Letters: Cycling fatalities

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The Independent Online

Lament for a brother killed while cycling on London streets

Sir: Last month Transport for London released figures revealing a sharp rise in the number of cycling fatalities last year. There were 21 deaths last year, up from eight in 2004. One of these deaths was my brother's. On 15 November 2005, my 29-year-old brother, Matt, was killed while commuting by bicycle from his flat in Crouch End to his work on Tottenham Court Road.

Ironically, after the 7 July attacks, when concerned family in Canada rang Matt to make sure he was okay, he emailed back, "You'll be pleased to hear that I cycle to work, and I'm rarely on public transport these days." We were pleased to know that he was safe.

Yet it is far more likely that Londoners will die or lose someone they love from a cycling accident than from any terrorist act. Every year in the UK, over 2,500 cyclists are killed or seriously injured.

While commemorations were held this year for commuters who died on 7 July 2005, there will be no city-wide moment of silence this year to remember the cyclists who died, no public service to remember them, no news reports to detail the deep loss felt by their family and friends, or the impact of their deaths on our lives.

I write now to urge Londoners to cycle and drive carefully and more slowly. And also to ask them to support politicians who would spend public money to make cycling in Britain safer, create new cycling lanes, and educate drivers, and not those who would use the threat of extremist actions as an excuse to introduce ID cards or to send troops to Iraq in the name of public safety.



Leadership needed on climate change

Sir: In the Queen's speech, the Government once again fudges the climate-change issue (leading article, 16 November), a scenario as depressing as it is familiar. The reasons for not having fixed yearly targets are as thin as the veneer of determination to do something about what Blair long ago described as the most pressing problem currently confronting mankind.

The only way that our climate- change problem can ultimately be resolved is through "Contraction and Convergence". Anyone thinking that current levels of economic growth can be sustained indefinitely is living in cloud cuckoo land. But both economist Sir Nicholas Stern in his recent report, and scientist Professor John Houghton in his book Global Warming, have predicted that by reducing the rate of growth by 1 per cent, CO2 equivalent can be stabilised at less than the 550 ppm that succeeding generations should be able to cope with.

As individuals we can achieve very, very little. But that very, very little is crucially important. It is only through individuals' actions, in concert with government leadership, that global warming is going to be contained.

Waiting for all business to sign up to concerted action is not an option, nor is waiting for consensus among the world's governments or waiting for the US government to emerge from its cocoon of denial. Waiting for the emerging economies to catch up with the west is a sure-fire recipe for disaster.

Because Britain on its own can only do very little, we seem to be content to talk about doing things but actually do virtually nothing or worse than nothing: eg, aim for a near-tripling of air travel by 2030. But given a government driven by leadership rather than one responding to focus groups Britain, acting in concert with the EU, could achieve a very great deal.

Blair has shown that he has leadership qualities, in Ireland and the Balkans with positive results, in Iraq, alas disastrously. If he really wants to go down in the history books with a positive legacy, why doesn't he use his last few months to start to get a grip on climate change?



Sir: The warning from Stephen Castle and Colin Brown over likely delays to emissions trading for aviation ("EU warns over four-year delay to carbon trading scheme", 3 November) is a welcome antidote to continuing Government claims that we might see such a scheme by 2008.

The much-leaked letter written by the Secretary of State for the Environment, David Miliband, to Gordon Brown shows he privately agrees with most independent commentators that, despite our best efforts, nothing may happen before 2013, due to complexities of design and legislative process as well as a potential legal challenge from the US and others.

Mr Miliband is right to be alarmed at the growth in emissions in the meantime, and he is right to call for interim measures. A rise in air passenger duty to cover the industry's £2bn carbon costs would be a start. It is a fallacy to say this would have no effect, or to say it would price the poor off planes. It would make frivolous flying, the boom sector being enjoyed by the well-off, somewhat less attractive, and weekend breaks in the UK somewhat more.



Sir: Your leading article (15 November) lamented the Government's weakness on climate change and contrasted that with the much bolder agenda pursued by the London Mayor, Ken Livingstone. The Mayor has clearly demonstrated that he is prepared to take brave decisions but, as he himself acknowledges, part of the reason for that is that there is a strong and effective Green Party presence in the London Assembly.

With a reduced Labour Group since the last GLA elections, the Mayor now relies on Green support to get his budget through. This year we were thus able to secure an additional £91m funding package for green initiatives, including extra cycle lanes, a Green Home Advice Centre and cleaner vehicles, as well as pushing for the higher charges for polluting 4x4s. If only we had a Green presence in the House of Commons, too, we might see similar pressure on Government to raise its sights a little higher.



Sir: Congratulations to Kate Hoey ("How green is your MP", 15 November) who, out of the 318 MPs who replied, alluded to the benefits of running an old car. I refer to the "total energy" effect, whereby manufacturing a new car takes more energy than it will typically consume in the next 10 years of moving around. I estimate that replacing a car doing 45mpg with a new one capable of 70mpg will involve running the new one for over 30 years before breaking even in carbon terms.



Sir: Ian Turner (letter, 15 November) has a point that an audit on recycling might be a nasty shock, but what will be left to audit when we have used up the earth's finite resources?



