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Thursday 4 February 2010
Letters: Climate change
One error does not discredit climate science
Dominic Lawson (2 February) is wrong to ridicule Ed Miliband for dismissing as "a mistake" the claim that Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035.
On 5 December, just before the Copenhagen climate summit, the BBC quoted the alarm of Professor J Graham Cogley of Ontario Trent University that the authors "had misread 2350 for 2035". Professor Cogley quoted a 1996 document by Russian hydrologist V M Kotlykov which mentioned 2350 as the date by which there would be "massive and precipitate melting of glaciers". Yes, the 2035 date was a mistake!
Millions of good, rational people, thousands of businesses and most governments are acting responsibly and humanely by promoting lifestyles and policies which will reduce pressure on our world for the sake of the poor, future generations and the planet itself. Climate change has become the main focus of this hugely positive revolution. Such is its scale that the science of climate change is inevitably going to be slightly woolly at this stage, but by the time the "deniers" are convinced, it will be too late to act.
The real question here is why a small group of pundits such as Mr Lawson, none of them scientists, are encouraging cynicism and complacency in the face of the greatest threat in human history.
Bad behaviour by a few academics at the University of East Anglia does not magically cancel out all the evidence for man-made climate change. The last decade has included nine out of ten of the warmest years on record; glaciers are retreating; the Greenland icecap is melting, as is ice at the North Pole; and the world is experiencing more extreme weather conditions. That is why the Met Office, the British Antarctic Survey, Nasa, the European Space Agency, the Royal Society and the US National Academy of Sciences all tell us man-made climate change is happening.
So what do we need to do? The failure of the Copenhagen conference was the final proof that the world's governments and peoples are not prepared to make the economic and lifestyle changes needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough – or at all.
Therefore it is vital that we now commit serious amounts of money to ending rainforest destruction, subsidising carbon capture and storage and researching into geo-engineering: ways of removing greenhouse gases or using other technologies to cool the planet. There is no other politically feasible strategy.
Founder, two per cent for the planet, Hildenborough, Kent
Iraq: a conflict of evidence
Simon Carr (3 February) suggests either Clare Short or Tony Blair is wrong in the accounts they have given to the Chilcot inquiry.
Mr Blair's presentation was based on a hypothetical situation – if Saddam Hussein remained in power for another decade – which informed his belief and hence the decision to invade. Ms Short told the inquiry what actually happened among the decision-makers.
Which of these versions is more relevant to the remit of the Chilcot inquiry?
Remember, whatever Clare Short said at the Chilcot inquiry, she still voted for the invasion of Iraq and remained in the Cabinet while it took place. She too may be guilty of war crimes.
As I have been reading the reports of the Chilcot inquiry, I have wondered what Robin Cook would have said had he lived. So today I re-read the resignation speech he made to the Commons on 17 March 2003: what a calm, thorough, well-argued but also moving speech that was.
How much such a principled and clear-thinking person is missed! His account of what went on behind the scenes would have been invaluable.
A E Baker asks (letter, 2 February) how we could know Iraq had WMDs without knowing where they were. Simple: we know we sold WMDs to Saddam for the proxy war against Iran, but we don't know what he did with them afterwards.
George MacDonald Ross
Check-list that saved lives
I was impressed by the candour of Mr Atul Gawande's article "Without this checklist, I would have killed a man" (2 February), but stunned by the revelation of the surgical safety checklist.
In particular, I was surprised by the information that your Health Editor added, which contained the comment, "When the checklist was piloted by the World Health Organisation in eight hospitals last year, it cut deaths and complications by more than a third."
The checklist, as outlined in the article, is almost identical to the one that was in use in British military hospitals throughout the world when I was working as an Army theatre sister in the early 1970s. It was done automatically, was taught to nursing and medical staff during their training and, I had assumed, was standard throughout the NHS. To find that this is not the case is almost beyond belief.
It seems that the military in-service training of nurses and medics during the 1960s and 1970s was way ahead of its time. A pity then, that all those establishments have since been closed. Think how many more lives could have been saved had they remained open to teach generations of staff some of the basic principles of patient care.
Not much of a voting reform
While any move away from our current voting system is probably to be welcomed (editorial, 3 February), whatever the short-term political calculus that may explain Gordon Brown's deathbed conversion to electoral reform, I am not so sure that the replacement being proposed – the Alternative Vote (AV) – is a much better system.
First, there is very little evidence that it is actually more proportional. Indeed it may even be worse. And second, while it would mean that each MP is elected by a majority of their constituents, is this much of an improvement where this majority is built on the second, third or lower preferences of electors with little enthusiasm for the winning candidate?
