Chinese ascendancy? Be careful what you wish for
Sir: To say that it is inevitable that China will eclipse the US economically (front page, 19 April) is a brave statement. Brave to the point of rashness. In rough terms, China's GDP is currently $2 trillion. US GDP is almost $13 trillion. We have only the Chinese government's statistics to rely on (which should give us pause) for their raw data. Even at current growth trends, by your own admission unsustainable, China will not even equal the US until after 2040. Much of your readership will not live to see the day you so eagerly anticipate.
In 1910, with the British Empire at its peak, who could have forecast what the world would look like in 1950, the Empire gone and Britain bankrupt? In 1960, in the age of Sputnik, who could have predicted that the USSR would not even exist in 2000?
Since its first day of publication, The Independent has worn its anti-Americanism as a badge of pride. But the glee with which you report the possible emergence of a repressive and totalitarian regime as a successor to the US belongs in the cafés of the Left Bank or the debating societies of "right on" sixth formers, not in the pages of a newspaper that purports to advocate civil liberties and social democracy.
Be careful what you wish for.
Parties vie for the green vote
Sir: Gordon Brown tells us that politicians should be judged by whether they can "move beyond words to talking about substantive policies" ("Battle for green vote hots up", 20 April). Is this not an oxymoron?
Representing a government that has failed to adhere to its own CO2 emissions targets detracts from the value of his protestations. How about a green tax on cheap flights? How about subsidies for installing solar power in residential properties? Why has the Inland Revenue not approved proposed carbon trading projects for tax exemption?
LONDON SW 15
Sir: Interesting as it was to read Gordon Brown and David Cameron's vision of a green world, their real environmental credentials will only be visible when they come clean about nuclear power. Will Labour build a new generation of nuclear power stations or will the Conservatives abandon their support for nuclear power? We all need the answers to these questions now - Gordon and David can pontificate about green issues for ever, but it is the nuclear issue that will determine which is really the party for the environment.
EARLS COLNE, ESSEX
Sir: Will somebody explain to me how selling Menzies Campbell's 20-year-old Jag is going to help the planet? Unless it is scrapped, someone else will run this fine old car, so why can't he hold on to it? Selling a working car in order to buy a new "more economical" vehicle is superficially attractive but simply leads to a net increase in the number of vehicles on the road. I intend to run my reliable 16-year-old Saab into the ground, thus saving the energy and materials involved in making a (slightly more economical) replacement.
KIBWORTH HARCOURT LEICESTERSHIRE
Sir: I was amazed to read that through carbon offset the Prime Minister is supposed to be able to go jetting around the world without adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere (letter, 19 April). Surely Lord Bach does not believe that a newly planted tree will instantly hoover up all those molecules of CO2? During the next 50 or 100 years, might not a tree have appeared in the same spot anyway? Or is the claim made because Mr Blair's disciples have decided the notion of him walking on water needs an update?
Sir: Hydrogen cars, wind farms, solar power : these are nothing but the crackling of thorns under the climate change pot.
There are three hundred years' worth of oil, tar and coal in the earth. China, India, Brazil are all likely to achieve first-world standards of living within the next century, with vastly greater than first-world populations. Consequently it is inconceivable that this cheap and easily available fuel will be left in the earth by these huge and energy- hungry economies.
Clever technological measures may delay but not prevent this carbon consumption; consumed it will be. The maximum climatic effects will be reached in four or five hundred years' time, before slowly declining and leaving an irreversibly changed world.
By all means let us enjoy discussing taxes on SUVs and air travel. An Englishman thinks he is being moral when he is only being uncomfortable (George Bernard Shaw).
ARDVASAR ISLE OF SKYE
Sir: Apparently David Cameron has flown off to Norway to chuck airline fuel over the polar region and hurry along the process of melting icebergs and climate change. Perhaps he'd like to join me on Streatham High Road. He can experience climate change, a hosepipe ban and chronic air pollution. Better still, he only has to jump on the 118 bus to do it.
LAMBETH GREEN PARTY LONDON SW16
Sir: I find the debate between Brown and Cameron on who deserves the green vote faintly comical. Surely the only party that deserves the green vote is the Greens.
DR MARK CORNER
How an alphabet ought to work
Sir: It may be of interest to J Michael Sharman (Letters, 17 April) to know how English was pronounced in the days of Chaucer, but it is of no help to those many children struggling to make some sense in relating written English to the modern spoken language.
We would do well to recall the purpose of an alphabet, which is to provide a simple one- to-one (as far as practicable) relationship between a sound and a letter. It doesn't do any good, as some of your correspondents have, comparing English with non-alphabetic systems such as Japanese, or decayed alphabetic systems such as French. We should rather look at the successful alphabetic systems of Spanish, a world language, as well as German and Italian.
With Spanish, at least, the concept of learning to spell barely exists. At school one is taught how to write. Once you know the simple rules, there is only one way to write a word. No wonder Spain is able to export doctors as well as footballers to the UK. They have more time at school to learn the important things of life.
Safeguards on use of animals in research
Sir: Contrary to the views of Andrew Tyler of Animal Aid (Opinion, 17 April), getting approval to do animal research in the UK is strictly controlled and fraught with difficulty. A major concern is that research into serious conditions - such as spinal injury, malaria and cancer - could be hampered by bureaucracy.
