Letters: Carbon-tax

A fair carbon-tax regime would stop coal-fired power stations
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Sir: Your excellent front page article in Monday's Independent ("Up in smoke", 17 December) shows very clearly that it is serious decision time for this government on climate change strategy. For if it goes ahead with the Kingsnorth power station it will make a mockery of its own rhetoric and make Bali a farce.

Assuming therefore that Hilary Benn does wish to stop this station, are there other options beside the obvious one of Government diktat, which this centre-right government may find a little too "Old Labour" (unfortunately)?

Fortunately there is such a route through the Stern report, which this government itself commissioned.

Stern estimated the cost of environmental damage (by way of floods, fires, crop-failure, deaths due to heat etc) caused by the "business-as-usual" scenario as around 85 euros per tonne of CO2 emitted; i.e. 8.5 euro-cents per kg of CO2. A coal-powered station,assuming a thermal efficiency of 30 per cent, emits about 1.34 kg of CO2 per unit (kilowatt-hour), so the cost to the environment according to Stern is 11.4 euro-cents; that is about 8p per unit. This indicates that claims of coal power stations to be commercially viable, compared with wind, wave and tidal power, rest on the assumption that society will pick up the tab for the environmental damage they cause.

Therefore, if the Government is serious about this problem, it should bring in carbon taxes on the simple principle that the polluter should pay for damage on the basis of the Stern Report taxing at 85 euros per tonne of CO2. This should of course be applied to all industry; in which case such a measure might also force a rethink on air travel expansion.

Dr Phil Nicholson


Fish suffer on the way to the plate

Sir: Sadly, some people who call themselves vegetarians such as Martin Hickman ("Raw deal! The vendetta waged against vegetarians", 18 December) continue to eat fish in the mistaken belief that fish do not feel pain or that wild-caught species do not suffer.

The best scientific evidence demonstrates that fish are capable of feeling pain and stress like any other animal killed for their flesh, milk or eggs. When they are hauled up from the deep, the intense internal pressure can rupture their swimbladders, pop out their eyes and push their insides out through their mouths. They die from crushing, suffocation or from being sliced open on the decks of the ship.

Then there is the pain and suffering inflicted upon non-target species such as whales, dolphins, porpoises and countless sea birds who die in fishing nets every year.

Unlike farmed animals, no welfare standards exist for the handling and killing of ocean-caught fish. So, eating fish is not ethical or part of a vegetarian's diet.

Kelly Slade

Campaigns Officer, Animal AidTonbridge, Kent

Sir: Alongside Martin Hickman's complaint that vegetarian diners are often poorly served by restaurateurs, we read a litany of prejudice from chef Garry Hollihead which may explain why. He claims that "vegetarians miss out on the most exciting textures, flavours and aromas chef can produce", because "meat and fish respond to a chef's passions in a way vegetables don't, and can't."

This is utter nonsense. As a demi-vegetarian and an amateur cook, I submit that Hollihead just hasn't tried hard enough. In fact, there is a vast international repertoire of gourmet vegetarian cuisine, which narrow-minded meat-addicts seldom explore. Hence, they miss out on the pleasures to be found among a huge array of flavours and textures.

It's not just strict vegetarians who will attest to this, but also the far greater number of people today who only eat meat or fish occasionally. Compared with a high-meat diet, this lifestyle is not only healthier, more varied and stimulating to the palate, it's also better for the planet. Recent studies have shown that greenhouse gas emissions from the ever-growing livestock sector make a greater contribution to global warming than all the world's transport activity. Another good reason for us all to think about reducing our meat consumption, and for chefs to treat vegetarian cuisine with a little more respect.

Andrew Clifton

Edgware, Middlesex

Sir: One of the reasons we (real) vegetarians get such a poor service is that there are idiots out there, such as Martin Hickman, who claim to be vegetarian and then go on to explain that they eat fish and even other things like certain meats. These people are not vegetarian.

