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Monday 14 June 2010
Letters: BP oil spill
When will the US grow up?
In its continuing response to the BP oil spill, the United States reveals itself yet again to be an adolescent nation. Everything is someone else's fault and nothing negative is its responsibility. The hugest and most stubbornly unrepentant guzzler of oil, the US drives the search for ever more risky sources, yet the consequent disasters can in no way be laid at its door.
When US action – arguably to secure yet more oil supplies – causes severe civilian casualties, as in Iraq, it is designated "collateral damage" ("It's not my fault!"). When the BP spill deprives whole communities of their fishing livelihoods, it is an affront to the US nation ("It's all your fault and what are you going to do about it?"), and the otherwise thoughtful and intelligent President is pressured into a mounting temper tantrum which – as every parent knows – simply delays the inevitable dialogue for resolution. When will the US as a nation grow up?
Picture this: an American chemical manufacturer has an explosion at its Welsh plant. Eleven people are dead. Vast swathes of the Welsh countryside are blighted by the chemical leakage and tens of thousands of farmers and other small business lose their livelihood. No one knows exactly how to clean up the mess, or how long it will take.
Before the spill has even been contained, the American company decides to give large dividends to its share holders. When the British government insists that the company must shoulder the burden of the clean-up, it is branded anti-American.
This is exactly what British cries of anti-Americanism are doing with respect to BP. Think about the future we would create if global companies were not held to account for the human and environmental disasters they wreak abroad.
We must hold BP accountable for the catastrophe they have created; to do any less is to invite reckless behaviour by companies that are no longer responsible for their own debacles. And when that happens in your own back garden, you might think that somewhat unfair.
Today I was inconvenienced by a motorway delay due to a lorry fire. Many people may have missed flights, important meetings, business deals and job interviews, among other things. The fire brigade and police were mobilised. The roadway needs repairs.
Does the owner of the lorry pay for all those losses, "down to the last dime", as demanded by the US President of BP? Mr Obama is exploiting the oil disaster for political advantage at home. All agencies must work together to solve this problem.
Llandrindod Wells, Powys
BP is a great company. It is a world leader in research and development and one of the most experienced and effective companies at finding and extracting oil from difficult places, such as the deep ocean. It has accepted full responsibility for the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
What happened in the Gulf was an accident. Whether it was a result of carelessness is not yet clear; but if it were, it is to be regretted and should be rectified – but human errors do occur.
The sustained and intemperate attacks by President Obama and the American administration are unjustified and unworthy. I do not recall any such outbursts against Exxon at the time of the Alaskan oil spillage nor against Union Carbide when the dreadful loss of life and sickness at Bhopal occured.
BP has the reserves and cash flow to pay for the clean-up and compensation.
It is for the board of directors to determine whether or not it can also continue to pay dividends to shareholders. It is not for the president of a capitalist country to tell the board of a private company what to do. President Obama is attempting to assuage American public opinion by lambasting a whipping boy.
Dr R W Doy
Charities at risk from cuts
Dame Suzi Leather warns that charities will bear the brunt of public-sector cuts (report, 10 June). As the national body for local umbrella organisations dedicated to supporting many of the smallest local community groups in England, we can confirm our research supports this.
Our latest members' survey shows grant funding, vital funding for local charities, has fallen this year in four out of 10 local authorities, and is elsewhere almost static.
Small charities are vital for our local communities. They are often overlooked when assessing the impact of cuts. But these charities and community groups are the ones that support communities when the state withdraws, and they will be at the heart of any "big society".
Chief Executive, NAVCA (National Association for Voluntary and Community Action), Sheffield
It was disappointing to note a recent report from European development charities indicates a drop in aid over the past year.
As the economic crisis pinches, EU states' development funds are dwindling and increasingly being used instead as channels for public cash for domestic companies and promoting national vested interests, rather than poverty reduction in the poorest countries. Some states are even counting the cost of deporting refugees back to their home countries as "development aid".
As a result of the drop in spending, African countries are coming to the conclusion that Africa will not be able to meet any of its Millennium Development Goals, such as eradicating extreme poverty and reducing child mortality by 2014. Across the continent, some 70 per cent of people now live below the poverty line ($1 a day), more people are now dying from malaria than Aids, and maternal and child mortality are increasing.
