Letters: Cost of policies to save planet


We all flinch from the cost of policies to save the planet

Sir: The Independent is to be commended for its growing emphasis on the dangers of global warming and for its increasingly urgent advocacy of "green" action.

However, this seems at odds with your publication of a weekly travel supplement. This section is full of enticing appeals to visit ever more exotic locations, it is chock full of advertisements to spend money on air journeys, and it is edited by one of the most brilliant, enthusiastic and readable travel writers in the business - Simon Calder, seducing us to travel ever more adventurously.

There seems an inconsistency here. How can you in today's paper (19 September) show us a stark graphic illustrating the alarming volume of air flights over Tower Bridge, then on Saturday publish ever more encouragement to be part of it?

But your dilemma is a small concrete example of the dilemmas that on a bigger scale face governments in tackling green issues. The cost for you to end the travel supplement is too high: you need the advertising money, and you need to keep your readers who might desert you if you stopped it. For governments to take the kind of action you want them to take would also be too high in terms of their economy and their electorate.



Sir: Jeremy Warner ("Nuclear obsolescence threatens an energy crisis that renewables cannot fully address", 17 September) is right to raise the policy challenges that face this and future governments in providing secure carbon-free power to keep our lights on and to respond to climate change; but he is wrong in his negativity towards wind power.

Far form threatening to "derail" the Government's 10 per cent renewable energy target, wind, on and offshore, is the principal way we will reach or get close to delivering on it over the next five years. Indeed this year a record amount of new capacity, totalling over 500MW, will be commissioned as the industry strives to deliver the bulk of our 10 per cent target.

The most pressing short-term energy decision facing this government is whether it will intervene to offer additional financial support to our industry's proposed offshore wind projects - critical to deliver our 2010 renewable target. In years to come, as fossil fuel prices continue to rise and pressures to make deeper CO 2 cuts mount, a decision to support offshore wind now will be seen as a wise, far sighted investment, as it will enable the UK to lead the world in opening up and harvesting a long-term carbon-free, secure power source not just for 2010 or 2020 but for ever.



Army of occupation in an alien land

Sir: The actions of the Army in Basra and the "rescue" of two British soldiers epitomise the failure of the British forces to engage in any constructive way with the indigenous people in the area.

The British are aliens in an alien land, who have no right to be there whatsoever; consequently we are out of our depth. Pictures of our benevolent soldiers handing out sweets to children have now been shown up for the façade they always were. For all the gloss that that the apologists for the war in Iraq put on it, the British forces there are nothing more than an army of occupation.



Sir: What were two British soldiers doing in Arabic garb working "undercover" in Iraq? This really is adding insult to injury.

The British have no right being in Iraq in the first place. An illegal invasion, thousands now dead, and now we have British soldiers behaving as if they're in a 1950s Boy's Own comic strip.

We're in the sad mess of Iraq because of a political ignoramus in Washington and a political opportunist in Downing Street.



Sir: Now that the MoD has described some among their number as "undercover soldiers" perhaps they would like to define the meaning of the phrase and the role of these "undercover soldiers" in supporting democracy in Iraq. Let's not forget that there are other people in Iraq who attempt to kill policemen, and they call themselves undercover soldiers too.



Sir: Richard Buckley (Letter, 20 September) only gets it half right - nuclear weapons can't be "uninvented" but there will surely come a time when Iraq is "uninvaded". Unless, of course, the so-called coalition forces plan to stay for ever.



The way out of the underclass

Sir: Ruth Kelly, before and after the general election, accurately identified lack of social mobility as a key issue for the Government. Race, emphasised by Harriet Harman ("Sleepwalking into New Orleans-style segregation", 19 September) is only part of the issue. Regardless of racial background, if your parents did badly at school, chances are you will do badly too.

Other countries, particularly Scandinavia and Canada, break this vicious circle far more often than we do, principally by having a much more comprehensive system and without the emphasis on choice and diversity that has, for 20 years, been the mantra of our successive governments.

Ruth Kelly's department is hell-bent on introducing changes to secondary school admissions that will strengthen the strongest schools and weaken the weakest. The children who most need a good school to help them out of the underclass are more than ever likely to go to schools that will be the least able to help them.



Answers to the pensions crisis

Sir: The laws of newspaper production meant that John Denham's challenge to Britain's unions to produce a credible pensions policy (Opinion, 12 September) was written before the TUC launched its full pensions policy on the eve of Congress, together with our latest analysis of just how fast occupational pensions are collapsing.

There is considerable common ground between John Denham's approach and that of the unions. We both call for a basic state pension set at a level that will stop employees being dependent on means testing in retirement. We join him in calling for a reassessment of how the huge spending on tax reliefs - mainly benefiting higher-rate tax payers - can be better used to help the low and no paid. We face up to the need - over time - for a greater tax or National Insurance take.

But we differ on the need for compulsion. The opponents of compulsion face an insuperable obstacle. Incentives and encouragements to save will only be cheaper across the economy to the extent that they fail. Compulsion is the cheapest and most efficient way of securing sufficient savings. And this is why we need a state second pension, as the low-paid and those without regular employment patterns need a secure savings vehicle too.

With a 15 per cent fall in the coverage of occupational pensions in the last four years alone, voluntarism is beyond its last gasp. It will undoubtedly take political courage and determination to introduce a radical pensions settlement. There is still time for John Denham to join us in that campaign.