Their claims cause huge confusion in the minds of meat-eaters, restaurateurs, food shop owners and hotel chefs. I am regularly offered fish in response to my request to know which items on menus are vegetarian.

If Garry Hollihead thinks that offering a mushroom risotto is exciting there's no wonder he thinks veggies are missing out. Seeing mushroom risotto on a menu is like seeing veggie lasagne or nut roast my heart sinks. Can't they come up with something a bit more imaginative? He and Digby Anderson should sample the work of fantastic chefs, such as Jane Noraika's spicy Moroccan tagine with harissa, or her warming mushrooms in ale and cream with a parsnip rosti and haricot bean mash.

I expected more of The Independent I even foolishly expected something inspiring.

Paul Welford

Keith, Aberdeenshire

Spelling reform is right but impossible

Sir: Masha Bell (letters, 17 December) points out that the English spelling system disadvantages many learners. It is both illogical and inconsistent. Reform is long overdue.

However, making the system entirely logical would involve changing some 80 per cent of all spellings. The current 1.25 billion speakers and learners of English would have to relearn the written language. Or if nu Inglish is only taught in schools, it would mean several generations not communicating with each other on the page or online. Would we then have newspapers published in both of the two Englishes during the transition period?

Who would decide on the changes? The language belongs to everybody and yet nobody. English has no regulating body equivalent to the French Acadmie Franaise. And which pronunciation system should it be based on?

Also, simplified English would look childish and resemble text-speak an anathema to many. As pronunciation changes inexorably with time, will the written language undergo perpetual change?

For reform to even begin there needs to be political will, a huge international effort and a huge financial investment. None of which seem evident. Which government would dare risk votes on such a question? Most of all, an open-minded approach to English and recognising that we have a written language that is not fit for purpose are required. Whatever, sine mi upp for the campane. I love fighting lost causes.

Nicholas Waters

Växj, Sweden

Sir: I agree completely with Masha Bell. Why can't we convert to the International Phonetic Alphabet? Then we would have 47 symbols to represent 47 sounds. Alphabets are designed as phonetic transcriptions, which should not be fixed in 300 years-worth of stone, but need to be updated every 50-100 years to keep abreast of pronunciation changes.

Madeleine Neave

London W4

Surprise inspections will not help schools

Sir: I was dismayed, like a great many others I suspect, to read the proposals of Christine Gilbert, HMCI Education, to visit schools without prior notice (report, 13 December).

We in the education system have come so far over the past 12 years to the point where self-evaluation by the schools themselves is deemed appropriate. To now renege on that agreement and revert to a more confrontational style is a backward step.

What she should be debating with government is a re-evaluation of Ofsted's role in education in the 21st century. The remit should be working together with schools to improve our children's education. If she is right when she says there is all this expertise among inspectors with regard to high-quality teaching and learning, then pray share it with the practitioners.

Poor teachers will not become excellent teachers overnight because they know there is an impending inspection. Poor teachers are poor teachers and should by now have been rooted out under the present inspection system. If this is still not the case then I am afraid the days of Ofsted in its present form must be numbered and consideration should be given to disbanding it.

Early-morning swoops are one sure way of further alienating schools from Ofsted and are best left to the Flying Squad.

Bob Miller

Educational Consultant, Chelmsford, Essex

Sir: One point missed in the discussions about "weak teachers" is that "strong teachers" are usually the ones who secure salary increases through Teaching and Learning Responsibilities (TLRs).

TLRs of varying grades are awarded for additional duties such as head of faculty, year or subject, or perhaps for the development of an initiative deemed to improve a particular aspect of teaching or learning. Apart from the financial incentives, TLRs often carry with them non-contact time for administration work.

Under this system, therefore, strong teachers are actually likely to spend less time teaching than are weak teachers, who have not gained promotion. If we are to strive for teaching excellence, rewarding teachers by taking them out of the classroom can hardly be the best way to do it.