Researchers recognise that there are concerns about the use of animals in medical research, and so appreciate the need for good regulation and high animal welfare standards. But red tape and pointless paperwork can actually delay getting a licence. An animal research project in another country could be finished before it even gets the go-ahead here. This problem was recognised in April 2005 by the House of Commons Health Select Committee, which said, "It is more difficult to obtain permission to conduct animal experimentation in the UK than in any other comparator country."
Despite this, the UK remains a world leader in medical research. And the use of animals plays a small but vital role.
DR SIMON FESTING
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, RESEARCH DEFENCE SOCIETY, LONDON W1
Sir: Andrew Tyler claims the "true function" of the 1986 Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act "is to fast-track animal research on behalf of commercial and scientific interests". This is nonsense. The Act exists to enforce the highest possible welfare standards for laboratory animals and it is recognised as the strictest animal research legislation in the world.
Research continues to save hundreds of millions of lives and is vital to the NHS. Three major independent inquiries in the last four years meet Mr Tyler's call for scientific evaluation into the whole business of animal research. All concluded that studies involving animals are still needed if we are to continue to develop life-saving medicines. Recent developments include breakthrough treatments for breast cancer, Parkinson's and asthma, and research on Huntingdon's disease and Alzheimer's.
We all look forward to a time when medical research does not require the use of animals. But that time is not yet here. The Government will continue to monitor the regulation of animal research to ensure the important balance between minimising animal suffering and the development of science is maintained.
PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE, HOME OFFICE LONDON SW1
Overseas students are not the answer
Sir: You welcome Tony Blair's push to recruit more overseas students into British higher education (leading article, 19 April), but you have been duped. Recruiting more students into an already overstretched system cannot be the answer. In the same edition, Philip Hensher reports increasing complaints about a lowering of standards at UK universities, largely because more and more students see less and less of their lecturers. How could this be helped by increasing overseas student numbers?
While home and overseas student numbers have risen dramatically over the last decade, UK government spending on university education has actually decreased over the same period as a proportion of our GDP, resulting in massive financial pressures. Government funding to universities is well below the average for our OECD competitors, at 1 per cent of GDP, compared with an OECD average of 1.3 per cent, which means a shortfall of around £3bn a year. In other words, today's and tomorrow's students, home and overseas, are in effect being asked to pay for years of government underfunding. Is that fair?
You have also swallowed the Government line when you say that the only alternative to increased revenue from overseas students lies in "charging domestic students a more realistic price for their degree". Wrong - the answer lies in proper investment from public funds in an important sector of our economy, as a long-term investment in the nation's future.
DR STEPHEN BAX
Ministers talk up the BNP threat
Sir: Can we really believe the recent reports that eight out of ten of Margaret Hodge's constituents in Barking, one in four of London voters and one in five nationwide are considering voting for the BNP? Even the most optimistic supporters of the BNP or Mystic Meg must consider it a ludicrous suggestion.
This smacks of another cynical ploy by this desperate government, which fears disillusionment and apathy within the communities of its supporters will cost it dear at the forthcoming local elections, and so aims to scare people, especially those of minority ethnic origin and minority faiths, into turning out and voting for Labour.
Let us apply some logic. Would any government politician release such fantasy figures unless there was an ulterior motive? Of course they would not. Even if the figures happened to be true, they certainly would not release them. The figures would be sliced, diced and reproduced with the usual positive spin.
Princess of thieves?
Sir: I notice that Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes have named their first baby Suri, and that this means "princess" in Hebrew and "red rose" in Persian. Are they aware that it also means "pickpocket" in Japanese?
No vote for Young
Sir: Andrew Buncombe, in his otherwise excellent article on Neil Young (17 April), claims that Young "previously [voted] for the Republicans". Despite his public support for the Reagan administration, Neil Young has never voted for the Republicans. Despite his opposition to the Bush administration now, he has never voted for the Democrats, or indeed any other party in the US. As a Canadian, he cannot vote for a US party.
Time and motion study
Sir: Nick Allen (letter, 20 April) is right to question the figures for years on the loo, but he gets his calculations wrong too! The three years should not be taken as a proportion of the 50 years awake but of the total life-span of 75 years, so the figure is not 1 hour 26 minutes per day, but about 57 minutes. Which still seems far too much.
Sir: Something is rotten in the toilet statistics department of The Independent. If Nick Allen was impressed by the number of years Britons fritter away evacuating their bowels he will surely have been even more astonished at the extraordinary daily catharsis apparently achieved by the Chinese. According to the statistics accompanying your article (19 April) on Chinese economic ascendancy, the 1.3 billion Chinese produce 3.7 billion tons of sewage a day, an eye-watering 2.8 tons each. I had been worrying about Chinese goods flooding global markets but it seems that a more awful deluge is about to overwhelm us.
Sir: "Swedish is spoken only by Swedes" (Dick Sullivan, letter, 18 April). No so. Swedish is also spoken by about 6.2 per cent of the population of Finland and is one of that country's two official languages. Sibelius's first language was Swedish; only at the age of 11 did he begin to learn Finnish.
KEIGHLEY, WEST YORKSHIRE
Celebrating the body
Sir: Has it never occurred to P J Lynch (Letters, 17 April) that women may use make-up and perfume, and even shave their legs and armpits, not to make men desire them but because they like the effect themselves? Celebrating the body doesn't necessarily mean thinking it incapable of improvement.
LEWES, EAST SUSSEX