Letters: An illegal invasion

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So just why are our troops fighting and dying in an illegal invasion?

Sir: Every time a nation goes to war there are calls by the state to support "Our Boys" without question. But when such a war is questionable, and an affront to international law, questions should be asked, and quickly.

Three years after an illegal invasion of a sovereign nation, having unleashed hell, making matters many times worse for their citizens and having created a breeding ground for terrorists, yet the perpetrators of this evil have not been charged.

By refusing an inquiry into the Iraq war because it undermines British forces, Downing Street again calls for us to accept that the deaths of British servicemen past, present and future must go unquestioned because we are already engaged. Such logic must be challenged because it is the type of logic that kept America in Vietnam for so long.

Many British and US troops and Iraqi civilians are dead, and dying, not through being undermined by popular sentiment in the UK or the US but through the arrogance of leaders who again ask us not to question their decisions that put those servicemen in harm's way in the first place.



Sir: Your leading article (1 November) describes the Iraq war as "a catastrophically ill-conceived and mismanaged venture". Is that all? Is Britain not a signatory to the treaty setting up the International Criminal Court, which draws its codes from the Geneva Conventions and the 1945 Nuremberg Charter? The latter states clearly: "To initiate a war of aggression ... is not only an international crime, it is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole."



Sir: So, the British consulate in Basra now operates from the airport. What counts as defeat? When they retreat to the control tower? When they operate out of a plane on the runway with its engines running? Will we have a reprise of the rooftop rescues of Vietnam?



The economics of green taxation

Sir. Steve Richards says the Liberal Democrats' detailed tax proposals "will [pay for cuts in income tax] only if people continue to fly in the same numbers and use polluting cars with the same intensity" (Opinion, 31 October). This misunderstands the economics of green taxation.

Our calculations of revenue effects for our proposals on vehicle excise duty (rising to £2,000 a year on new cars in the top-emitting band) and planes, take account of behavioural change.

A MORI poll found 72 per cent of car buyers would switch to a less-emitting car. But revenue continues to come from those who do not change, and from those who change only partially. On flights, there is well-established evidence on responsiveness of air travel to price changes. This suggests a 1 per cent change in price leads to a little more than 1 per cent change in travel, assuming other factors - such as incomes - do not change.

A continuing tax and price change is often necessary to secure continuing behaviour change. This is the lesson from the London congestion charge, and from sin taxes on tobacco and alcohol. It is also the evidence from Nordic countries that pioneered green taxes. In Sweden, green tax revenue has been used to cut income tax. If the objective was to stop an activity, rather than curb it to sustainable levels, regulation or a ban would be more appropriate than green taxes.

There should be a green tax switch if public support for green taxes is to be maintained. The appetite for higher taxes is small, but people will pay higher green taxes to help change our collective behaviour, if the revenue goes back in income tax cuts, as the Liberal Democrats have proposed.

Our plan would remove two million people from income tax, abolish the starting rate of 10p, cut the basic rate by 2p in the pound, and raise the threshold at which the higher rate begins from £38,000 a year to £50,000. By taxing pollution not people, we can maintain support for a sustained attack on the causes of climate change.



Sir: Paul Vallely's science is right when he says carbon emissions in Bangalore have the same effect as carbon emissions in Birmingham ("First step: change the light bulbs").

But such statements obscure the stark injustice of climate change. The average Indian releases 1.04 tons of CO2 a year; the average citizen in the UK releases 9.62. Although the rich are the biggest contributors to climate change, the poorest people will suffer most from its effects.

Unfortunately, the UK Government has failed to set the "good example" on climate change claimed by Mr Vallely. When our contribution to international aviation and shipping are included, the UK's emissions have risen by about 5 per cent since Labour came to power.

Mr Vallely says the climate change battle must be fought internationally not domestically. But to fight climate change internationally, the UK must show domestically that radical cuts in carbon emissions are possible.

It is politically impossible for the UK to push for action on climate change internationally, including from developing countries such as China and India, when our per person emissions are so high, and increasing. All the rhetoric from the UK on climate change will just be more hot air unless we start to cut our own emissions.



Sir: Steve Hynes (Letters, 27 October) is correct in saying an electrically powered car uses more fossil fuel than an efficient internal combustion engine, but this does not have to be so.

If, instead of trying to make a futile contribution to the national grid, the current from the mini-wind turbines people install on their houses were used to isolate hydrogen from water by electrolysis, every household so equipped could create its own supply of carbon-free motor fuel.

The technology is not new - I remember the process on my chemistry O-level course in the 1960s - and the practicality of safely collecting and storing the hydrogen could be adapted from existing gas-industry techniques.

Alas, the Chancellor may have problems procuring the fuel tax on this power, and there would be no profit for the oil companies.



Sir: There are flaws in Dr Richard Aron's conjecture (Letters, 31 October), but chief is the assumption that the Earth is a closed system, ie, that energy cannot escape from (or enter) it.

