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Monday 21 December 2009
Letters: Climate after Copenhagen
After Copenhagen, we will have to engineer the climate
The vacuous agreement at Copenhagen was predictable. As ever, politicians acted to protect the short-term interests of their electorate, particularly economic growth. Yet protecting these interests runs counter to the long-term interests of everyone: reducing carbon dioxide below 350 parts per million in the atmosphere (currently 387 ppm); and keeping global warming under 1.5C.
To escape from this predicament, we must address the two root causes: the carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere; and the warming it has caused, particularly in the Arctic. We now have no choice but to employ forestry and agricultural techniques to capture CO2 from the atmosphere and bury the carbon in the ground. And we must use techniques for reflecting sunshine so as to cool areas of the planet, particularly the Arctic.
These techniques together are called "geoengineering" – the deliberate manipulation of the environment to counter the effects of global warming. Many past civilisations have survived through large engineering projects, but we are by nature reluctant to do anything on an even larger scale, in case we get it wrong.
But now the survival of our own civilisation is at stake, so we have to grasp the nettle. Fortunately there are geoengineering techniques which mimic closely what happens in nature, so that we can anticipate and avoid side-effects and be reasonably confident of success.
The most pressing problem is the warming of the Arctic, which is causing unexpectedly rapid retreat of Arctic sea ice. Here we can mimic the cooling action of volcanoes when they spew sulphate aerosol into the stratosphere. Mount Pinatubo's eruption in June 1991 caused global cooling of 0.5C over two years. Deployment of such aerosols to cool the Arctic would probably cost less than a billion dollars a year, yet could save us from two catastrophes: multi-metre sea level rise if the Greenland ice sheet were to melt away; and multi-degree global warming if all the permafrost were to melt and release its methane.
It would be tragic if we left deployment of geoengineering too late, just because we were waiting for proof that it was required.
So Copenhagen had its predictable outcome. The elected and self-appointed representatives of 8 billion people were unable to agree on how to ensure the survival of mankind. The age of science has not been accompanied by an age of reason. Our politicians will return from debating climate change to concentrate on the task of restoring consumption to its former glory. Why? Because consumption is the only known method of distributing wealth and providing the taxes that finance government.
To take an example, a modest tax on large motor vehicles gains a bit of green publicity, but a draconian tax which seriously discourages the use of such vehicles would deprive individuals of their right to be profligate and the government of much-needed revenue.
Government policy on carbon emissions is thus fundamentally dishonest. On the one hand, it is willing to indulge in international debates on climate change, while, at home, it is unwilling to take the steps necessary to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.
Democratic government cannot act without a popular consensus, and consensus depends on the goodwill of the people. In the UK 93 per cent of the disposable wealth is owned by 50 per cent of the population. Any change in economic management is likely to be experienced most severely by this 50 per cent. Therefore, improving the distribution of wealth is an essential precursor to achieving a consensus which will allow the government to make the radical changes necessary to reduce fossil fuel consumption.
Whaley bridge, Derbyshire
I fear that this is mankind's last century. The political class consists, mainly, of arts graduates who can structure, then win, an argument on the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin. Scientists, engineers and technologists have little real power, as they are largely employed in the role of advisers.
We are faced with a ballooning world population and finite natural resources with the very real threat of global warming. It's probable that the third world will face famine, local wars and mass migrations; but I don't expect that there will be a concerted effort to modify our behaviour, until the waters are lapping around the likes of London or Manhattan. By then it will probably be too late, as climate change has its own momentum.
John W Knott
So the Copenhagen Conference has failed and we are left with just "vague intentions" rather than a legally binding agreement. Perhaps somebody could explain the difference to me.
If the UK signed up to a legally binding agreement to reduce our CO2 emissions and we failed, are all 60 million of us to be cautioned, arrested and bailed. Or will it be OK to just skulk away and let Prince Charles take the rap?
If it's all of us, can I be first to plead insanity and ask for several thousand other offences – imperialism, slavery, unkindness to the Irish and so on – to be taken into consideration. And who is going to make the actual arrests? The World Police? International Rescue?
Personally I think having vague intentions is underrated. Nobody ever got maimed or killed by nations with vague intentions.
The total failure of world leaders to agree anything meaningful at Copehagen makes you realise just how Noah must have felt before deciding to build his ark. It really does call into question whether it is possible to save the planet under the present economic system. World leaders cannot put aside national interests for anything, it would seem.
These talks have achieved nothing because the most developed nations have been using them simply to secure economic advantage. It would seem that too many of those with the power to make decisions are secret members of the Flat Earth Society when it comes to climate change.
