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- Arts + Ents
Monday 7 April 2008
Letters: Carbon offsetting
Carbon offsetting can help save the planet, and it is doing it
Sir: Your report "The great carbon con: Can offsetting really help to save the planet?" (3 April) poses a question to which the answer is, "Yes, they can".
Credible carbon offsets are already helping to fund the clean technologies the world needs, and creating millions of tonnes of carbon savings, nearly two million a year from Climate Care alone.
This is why numerous experts and environmental groups support offsets wholeheartedly. In a letter to The Independent (20 July 2007), Jonathon Porritt, of Forum for the Future, and Dr Steve Howard, of the Climate Group, stated that, "Drastic cuts in carbon emissions are necessary to stabilise climate change, and carbon offsetting has a vital role to play in this".
Most offsets now come from renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, and every tonne bought from a credible supplier such as Climate Care has been independently audited under an internationally recognised standard. Tackling climate change cannot wait, and investment must be directed wherever it can make the biggest, fastest impact.
Founder and Chairman, Climate Care, oxford
Sir: Your report states that Cool Earth "does not claim explicitly" to offer carbon offsets, then implies we do. In fact, we are explicitly not selling offsets. We offer people the chance to protect critically endangered tropical forest and work with local communities to ensure they earn more from standing forest than cleared savanna.
This is much like the Canopy Capital scheme praised in the article. The difference is that Cool Earth is a charity, not an investment company seeking profit from trading environmental bonds.
Cool Earth has recruited 20,000 members, protected nine million tonnes of endangered CO2 and been invited by indigenous groups to become conservation partners.
As James Lovelock bluntly put it last month: "Carbon offsetting? Its just a joke. You're far better off giving to the charity Cool Earth."
Director, Cool Earth, London, W1
Punctuation is essential. Period
Sir: If Bethan Marshall typifies the kind of senior academic who has had influence over the recent developments in the English framework at national curriculum ("Punctuation: Does it Matter?", 4 April) it is little wonder so many teachers, such as myself, have retired early in frustration at so much of the crassness which obtains at present.
Dr Marshall begins her argument by giving numerous examples of sentences comprising one word or no finite verb: perfectly good examples of how syntax and grammar may be successfully manipulated but nothing to do with punctuation. Similarly, she starts some of her sentences with "and" and "but", for some reason thinking she is debunking rules when, in reality, the forbidding of this practice is a common myth to which no sensible English teacher would subscribe. Again, nothing to do with punctuation.
The essential purpose of punctuation is to make things easy for the reader. If you find yourself having to reread a sentence, it generally means there has been a punctuation error. I agree that the importance of the semi-colon is exaggerated and advised my students, unless they were particularly good, not to use it.
But what about this irrational analysis of the Grammar for Writing QCA document? Here Dr Marshall comes to the near-incredible conclusion that "to get a grade A you had to break the rules and write verbless sentences".
At another stage, she boasts of punctuating in a way similar to that of many children: "They hear a sentence and then put in commas for a short pause and full-stops for a long one ...". Commas and full-stops have nothing to do with the length of a pause. It is the greatest misunderstanding in punctuation and is reasonably easy to overcome, even for poor-ability pupils.
Sir: Punctuation does matter. In an age when literacy is generalised, although sadly not universal, the elegant use of punctuation is a factor which differentiates those who communicate because they want to from those who communicate because they have to. Just like eating for fuel, eating for pleasure.
Here I have ably demonstrated the device of the verbless sentence as expounded by your exponent of the No camp, Dr Bethan Marshall. The fact that she holds a senior position at a university is astonishing, but out of the scope of this debate.
What is also astonishing is that three-quarters of her case against the importance of punctuation is actually about something else. Does Dr Marshall teach people that "the sentence without a verb", a legitimate feature of many Romance languages but eschewed by English-speakers because of the functional focus of our language, constitutes an element of punctuation? That Charles Dickens used verbless, short sentences to great effect is irrelevant to this debate, given that the lack of punctuation or, for that matter, verbs in a long email in a business context would be, at best, bizarre, and probably reduce its credibility.
Literary licence: one thing. Effective communication: another. There are different forms of discourse for different purposes and contexts; just as we wouldn't want txt spk or email-style to become the norm in novels, or particularly, user manuals for life-saving devices etc. where clarity and effective transmission of information is paramount.
Dr Marshall did not provide an adequate balance to the case given for the Yes camp by Philip Hensher. I give her a D-minus.
Sir: It's a pity I've retired from my job teaching A-Level English, because I would have loved to have seen what my students made of the pieces by Philip Hensher and Bethan Marshall. They would make a perfect "Compare and Contrast" exercise. I expect they would have considered "Purpose" and "Effect", and just as your two writers have done, pointed out what can be achieved by using, or not using, the "rules" of punctuation.
Sometimes one enjoys a fine claret; at other times only a glass of champagne will do.
Sir: May I suggest that a question as interesting as "Punctuation: does it matter?" is how someone who can write, "One of the main sources of punctuation was as lines for actors reading aloud", or "Punctuation is just one word, and a noun at that, and has no business forming a complete sentence, which of course is what I did", comes to be senior lecturer in English Education at King's College London?
R A Davenport
Sir: It is not surprising that Bethan Marshall, senior lecturer in English Education at King's College, cannot be bothered with punctuation. On the evidence of her article, she cannot be bothered with addressing the question properly, or writing English either.