We cannot use the excuse of the economic climate to turn our back on our obligations to the developing world.
We welcome the secretary of state Andrew Mitchell's announcement of an immediate review of the annual £3bn spent on multilateral aid and efforts to ensure that aid is directed to projects that work; it will be important to review all the evidence ("Government may withdraw billions from overseas projects", 9 June).
A report this week from ACTION (Advocacy to Control TB Internationally) raises questions about the efficacy of much of the health investment from the World Bank – the single biggest recipient of British aid. According to the report, the Bank's preferred way to deliver health assistance in Africa, Sector-Wide Approaches (SWAps) urgently needs reform. SWAps play an important role in the efficient and appropriate delivery of development aid, so it is disappointing that health SWAps are found to be poor at fighting some of the biggest killers, such as tuberculosis.
Even by its own standards, the Bank's health investments have been shown to be poor. Its own evaluation was that only one quarter of health projects in Africa showed satisfactory outcomes. Such evidence should help the Government assess where aid is "value for money" and where it is best spent.
RESULTS UK, London W1
Football's malign effects
Every four years it is useful to recall the words of the Daily Telegraph theatre critic Charles Spencer when he remarked that a play concerning football served to remind us that it is "... a game that turns dim people into thugs and bright people into bores".
The consequences of England succeeding in the soccer World Cup are truly awful. All other news would be either ignored or pushed to one side, probably for weeks, and the national media, and particularly the BBC, would have an excuse to abandon coverage of any other form of sport.
For the sake of the collective sanity of the vast numbers of Englishmen and women (and Welsh, Scots and Irish) and who are already sick of the year-round coverage of the "ugly game", let us hope that 20-20 remains England's only World Cup success of 2010.
If the goal-mouth in football were to be made broader and higher, reflecting the fact that players are bigger and taller than when the rules of this sport were established, more goals would be scored, which would make any game more interesting and reduce the need for the penalty shoot-out. Even this unsatisfactory tie-breaker would be made fairer, and more interesting, if the penalty spot were moved further away from the goal-mouth.
The incessant noise of the South African vuvuzelas is a disappointment: it is still possible to hear the non-stop comments from the pundits and commentators above it.
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
Gardens: once lost, gone forever
Your landscape architect correspondent's observations on "brown-field" developments in back gardens (Letters, 11 June) deserve some comment.
Gardens may well become neglected and overgrown for many reasons, but once covered with brick, concrete, conservatories and the other paraphernalia of modern living, any prospect of their restoration as places of amenity or indeed "any of that good stuff " (his phrase) is lost for ever.
Notions of invasion of privacy, through inappropriate development within a small- to medium-size adjoining garden, are real and not to be dismissed as "deemed". As for the loss of value of neighbouring properties: I have never yet bought a house with a view solely to its resale value, but as somewhere I want to live.
But it is surely perverse that planning applications may not consider the potential loss of attractiveness and value of neighbouring houses while, social housing apart, the intended development itself is motivated seldom if ever by altruistic reasons, but almost always for the financial gain of the developer.
I welcome the fact that, at least in England, curbs may soon be placed on the practice and hope that on this side of the Severn similar sentiments may soon prevail.
Guns or cats to curb vermin?
Andrew Johnson (letters, 10 June) seems to recommend the use of cats to keep down vermin, on the basis that they're less prone to indiscriminate killing than gun-owners.
My bird-feeders and the visiting birds around them have attracted rats and cats, respectively, and neither seemed at all perturbed by the other. Shooting the rats (six headshots, six instant deaths) has eliminated them without a single casualty among the native species, who continue to feed within two metres of me, and without any disease-ridden corpses being dragged inside. Elsewhere, I have protected horses from the hazards of rabbit-holes in similar fashion, again in places where cats regularly prowl. Cats seem, like school bullies, to be more interested in terminally tormenting the vulnerable than in doing anyone any good.