During my adult life I have lived in 14 parliamentary constituencies and have only ever been represented once by an MP whom I would have voted for as my first choice. In most of the others, I have had little or no confidence in my MPs' interest or inclination to take my views seriously. This would change only little under AV.
Like many others, I support the linkage between an MP and their constituency. But I have never understood why this can be maintained only in a single-member constituency.
Far better to have larger multi-member constituencies where electors can choose which of their representatives to take their problems to; where MPs can specialise in dealing with certain types of issues or groups; where corrupt members can be replaced by those from the same party; and where they are forced to act together, regardless of political persuasion, to advance the general interests of all their constituents.
This could be achieved by the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system which, by the way, is also far more proportional.
Dr Andrew Meads
A long wait for battery recycling
At last the UK catches up with Europe ("Battery recycling law in force", 1 February). I recall a visit to Sweden in 1972, where the supermarkets had battery recycling boxes prominently displayed, and they were full. And Swedes were quick to spell out the dangers of sending them to landfill.
On returning to the UK in 1978 I vowed to recycle my own. After collecting them for 20 years without finding a recycling source, I rang the council as I needed to dispose of them as I was moving house. I got told off for storing hazardous material and not sending it to landfill.
Special dispensation was given to take them to the council's central depot, but even then it was a job to get the operative to take them – too much paperwork, he said.
With the shops now obliged to take old batteries, I do hope a system has been created for collecting and disposing of them safely. Maybe they will all be sent to Sweden.
Homeopathy worked for me
Many writers in your letters pages seem to want to persuade me why homeopathy should not work.
About 20 years ago I had a very unpleasant experience with "normal" medicine, where I went into hospital with kidney stones, and came out with kidney stones but without the painkillers that had enabled me to manage the pain. Since then I have gone to a homeopath about once a month.
It is possible that it works using the placebo effect; it is possible that it works as a "talking therapy"; it is possible that it works as it is supposed to: but I am happy that it works.
I am unhappy with the way that our government seems to want to regulate most aspects of my life, and unhappy that some of your readers seem to want to do the same.
All this recent correspondence about homeopathy and what it can and cannot do set me thinking about the feeling of peace and wellbeing I experience sitting out in the garden under my vine. Is the feeling for real or is it just the "gazebo effect"?
British and unbreakable
Inspired by Graham P Davis's letter on the subject of unbreakable glasses (30 January), I went to my kitchen store cupboard and dug out a specimen of the selfsame "Crystolac" glass that he describes.
Not only did it survive the war in Wales (it bears the same two dots as Mr Davis's, indicating 1942 as the year of manufacture), but also a removal to England, and, after the death of my grandmother from whose house I rescued it, a journey by old Land Rover to London.
Although now slightly grey around the gills, it appears still to be as tough as old (British) boots, and I wonder how many more Crystolacs there are out there, tucked away in attics and cellars, or even still in use.
One does not need to be a "secularist" or a gay rights activist (letters, 3 February) to have been appalled by the Pope's attack on UK equality legislation. Many Christians of different denominations will have been equally appalled.
Professor David Maughan Brown
York St John University
Origins of genocide
Robert Fisk (30 January) is of course right to demand greater recognition of the Armenian genocide. However, he is wrong to describe it as the first holocaust of the 20th century. This title should unfortunately go to the Herero and Namaqua genocide, in what is now Namibia, perpetrated by the German colonisers. Nazi Germany learned to commit genocide from its own colonial history as well as the Ottoman Turks.
Your article "You don't have to be bipolar to be a genius but it helps" (3 February) is a great contrast to the usual negative press reports of people with mental health problems. The image of knife- wielding psychos is common. Articles such as yours highlight that those with mental health problems can be "witty and inventive". This can only help young people feel more comfortable about emotional problems and access help before they escalate to crisis point. Let's hope that other newspapers follow The Independent's example.
YoungMinds, London EC1
'Good for you'
What a sad world Philip Hensher (1 February) must live in. He asks, "Can you say 'I'm pleased for you' in a sincere way?" My days are brightened by hearing about good things happening to other people. I say "Good for you!" when someone is making a special effort – to face up to the boss or spring-clean the garage; and "I'm really pleased for you!" when something has happened – a promotion, or a baby sleeping through the night. Some of us are happy to encourage or praise others, even when they're over the age of 10.
There were two glaring British omissions from your "100 Years of Stars", Michael Caine and Sir Sean Connery.
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