Sir: Before we become too gloomy over global warming, admittedly a real threat, we must be aware that there are different ways of looking at the past and the future from those proposed by James Lovelock and echoed by your paper ("Green guru says we are past the point of no return", 16 January).
While many scientists accept Gaia many others do not consider there is a strong coupling between the environment and organisms, the essence of Gaia. The alternative position is that changes in the environment lead to the adaptive evolution of organisms extremely slowly. This is weak Darwinian coupling. As an example early anaerobic organisms polluted their environment with oxygen. This produced a variety of environmental changes in sequence and each change was rapid. Organisms adapted to the whole process, but taking two billion years due to the conservative nature of genes.
Now the evolution of man has has produced a rapid change in the environment due to man's intelligent use of science. We are now examining the impact on life carefully and are considering ways of mitigating adverse situations.
There are changes even under global warming which will improve certain areas of Earth. More importantly, man's intelligence allows him to combat changes even to the degree that the organisms cultivated can be adjusted, as in the Green Revolution but also by genetic modification. The extent to which man can alter agricultural practice is unknown.
We can all see that there will be complete loss of some species and that others including man may suffer losses, but we may be able to both reduce the damage we are causing and to adapt to it very considerably. We are not able to predict scientific advances and therefore we should not be too gloomy. Give scientists a chance to provide a way out before looking into 100,000 years of misery.
PROFESSOR R J P WILLIAMS F R S
CHEMISTRY DEPARTMENT, OXFORD UNIVERSITY
Sir: According to James Lovelock our civilisation is lost and we should make our peace with "Gaia" and write down our best fiddle tunes while the Earth burns. But just because a system is self-regulating with complex feedback mechanisms does not make it impossible for us to control it - otherwise we wouldn't bother with mechanics, doctors or economists.
HADDINGTON, EAST LOTHIAN
Sir: Professor Lovelock is right to be concerned that it may be too late to reverse climate change and its effects, and not just for the scientific reasons he outlines. He hopes that we humans can reverse the harm we are doing whilst we are "still strong enough to negotiate, and not a broken rabble led by brutal warlords". Is this latter phrase not an apt description of al-Qa'ida? Of Afghanistan and Iraq? Of Israel and Palestine? Of the USA? Too late indeed.
Few salutes for British flag day
Sir: Gordon Brown has proposed a "British Day" on the lines of Bastille Day or 4 July. Were this day established to celebrate the overthrow of the monarchy, the aristocracy, and the Government (preferably with the impeachment and punishment of Tony Blair) and the abolition of the union of church and state it would have my support.
If the plan is to keep the status quo with nauseous American-style public displays of patriotism and Third Reich-style use of flags, then I am not in favour.
Is this the best Brown can do? One despairs of what he would be like as prime minister.
ST LEONARDS-ON-SEA, EAST SUSSEX
Sir: Distaste for ostentatious display of deep emotion is a component of Britishness. This peculiar Britishness is perfectly exemplified in Kipling's Stalky & Co by the disgust of schoolboys with a politician's spouting patriotism while waving a Union Jack.
Sir: As a former soldier I treat Remembrance Sunday as a solemn occasion when I stand before our local war memorial and think about soldiers from countries throughout the world who perished in wars. It is politicians who send soldiers to die on battle fields in far away places.
How insensitive therefore of Gordon Brown, who has never served in the army and who participated in the decision to send British troops to Iraq, to suggest that we treat Remembrance Sunday as a British "fun" day.
Sir: Perhaps we should have a day called Magna Carta Day. Bastille Day in France and Independence Day in the US have been cited by Gordon Brown as models for a possible day of Britishness. Both celebrate the inauguration of rights and freedoms for the people of those countries.
Inauguration of Magna Carta Day in Britain, to have similar credibility, would need to be accompanied by the restoration of rights and freedoms hard won by the British people over the centuries and compromised by legislation by Gordon Brown's government, including the rights of freedom of speech and of habeas corpus.
If accompanied also by the introduction of proportional representation and meaningful democracy for the people of this country, Magna Carta Day would indeed be a day to value and to celebrate.
Sir: May I suggest as a starting point for a British Day that the population learn to fly the Union Flag the right way up?
LITTLE DEWCHURCH, HEREFORDSHIRE
Japan saves forests, but only its own
Sir: Your "Battle to save the whale" story elicited a critical letter from Florin Grancea in Tokyo, who claims that Japan has clean hands in the matter of conserving its ecosystem (3 January).
I spent six years working with wildlife programmes produced by Japan's national broadcaster, NHK. It may be that 80 per cent of Japan "is still covered with forests", as Grancea suggests, but that is because Japanese forest companies are clear-cutting Thailand and Indonesia.
Where does Grancea think that the wood comes from that supplies 128 million Japanese with disposable chopsticks three times each day? And does he not recall the furore when it was discovered that contractors were using virgin tropical hardwood to form concrete in the building of Tokyo's new City Hall; hardwood that was later burned?
One of my producers showed me the line that runs across Okinawa, clear-cut on one side, forested on the other. The forested half, he explained, was still occupied by the US military. The area under Japanese control was deforested, pock-marked with sand traps for golf courses. Okinawa, together with the Ryuku Island chain, supports a unique fauna within the forested habitat still left to it. My colleague, a Japanese environmentalist, hoped, for the sake of the island, that the Americans would resist diplomatic pressure, and stay.
