I liked Ben Chu's article on why climate naysayers are failing (24 December). What many people tend to forget is that the warming story is not simply based on the air-temperature records of the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia.
We have records of bird, animal, plant and insect migration; of earlier frozen-river melt; of permafrost melt; of below-ground borehole temperature warming; of Arctic sea-ice melt; of Greenland and Antarctic ice melt at increasing rates; of sea-level rise; of ocean-temperature rise focused in the upper 700m.
And, of course, ice-core records show temperature increase since 1800, along with CO2 rise. No matter how much anyone might wish that these records did not exist or that they showed cooling rather than warming, they clearly show the opposite.
The world is warming whether we like it or not. And, again, whether we like it or not, the rate of change is gaining speed. We cannot relate it to the sun. The logical alternative is to relate it to greenhouse -gas increases, which we can measure and which increase at the same time.
Some who would deny that man has any effect on global warming point to the current dearth of sunspots. But the changes in energy caused by sunspot changes are known to be vanishingly small compared with the effects of greenhouse gases (it's basic physics; do the math).
To those who imagine that a sunspot minimum will make the Thames freeze, as happened in the Little Ice Age, my response is that we will have to wait until the next ice age, due in a further 20,000 years from now, to walk on a frozen Thames.
Dr Colin Summerhayes
Executive Director, Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research, Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge
A vote for Tories backs fox-hunting
I am very concerned to hear about the Tory intention to re-legalise fox-hunting and stag-hunting should they be returned to power (report, 26 December). Millions of people, including me, believe these forms of hunting are cruel and barbaric and have no place in a civilised society.
Surely the electorate accepts that this matter has now been settled and to reverse this legislation will only re-open the divisions which characterised the debate before the Bill finally became law in February 2005?
None of the claims of the Countryside Alliance – such as jobs being lost, and dogs having to be destroyed – appeared to be true. Not a single hunt in England or Wales has been disbanded, as far as I know, and life continues much the same as before, except that the right to "chase these animals to exhaustion before being ripped apart" has been removed.
Indeed, most hunts appear to have accepted the change to drag-hunting and this should surely be endorsed by the Tories if, as Cameron claims, they want us to believe that their party is changing.
Gants Hill, Essex
I am glad Gordon Brown is squaring up to the Tories over hunting. A vote for David Cameron is a vote to re-legalise the barbaric sport of hunting, and putative Tory voters should be aware of this.
Quietly and consistently, hunt monitors have continued to show to MPs their filmed evidence of the anarchy that surrounds hunting, and the film speaks for itself. The bullying of hunt monitors by hunt participants shown on film is appalling, and the film of foxes being chased and killed illustrates the level of contempt for the ban held by hunters determined to demonstrate that they are above the law.
If Labour does win the next election, it is more of less inevitable that the Hunting Act will not only be retained, but will be tightened to become properly effective. David Cameron would actually reward the present level of lawbreaking.
Great Haseley, Oxfordshire
Hilary Benn (Comment, 26 December) justifies his support for the ban on hunting, claiming three-quarters of the people support the ban. Presumably, adopting the same test, this means he is also in favour of bringing back hanging, a great deal more barbaric than fox-hunting, but which most of the population also support.
I oppose the death penalty, but support fox-hunting because, as a country lad by origin, I believe that the traditional way of controlling a vicious animal such as the fox, is a tradition worth continuing.
My late father-in-law, a farmer, a true countryman and certainly no toff, used to follow the hunt in his car. For the avoidance of doubt, I have only ever sat on a horse three times and, as far as I am concerned, that is three times too many.
Undoubtedly, Gordon Brown's views on fox-hunting are shared by many in our society opposed to cruelty but where does that leave the suffering of countless millions of fish, writhing and gasping their last on the decks of trawlers?
Will we be seeing the end of fish and chips and the banning of nutritious fish-fingers for our children?
Checking up on a cheque mystery
After the announcement by the banks that cheques were to be phased out by 2018 (letters, 26 December), I asked at the enquiry desk at my local branch for clarification on some of the issues raised in your letters page.
My request was noted and I was told I would receive a written answer in due course. I have just received a letter telling me that the bank hopes to have assembled the information needed to respond to my "complaint" in about four weeks.
Was no consideration given before the announcement to the implications for customers, both individuals and small organisations and charities? Surely a fact-sheet could have been made available in branches and electronically, or is that a procedure employed only when they are trying to sell us something?
Child literacy is a two-way street
E Jane Dickson ("You don't need to teach kids about advertising", 19 December) regards my call for "media literacy" in primary schools as an unnecessary "agenda-driven initiative" that normally literate children can pick up through their regular exposure to the media. But the example she raises of her son, who developed a "knack" (her word) to sort out bogus advertising, suggests a rather stunted notion of literacy.
