation but rather as members of human groups. A reconstruction of the best-preserved individual, Flores Woman, or, even better, a picture of a group with both sexes, would have reflected this evidence more accurately.

Lecturer in Archaeology
Magdalen College,
Oxford University

Sir: According to Hindu scriptures, during the time of Rama, 100,000 years ago, there was a race of apes who walked on two legs. They interacted with humans and even spoke the same language, and they were vegetarians.

Croydon, Greater London

Sir: It has recently been argued that there would be merit in bringing together scientists and creative artists in some kind of symbiotic relationship. The alacrity with which the newly discovered species of apeman has been dubbed the "hobbit" suggests that it would be a good idea to keep the two communities as far apart as possible. The mind boggles at what further trivialisation this hobbit-forming relationship might lead to.

Professor DAVID HEAD

Sir: Your report speculates that the newly discovered human species, Homo floresiensis, died out in a volcanic eruption 12,000 years ago. I can report that people of small stature, who play with fire and who seem to be adept in the use of hatchets can be found on the front benches of the House of Commons.

Sittingbourne, Kent

Tests for toddlers

Sir: I expect the baby quiz which "aims to reassure parents about their child's aptitude" (report, 28 October) will do nothing of the sort; more likely it will cause either anxiety or smugness.

My daughter did not walk until she was 22 months old. Appointments were made for her to see a physiotherapist, and I was constantly asked by my peers, "Is she walking yet?" I felt anxious for months, but then she suddenly began to walk and run around, and now she is as mobile as any toddler.

When parents have a baby, they find it and they are in a race they never knew they had entered, and it is increasingly difficult to get out. I would urge all parents to forget any tests, to trust their own instincts if something is amiss, and let their children be free to enjoy their childhoods without making them jump through hoops set for them by companies whose main aim is to sell more toys.

Welton Le Marsh, Lincolnshire

Kerry's war

Sir: John Kerry once publicly argued against the Vietnam war. He now presents himself as combat-ready and strong over Iraq. Why do people have a problem with this?

It is going to take a man who genuinely hates war to get the world out of the shameful mess that Bush has created. Kerry realises that many voters cannot stomach the thought of leaving Iraq before Bush's objectives are fulfilled, regardless of whether they are realistic or not. This public longing to save face means his choices are limited.

Kerry therefore would have no option but to let American troops remain in Iraq, and lead them with intelligence and balance so that he can get them home as soon as possible. Because he is not swayed by religous zeal or hampered by arrogance, greed and stupidity, that time-frame will be much shorter than anything his opponent can hope for.

Belgrave, Victoria, Australia

Leave the shires alone

Sir: Cllr Steve Radford thinks that "England is an over-centralised state" (letter, 25 October). The reality is more complex. Historically, the English preferred to have a strong central authority, which could hold the country together and keep the peace, and with good reason. Whenever that authority broke down, as during the civil wars, ordinary English people suffered terribly.

However, until comparatively recent times central government did not attempt to micro-manage the shires and towns across the country. Only the advent of modern communications has permitted and encouraged the constant, detailed, essentially anti-democratic interference which we now see.

Rather than inventing regional assemblies, politicians in London should simply learn to stand back, maybe even unplug the fax machine, and allow existing local government bodies to do their job. In short a change of heart, rather than a change of system, is what is needed.

Maidenhead, Berkshire

To see or not to see

Sir: Sholto Byrnes, reporting on his trip to the National Theatre (Review, 27 October), misses one of the venue's supreme virtues - the audience sight-lines. You can see the stage perfectly without jigging about behind the bulk of the person sitting in front of you (in all three of the theatres), something which is apt to ruin half-invisible performances in West End theatres.

London NW6

Legitimate language

Sir: "Massacre at Baquba" was your headline on 25 October but it was sub-titled "49 Iraqi soldiers executed..." Was executed an appropriate word to use? Surely it hints at a degree of legitimacy which was totally lacking in this incident. These men were not "put to death by law", as my dictionary defines "execute"; they were murdered.

Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire

Parliamentary questions

Sir: Professor Weir's description of the Crosby constituency (letter, 26 October) as "previously marginal" seems a little odd. Does that mean the same as "previously Conservative" (from 1945)?


Sir: I wonder if Caroline Blackford (letter, 26 October), who thinks it would be scandalous if an MP's remuneration package were based on their private wealth, also thinks that it is scandalous that pensioners' "remuneration package" should be means-tested, given that it is not a hand out and that they have paid for it through National Insurance contributions?


Speaking Welsh

Sir: In my experience Welsh people appear quite happy to speak the English language, but are quick to "convert" to speaking Welsh the moment an English person is present. Is this an example of the "simple good manners" to which Chris Webster (letter, 20 October) refers?