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Wednesday 18 March 2009
Letters: Climate Change
Worth paying to safeguard the tropical forests
Michael McCarthy names and shames "the world's biggest polluters" (11 March) according to their carbon-dioxide emissions. He gives figures to show that the big two are China and the USA, each releasing about six billion tonnes annually. Russia, India and Japan follow with one to two billion tonnes each.
But these numbers take no account of deforestation and land degradation, which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates to yield up to a quarter of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Standing forest contains up to 1,500 tonnes of carbon per hectare, and peat-lands around five times as much.
If the figures are corrected for these sources, then Indonesia's deforestation rate of up to a million hectares each year makes it the third-greatest GHG emitter, right after China and the US. This in turn means that any deal to fix climate change must include fair and effective ways to stop deforestation and land degradation in the tropics. Indonesia has hundreds of proposed protected areas, containing millions of hectares of forest and peat-land. Fully and verifiably securing them should be rewarded by payments from carbon markets and other global mechanisms.
Not least because, as reported in 2008 by the Policy Exchange, "this method of reducing GHG emissions is dramatically cheaper than all other mitigation technologies currently available". It may be hard work for our diplomats, but saving the Earth is worth it.
Dr Julian Caldecott
Fund managers must wake up
Hector Sants of the FSA (report, 12 March) is one of a series of senior people exhorting institutional investors to be more challenging with their investee companies to help prevent another financial crisis. In future, alongside better regulation, the owners – notably the institutional shareholders – of banks and other PLCs must exercise much more active stewardship. Indeed, we, the public, are entitled to demand as much, since we are paying these institutions out of our savings and pension contributions.
Most private individuals are saving over the long term for their futures. Such people's interests are badly served by extreme cycles in financial markets. Yet, there is little evidence of genuine long-term thinking on the part of the fund managers whom they are paying to look after their money.
Fund managers' portfolios generally don't stray far from a short-term herd consensus. As shareholders in investee companies, fund managers routinely vote for big expansion plans, predicated on simplistically benign views of the future, and for distorting remuneration packages. Executives are only partly motivated by money. Human traits – such as over-confidence, ambition and status seeking – play significant roles.
Inadequately challenged by fund managers, many remuneration committees have connived in a game of leap-frog to the detriment of the interests of the beneficial owners – us. The value of many executive packages now represents an unwarranted transfer of wealth away from shareholders. Corporate remuneration levels help fund managers justify their own very high pay.
Economic and market cycles cannot be eliminated. However, concerted action to constrain corporate excesses by all the players could ameliorate them. We are entitled to demand that institutional shareholders start playing their full part through more active stewardship. Let fund managers start earning the money which we, the public, are paying them.
Robert Henderson asks why institutional shareholders and politicians are not pursuing legal action against the directors of the banks now in trouble, (Letters, 14 March).
One possible answer is that they do not want to be seen as shameless hypocrites. While the banks in question are now writing off big losses they did for many years make huge profits. Where did all that money go? To the Government in taxes, to the shareholders in dividends and to the directors and managers whose rewards reflected the fact that they were good at making money.
Unpalatable as it might be, the shareholders and the politicians were happy to keep any doubts they might have had to themselves while the money was rolling in.
John E Orton
'Well, that's just your opinion'
Philip Hensher wrote of a student responding to his tutor's assessment of his work with the words "But that is just your opinion" ("Students who think they can do no wrong", 16 March). I wonder, though, whether he is right in limiting the cause of this attitude to the over-building up of children's self-esteem.
I recall a couple coming to see me about "having the baby done". As they had no Christian background at all, I explained to them just what baptism involved, how it was the way one became a member of the Christian community, and that it involved committing oneself (or one's baby) to particular beliefs and ways of living. Simple, basic stuff; and yet their response was exactly the same as that student's: "Well, that's just your opinion; we've got ours." All my training and 35 years of pastoral experience as a parish priest went for nothing. I guess doctors and others could tell many a similar story.
It is interesting how an academic theory, Postmodernism, can filter down into every stratum of society. Of course, if (as your paper so often would have us believe) there really is no God, then maybe the postmodernists are right in claiming that there are no ultimate truths or values; only what the individual chooses to accept. But that would make this a rum old world.
Canon Andrew Warner
Children brought up to be ignorant
The debate about links with home education and possible child abuse (Education & Careers, 26 February) has not yet addressed issues of psychological abuse of children, even harder for inspectors to spot.
As a home tutor, I have taught a number of home-educated children part-time. It is of huge concern to me and others that children from some fundamentalist Christian families are being denied access to areas of knowledge that might enable them to make up their own minds one day.
