Letters: Churches' good work

Anti-Christian sentiments ignore the good work done by churches
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The Independent Online

Sir: Interesting to see the latest secularist rant against people of faith coming from such a respected commentator as Joan Bakewell ("The Christian lobby is flexing its muscles", 8 December).

In her selective quoting of areas where the leaders of the Christian Church has intervened Bakewell only tells part of the story. Cardinal Cormac O'Connor and the Catholics Bishops Conferences of England, Wales and Scotland have not only come out very strongly against the renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent, but have gone further, calling for complete disarmament of nuclear warheads. Other areas where the Church is well ahead of the politicians in terms of progressive radical policies include immigration and industrial policy.

Cardinal Murphy O'Connor has backed calls for a one-off regularisation (amnesty) of undocumented (illegal) workers and a living wage for all workers. The Church has also called for asylum seekers to be allowed to work or receive benefits for the full duration of their stay here.

Finally, it has also been the Church that has picked up the pieces of the Government's failed and inhuman policies by providing support to the thousands of asylum seekers who have been thrown into destitution.



Sir: I have campaigned among other issues, for gay rights, for faith schools and against assisted dying. But Trident is the first issue since Make Poverty History on which I will be mobilising my congregation, friends, neighbours and anyone else who will listen, the first issue since Make Poverty History for which I will take to the streets. Christians can no more be stereotyped than readers of The Independent.

And on Trident, as with Make Poverty History and other campaigns, Joan Bakewell and others may well find that the churches are rather more successful than they would like to imagine we could be.



Biofuels: a disaster for the environment

Sir: Your business section report that "Dependence on foreign oil to rise 'eightfold' by 2030" (8 December) wrongly states that a Greenpeace-commissioned study advocates upping the level of biofuel in the fuel mix to between 30 and 50 per cent by 2030. The study, published by the Institute for European Environmental Policy, actually warns of serious environmental harm caused by unsustainable biofuel production.

The current European Biofuels Directive is driving a huge expansion of biofuels exports from rainforest nations like Brazil, Indonesia and Malaysia. Millions of hectares of rainforest are being destroyed to grow fuel for our cars. The greenhouse-gas emissions from the deforestation and peat destruction linked to those biofuels are almost certainly far higher than any savings we can make from using less petrol or diesel. Far from reducing emissions, current EU policy is exporting them to developing nations.

Thousands of species are at risk of extinction as some of the last remaining rainforests and grasslands are destroyed, and human-rights abuses are common on and around many of the biofuel plantations.

This week, the European Parliament will discuss whether to reform the Biofuel Directive. They should remember the Stern report's warning that tackling deforestation must be one of the top priorities if we want to have any chance of avoiding the worst impacts of global warming. There is enough evidence that the EU Biofuel Directive is leading to more deforestation to justify a moratorium on it while establishing a working group to revise it. Imports of biofuels linked to serious environmental destruction should be immediately banned.

The Greenpeace briefing rightly calls for a basket of policies which would really reduce our transport emissions: reduction in road and air traffic; compulsory fuel-efficiency and emissions-reduction targets for vehicle manufacturers; and investment in public transport.



Sir: Your front page of 9 December assumes a hypothetical car commuter travelling three miles to work each day, a total distance of 1,500 miles per year.

Assuming fuel consumption of 7.1 miles per litres, they would consume 211 litres of petrol each year. Assuming the majority of the petrol is carbon, that's 136kg of carbon. When burnt with oxygen in the internal combustion engine, we need to multiply by 3.67 arriving at 500kg of carbon dioxide, not "energy" as stated. Therefore it is concluded that the tons quoted, for each of the 10 categories on your front page, were not tons of carbon, or energy, but in fact tons of carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere due to each of these activities.



Sir: Congratulations on your front page "Your carbon footprint revealed". The shocking lack of action to counter global warming shown by all the world's leading politicians has reminded me of the contrast to the summer of 1940, when Churchill showed real leadership. He promised us blood and toil, tears and sweat and we all responded by trying to do our bit. Indeed, my memory is that what can best be described as euphoria swept the country.



Sir: As awareness of the carbon problem grows, some seem set on making it ever worse. Some food shops display frozen food in vertical cabinets without doors. The noise of the cooling units is striking, as is the hot air blasted from the ceiling to warm up chilly shoppers.

At the same time, people will be travelling to distant post offices, to save the government a few million. Finding the billion for the new Trident will be no problem. What is the carbon footprint of a nuclear weapons programme?

My partner and I heat our home to 18 degrees, we have solar water heating, we have given up a car and grow our own vegetables, but all this seems pointless in the face of corporate and government madness.



Sir: The true problem of our carbon footprints is the number of people leaving them.

The projected population increase of the UK to 71 million by 2074 means that every person will have to reduce their per-capita emissions by 17 per cent for the country merely to stand still in emissions terms. Add to this the increased damage done to the marine and agricultural environment by such an increase and it is clear that the UK needs to set an example by adopting a national population policy aimed at stabilising numbers to a level that is environmentally sustainable in the UK.



Sir: Your front page points out at great length that we humans are destroying the world, just by existing. Presumably instead of a DVD your next promotional offering will be a razor blade so that we can all do the decent thing and cut our throats to save the environment.