Tiny Pacific nations cannot protect fish

Sir: It's a bit rich blaming individual countries for lacking the "political will" to protect oceanic fishstocks (report, 15 November). Recently northern hemisphere and self-interested fishing nations (including EU countries, Russia and South Korea) blocked a regional fisheries management plan for trawling protection in the Pacific. It seems the EU and others outside the Pacific region are bent on expanding, rather than limiting catch levels.

If their record in the northern hemisphere is anything to go by it will inevitably lead to damage to the ecosystem and sustainability in the Pacific. Pacific nations such as the Republic of Kiribati - with 3,550,000sq kms of ocean, and 810sq kms of land area spread over 33 atolls - can hardly be expected, with the best will in the world, to enforce regulations with the one fisheries-protection vessel they maintain.



Closer ties with Syria are to be welcomed

Sir: Syria is just the kind of Arab country that an independent and enlightened British foreign policy should have been supporting all along ("Our new friends in the Middle East", 14 November): secular; tolerant of all faiths; no ban on women working or wearing what they please, or on men and women mixing together in public (unlike the intolerant and aggressively Islamic state that the US and Britain are now busy creating in Iraq).

Yes, Syria's internal politics leave a good deal to be desired, but whether the regime is harsher with its critics than Mr Blair's preferred partners in the Middle East - Saudi Arabia and Egypt - may be doubted. And Mr Blair might like to reflect too on a matter so far conspicuously absent from his public statements about Syria: for nearly 40 years an important part of Syria - the Golan Heights - has been illegally occupied by Israel. Why should Syria help Mr Blair out of his hole until he demonstrates a willingness to help Syria regain its own land?



Sexist coverage of female war casualty

Sir: In your coverage of the latest British service deaths in Iraq (report, 15 November), you deal disproportionately with the deaths of men and women. While I appreciate that the deaths of female personnel are more unusual, your decision to devote most of two pages to the death of a female casualty and less than 100 words each to the other three (men) reveals a sexism not normally present in your journalism.

You may feel that this death in particular underpins your, justifiable, objection to the war but I am left with the uncomfortable feeling that it is a maudlin bit of hand-wringing which panders to stereotypes of women belonging in the domestic and service spheres. Implicit in this stance is that the deaths of male soldiers are intrinsically less interesting to the reader and that women are still somehow doing something rather unnatural when they join up.

I would like to make it clear that my comments are not intended to show disrespect to any of those killed.



Poundbury is a thriving community

Sir: I was puzzled by your dramatic headline declaring that Poundbury is about to implode (15 November). The reality is that Poundbury is a thriving community of more than 1,200 people and 40 businesses. The Prince of Wales has proved that it is possible to build high-quality social and private housing side by side, integrated with leisure and business facilities, to create a place in which it is possible to meet your daily needs within a short walk. The fact that residents in Poundbury now find themselves animatedly debating local issues - as people do in towns, villages and cities around the country - is exactly what you would expect in a healthy and growing community.



Sir: You report that Prince Charles's village of Poundbury is threatened by "yob elements from nearby council estates". How does your reporter know that these "yobs" are actually council tenants; might they be owner-occupiers who have bought their council houses? Do they in fact come from a "council estate" or was this just a convenient label? If they had come from terraced housing, would he have mentioned that? One-in-five people in Britain live in houses owned by local authorities or housing associations. They do not need to be stereotyped in this way.



Punch drunk PM

Sir: In the House of Commons today Tony Blair said of David Cameron's chances at the next election: "However much he dances around the ring beforehand he will come in reach of a big clunking fist" (report, 16 November). Is the Prime Minister referring to Gordon Brown by way of an unnecessarily violent metaphor, or is John Prescott now considering a run for the leadership?



Sir: Not once during the Queen's speech debate did Tony Blair mention Gordon Brown by name. Why? Is there some convention that forbids the naming of his successor? Wouldn't it be a breath of fresh air if politicians actually said what they meant, rather than hiding behind language that can so easily be misconstrued.



Sir: In the Queen's speech debate Mr Blair warns that Mr Cameron will soon "come within the reach of a big clunking fist". Yet in the speech itself the Government promised "to put victims at the heart of the criminal justice system". It is heartwarming to know that the Government is prepared to help Mr Cameron when he is eventually felled by a blow from the mighty Brown.



Ethical investments

Sir: The wife of the BBC's "Mr Ethical", Justin Rowlatt, is wrong to think that owning petroleum shares is wrong in itself (Pandora, 16 November). It is ethical provided the holders use them to put pressure on the company to respect local communities and the environment. Shell shareholders have done so twice in 1997 and this year, when £10bn-worth of shares defied the Board's advice. Disinvestment merely hands the shares over to those who only care about the size of their dividends.



A new chestnut

Sir: You report (15 November) that in Amsterdam, the 150-year-old chestnut tree made famous by Anne Frank is dying and must be felled. In Sherwood Forest, the "Major Oak" - legendary base of Robin Hood - has long been in danger and I believe has been successfully cloned, so that when the original goes it may be replaced by one that is genetically identical. Perhaps the Amsterdam city council might consider following this example?



Olympic challenge

Sir: You report that up to 4,000 tons of contaminated waste will have to be removed from the Olympic site (16 November). Burying (or even carrying) such a large volume of stuff would pose a rather severe challenge, and would be wonderful to watch (from a safe distance). Perhaps this could become a modern Olympic sport.