Dr John Butterworth
We are training our architects
Sir: Dan Kantorowich's letter (2 April) rehearses a theme that, despite considerable flaws, has had currency for the past four decades, that schools of architecture offer their students little technical proficiency, and, as a result, constructional execution across the built environment is compromised.
It is incorrect to suggest that technical teaching has "virtually disappeared from architectural education". The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) validation criteria stress the primacy of this in course curricula, and the evidence offered to most of our visiting boards is that students are engaged with constructional and environmental issues, and keen to integrate these in their work. As buildings have developed in complexity, architectural education has also expanded in many other areas; there is a great deal to teach.
The schools are not solely in the business of producing surrogate constructors; they are encouraging students to develop intellectual as well as practical skills that will propel them through a professional life. Without the appropriate amount of brain food, it is unlikely these years would be sustainable.
The RIBA is committed to healing the occasionally schismatic relationship between practice and academia, particularly in the development of teaching practice where a constructive partnering of educational delivery between the profession and universities is proposed.
Critical to this debate is an understanding that the education of the architect does not stop at the point of leaving university, but is an ongoing process where practitioners also play a vital role.
Director of Education, Royal Institute of British Architects, London W1
Reasons for apathy towards politics
Sir: Democracy demands that every person has an identical influence on their own government (letters, 2 April). They may exercise this influence through the election of a small group of representatives, but the equal power of the individual voice is sacrosanct. Our present FPTP system, where electoral power and, therefore, party effort, is concentrated solely in the "marginals" does not come close to this ideal, and is at least partly responsible for the apathy with which many of us view politics today.
The makeup of the Commons should represent the will of the people, with the proportion of seats equalling the proportion of the national vote. Otherwise, it is simply not democratic. And if that means the inclusion of elements which most of us find repugnant, then so be it; a small proportion of the electorate disagree with us and should not be disenfranchised because of that.
An MP elected in the present system will surely represent all their constituents without bias and to their best ability whether a particular constituent voted for them or not.
Sir: Paul Farrow (letters, 1 April) echoes the views of several well-known Labour Party MPs who fear proportional representation will lead "chillingly" to extremist parties in Parliament.
The opposite is true, and the lack of a representational electoral system forces extremist parties and their supporters into the background where they can freely espouse their views unopposed and free from rational debate.
Continuing use of the FPTP electoral system perpetuates extremism and apathy. If any mainstream political party or its advocates feel they are incapable of sufficiently expressing their policies to counter extremist arguments, they do not deserve to be elected in the first place.
The truth about skunk marijuana
Sir: Gordon Brown distorts the truth about marijuana. The claim that skunk marijuana is "up to 30 times stronger than ordinary cannabis" is obviously untrue after we learn that "ordinary cannabis" has had a potency from 4 to 8 per cent THC since 1975.
Increasing the strength of ordinary cannabis 30 times would result in the impossible situation of having marijuana buds with 120 to 240 per cent THC content. Cannabis with more than 20 per cent THC was found in the 1970s.
Drug crusaders need no science, nor accurate information, to make their Reefer Madness claims.
DRCNet Online Library of Drug Policy, San Francisco, california
Retest all drivers
Sir: Judy Rider suggests motorists over the age of 70 should have medical checks to confirm they are capable of driving safely (letters, 5 April). They should also be required to repeat the driving test. In fact, overall road safety would probably improve if all drivers were obliged to take a periodic retest.
Sir: Stavros Dimas, the EU's Environment Commissioner, is about to propose trade sanctions against Canada in response to the annual seal cull (26 March). It would be even more interesting to learn what action he is going to take against those southern European nations – mostly EU members – who annually massacre millions of birds on their migration north from Africa. The failure to address this issue is a scandal.
Ufford, Nr Stamford, Lincolnshire
Sir, When will Ciar Byrne ("Matthew Bourne's take on Dorian Gray tops Edinburgh bill", 3 April) and Jonathan Mills, the festival director, learn that Bourne's 1995 Swan Lake was not all-male. Only the swans were; other female parts were danced by their own gender.
Sir: We have heard story after story of the chaos at BA's T5. Well, it is not all bad. Since my younger brother lost his bags at T5 returning from the US, he has deluged us with calls, and kept calling our mother as well. He had left his cell phone in his bags, and remembers only two numbers. So, as BA says, it brings people and families together. Thanks BA, it is good to talk.
Dr Michael Cross
No news is bad news
Sir: Although a news junkie, I find I am watching less and less TV, and I agree with your concern that our basic democratic process is seriously undermined when the important issues are not explained and debated in an accessible way (Comment, 3 April). Let us hope someone in the higher echelons of the BBC and commercial TV will wake up before that last serious political programme slips from under the radar.
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
Mugabe's our monster
Sir: There is no excuse for Robert Mugabe's outrageous mismanagement of Zimbabwe, and we condemn him as a monster, but he is our monster. The history of colonialism is a history of humiliation, exploitation and degradation of native peoples. After centuries of abuse, is it any wonder former colonies are often dysfunctional as independent nations?
An earthling writes ...
Sir: There can be evidence against a conspiracy theory (letters, 5 April). Any conspiracy theorist worth his salt would see this as further evidence of a conspiracy. The Independent is edited by aliens. Prove me wrong.
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