Carbon budgeting, the way to make us all conserve energy
Sir: In his convincing article "Forget nuclear power - focus on greener energy sources and conservation"(30 November) Hamish McRae suggests, "We have to figure out effective ways of improving home insulation and new building standards". Effective methods of insulation have been available for many years; what is lacking is the will to employ them. Indeed homes which are net energy producers already exist.
As for standards, each revision of the Building Regulations promises hope of a breakthrough only to result in disappointment. The 2006 revisions will be no exception, having been watered down by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.
However, new buildings account for about 2 per cent of the stock in any one year. The real challenge for change lies with existing buildings, especially housing. Incentives to encourage building owners to become more energy-efficient have been insufficient to make a real impact. The only answer lies in a mandatory system of carbon abatement which embraces all buildings. Ultimately the only option will be to subject the entire building stock to an annual allowance or budget of carbon.
This would have an immediate effect on the attitude to energy, encouraging the adoption of green technologies. Building regulations will then focus on health and structural integrity, for which they were designed. For consumers exceeding the budget there should be government-regulated carbon exchange, buying unused carbon units and selling them at a rate sufficiently steep to encourage budget compliance.
Devising an equitable system, especially safeguarding those with special needs, will be a formidable task and therefore the design process should begin as soon as possible. The same system could be applied to vehicles. A carbon card loaded with units would be issued with the road fund licence. Units would be subtracted with each fuel purchase.
The advantages for the government will be that it would have a much more accurate national picture of carbon abatement and could fine-tune the system year-on-year to meet its international obligations.
PETER F SMITH
SPECIAL PROFESSOR IN SUSTAINABLE ENERGY UNIVERSITY OF NOTTINGHAM
Prayers for British captive in Iraq
Sir: I appreciated your article "Quiet pacifist who felt drawn to war zone" (29 November) since it gave a true picture of a dedicated worker for peace. I have worked alongside Norman Kember in peace organisations for over a decade and we count it a privilege to have him as one of the Trustees of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.
Norman is not one of those who sits on a committee to make the occasional comment and then go home to do nothing about it. He is an activist who has been on many demonstrations including ones against the invasion of Iraq. He has a creative mind and thinks of new ways to get across the message about peace and justice. It is significant that he has helped with activities in the Peace Tent at the Greenbelt Festival in Cheltenham, where he is keen to share the message of peace with young people, thinking of imaginative ways in which they can be involved.
It is typical of him that, having been so active in demonstrations for peace, he still felt he should be doing more about the suffering in Iraq. He is sensitive and listens with care and sympathy to anyone who shares a personal story. His captors will find that he will listen with respect to anything they share about the situation and possible ways forward to justice and peace and he will gladly recount something of his own story.
We hope and pray that he and his companions will be released unharmed, freeing him to return home to share insights that will be helpful in encouraging a just peace for all the people of Iraq. Together with many others, we continue to uphold him and his family in prayers.
THE REV JOHN JOHANSEN-BERG
CHAIRPERSON, THE FELLOWSHIP OF RECONCILIATION. WORCESTER
Protect all pensions from looting
Sir: I much enjoyed the Steve Richards' article on pensions (29 November), not least because it emphasised New Labour's dependence on reviews rather than decisions. However, he, with other commentators, fails to make it clear that public service retirement at 60 is not the norm but an option allowed by the occupational pension arrangements and that this is can also be the case in the private sector, where occupational or private pension provisions are commonly geared to a 60 or even earlier retirement age.
No one in either sector is compelled to work until the age of state pension provision, be it 65, 67 or any other age, but there is an obvious economic need to do so without an adequate additional pension. In public service the latter is provided by regular and significant employer and employee contributions which are not open to employer pension "holidays" in good times and failed contributions or even looting in bad times.
The problem is not with public sector provision but with the private sector, which needs similar compulsory employee/employer contribution pension schemes, ring fenced from predatory employers, protected from the scandals seen in the recent history of the private pension industry and allowing the option of retirement at 60.
Comparisons between private and public occupational pensions should not however be used as a smokescreen to obscure the greater problem of the inadequacy of the current state pension, which is recognised by Lord Turner's report.
COWBRIDGE, VALE OF GLAMORGAN
Sir: Lord Turner promotes a national pensions saving scheme. Has he included a "plunder allowance" to take into account that Chancellor Brown, having taxed the private pension funds, will inevitably tax the proposed scheme which will surely be under his supervision - talk about the fox in the hen coop! History suggests that investment in the new scheme may well be a risky venture.
Sir: My wife and I are aged 61 and recall being in our thirties and forties and thinking of pensions and retirement as something very distant and hardly relevant to us. It was only after 55 that reality - that it was actually going to happen - hit us. Before 50 it was difficult to believe that our mental and physical energy would ever decline and that by 55, as employees, we would no longer be competitive with 35-year-olds.
Much publicity is given to remarkable examples of people who are beyond 70 and still fully vigorous and it is common for people in their thirties or forties to identify with this and be certain that it is how they will be in old age. The more normal experience of people over 60 is that they simply lack the mental and physical energy to work in the high-pressure full-time jobs that 40-year-olds regard as normal.