Boroughbridge, North Yorkshire
Why a 'bin tax' won't work
Bob Pringle (letter, 11 June) objects to the proposed scrappage of the "bin tax". While his comments regarding the current state of recycling are true, I'm afraid that the ideal world of people considering what they buy and pressurising retailers to reduce packaging is still a long way off.
The reality is that far more people will deposit rubbish elsewhere, such as on public rights of way and at the edges of country lanes, to avoid paying a bin tax. Since more stringent rules were applied with regard to land-fill charges, our countryside has become a general dumping ground for unscrupulous rubbish clearers. As Marilyn Mason in the same edition mentions, reward should be given to those who eliminate unnecessary packaging.
Misplaced blame in opium war
While it is gratifying to hear the head of Russia's narcotic-control service (Opinion, 10 June) saying that at last east and west are working together over Afghanistan, it is disappointing to read the same failed prohibition rhetoric repeated.
A generation lost to infectious disease from dirty needles because of no poppy eradication in Afghanistan? Instead, try blaming a failure to issue free clean needles and a simpler (and far cheaper) solution is closer to hand.
Why not simply give pharmaceutical morphine to users so they needn't leave their own homes until they grow out of it? I understand that this is the only real mechanism through which addicts stop using drugs.
Tighter prohibition and poppy eradication simply enriches the Taliban and Mafia, pushes up the prices and forces addicts to commit more crimes against us, Joe Public, to keep themselves supplied.
Martin and Maggie Gebbett (letters, 10 June) should have no difficulty in sending back their fuel allowance: simply write a cheque to HM Treasury marked "No receipt required". But their public-spirited action is unlikely to be replicated by many northern pensioners.
Like the Gebbetts, we are fortunate to enjoy the mild climate of the southern counties, but we have to spend our fuel allowance on food and council tax. The Gebbetts make a good case for the complete withdrawal of the fuel allowance, to be replaced with a general increase in the state pension for everyone to spend according to their needs.
Worthing, West Sussex
Joan McTigue (letter, 10 June) asks if there is no end to long-winded titles such as "oppositional defiant disorder" to describe the actions of badly behaved children. Here is another; "pathological demand avoidance". Her late father would no doubt similarly translate it as not doing as they were told.
The natural world imperilled
Michael McCarthy's "The tragic loss of British wildlife" (11 June) struck a special note with me. As a child in the 1960s and 1970s, I remember not being able to drink a lemonade outdoors because insects would swarm, even in suburban London.
While it is true that from the times of the Tudors onwards animals were systematically hunted and destroyed, surely this bears no comparison to the industrial scale of the slaughter caused by modern intensive farming and the chemicals employed there. Enormous mono-culture fields sprayed with fertiliser and pesticide kill indiscriminately, starting with insects at the bottom of the food-chain, thereby removing food-sources for larger animals. And the slaughter is not confined to the land, as agri-chemicals washed down our waterways are creating enormous "dead-zones" around the mouths of many major rivers.
We employ aggressive farming techniques (encouraged by London, Brussels and global trading structures) so that we can have cheap, over-packaged, over-processed foods in our supermarkets, much of which is thrown away as soon as it is a day past its sell-by date.
And the tragedy goes further still: in order that we in the west have cheap meat, coffee and pineapples, even larger-scale destruction is wrought on developing countries where huge swathes of forest or local small-holdings are flattened and turned over to the production of animal-feed (e.g. maize) and components for "big food" (e.g. palm oil). Indeed, in foreign countries there are often fewer qualms about spraying chemicals and planting GM crops, so the destruction of both habitats for animals and livelihoods for humans is even more advanced.
In the Victorian era the "villain" was the gamekeeper, but these days it is the supermarkets and the food-industry, egged on by consumers who don't care too much so long as food is "cheap and convenient", and tolerated (or even encouraged) by governments that are too weak to say "no" to lobby groups and too lazy to regulate. If we are not careful, we could sleepwalk into the complete collapse of nature.
Butterflies named and shamed
After The Independent's excellent coverage of butterflies last summer following the invasion of painted ladies from mainland Europe, I was surprised by the caption below the photograph in Mike McCarthy's piece. This showed a painted lady, not a small tortoiseshell as stated.
West Hagbourne, Oxfordshire
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