Sir: Adair Turner is right to warn the TUC conference that compelling people to save for pensions is not the panacea to Britain's pension crisis (report, 15 September).

While there is no doubt that a tougher stance on saving is needed, compulsory contributions through private or occupational schemes are untenable for the millions of lower-paid workers who can not afford to shoulder more financial risk. Neither would it work for the many others who don't have access to a pension scheme at work.

However we must not rule out compulsory savings altogether. The Pensions Commission should seriously consider greater compulsion through the state pension system. This approach would be fairer, less risky and coupled with appropriate pension reform, an effective way to achieve an adequate pension for tomorrow's pensioners.



The addicts in the company car park

Sir: Great amounts of money and effort are expended via advertising by the Government to persuade people to stop smoking but these are being seriously undermined by one thing: the smoke break. Every day, with the acquiescence of their managers, smokers take anything from three to six ten-minute breaks from work in order to stand in a shed at the end of the company car park and recharge their nicotine levels.

Why is this practice allowed to continue? If an alcoholic wanted to take half a dozen drink breaks they would be told in no uncertain terms to do it on their own time or find other employment.

It also penalises non-smokers, who might well expect some difficulty explaining that they wish to take a non-smoking break in order to have the same amount of extra down-time as a smoker. It is grossly unfair that this group of workers, addicts every one, should be indulged in this way at the expense of both their put-upon colleagues, who have to cover for their many absences, and in the amount of productive time lost by their employers.

A friend of mine recently told me, after I caught him smoking when he claimed to have beaten the habit, that he only took it up again in order to get an extra half-hour's worth of free time.



Gallery founded for the whole nation

Sir: In his article on the redesigned National Gallery entrance (14 September), Jay Merrick does the gallery's sincere and high-minded founders an injustice. The assertion that the gallery was and has been aimed at the "demonstrably respectable bourgeoisie" for most of its history is inaccurate.

Entry to the permanent collection has always been free of charge in order to make it truly national. The choice of location in Trafalgar Square, at the time still in process of taking shape, was deliberately made to provide easy access from the East End as well as the affluent West End.

Children have always been allowed in; it was recognised that working people did not "have nursemaids" and so would be unable to visit the collection without bringing their children. This would be ridiculous to wheel out as a sign of liberal thinking now but these were the thoughts of the early Victorian ruling class, including those rich enough to amass art collections as well as generous enough to donate them to the nation.

Similarly, recorded discussions at the time of the benefits to "the working man" of access to great art now sound quaint. There is an illustration on the gallery website of "working men" benefiting. It is wonderfully earnest. It just doesn't seem fair to berate those who made this magnificent art collection available to everyone who has visited for nearly two centuries, even if by entering the building we all had to brave the feeling of "architectural anal retention". I hope I'm not alone in being puzzled by Jay Merrick's meaning in that phrase as well as perfectly happy not to share the experience.



Breaking up NHS will anger voters

Sir: The call by Nick Clegg for break-up of the NHS (Monday Interview, 19 September) will anger many people across the political spectrum.

Those who wish to destroy the NHS always start with a statement that people are fed up with the service as it exists. The experiences of my wife, myself, and other members of my family point to an excellent service both at primary care and hospital levels, where referral has been prompt and follow-up work carried out by highly skilled and caring staff.

Before the Lib Dems think about breaking up the NHS, they may care to consider the thousands of traditional Labour voters who in marginal seats vote Lib Dem to keep the Tory out. My own constituency of Cheadle is a case in point. What appears now to be a safe Lib Dem majority would be eroded if traditional Labour voters abandoned the tactical vote and voted Labour.



Decent obscurity

Sir: Further to C H Lawton's letter (19 September) about decency prevailing, he has obviously not visited the Casts Room in the V&A, where there is a separate cast of a fig leaf which was used to cover the private parts of Michelangelo's David when female royalty was visiting.



Landslide for Merkel

Sir: We are told Angela Merkel has failed disastrously to secure a popular mandate for her manifesto, securing a mere 35 per cent of the popular vote in Sunday's German election, and may need to be replaced as party leader. Tony Blair's share of the vote in our own June election? The same 35 per cent.




Sir: Janet Street Porter has adopted the populist position of boffin-bashing (Opinion, 15 September). Rather than bothering to find out why academics are taking the study of celebrity culture seriously ( being absent from the conference she condemns), she launches an attack on the very people, such as myself, who are most likely to support her in seeking to explain the increasing displacement of democracy by celebrity. If she needs her "daily fix" of celebrity, she shouldn't be taking cheap shots those who are trying to account for her addiction.



Big little town

Sir: James Lawton's article on Noel Cantwell (20 September) refers to Peterborough (for whose football club Cantwell was manager and in which city he retired) as a "little town on the edge of the fens". I would respectfully remind him that Peterborough boasts a magnificent cathedral with what has been described as the finest portico in Christendom. Not only is it a cathedral city but it has a population stated to be 158,674.



Hoarded junk

Sir: The only problem with people like Elainne M Pike ordering skips to get rid of hoarded belongings (letter, 20 September) is that there are plenty of "skipologists", like myself, who then go through the skips to hoard the stuff for ourselves.



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