Letters: A polluted world

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A chilling solution to prevent the problem of a polluted world

Sir: In the debate about climate change and how we can better run our society, there has been a worrying and increasingly persistent theme in The Independent: the call for government compulsion to regulate ever more areas of our lives in ever greater depth.

"Good" is defined as what the Government decides it is and society, goes the argument, can be improved, by imposing this "good" on individuals, families and communities. This tendency is nowhere more terrifying than in the sphere of family life. Professor Sir Graham Hills (Letters, 31 October) considers larger families are the main cause of climate change and should be curbed. The problem is not bigger families but the impact those individuals would have on the environment through diet, attitudes and lifestyle.

But his solution is chilling: "Malthus and Miliband suggest we have only two options; to curb [family size] voluntarily or resign ourselves to calamity. The obstacle to the first is organised religion. Has the Government the moral courage to give us a lead in this matter?"

Does he mean leading politicians should voluntarily opt to have small families? Does he mean religious belief should be discouraged or even suppressed? Or is this "moral lead" a call for the British Government to follow the example of the Chinese state in penalising those who have three or four children, or in forcing abortion on women "irresponsible enough" to become pregnant for a second time?

I have no desire to live under a regime similar to that in China and I imagine few others do either. Whatever the problems, whatever the solutions, if we wish to continue to live in a society that respects human rights we must respect individual rights to hold and express the beliefs dear to them, and to found and run their own families.



Blair has done little on climate change

Sir: The Stern Report's dire warnings of a global depression and millions of refugees fleeing floods and drought if climate change is left unchecked are hardly new. There is precious little in Sir Nicholas's conclusions that the Green Party and a wide range of green groups haven't been saying for years.

Of course, we welcome the report, and I hope it finally spurs this Government to match its rhetoric with real action on cutting UK emissions and exercising the leadership needed to forge a global agreement to copy us.

But I'm not holding my breath. Tony Blair has had a clear idea of the extent of the problem for some time - as he keeps reminding us - but has done almost nothing to tackle it.

A report I commissioned from the Association for the Conservation of Energy shows this government has been sidelining precisely those EU directives and initiatives aimed at tackling climate change, delaying implementation of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, and failing to set binding targets for energy demand reduction under the Energy Services Directive.

In other words, Tony Blair has been resisting EU attempts to cut emissions, even when calling for more EU co-operation on the problem when addressing domestic audiences.

As Stern makes clear, the problem is urgent. A litmus test to assess whether the government is serious about rising to the challenge will be whether it responds just as urgently, by fully implementing all EU legislation on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and swiftly abandoning those areas of government policy which are making the problem worse, its support for roadbuilding schemes and massive expansion of the aviation industry, for instance.

Otherwise, I fear, we will see little more than even more hot air from this Labour government.



Sir: Reactions to advanced notices of the Stern Report have been mainly along the lines of, "So, climate change won't just wreck the environment, it will be catastrophic for the economy, too". This seems to have come as a shock to most mainstream politicians, economists, and media commentators.

Are they really so deaf, blind, and stupid to have only just noticed the global environment is the source of the global economy? Have all these highly paid economists and expensively briefed political leaders really been thinking we would carry on with economic growth and increasing GDPs, while crops fail from storm and drought, and the major coastal areas are flooded around the world? Are they that stupid? The answer seems to be yes. The environment and the economy are the same thing. Natural resources are the foundation of all wealth. Environmentalism has always been nothing more than economics with a long-term view.

I joined the Green Party nearly 20 years ago because it was the only political party that recognised these fundamental truths, and to put them at the core of its philosophy. Only now do I realise where we have been going wrong all these years.

We thought we were arguing with a body politic that was ignorant and short-sighted. We were right, but we hadn't realised it was also witless.



A second car is not excessive

Sir: Richmond's parking proposal is a waste of time. New government taxing already favours lower emissions and engine size and therefore the incentive is there now already. A second car in a family house with four drivers (such as mine) is not excessive. In fact, sharing cars like this is to be commended. Taxing the second car higher is wrong.

I am a member of Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace and have been for more than 20 years. I put out only one bag of rubbish a week because I recycle. I have a compost bin and do not need the wasteful green bins that litter the streets with, and are collected by a big, polluting lorry.

I separate paper/cans/plastic. I have double glazing and insulated loft. I don't leave excessive lights on. I am totally against this sort of waste. But I do like a reasonably sized car and pay through the nose already for it through petrol tax and the VAT from when it was new.

Richmond's incentive will raise them money but have virtually no impact on pollution in our borough, most coming from lorries and general traffic travelling through and aeroplanes dumping fuel above us.



Sir: The moribund thinking which proposes to retard the melting of the Greenland ice sheet through carbon trading and green taxes is doubly unhelpful, since it creates the impression of an optional breathing space before the problem needs to be tackled at source.

The only long-term solution is increased economic activity through value-adding (wealth-creating) technologies which offer a net reduction in the rate of depletion of hydrocarbon resources.