They are often shielded by their parents (usually mothers) from topics such as war, magic, alternative ("pagan") religions including cultures associated with them such as the Greeks or Egyptians, death, evolution, anything that is not deemed "real" (whatever that might mean) but certainly Father Christmas, the Tooth Fairy, the Man in the Moon, Humpty Dumpty, Harry Potter . . . the list is endless. When such topics come up, in discussion or in literature, with me, or, apparently, with neighbours' children, the home-educated child's reaction is often aggressive and intolerant, mirroring that of the parent.
This form of brainwashing children is dangerous and on the increase. Is this not tantamount to child abuse? For adults to have made these choices to live in a bubble on the fringes of society is one thing. For their young children to be denied any exposure to different belief-systems and ideas is a return to the Dark Ages and should be of concern to society.
Help to save the balance sheet
I am increasingly hacked off by getting a lecture from checkout staff about my responsibility to "help save the planet" every time I ask for a few more plastic bags at the supermarket.
Last year British supermarkets handed out 3.5 billion fewer plastic bags than in 2007, and I imagine they are now smugly counting up their brownie points for going "green". The supermarkets will have saved themselves several millions of pounds by handing out fewer free plastic bags.
St Breward, Cornwall
Keep off the station platform
You report (17 March) that trainspotters will be removed from stations by the installation of ticket barriers. As will non-travellers helping the young, the old, and all other vulnerable people on and off trains.
As will those dropping in to buy a newspaper or a coffee. As will historians, researchers and those simply wishing to admire some of the grandest Victorian architecture in England.
National Express East Coast may claim that their staff will issue some of these people with passes, or they may relent and start reissuing platform tickets, but would it not be far more sensible for the company's redundant catering staff to be retrained as ticket inspectors to combat fare evasion?
Wrelton, North Yorkshire
What Myerson risks by telling all
A writer such as Julie Myerson should not be blamed for fictionalising her story. However what is critical is the timing. It would have been wiser for her to have recorded her experiences but then sat on this material for five years before turning it into a book.
Boys of her son's age are unworked clay. They are forever working out their value systems and learning by mistakes. It is too early to tell how things will turn out. What is certain is that during his twenties her son will have more adventures and some of them will be good.
What Julie has done by creating infamy for her son is to make it impossible for him to creep back under cover of darkness without loss of face. By going public at this time she has created a fissure unlikely to heal.
Uckfield, East Sussex
Once again, Ayn Rand is right
Ayn Rand was a staunch, life-long advocate of political equality and nowhere in any of her writing does she ever suggest otherwise. Christina Patterson's references to Riefenstahl and Cambodia are irrelevant ("Ayn Rand is the last role model we need right now", 14 March).
What Ayn Rand did find objectionable was the creed of egalitarianism and its notion of "metaphysical equality", the equality of personal attributes and virtues. Strange irony that the very egalitarianism which Ayn Rand condemned should be at the heart of the current global recession. Once again Ayn Rand is condemned, not for her errors, but for her prescience.
The United Kingdom Objectivist Association, Sheffield
I'll drink to that
As a moderate drinker, I am prepared to accept an increased beer price providing that there is a corresponding reduction in my National Insurance contributions. If the price of beer goes up without this reduction I will reduce my fruit and vegetable intake in order to pay for it.
I am a leisure cyclist who always wears a helmet, but I do respect others' rights to make their own decisions. However, I do not understand why people like David Cameron (pictured in your article of 16 March) ride with a helmet hanging on their handlebars. In what circumstances do they decide to wear them? They seem to be choosing the worst of all worlds by impairing their ability to control the cycle. David would be better advised to keep the helmet in the boot of the limo that follows him to work.
Picking up litter
While walking this morning on Leckhampton Hill, a local beauty spot, I met three young women. As they approached I saw one bend down and pick up from the path a plastic carrier bag containing several drinks cans and bottles, which clearly had been discarded by a walker. Into this she placed also some fast-food wrappings and other detritus that were nearby, tied the bag up and took it away with her. In passing we exchanged a few words. I discovered they are Polish, working at the Cheltenham Park Hotel.
The alliance of Christian Zionists and Jewish Zionists in America is hardly as "astonishing" as Michael Cook suggests (letter, 17 March). It is not only extreme fundamentalist Christians who believe the scriptural accounts of God's promise to grant the people of Israel possession of Palestine in perpetuity; many conservative Christians of otherwise moderate views see Zionism as an essential part of "Bible-believing" Christianity. To oppose Zionism is to question the inerrant Word of God – which is, of course, unthinkable.
Colin V Smith
Terence Blacker (13 March) points out that Liverpool fielded twice as many Spaniards as English players for their Champions League match against Real Madrid. They also fielded more Spaniards than Madrid. As Jimmy Greaves, the great Chelsea and Spurs striker who also played abroad, would say: football's a funny old game.
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