A great deal of energy leaves the Earth all the time, principally as heat, light and other electromagnetic radiation. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases do not directly cause the Earth to become warmer; rather, they cause the Earth to absorb more solar energy and release less of it. This explains their ability to cause an rise in global temperature. I suspect the total power of the world's nuclear power stations is many orders of magnitude lower than the rate at which the Earth receives (or re-emits) solar energy and, thus, that there is little to no risk of global warming from nuclear power in the manner Dr Aron proposes.



Sir: It seems to have become almost a mantra in the climate change debate that there's no point us in Britain, or even in Europe, going ahead on our own, because China, India and the US will cancel any positive contribution we may make to lowering global emissions.

I wonder how many times similar things were said to William Wilberforce and his colleagues as they campaigned for the abolition of the slave trade. But they went ahead, because it was right and they were confident that in the end others would follow.



Sir: If the political parties in this country are really serious about wanting to stop a global catastrophe, then they must acknowledge the impact that keeping livestock for meat consumption is having on the world's precious resources. As the Vegan Society points out in its booklet, Eating the Earth, the livestock population is expanding faster than the human population. This trend will contribute to continuing malnourishment in the developing world, global warming, widespread pollution, deforestation, land degradation, water scarcity and species extinction.

That is why schemes by aid agencies to send cows, goats, chickens or other livestock to countries suffering famine and drought are only exacerbating the problems, because the animals need food and water to sustain them. World leaders must recognise we do not have enough land to feed everyone an animal-based diet, and by switching to vegan, we will significantly limit our individual impact on our threatened environment.



Sir: Disillusioned, green-curious, mid-40s Englishman WLTM American (either sex) in possession of SUV with view to saving planet. I'll change my light-bulbs if you'll change your car. Must have GSOH. Honest broad-minded Democrat preferred.



Bumper harvest benefits Ethiopia

Sir: The article "Drought in Africa: Ethiopia's bitter harvest" (24 October), does not reflect the present reality in Ethiopia, which is enjoying a bumper harvest and good winter rains. When drought struck this year the necessary measures were taken to ensure aid reached those who required it, especially in the pastoral areas.

The reader is given the impression that the problem was widespread, although the drought affected only a small part of southern Ethiopia but a large part of the Horn of Africa.

There is a long-term development strategy addressing the specific problems of the pastoral community, yet the article focuses only on the work of the western NGO Care International, without giving due reference to the efforts of the community and of the government, designed to address the problems in the short, medium and long term.

This sort of article does not give credit to the efforts of various local partners, whether governmental or non-governmental, working to find durable solutions to the problems.

The internal boundary issue the article alludes to does not exist. Boundaries are drawn for efficient administration and resource allocation and not to "divide and rule". Ethiopia is one political and economic space where citizens can exercise their legitimate political and economic rights without restriction.

Whatever problems exist there, they are keenly felt and it is the will of the Ethiopian government, and of all Ethiopians, to give support to those who have suffered from drought or other natural calamities.



The faith schools for all children

Sir: The debate about faith schools has centred on the strengths and dangers of using a school to educate one faith group, protected from what are seen by that faith group as harmful outside influences.

I have worked as a deputy head in a Moravian school and as a head of a Quaker school. In both cases the schools saw their role in a different way.

Such schools are faith schools for all children and offer themselves as communities that try to show on a day to day basis what living a life based on certain spiritual and moral principles means for everyone.

They are neither protecting nor converting but are living examples of how faith principles are interpreted in daily life for everyone to see.



Flowering on time

Sir: Nicholas Reed thinks the spring crocuses are flowering again (Letters, 29 October). What he has seen are autumn crocuses, a mistake made by many.



Trust the people

Sir: Charles Scanlon (Letters, 25 October) calls for a citizens' assembly chosen from the public by lot to make recommendations on the future composition of the House of Lords. For just the same reasons that this is a good idea - freedom from political party domination and guaranteed representation of the population - the assembly should consider a similar system of random selection for the House itself. Ordinary people generally make good decisions on juries. With suitable powers to call expert witnesses, a second chamber of ordinary people would provide effective scrutiny of legislation.



Time to go

Sir: I would go further than Jenny Craven (Letters, 26 October). I am 90 and fed up with losing one faculty after another. I have a beautiful relationship with three caring daughters and dread the thought of the awful words, "What are we going to do with father?". Old people who have had enough should be given every facility to avoid what the doctor dare not say: "What do you expect at your age?" Think what it would do for the NHS in empty beds, and for the old people's homes.



Digital dilemma

Sir: The withdrawal of the analogue TV signal will require most homes to acquire one or more additional set-top boxes to receive the digital signal. These millions of additional devices will all have an additional power requirement but, bizarrely, the Government doesn't appear to have the faintest idea how much extra generating capacity will be required. And so we are forced by government into a lifetime of additional energy usage at a time when we are being exhorted by Gordon Brown to save energy.



Slow cycling

Sir: According to Alasdair Fotheringham in Paris (27 October), it is illegal for participants in the Tour de France to have testosterone present in their bodies. If this were true, it would mean that the only possible participants in the Tour would be asexual slugs and similar beings.