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Saturday 4 November 2006
Letters: Climate change
No contradiction seen between tackling climate change and growth
Sir: Climate change is a critical issue facing all industries and all sections of society worldwide.
Your reports on the possible expansion of airports over the next 25 years (2 November) imply that UK aviation is a huge contributor to global warming. You also state that aviation's share of UK emissions will rise from 6 per cent to between 17 and 46 per cent by 2050, according to British Airways projections.
In fact, if you banned all flights in and out of the UK were banned tomorrow, you would reduce worldwide CO2 emissions by 0.1 per cent.
And our projections do not make a simple comparison with today. They are an illustration of what may be the position in 2050 if the country's overall CO2 emissions had fallen by 60 per cent. (Our best estimate is that aviation's share of this much lower total would be at the bottom end of the suggested range.)
We are describing a positive future in which carbon emissions are greatly reduced, helped by the kind of open emissions trading scheme we have long advocated. Carbon trading is not a "get-out". It requires airlines to cut their emissions, or pay extra costs if they don't. The Stern Report has strongly endorsed the carbon trading approach. It also makes clear there need be no contradiction between tackling climate change and economic growth.
MANAGER, ENVIRONMENTAL AFFAIRS, BRITISH AIRWAYS, HARMONDSWORTH
Sir: The "Plane crazy" front page is disturbing, but I would not worry about it: there will be virtually no kerosene for the aircraft by then. Airport expansion will be limited by lack of fuel. Hydrogen is not dense enough to fly economically, and few aircraft be modified for it. The aviation industry will be almost dead by then.
Reasons for new nuclear build
Sir: Dr. Paul Aron's concerns about the energy burden of nuclear power on the environment (Letters, 31 October) are not justified. His basic assumption about energy not being destroyed is not valid in this context; the Earth is an open system.
The Earth receives radiant energy from space and radiates energy. The heat released by the world's nuclear power stations is not significant in comparison with these heat fluxes.
Duncan McLaren's strictures (Letters, 31 October) against nuclear power don't get us very far. Nuclear waste is with us and has to be sequestered; a deep underground repository for fully vitrified waste has to be better than the existing ageing tanks and pools of liquid waste. Their leaks haven't respected national boundaries, let alone local ones: ask the Irish.
There are compelling reasons for a new nuclear power build; James Lovelock covered the ground pretty fully recently.
A couple of other points: the reality of adverse climate change implies an urgent need for a rapid migration from combustion of carbon fuels to the use of electricity, from non-carbon sources, as our primary source of energy, for transport, manufacturing, space heating and lighting, and other domestic purposes.
Renewables may eventually provide all that is needed, in which case nuclear power can disappear, but that won't happen for several decades, if at all.
Nuclear power stations have a further vital application which only they can provide. There are no great secrets now about the fabrication of an atomic bomb; the major problem to be overcome is the sourcing of enriched uranium and plutonium.
The countries with nuclear weapons such as the UK and 186 others who signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty assumed obligations about reducing (eventually eliminating) their nuclear weapons. The only way we can be sure that the UK's weapons-grade nuclear material, especially plutonium, is disposed of is to burn it in nuclear reactors. It would be folly not to use that heat for power generation.
Opponents of new nuclear power stations need to tell us what they propose for the UK's several hundred nuclear bombs.
PROFESSOR R G WOOLLEY
Learn the lesson of the Grand Banks
Sir: How timely to ask the "Big Question" (31 October) about the planned appearance of Adam Smith on £20 Bank of England notes just as the Stern Report is issued.
Adam Smith is regarded as the founder of modern economics and now we have an economist telling us that the model for human development that we have effectively been following since the time of Adam Smith is causing a few problems.
The warning signs have been around for quite a while. In his An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Smith extols the virtues of the Grand Banks cod fishery. We all know what happened to that: it is held up as a classic example of unrestrained, unthinking and short-sighted exploitation of a natural resource or, alternatively, as a classic example of free market enterprise.
I'm sure someone made a profit (presumably the main objective) but, in the longer term, the local environment and the livelihoods of the local people were ruined. Did we learn? No, we have extended this economic model to a global scale and now even in Stern's otherwise enlightened report we have the concept of continued economic growth while saving the planet at the same time.
Perhaps if Adam Smith had been born a Yorkshireman he might have realised that "you can't get owt for nowt" and come up with a more sustainable model for human economic development, and perhaps the grandchildren of the grandfather of modern economists may have then been more enlightened.
DR KEVIN MURPHY
Sir: Andrew Whyte (Letters, 2 November) may be concerned at the extra power consumed by digital set-top boxes, but he has omitted to consider the massive power saved by turning off the analogue transmitters.
For example, Black Hill transmitter broadcasts five analogue channels each at 500kW, but broadcasts six digital channels (carrying about 35 TV stations in total) with a mere 20kW each.
As the set-top box is used less in favour of integrated digital appliances, the power saved will be greater than the extra used by consumers. Environmentalists should be pushing for the digital switchover to be brought forward.
Allow farmers to decide on GM
Sir: Michael Meacher claims (article, 20 October) that Defra are letting in GM crops "through the back door". Nothing could be further from the truth. Defra's proposals for the co-existence of GM, non-GM and organic crops will provide a practical framework allowing British farmers to grow whichever approved crops they choose, a choice they are denied.
These sensible and workable solutions are based on an EU-wide 0.9% threshold, ensuring organic and other non-GM crops remain just that. Groups including the Soil Association are resisting this move because they have chosen to set their own thresholds lower.
