Letters: Carbon emissions

Don't just slow down carbon emissions - reverse them
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The Independent Online

Sir: I am saddened by the spectacle of scientists and campaigners bickering in your pages over what energy-generation route we should take to stem global warming. Carbon dioxide levels have been allowed to build up to a level which is already affecting climate. Reducing, by one means or another, the rate at which this folly is permitted to continue hardly qualifies as a solution. In the long term, it matters little which "renewable" source of energy wins. We must focus our attention less on how merely to reduce emissions and more on to methods of actually removing excess carbon permanently from the atmosphere.

Sequestration of carbon on a global scale has hardly received the attention it deserves. Tree-planting absorbs carbon dioxide but may lose this benefit by creating methane, a far worse gas. Alternatives are narrowly concentrated on the removal and burial (say, in old North Sea gas workings) of carbon emissions from coal-fired generators. Even if this is successful, all it achieves is one more sustainable energy source; commercially viable, no doubt, but it will do nothing to reverse global warming.

What is needed is a more permanent solution than planting trees: for example, a commercial process for turning carbon dioxide into rock which can be pursued on a global scale . The Earth system performed this trick millions of years ago with the aid of sunlight and micro-molluscs, fixing billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide in the chalk strata we see today. It need not take long to develop modern and effective large-scale versions of this natural process - perhaps using genetically-engineered micro-molluscs - which can be installed quickly in warm lagoons all over the planet.

We are on the brink of being able to make this work on a worldwide scale. Gordon Brown has indicated that he is willing to promote global initiatives to combat global warming. The carbon trading framework is already being installed. All that is now needed is for value to be placed on artificially created chalk. A new commodity market will do the rest: millions of tonnes of atmospheric carbon will be locked up and we can all get back to discussing clean energy generation to our heart's content.



Lib Dems fail to woo Labour's lost voters

Sir: Sean O'Grady's analysis of the Liberal Democrats' "mixed" local government election results (6 May) was disappointingly superficial because it didn't ask why. Why is it that despite New Labour's cavalier attitude to its traditional core vote the Liberal Democrats can't fill this glaring vacuum with a unique appeal to working people on low wages?

The answer is simple. The Orange Book group, with their rampant economic liberalism, which found recent expression in the backing for partial privatisation of the Post Office, have hijacked the party's agenda and tossed aside the commitment to social liberalism and social justice. The Liberal Democrats must quickly rediscover it by embracing an appreciably higher minimum wage, raising the threshold at which the low paid begin to pay income tax to £8,000 and insisting that 35 per cent of new developments are affordable to provide young people a first step on the property ladder. These commitments would be a clear signal to Labour's traditional supporters.

The Liberal Democrats cannot face both ways: the party's natural role must be as a non-doctrinaire and radical left-of-centre movement determined to address Britain's unacceptable inequalities. It's time to decide which path to take: economic liberalism or social liberalism. They are not compatible ideologies. Being all things to all people never had any lasting electoral appeal and it's high time that the party recognised it.



Sir: The moderate but worrying successes of the BNP have received saturation coverage in the media. It is worth noting that on the day of the council elections Nick Griffin, leader of the BNP, was on the streets of Longton North, in Stoke on Trent, campaigning to make the ward the first in Britain to become 100 per cent BNP represented. After winning the previous two elections, a clean sweep was on the cards.

However a small but determined group of Labour activists rallied round an excellent local candidate in Denver Tolley and worked their socks off to get the Labour message over. And on the night Denver Tolley won the seat by 82 votes from the BNP. It is a small victory but a significant one. For those in the Labour Party who would wish to downgrade local activists to supporters and concentrate every activity behind closed doors in Westminster, look to Longton North and learn the lesson. The activists make the difference.



Sir: There seem to be no problems with giving the BNP the "oxygen of publicity", but what about the other small parties? They are left gasping for breath. The Greens are left drowning in the sea of media and political gossip and the Respect party are tossed out of the airlock into the vacuum of space, despite having results that actually better the BNP's in a nearby East London borough. If wider political engagement is the stated goal (turnout was again under 40 per cent), then surely a wider breadth of reportage would be a sensible starting point.



Still hoping for a good trade deal

Sir: Contrary to your report "Oxfam withdraws backing for trade deal talks" (27 April), Oxfam has not given up on multilateral trade negotiations. We still want a trade deal that helps developing countries and we still think the WTO is the best place to negotiate this deal.