World Bank failures in Sierra Leone

Sir: If Sierra Leone returns to war, it will be because Britain and the World Bank have perpetuated the myth that the private sector alone brings development ("It's like a tinder box", 28 November).

Young Sierra Leoneans went to war 16 years ago because they could not go to school and could not get jobs. At the end of the war five years ago, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund would not allow Sierra Leone to hire enough teachers; I interviewed teachers who had taught for a decade in refugee camps in neighbouring Guinea who returned and could not be put back on the payroll and who were working for nothing. The reason was that hiring more teachers would be "inflationary".

Meanwhile, demobbed fighters were desperate for jobs or even self-employment. But no money from the World Bank or the Department for International Development went to job creation - the only thing available was training, which was so short and so poor that trainees still could not earn enough to eat. Rice farmers asked for temporary import duties to allow them to restart farming, but the World Bank said no - so rice is still imported and farm workers are unemployed. Subsidised credit for small business was vetoed too.

Instead Britain said that if government was reformed, the private sector would solve all of Sierra Leone's problems. And, despite appeals from local civil society, Britain threw its weight behind a corrupt leadership - because that elite kow-towed to Britain.

It is not too late to prioritise jobs and education for the young of Sierra Leone. But that means heavy government involvement in labour-intensive road building and credit for local people who want to restart businesses. It means that Sierra Leone will have to be an activist, developmental state, not a passive, free-market state.



The inadequacies of our prison system

Sir: Nick Draper (letter, 4 December) misses the point. The purpose of prison is to deter those who are rational enough to be deterred and to rehabilitate those capable of redemption. It isn't to make him feel better to know that somebody is having a bad time.

Deterrence and rehabilitation are not achieved by a prison system which so often does nothing but let the intensity of the punishment be determined by the inmate's personal psychological strength. Youth offenders, such as Joe Scholes, women offenders, such as Sarah Campbell, and adult male offenders, such as Paul Calvert, were sent to prison to lose their liberty, not to lose their lives. Yet all three, along with so many others, such as the murdered Zahid Mubarek, are now dead and beyond any rehabilitation as constructive members of society.

The inadequacies of the prison system allow far too many people to suffer extreme punishments far in excess of those ordered by the courts. Press-sensitive sentencing compounds this to create the inadequate and unsafe environment, where rehabilitation is barely addressed, that we see in overcrowded prisons, youth offenders' institutions and asylum seekers' detention centres.



Why Christmas belongs to everyone

Sir: Many Christians actually believe as fact that Jesus was born on 25 December and have no idea that this date was decreed as his birthday in 350CE or thereabouts during the time of Pope Julius I. It was a good way of enforcing the conversion of pagans, as well as stamping out other remnants of pagan winter-solstice celebrations that pre-date Christianity by thousands of years.

If Christians want to celebrate "their" festival in their way, there is nothing stopping them. What they seem unable to accept is that the winter-solstice festival has earlier pagan origins and that other people can choose to celebrate it in more traditional fashion, or even not at all. How this translates into Christians being denied the right to worship, as Rachel Hall claims (Letters, 8 December), is as bizarre as it is nonsensical.



Sir: This year's Christmas first-class stamps show Santa sitting on a chimney - surely a case of sad old man with incipient piles and a family with carbon monoxide poisoning. What planet is the Post Office on?



Equal pay for women

Sir: A headline on 8 December read "BBC's female reporters are paid £6,500 less than men". Since the female reporters in question had an average age of 41, whereas the male reporters' average age was 46, it could more accurately have read "BBC refuses to pay less experienced reporters as highly as more experienced ones". The same is true of any workplace, including, no doubt, The Independent.



Sir: The Female FTSE Report 2006 from the Cranfield School of Management found 77 of the FTSE 100 have women directors compared to 78 in the previous year, and of the 181 new directorship appointments in the last year only 12.5 per cent were filled by women compared to 17 per cent in the previous two years. This would seem to indicate that the "glass ceiling" ("Mind your head", 8 December) is now double glazed.



Green-belt homes

Sir: Regarding the recent debate about the need for 1,200,000 new homes and implications for the green belt (The Big Question, 5 December), I wonder how this tallies up with the amount of derelict houses, empty houses and barely used second homes in the country? I have a feeling that quite a few of the required homes may already exist.



Ungovernable states

Sir: In response to Nigel Morris's article on the imminent review of migrant restrictions ("Minister admits migrant curbs may be too tough", 8 December), while I wholeheartedly acknowledge the benefits of migrants, a limit needs to be set. As Aristotle said: "A state composed of too many ... is not a state, being almost incapable of constitutional governance."



Special relationships

Sir: The only special relationships are healthy ones. The only healthy relationships are equal ones. Only a strong European Union could conceivably have a special relationship with the US, however remote a possibility this may be.



Don't go overboard

Sir: You report the Blair team, post-Iraq Study Group report as feeling "we have the wind at our backs" (8 December). Clearly they've missed out on Britain's maritime inheritance. Running before the wind looks easy at first, but it's the trickiest point of sailing - the one where you're likeliest to gybe and go overboard. That's why we make sure that beginners can sail against the wind (tack) before going the apparently easy way.