This is not about contamination but a commercial issue for the Soil Association and their members who are now starting to acknowledge openly that their greatest fear about GM crops is for their own market share. They have found themselves in an untenable situation: in seeking to protect their own interests, they are effectively blocking most British farmers who do not farm organically from having a fair choice in this matter.
GM crops are a commercial reality for millions of farmers around the world, including our neighbours in France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. It is time those opposed to GM crops recognise the wealth of evidence that demonstrates their benefits and safety, and allow British farmers a choice.
DEPUTY CHAIR, AGRICULTURAL BIOTECHNOLOGY COUNCIL, LONDON WC1
Invasion of Iraq was legalised by the UN
Sir: In answer to David Cromwell (Letters, 2 November), the UK is a signatory to the Statute of the International Criminal Court, but the court has no jurisdiction over the crime of aggression, because the states party to it have not agreed on its definition.
Even if it had, it would have to find Bush and Blair have no case to answer, because the occupation was approved two months after the invasion by the Security Council in Resolution 1483, and by subsequent resolutions.
Mr Cromwell's citation of the Nuremberg Charter is misplaced, because the tribunal it envisaged owed its existence to a war of regime change which must have been as illegal then as it is now.
Blame the education, not just faith schools
Sir: Bruce Anderson (Comment, 30 October) dismisses the suggestion that controlling faith schools won't stop violent extremists on the grounds that "the four London bombers all attended integrated comprehensives". True.
But to conclude that faith schools are not a significant cause of violent extremism would be akin to concluding that smoking isn't a significant cause of lung cancer on the grounds that these people with lung cancer didn't smoke.
Controlling faith schools may not eliminate violent religious extremism. It may still have a substantial impact. Yet I doubt faith schools are the biggest problem, divisive though they are. It is the sort of education delivered in schools that matters most.
Let's ensure all schools, religious or not, encourage young people to think critically and independently about religion, including the religion in which they are raised, so they develop the kind of intellectual and emotional maturity they will need later in life if they are not to suckered in by the zealots and snake-oil salesmen.
I rather doubt the four London bombers received much exposure to that sort of education.
DR STEPHEN LAW
HEYTHROP COLLEGE, UNIVERSITY OF LONDON
Sir: I am surprised that, as a headteacher, Sarah Evans doesn't understand the principal objection to faith schools. (Letters, 2 November). Whether they are single-faith schools or are, as she describes, omni-faith ones, the objection is that they are still promoting the concept of faith per se, that is, the worthiness of irrational beliefs that are unfounded on evidence and reason.
It seems to me that the public education budget should be spent on informing children, helping them develop their own moral values and teaching them to think for themselves. They can later make the choice of which faith to adopt, if any.
Grooming young children to believe any faith is a form of child abuse. But while it remains legal, let it be paid for directly by the parents who demand it, not from the public purse.
Sir: Brian Simons (Letters, 30 October) suggests there is a direct parallel between religious parents paying for state schools and non-religious parents paying for religious schools.
There is no comparison. The children of non-religious taxpaying parents are explicitly excluded from most tax-funded religious schools. The children of religious parents are not excluded from state schools.
Lowdown on wages
Sir: Stephen King, in his article in the business pages (30 October), was full of praise for migration, even to the extent of seeing "dwindling wages" in the agriculture, hotel, and restaurant industries as good news for consumers. What about those people whose wages are dwindling? Do they see it as good news? I note that Mr King is managing director of economics at HSBC. Did not City financial workers' salaries increase by about 15 per cent last year?
BURY ST EDMUNDS, SUFFOLK
In praise of Auden
Sir: While we cannot issue a stamp in honour of W H Auden (Letters, 3 November), I and my colleagues at the University of Sussex and the University of York are celebrating the centenary of his birth with a one-day symposium on his work and legacy in York, the city of his birth, on 24 February 2007. Speakers will include writer Adam Phillips, poets Keston Sutherland and Rachel Wetzsteon, and scholars Laura Marcus and Nicholas Jenkins. This may correct, however slightly, the impression that nothing is being done to commemorate the centenary of the poet's birth.
DR JOHN DAVID RHODES
UNIVERSITY OF SUSSEX, BRIGHTON
Sir: Emma Harding writes "Can other foodstuffs win the accolade of 'the new chicken' ("Fogey's guide to the modern world", 27 October)." This reminded me of the jingle devised by Neil Innes (ex-Bonzos) for Fiasco Superstores: "Cock-a-doodle tater, the really big potato, with the chicken inside." That's chickenability.
DAVID R POLLARD
Sir: Dominic Lawson (Opinion, 25 October) should see how Coventry's new hospital is cutting the population. Visiting a relative during wet weather I could hardly get into the hospital because the car park was full of patients in wheelchairs, with drip-stands or just in flimsy nightwear, all smoking in the only place it was allowed. Go in with an ingrown toenail, die of exposure.
Clouding the issue
Sir: Why is it that any mention of carbon dioxide is so often illustrated with a picture of power station cooling towers (article, 30 October)? The clouds over a cooling tower are harmless water vapour. The tower condenses exhaust steam from the turbines, producing a drop in pressure which increases the flow through the turbines, improving efficiency. We rarely see a picture of the smoke-stack, which is where the carbon dioxide is released.
Sir: Janet Street-Porter credits Gloria Vanderbilt with saying "a woman can never be too thin or too rich" (Opinion, 2 November). Nor, perhaps, too misquoted. The observation was from that other skinny socialite, the Duchess of Windsor.
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