Letters: Climate change

Aerospace engineering offers ways to beat climate change
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Sir: In response to Mr Blair's comments regarding long-haul flights, I believe that stopping British air travel would be detrimental to the UK economy as we are so dependent on global business and we maintain an important aerospace industry

As an aerospace engineer, close to finishing a PhD, I am looking forward to getting involved in developing technologies that will reduce the impact of air travel on global warming. This could be by helping to develop more efficient engines or aeroplanes so they produce less carbon dioxide. I think ultimately the answer is to design a radically new engine that will run on hydrogen. This will take a lot more research both to develop an engine that is reliable and safe and to ensure that the hydrogen can be created using electricity made from renewable sources. I do believe, however, that will be possible in my lifetime.

I am also part of a scheme called Noise (New Outlooks in Science and Engineering), which encourages young people to consider careers in science and engineering. It is all very well saying that science provides the answer to making air travel more energy efficient, but in order for these advancements to be made, we need to address the problem of the shortage of science graduates by demonstrating how science effects our day-to-day lives. Without a future generation of scientists, can we really look forward to a greener future?



Sir: Janet Street-Porter is right to urge Tony Blair to holiday in Britain (Opinion, 11 January), but her argument would have more strength if she noted that the taxpayer provides him with a splendid country residence at Chequers, where he's assured of luxury and privacy. If a Christmas country house party at Sandringham is good enough for the Windsors, one at Chequers should satisfy the Blairs.



Doctors are worth their pay rise

Sir: The thousands of patients round the UK who have had a home visit from their GP in the last few days will not recognise the sort of general practice you describe ("Sick pay", 12 January). You claim GPs work office hours from state-of-the-art surgeries that they rarely leave. Every day family doctors make home visits. I wish it was true that we all work from modern premises, but many of us still have to use cramped, unsatisfactory buildings for want of government investment in infrastructure.

GPs have not received the sort of percentage rise in incomes that you quote, and this year most will see a drop in pay. Your source is a network of accountants representing higher-income GPs. To quote their figure as an "average" is like using a food bill from Harrods as an average for high-street supermarkets. GPs are rightly earning more than they used to under the old contract because the Government recognised pay had fallen behind. But they haven't had the levels of pay increase you cite. Nor was the GP contract £300m over budget. The correct figure is £140m, derived from high performance delivering the sort of quality care that keeps patients out of hospital and freer from heart attacks, strokes, and other life-threatening events.

Far from resisting practice-based commissioning, enthusiastic GP practices have been thwarted time and again by local NHS bodies refusing to co-operate in getting it off the ground.

It beggars belief how your editorial can claim GPs are failing to play their part in delivering the health service people want when family doctors - many of whom still work evening, night and weekend shifts - have proved to the public they are delivering the highest quality healthcare system in the world. Yes, we earn more now than we used to, but we still put our patients' health first and foremost. You ask for more private surgeries - I wonder if commercial firms answerable to their shareholders rather than their patients will be able to say the same thing.



Sir: Funding for general practice is not responsible for the cash crisis in the NHS. The benefits to patients' health more than justify extra investment in primary care.

The evidence is clear that countries whose health systems are more oriented to primary care achieve better levels of health, higher life expectancy, better health outcomes, higher satisfaction with health care among their populations, lower overall healthcare costs and lower medication use. Delivering top-quality patient care under the new GP contract is saving thousands of patients each year from having a stroke, heart attack, or other serious health problems. We keep patients out of hospital and save the NHS millions.

GPs certainly now earn more than they did, and quite rightly so. We spend at least nine years training before we can even start in general practice. Not many other professions take that long before they can start to work independently and earn "reasonable" money.

Income is often related to the degree of responsibility we take on. We deal with people's lives and health and this is reflected in the stress levels of GPs related to the risk analysis and management that we do all day. If we make a mistake, people may die. It's a job full of challenges, and I am proud to be one.



Sir: It is ironic that in the same month that you report that 4,000 workers in the City of London are to share in a £9bn bonus in addition to what some might consider already inflated salaries, Jeremy Laurance and your editorial should express such sanctimony over 33,000 general practitioners' sharing a reported £300m overspend on performance- related pay that actually benefits the health of the population.

For the record, Scottish GPs earn at least 10 per cent less than their English counterparts, I still make housecalls, my staff budget has risen by 35 per cent in three years, I still see patients on Saturday mornings, do not have an appointments system, and see terminally ill patients at home at night.



Mismanagement at the Home Office

Sir: Every time there is a foul-up at the Home Office, the Opposition and the media bay for political blood. But it is the job of civil servants to implement and manage the policy of ministers.

I was a Whitehall (not Home Office) civil servant and was aware of the mandarins' general anti-managerial culture. Not undeservedly, a number of Home Secretaries have fallen by the wayside in recent years, but how many of the very highest civil servants at the Home Office have gone because they failed to manage properly the department or areas of responsibility?



Sir: While the Home Office has, for many years, had a thoroughly deserved reputation for incompetence, the complete shambles that has developed over the last decade is the direct result of Tony Blair's legislative diarrhoea.