Take local councils seriously again
Sir: I agree entirely with the comments of Steve Richards (13 January) regarding the decline of local government and the need to return to it many of the powers usurped by successive governments over many years.
Neither the Conservatives nor Labour seem really willing to reverse the trend. Labour's attempts at regional government in England, which involves no real extra powers, are a joke. The Tories say they are serious about devolving power to local government, but you can see the proof of that in the pudding.
We could start by taking what powers local councils have a little more seriously and not schedule the general election at the same time as some important local elections. This has happened on the last three occasions. While these double elections encourage voters to turn out, the majority of people simply use their "second" vote as a further proof of their support for their parliamentary candidate and his or her party. Few voters really think about issues that are only local.
Smaller parties such as the Liberal Democrats, for example, often do better when the mind of electors can concentrate entirely on local matters. I admit that, in purely local elections, turnouts are often lower, but this could merely reflect how unimportant many people think that local councils are. And who could blame them, given what little real powers these councils currently possess?
NORTH HYKEHAM, LINCOLN
Peaceful religion without creeds
Sir: Joan Bakewell ("We need the philosophy, not the creed", 13 January) asks for the "power and truth to help us live in peace" and deplores religion as often practised for not providing it. However, Quakers have successfully practised a religion without creeds for over 350 years.
Not being hidebound by creeds and traditions has enabled us to be at the forefront of the best of modern social progress, for instance anti-slavery (John Woolman from 1754, USA), prison reform (Elizabeth Fry from 1817), women's suffrage (Lucretia Mott from 1848, USA), social and welfare reform (the Rowntrees from 1900) or acceptance of homosexuality (Towards a Quaker View of Sex, published 1963). And not being tied to creeds and traditions means that today we are able to fully participate in our diverse and multicultural world.
As well as our continued stance against war and violence ("We utterly deny all outward wars & strife & fighting with outward weapons, for any end or under any pretence whatsoever" - from the declaration to Charles II, 1661), we are active in promoting restorative justice, non-violent conflict resolution and mediation services - just the sorts of things that we need in our society now that (thankfully) traditional forms of respect have disappeared.
Dawkins and the Tory children
Sir: Although I agree with Professor Dawkins' premise (letter, 13 January), he is at fault in his argument. We do segregate children by parental politics and economics.
At the age of 12, to coincide with a general election, fellow pupils and I enthusiastically organised a school vote. We felt rather foolish when we realised that 99 per cent of our "electorate" had voted Tory, but then cheerfully embarked on a witch-hunt to identify the lone Labour supporter (strongly suspected to be one of the teachers). It was, of course, a private prep school, and the ethos was maintained at the public school I subsequently attended.
Sir: Humans will make religions out of just about anything, including science. Both of the great tyrannical so-called atheistic, systems of the 20th century rationalised deeply-held emotional positions using a misrepresentation of scientific ideas. Fascism used a simplified Darwinism to mask race-hatred and feelings of inferiority, and the class-hatred of the Communists was hidden behind ideas of progress and the evolution of society.
However to say that Communism and Fascism were atheistic is too simple. In their need to mobilise masses both relied heavily upon religious fears and metaphors. Consider their promises of utopia and certainty; their saviours and prophets; martyrs and fanatics; heretics and witch-hunts. Both cults, in their genocidal paranoia, can be seen as faith-based or religious phenomena.
It is possible that we shall never fully divest ourselves of the comforts of superstitious thinking or those who abuse good ideas in order to exercise power, so perhaps it is a case of being eternally vigilant.
Sir: Can we dispense with the false contrast between religious and secular ideologies? Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot, mentioned in the recent correspondence about Richard Dawkins and religion, ran atheistic dictatorships; Franco and Mussolini, on the other hand, were tyrants who encouraged Catholicism, and who were supported by the Church. In the modern world, Saudi Arabia is a religious tyranny, North Korea an atheistic tyranny.
Numerous philosophies, religious and secular, assert that the will of God, the class struggle or the triumph of a "master race" is so important that it permits the believer to treat some human beings inhumanely in order to fulfil its demands.
Liberal humanism modestly proposes that people should treat other people as they would like to be treated themselves. It has not been responsible for tyranny, warfare, or mass murder.
EAST TWICKENHAM, MIDDLESEX
Sir: It was a delight to read Bruce Anderson's vitriolic rant against the Liberal Democrats (16 January): it shows we do at least have the extreme right wing of the Conservative Party running scared.
ARUNDEL, WEST SUSSEX
Sir: Why on earth is a national newspaper trying to sabotage the England football team's preparations for the World Cup by entrapping Sven Goran Eriksson - especially when we have the best chance we've had for decades of actually winning it? It beggars belief.
Tyranny of CCTV
Sir: As a hat-wearing civil libertarian I was doubly concerned to read the reports of the 64-year-old who was made to take off his hat in a pub. Not only are young people being demonised because of what they wear, it seems that we all now have to bow down before the almighty closed circuit TV camera. Perhaps some companies and the Government will only be happy when we all have to walk around with a clearly visible ID number tattooed on our foreheads.
Cost to farepayers
Sir: The letter (13 January) from Tim O'Toole, managing director of London Underground, stating that "The deal,which comes at no extra cost to farepayers is in return for flexibility" is confusing this particular farepayer, whose Zone 1 cash ticket price has increased, at a stroke, by an astonishing 50 per cent, from £2 to £3 since last month.
Sir: As we are a maritime nation, I expect we do a certain amount of naval-gazing (Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, 16 January), but I rather think she meant something a little closer to hand.
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