Literacy is just as much about the capacity to produce as to consume forms of human expression. This is why we teach children to write as well as to read. Not only must they understand, they also must make themselves understandable. Given that most of the expressive content we receive today is mediated through digital means, children need to learn how digital images and texts are produced so that they can intelligently communicate through them in the future.
Professor of Sociology, University of Warwick, Coventry
The good news and the bad
The good news in 2009 included the efforts by the Irish Government to hold to account the Catholic Church for the many crimes of its employees over the decades when the Republic was a fiefdom of the Vatican. Most striking was the government's public rebuke to the Papacy for its failure to co-operate in enquiries.
The bad news in 2009 included the Pope's determination to gild the reputation of Pius XII, a move which has deeply disturbed Jews. Nor was that Pope any friend of wartime Britain. Mr Brown's invitation to the Pope to visit Britain in 2010 looks singularly ill-judged, even if it is meant to shore up the "core vote". Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg should say that if they end up as prime minister, they will withdraw the invitation.
Brighton, East Sussex
Agribusiness and Africa's hunger
Mark Ashurst is right to say that any new Green Revolution to defeat hunger in Africa must be smallholder-led (Comment, 28 December). The best synonym for food security is livelihood security: any "solution" which ignores the need for the rural poor to feed themselves through their work on the land is doomed to failure.
But the greatest power in global agriculture is wielded by agribusiness. It is the agrochemical companies who urge African governments and aid agencies to buy into their biotech packages of seeds, fertilisers and pesticides which can leave small farmers dependent or indebted.
Corporate interests often lie behind the conversion of African farmland to horticulture exports, of which Ashurst quotes the success story of Kenya. Some small farmers do benefit but by running greater risks. What price the global market for Kenyan flowers if a double-dip recession hits the North?
Export crops need to be seen as an addition to local staples rather than a replacement. The default position in support to agriculture and rural employment in Africa must remain most small farmers growing most of the staple foods their domestic economies need.
Who will defend our freedoms?
With the upcoming local and long-overdue national elections, how many other people struggle to see any ideological depth to, let alone difference in any of our main political parties?
Perhaps it would be easier for us if at least one party would commit to rolling back the numerous and serious encroachments of our personal and civil liberties. "All these [encroachments] represent an assault on ancient freedoms dearly won," as Shami Chakrabarti succinctly put it.
Which party will have the spine to defend those freedoms, to repel and indeed reverse this assault? We need and must demand policies that guarantee restoration in full. If none will commit to this, if none will defend our freedoms why would we vote for them?
Party leaders, there's the challenge; let us see if you have loyalty enough to your people to meet it. If these parties continue to fail us, is there time enough for a less-encumbered or new group to leapfrog the old parties by championing these fundamental principles that oddly most now seem to ignore?
Pic of the crop
Thank you for the stunning photos that have graced the front page of The Independent recently. The Amur tigers in the snow (30 December) were a rare treat. More please; we do miss the beautiful photography we used to enjoy in the broadsheet days. Surely there's still room?
Tornado is a replica from a class of Pacific-type locomotives designed in the 1940s by A H Peppercorn ("Steam takes the strain", 27 December). "Pacific" denotes the wheel arrangement, four front bogie, six driving wheels and two trailing wheels, (4-6-2). Also "trains" are confused with "locomotives", and "train station" is really a "railway" station. And if anyone had blamed delays on the "wrong kind of snow" in the steam era, they would have been laughed out of court.
It is disingenuous for anyone to suggest that the contributions to the modern world of either Oxford or Cambridge up to about 1830-40 (letters, 30 December) were anything other than incidental to their function as hybrid theological training-grounds and finishing-schools for rich young males. Both institutions began modernisation only after the foundation of what became Manchester and London Universities. They lagged these newer foundations shamefully in post-graduate places and research until the second half of the last century.
Dr Andrew Ruddle
Both my children were happily breast-fed in public places including shops, restaurants, art galleries, cathedrals, trains, aeroplanes and the summit of Scafell Pike (letters, 26 December). There were no complaints. Common sense in the choice of clothing, and discretion, meant almost no one realised what I was doing. Mark you, this was in the 1970s, so hippy smock-tops helped.
Cop this lot
The letter from Ray Noyes (28 December) reminds me of a garbling from your paper over a pro-Palestinian protest in London this year, "An initially peaceful demonstration ended with protesters facing mounted riot police throwing missiles and smashing windows on Kensington High Street near the Israeli embassy". Those Met coppers are right little tinkers.