However, we are concerned that as the pressure grows to complete negotiations this year, the chances of a bad agreement being signed seem to outweigh those of one that genuinely helps poor countries. For this reason we are now saying that taking longer to agree a good deal is better than finalising a bad agreement. A slow round of negotiations certainly has its downsides but is better than bad deal or collapse.

We are not saying stop the WTO or abandon the process. The window of opportunity for an agreement that will help drive development is closing but it is still possible for rich countries to make radical new offers that revive the round. As a bare minimum they have to make real cuts to agricultural subsidies that cause dumping and offer genuine market access to poor-country farmers. They must also drop their unreasonable and potentially harmful demands in other areas.

We will continue to fight for reform and to pressure rich countries to uphold the letter and spirit of the Doha development talks.



Moral panic over 'foreign criminals'

Sir: I have found the developing saga over foreign nationals released from prison increasingly disturbing. These are not escaped convicts, people who have skipped police bail or who are on the run from deportation proceedings but ex-prisoners released having served their sentence as set out by the law. If they were British citizens they would now be treated as people who have done their time and have a right to rebuild their lives. As in the case of British citizens, some of these ex-prisoners will reoffend, perhaps a reflection on the effectiveness of our prisons.

What I find so disturbing is the moral panic that seems to have built up without any real challenge. A panic directed towards these ex-prisoners because they are "foreign" and therefore in some way more dangerous than ex-prisoners who are British. The same moral panic that allows a raft of repressive laws which eat into the basic human and legal rights at the very centre of our social system. The same moral panic that increasingly equates Muslim with terrorist and quietly accepts locking up for extended periods even children of asylum seekers who have already suffered more than enough already.

The key point about this whole saga is not the failings or otherwise at the Home Office but the xenophobia, intolerance and fundamental lack of compassion and forgiveness in our society.



Iran and Israel

Sir: It seems reasonable to assume that President Ahmadinejad employs competent linguists to translate his speeches for his own official website. A little time spent there will disabuse Chris Alleyne (letter, 8 May) of the idea that there is any ambiguity in his attitude towards Jews and Israel. The report of his speech to the "World without Zionism" conference on 26 October last year quotes him as expressing "his firm belief that the new wave of confrontations generated in Palestine and the growing turmoil in the Islamic world would in no time wipe Israel away".



James Bond's secretary

Sir: After years of being in awe of Guy Keleny's erudition, at last I've caught him out! Bond does indeed have a secretary (Errors & Omissions, 6 May). We first hear of the delightful Loelia Ponsonby in Moonraker, where in Chapter 1 we read: "The door opened, and he had his daily moment of pleasure at having a beautiful secretary. 'Morning Lil,' he said." I can now die happy.



The killers of Lumumba

Sir: Johann Hari misrepresents the assassination of Congolese President Patrice Lumumba in 1961 (5 May). Although the CIA drew up plans to kill Lumumba, their agent, Larry Devlin, has said he was unable to carry them out. Lumumba was abducted and killed by agents of the Katangese rebels, assisted by the Belgian government. Belgium was ultimately forced to admit and apologise for the assassination in 2002, following a parliamentary inquiry and an investigation by the journalist Ludo de Witte. Until then, it was widely believed, but never confirmed, that the CIA had been behind Lumumba's death.



English lamb

Sir: I have farmed sheep and produced lamb for over 25 years. Further to your article of 2 May, I inform you lambs sold in September are six months old. Furthermore British sheep farmers can and do supply the market 12 months of the year. It is only the propensity of retailers to buy New Zealand lamb at a sniff of a price rise that prevents British lamb filling shop shelves all year round.



Morality of penguins

Sir: As your review of the DVD of March of the Penguins (The Information, 6 May) says, it is strange that the Christian right has latched onto the documentary as exemplifying "family values and intelligent design". As your reviewer points out, the arduous life the penguins lead is hardly intelligent, but neither are they monogamous. Every season, it transpires, the males choose a new partner and should someone be careless with an egg, other males try to steal it. Not quite The Waltons, is it? Maybe they thought the film was about a particularly hardy breed of nuns.



To baldly go

Sir: The beauty of baldness is the element of mystery it confers ("Never mind the follicles", 8 May) my own transition from a hairy child of the Sixties to an Alexei Sayle lookalike was helped by the realisation that when you're shaven-headed nobody knows whether you're hard, gay or just plain bald.