Suppose a dozen qualified electricians had warned you that the wiring in your house was dangerously faulty. Would you listen instead to some bloke down the pub who told you that it was all a scam, and that house fires weren't caused by faulty wiring but by sunspots?
So why do so many people ignore the experts when it comes to climate change?
Who thought that Copenhagen in December would be a good place for a conference on global warming? Abu Dhabi in August might have been more convincing.
A rise of 2 degrees in the worldwide temperatures? Seems good to me at the moment.
The parents of drunken children
England's chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, has accused some parents of a "laissez-faire" approach to their children drinking alcohol. I must agree with him. I have not seen any increase in underage drinking. However there is evidence to suggest that those who are taking part in underage drinking are drinking higher alcohol content drinks.
On a visit to a York school, I was speaking to one of the local police officers. He said to me that it wasn't like it was years ago: a cheeky cider down the park. He went on to add that the police now find children with bottles of vodka, and when the children are returned home, the parents do not understand the problem. Sometimes they are the ones who have bought the alcohol for them. Across England, 500,000 children between the ages of 11 to 15 will have been drunk in the past four weeks.
It is all very well asking what the police or schools are doing about this. If the parents do not play ball then no progress can be made.
I am increasingly finding that the parents of children who are drinking are often from lower socio-economic backgrounds and have a history of unemployment. The families cause noise nuisance to neighbours. Life expectancy is less. Not all people are like this, but it pains me as a socialist that this low-expectation cycle has still not been broken for a minority. I am still uncertain of the solution.
Councillor James Alexander
York's Children and Young People's Champion
Lessons of the BA union ballot
David Crawford writes: "Surely there is something right with a law that insists that unions check their voting lists before rushing into strikes" (letter, 19 december). Surely there is something wrong with a law that invalidates a vote that was supported by no fewer than 92 per cent because 800 of the 12,700 balloted were ineligible.
Why does your travel editor, Simon Calder (18 December), take it for granted that "public wrath"" in any industrial dispute must inevitably be directed against the unions? Over the past 60 years I have experienced the effects (ranging from inconvenience to financial loss) of many strikes, and not once have I blamed the trade union that called the strike, rather than the management that provoked it.
Pontardawe, neath port talbot
Just don't travel
I take issue with the assumption of your report of 19 December, that Britain's transport should be able to function normally through severe weather. Weather forecasters gave a warning at least 24 hours before the snowstorm and their advice is invariably to travel only if absolutely necessary. Unfortunately, many people seem to regard themselves as immune to the effects of bad weather and carry on regardless.
My local police force has come up with a different Act to try to curtail photography in public. This came to light when I presented evidence of an offence on a cycle route gathered using a video camera on my helmet. Whilst the police agreed to take action based on the video, they said I should not take pictures in public because it could infringe people's human rights.
Dr Clive Mowforth
Now sue Eurostar
The latest accident on Eurostar is not the first in a growing list of catastrophic failures. Most of the time it provides a very good service, but whenever there is a failure the problems for passengers are horrendous. It is hard to believe that problems with trains entering the Channel tunnel from very cold weather outside have not occurred before in the many years that the service has been running. It is time that Eurostar were hauled through the courts, forced to confront their own failings and compelled to take action to improve matters.
Eurostar trains cancelled; Continent cut off.
J E S Bradshaw
British way with flags
"Why not?" writes Andy McSmith (Village People, 19 December) when reporting that Andrew Rosindell MP has persuaded the House Commons authorities to fly the Union Jack daily on all flagpoles. It is a bad idea because there will no longer be a simple way of marking important occasions such the State Opening. The Palace of Westminster does not need to draw attention to itself by flying flags all the time. In this country, unlike America, it has long been the tradition to fly the national flag only on special days.
M other hits back
Perhaps Anthony Bramley Harker (letter, 16 December) thinks my baby and I should just lock ourselves away for six months and not bother with school concerts, Christmas fayres or meals out, lest my "display of maternal care" (breastfeeding) distracts or offends any member of the public. What makes me despair more than me being banned from the pantomime is that there should be a debate about this. That some people think a mother breastfeeding her baby is somehow obscene astounds me. Is it any wonder we have the worst breastfeeding rates in Europe.
Welton le Marsh, Lincolnshire
Jim Cordell's description of the French term con (letter, 18 December) is wide of the mark. It has long since ceased to be a "very rude expression" and become a mild insult in daily use. The nearest English equivalent, might be "prat". It can be masculine or feminine (conne), a noun or an adjective.
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