Decisions made by people under 50, or even under 55, about retirement age are inherently unreliable and the Turner Report is hardly valid if it has been prepared mainly by younger people.
Sir: In 1925, when contributory pensions were introduced, life expectancy was around 50, with pensions being paid for those reaching 65. This was not a huge drain on the public purse.
Now, 80 years later, pension age is still 65 but life expectancy for men is 77. In the same way that many other things are index-linked, if pensionable age had been linked to life expectancy then on a rough pro rata basis pensionable age would be around 100. Problem solved.
STRETTON ON DUNSMORE WARWICKSHIRE
Sir: Does it not occur to the Government that one way to encourage many people to save for retirement is to raise inheritance tax drastically (letter, 1 December)? People will not save if they can spend their own money during their working life and still rely on receiving their parents' capital as well.
Sir: We are told that we should all be saving for our retirement a lot earlier. As a recent graduate, I would like to know how I am expected to do this. I will be spending the next decade paying off my student debt.
ZAYED AL JAMIL
Sir: Does the proposed rise in pension age mean that Tony Blair will be working until he's 67? God help us!
SEAFORD, EAST SUSSEX
Window of missed opportunity
Sir: Today I phoned British Gas to find out if the date for annual service appointment could be altered from the 6th to another day in December. I was asked to suggest an alternative date. The response was a regretful "no" because there were no appointments until 10 January.
When I said I would stick with the appointment made for 6 December I was told that was now impossible because the system wouldn't allow it to be reinstated.
While hoping the boiler stays in working order until the January appointment I also hope British Gas can introduce a degree of flexibility in their appointment system; presumably this is done by computer and not etched on to stone tablets.
The fateful day of Napoleon's triumph
Sir: John Lichfield (1 December) commented on the various reasons for the discreet manner in which the French government will be celebrating the bicentenary of Austerlitz (2 December 1805). One factor which he did not mention, however, is the sinister role which "Austerlitz Day" played in French politics during much of the 19th century and which has not been entirely forgotten even today.
The Second of December was much more than just the anniversary of Napoleon I's great victory at Austerlitz in 1805; it was also the anniversary of his coronation a year earlier on 2 December 1804. This coronation marked the symbolic end of the First Republic.
Louis Napoleon had both his uncle's coronation and his uncle's great victory in mind when decided to stage his own coup d'état on 2 December 1851 - by which he brought down the Second Republic. Exactly a year later, he chose 2 December 1852 to have himself proclaimed Emperor as Napoleon III.
The Second of December naturally became a great day of celebration for the Bonapartist party, but it equally naturally became a black day of mourning for France's republicans. Not only did it mark the subversion of the first two republics, but it also symbolised the temporary victory of despotism over democracy. Even today, historically-minded supporters of today's Fifth Republic can be forgiven for viewing the anniversary of Austerlitz with very mixed feelings.
Lighting the way to disaster
Sir: Carol Raines' lament , "In the face of planetary disaster, the street lights blaze on" (letter, 28 November) is too late by just a few days.
Now that round-the-clock drinking is available street lighting is necessary in the small hours to light the way for the emergency services attending those incapacitated by drink and for the police to deal with loutish and criminal behaviour, as part of the crackdown on binge-drinking decreed by ministers. Those pubs, clubs and other establishments staying open very late will be further depleting our energy resources.
Perhaps the above are examples not only of governmental double standards but of a complete failure of joined-up government. Never mind, Blair has now set up an energy review which will no doubt be scuppered by those in office who do not share its conclusions in due course, which is likely to be after he has left office. Gordon Brown's inheritance is not one to be envied.
WALTON ON THAMES, SURREY
Abuse of Marines
Sir: Rizwan Ahmed (letters, 1 December) asks whether the Marines' treatment of their own in the recently publicised incident reflects on how they treat Iraqis and insurgents. To date, there have been no incidents where British soldiers have beheaded prisoners in cold blood and published a video of the event on the internet. I'd far rather be an Iraqi captured by the Marines than a Marine captured by the insurgents.
Sir: I'm confused as to why David Cameron is being criticised for his upbringing (letter, 30 November) as he had no control over the education he received. Despite being a Tory, I'm sure David Cameron has heard of comprehensive education. After all, his party tried to destroy it for over a decade. I agree with Eileen Jones that Cameron's national service idea is stupid, but I'm angry that so many people judge Cameron on his background, not his policies. After all, Tony Benn and Paul Foot were both sent to private schools.
Test for autism
Sir: I read with interest the article on autism (1 December), and tried the test (normal score, 3; child with autism, 16). I scored 8, my husband a point or two more . Some of the criteria are surely fairly normal behaviour. I certainly am, for instance, difficult to reason with when upset. Reason has to wait until I've calmed down. Maybe there could be a useful supplementary question: how likely are you to fill in blank squares such as crosswords, sudoku and such tests? I'd score even more then.
Stranger than fiction
Sir: In The Weasel (26 November) Christopher Hirst recycles an error from The Daedalus Book of Absinthe. Ernest Dowson did indeed create some memorable lines but "stranger in a strange land" is from Exodus 2:22 in the King James version - some 3,000 years before Dowson. OK, the translation is some 350 years before him. (The New English Bible has " an alien living in a foreign land".)
SINCLAIR C DUNNETT