Domestic CHP (combined heat and power) is demonstrating savings in raw energy utilisation relative to centralised electricity generation. Mass manufacture of the core component in the UK (Stirling cycle engine) and nationwide installation now merits wholehearted backing from the Government.

Withdrawal from the conflict in Iraq would release the necessary funding and, in the long term, could yield a result for which that unhappy country might yet thank us. Two birds with one stone.



Big Business will not allow threat to profit

Sir: The approach to climate legislation will be toothless. The deity of our time is the economy, which must grow year on year, seemingly forever. This means we must all consume more goods and services, buying things we do not need and often do not want.

This cannot happen without more energy and materials being used, and more environmental degradation. The measures needed to really stop the environmental rot would be political suicide for Tony Blair or any party leader even to suggest.

Democracy has come to mean the government of the people by Big Business, for Big Business. Anything that threatens its ever-increasing profits is a non-starter. It was said many years ago that Mr Colman's fortune came from the mustard left on our plates. Similarly, the need of the economy is ever-increasing waste.



Sir: I loved "There is nothing in it about the need to be green, or about caring for the environment, it's all hard-headed economic reality". So economics is reality, whereas floods and/or drought, population displacement, disease, starvation and instability leading to wars are "sandals and brown rice"?



Government must not miss the chance

Sir: Any incentive that gets people out of their cars to walk benefits the individual and the wider population ("How the green shoots of change are sprouting around Britain", 26 October). By increasing parking charges for gas-guzzling cars, Richmond council is undoubtedly doing their drivers, and the planet, a favour. It is showing leadership on climate change that the Government, despite its rhetoric, sadly seems to lack.

The Stern Report shows the Government must make a step change in its approach to climate change. Any Climate Change Bill must demonstrate how Britain will start reducing its carbon emissions immediately to even go beyond the existing targets.

The Bill would also provide an early opportunity to reform the Renewables Obligation. This mechanism could provide the funding needed to make Britain a world leader in a range of renewable and micro-generation technology. In its present form, it serves only to subsidise multinational power companies while they industrialise great swaths of our most beautiful countryside with wind-power stations.

The Government must not miss this chance to adopt a holistic approach to climate change, one that respects our landscapes and natural environment, that promotes a sustainable approach to transport, and that links the effects of individual behaviour to the effects on society as a whole.



No faith in the present system

Sir: The solutions envisaged by Sir Nicholas Stern are just not going to happen. The present world political and economic system is simply not compatible with solving the environmental issues descending on us.

A system that relies on competition and partisanship rather than co-operation, increasing privatisation and exploitation rather than shared effort, is not going to get us out of this mess.

There is a crying need for co-operation on a global scale, a framework in which all countries will forego their national interests to protect the our most important asset, an asset beside which all human endeavour is insignificant; nature.

The present prevalent western economic model will never deliver this. I have no confidence that a set of guiding principles that has allowed us to desecrate the environment over the past 200-odd years is now going to drive our need for proper behaviour. Personally, I expect revolution. I support the need for radical change, but don't burn tyres; that would do no end of environmental damage.



Money talks

Sir: After years of evidence showing how global warming may lead to the destruction of the eco-structure, and millions of animal, plant and human lives through drought and flooding, it takes one report that mentions financial loss as the main risk for the world leaders to start doing something about it. It seems as though the bank accounts of our grandchildren, not their lives, are more important.



The human answer

Sir: Hooray for Nicholas Stern's report on climate change and the costs to the economy. Apparently, this report must be listened to because he is respected and has worked for those great bastions of sustainability, the World Bank and the London School of Economics. Strangely, the sandal-wearing thickos in the Green Party came up with a similar analysis of costs to the economy 25 years ago. Maybe in another 25 years whoever is in power may realise it is not growth of the economy that is central but growth of the human spirit and the ecological diversity that measure success.



How are we affected?

Sir: The Independent did not seem to mention the implications or consequences of Stern for people in the UK. How can we understand the imperative need to alter our behaviour if we don't know the consequences for our own country? And how did the world have a base line of 280ppm of CO2 by 1780 before the Industrial Revolution? Were these emissions from animals? I also understood the point of irreversible change was 400ppm.



High costs

Sir: I want to fit a domestic wind turbine to my house, which will work best if it goes above the roofline. So my local authority insists I apply for planning permission. Although I want to help "save the planet", it costs. If I wanted to erect a large TV aerial, that would be exempt, and they would not charge. Is this daft?



The time solution

Sir: A quick and beneficial response to Stern would be the adoption of European time, an hour ahead of BST and GMT. Lighter evenings would lock in substantial carbon savings (lighting and heating being needed), be safer for schoolchildren, enhance the evening economy, reduce crime and achieve a better integration with Europe. Scotland could remain on present UK time, or Scottish schoolchildren could go to school an hour later. Worth a trial?



Shut that door

Sir: I have a simple proposal that would save a great deal of heat energy over the winter: shut all shop doors, left open to attract customers. Fit automatic doors where possible; it's the least we could do.