Liz Pearce

Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire

Tangled up in Arts Council bureaucracy

Sir: I agree with every word of Philip Hensher's observations regarding his dealings with the Arts Council (18 December). He should try dealing with them as an amateur theatre. How his reference to "fatuous questions about diversity and outreach" rang a bell, coupled with our own experience of "what is your artistic policy?" To which the answer, for financial reasons, has to be "bums on seats!"

I have a list of contacts at the local Arts Council which gives some 44 persons to contact. It would be interesting to know just what is the cost of running the Arts Council, and who is their expert in moving the goalposts. Could the FA sign them up?

Michael T J Walker


Sir: Peter Hewitt's article (18 December) on the proposals of the Arts Council not to renew funding to 194 organisations does him discredit. Apparently, "choosing not to fund an organisation is a very difficult decision" and "supporting artistic excellence is a real priority", but we are offered no insight into the philosophic basis of their decisions.

What does he mean by "artistic excellence"? As an interested taxpayer who helps to fund the Arts Council, I do expect him to offer some clarity with regard to the values and assumptions that underpin the present Arts Council. As a citizen I expect him to be accountable for the impact of Arts Council decisions on our future, not to offer me a benign pat on the head and assume that I regard the arts as safe in his or the Arts Council's hands.

Don't hide behind Blairian platitudes. Tell us more.

Tony Delzenn

Bishop Steignton, Devon

Cradle of English law and liberty

Sir: Your discussion of the Magna Carta (The Big Question, 19 December) is fascinating, but mistaken in saying that in the Magna Carta "for the first time, the English had something in writing to protect them against arbitrary rule.".

This neglects the role of the early kings of Kent, especially Ethelbert, who ruled over lands as far north as the Humber, and in around 602 set out what is England's earliest written law code, indeed one of the earliest known documents in Old English, a copy of which can still be seen in the archives in Maidstone.

I'm not being partisan, but Canterbury can therefore lay claim to being the seat of England's laws, the home of England's earliest academic institution (Augustine's Abbey, 601), the seat of the English church, the home of English cricket, and the site of England's oldest functioning toilet.

Dr Stephen Bax



Unhealthy climate

Sir: Only days after the Bali agreement on global warming we have an EU proposal to create a health market which will encourage a massive increase in short-haul flights. Where is the joined-up thinking? One can only despair.

John Batten

Maiden Newton, Dorset

Unbelievable bags

Sir: Last week I visited a Waterstone's bookstore to buy a couple of book tokens as Christmas presents. I asked the shop assistant for a paper bag to protect the tokens but was told that Waterstone's prefer to use plastic bags because the carbon footprint of paper bags is greater than for plastic, because of shipping from abroad, which is where most paper bags are sourced. If true, this is astonishing. Perhaps other readers could clarify the situation.

Patrick Cosgrove

Bucknell, Shropshire

Nativity scene

Sir: If the Vatican's crib scene really does portray "Joseph's humble home in Nazareth" (report, 15 December) then Peter Popham has missed a far bigger story. Matthew and Luke may be ambiguous about whether the nativity took place in a cave, a stable or a house, but both are clear that the birth was in Bethlehem.

Helen King

Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Not a resigning matter

Sir: How can it possibly be the fault of a government minister when a contractor to an agency, DVLA, loses a disk in the USA? The knee-jerk reaction of the Conservative Party beggars belief. Are we to expect that every time some hapless civil servant loses some data, a minister of the Government must resign? Ministers would last about two days if that were to be the norm. Politicians have no part in the day-to-day running of departments. Civil servants perform that function.

Michael Ames

Malvern, Worcestershire

Liberal ideals

Sir: Nick Clegg is full of bright ideas for a new Liberal Britain. May I suggest changing the name to the Liberal Party. We are all Democrats, are we not? But we would like to feel that we share the reforming ideals of Gladstone, Lloyd George, and, briefly, Winston Churchill.

Chris Barnes

Hampsthwaite, North Yorkshire