Even if the Home Office were peopled by hyper-efficient paragons of competence, it would still have been completely unable to cope with the 3,000 new criminal offences dreamed up by Blair and his half-witted ministers and advisers since 1997.

And if you think it's bad now, just think of the disaster that awaits if Blair's beloved ID card system actually gets off the ground. The Home Office will go into meltdown.

The current chaos is the fault of ignorant and incompetent politicians, rather than the civil servants. Blair and his ministers are the ones who are "not fit for purpose".



Public money for political parties

Sir: Andrew Grice has written wisely about the dilemmas of political funding (6 January). However, when we finally face up to the disagreeable necessity of increasing public money for parties, we should beware of simply handing it out on the basis of votes won at elections. This just reinforces the current cosy duopoly of power because serious but small parties - the Greens, for example - can only afford to contest a small number of seats to begin with, and so can only ever win a small proportion of the national vote.

If we want to see democracy resuscitated, then there is a stronger case for abolishing the deposit for parliamentary elections and making some of the suggested funding available to those who have the organisational strength to fight a modest minimum number of seats. This will not resolve our constitutional crisis, but it could be a first small step towards doing so.



Volunteers can help with the three Rs

Sir: There is no reason for thousands of primary school children to be "stuck" with the three Rs when there are up to 11 million potential volunteers waiting to help ("Thousands fail to progress in 'three Rs' after seven", 4 January).

Volunteers can give children one-on-one support, freeing teachers to concentrate on their classes. Research shows that one hour of individual tutoring each week can help improve the reading age of a child by a year in a term.

What better time for the Government to "un-stick" its wallet and provide the funding to match every child with a volunteer reading partner?



Organic farming is better for diversity

Sir: I thought your readers might like to know the facts of my position on organic farming, rather than your "waspish" interpretation of them (leading article, 8 December).

In my first speech on farming, I said farming must live within its environmental limits. Organic farming is better for biodiversity than intensive farming, and in many, but not all, cases produces fewer greenhouse gases.

That is why we support organic farming to the tune of £50m per year. It is also why, in my speech to the Oxford Farming Conference, I urged farmers to reconnect with consumers' preferences and cited the doubling of organic production as an example.

When asked about the health impact of organic farming, I repeated the independent advice that at present there is no proof that organic farming is better for your health. If I had disputed the advice, or invented my own, that would have been good grounds to accuse me of "playing to the gallery".

So let's welcome organic food, as I do, but let's be clear with consumers about why.



Sir: You write that "organic farming is never going to replace the standard variety". You seem to be misinformed.

It is an often neglected fact that one litre of oil is required for the manufacture of one kilogramme of artificial nitrogen. Without this input, "conventional" agriculture simply does not happen. Most analysts tell us that oil production has peaked, and that before finally running out, it is destined to become rapidly more expensive.

There are many other sound reasons why organic agriculture will win in the long term, but this one is surely undeniable.



Becks and Blair share a career arc

Sir: While Charles Nevin (Opinion, 12 January) may be pushing it to suggest that David Beckham could yet take the biggest job in politics, his career path does bear a striking similarity to Tony Blair's.

Both started as heroes in the public eye, before we realised sadly that despite their abilities, they enjoyed preening themselves more than doing their jobs.

Ultimately both made the same mistake of getting involved in an overseas campaign that they thought would see their careers peak, but which has resulted only in failure and flight to the US, where they are still fawned on. (Blair hasn't done this yet, but he will, he will...)



Army of independence

Sir: The SNP leader, Alex Salmond, lists Iceland among the countries on which a putative independent Scotland might model its military structures (8 January). What a sound idea: Iceland has managed nicely without any regular standing army since 1859.



Rate rise has benefits

Sir: Can there be a better example of how the media focuses on the negative aspect of a news story than Thursday's interest rate rise? Yes, people with mortgages will be affected, but what about savers? More money is saved by more people in the UK than is borrowed, so the news should, if anything, highlight the benefit of a rate rise.



Dance off, Simone

Sir: I think Deborah Orr (12 January) misses the point in defending the ballerina Simone Clarke against calls for her to be sacked. It is not her beliefs as such that have prompted these calls, but rather her actions. Someone who actively campaigns, through membership and support of the BNP, for the "return" of colleagues "to their country of ethnic origin" surely cannot maintain a working relationship with them. Furthermore, how can Simone Clarke contribute to promoting race equality, as the Arts Council requires, when she advocates the "voluntary resettlement" of all Britain's ethnic minorities.



Cockney sparrows

Sir: As I write, there are a dozen sparrows in my tiny urban garden. For the past five years, I have not seen a sparrow during the winter, and only a couple during the summer. Have the sparrows come back to London or are all the sparrows in south-east London in my back garden?



Fame game

Sir: Johann Hari asks in relation to the Royal Family whether anyone would be willing to gain fame and riches at the expense of their privacy (11 January). Even without the guaranteed pay-off, Big Brother seems always to find plenty of applicants.