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Friday 23 January 2009
Letters: Energy supplies
Start power stations now, or we face cuts by 2012
Although a fragile agreement has been reached between Russia and Ukraine and Russian gas has begun to flow to Europe again, disputes over gas supplies will not disappear, and security of supply issues remain at the top of the agenda.
In the light of the recent gas crisis, I checked the UK electricity power generation supply/demand curve over the past few weeks. On the coldest day of the year so far, UK power stations were generating some 58,000MW of electricity. The bulk of this came from coal-fired plants and gas-fired plants. Wind was contributing less than 100MW out of an installed capacity of some 1,300MW. I do not believe our power stations had much to spare on this occasion, which should put the question of our future security of supply into sharp focus for the Government.
We need to diversify our sources of electricity. Renewables, gas, clean-coal and nuclear will all be required to provide us with reliable, economical, clean and sustainable supplies. Without this mix, we will become over-dependent upon certain fuel sources and we saw what this is doing for European security of supply. Even if we do not import Russian gas, we are not immune to the price impact interruptions in supply can have.
The UK is building gas-fired stations and new windpower, and not a lot else. To secure the UK's energy supply, it is crucial that clean-coal power stations, ready for the new generation of carbon-capture technologies, and nuclear power stations are built before it is too late. There is a generation shortage looming because existing coal and nuclear stations are to close over the next few years. If something is not done soon, we will risk power cuts in the UK by 2012-13.
Iain H Miller
CEO, Doosan Babcock Energy Ltd, Renfrew
Papering over the banking blunders
So the Governor of the Bank of England is forecasting "unconventional measures", which seems to be code for "quantitative easing", which is code for bundling up bank "assets" and selling them as bonds to the Government. Remind you of anything? These new reserves will then provide reserves for banks to be able to lend money. If they don't, we will then have the next bond bubble ready to burst. All the indications are that they won't.
To save some sort of banking system, the inescapable fact is is that losses will have to be written off. The stables will have to be cleaned. More importantly, effort must be made to revive those wealth-creating parts of the economy. Wealth comes from making things or getting stuff out of the ground, not from service industries such as finance and retail, which only shuffle money around. Wealth certainly doesn't come from "quantitative easing".
The real victims will be, as ever, what we are now calling the "real" economy. It is that which needs most help. Now that could do with a bit of "quantitative easing". And it doesn't require anyone to make up bonds for another bubble.
If a fraction of the hundreds of billions spent on propping up banks (temporarily, until the reckoning) had been put into the real economy by cutting income tax or putting the State pension at a level which is not a national disgrace, wouldn't we all be in a much better position?
With the apparent failure of the latest attempt to bail out the banks, I cannot help feeling the banks may be thinking they are on to a good thing here. Now that the government has started providing huge amounts of cash to restore capital, it really cannot stop. Have the banks realised this? And have they decided that, if they continue to paint as black a picture as possible, they will continue to receive assistance almost forever? It almost seems so.
As long as they can see the government will continue to run the presses at the Mint, they will keep shovelling it down their trousers. They will continue to scour their balance sheets for anything which can be described as dodgy debt and cupboards for anything which looks like a skeleton, laundering every possible thing they can until they think they can get away with it no more. Only when they think no more cash is forthcoming will they stop and resume normal business.
If receipt of further government assistance were contingent on the resignations of high-level executives and board members, perhaps the banks would decide that they really have already had enough.
As one who grew up during the Fifties listening to heated discussions within my extended family about the relative merits of state ownership and private enterprise, as one who watched the gradual triumph of privatisation over nationalisation as fat cats made fortunes from our railways, our industries and our abilities, and as one who joined Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party when New Labour ditched Clause IV, I can't describe how exhilarating it is to hear politicians and national newspaper journalists of all persuasions urging the government to nationalise our banks. What goes round certainly comes around.
Cicero reports that during the century before his, when the growing empire of Rome was teeming with commercial opportunity, an austere, old-fashioned sort called Cato was asked what he thought to be the best career. "Raising cattle well." And the second-best occupation? "Raising cattle quite well." And third? "Raising cattle not so well." Fourth? "Farming crops." And what about financial services? "How about murder?" he replied.
Am I alone in finding it bizarre that NatWest, wholly owned by RBS, who have just recorded Britain's biggest banking loss, are advertising on television, asking us to take their financial advice?
The Government looks more like the General Staff of the First World War. They don't really know what to do. So they carry on doing more and more of the same.
Let's have a Darwin Day
As many know, 12 February marks the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth. Darwin was among the greatest of British scientists. So I have tabled an Early Day Motion in Parliament, calling for his birthday to become a public holiday.
Britain has the fewest number of public holidays in western Europe and I can think of no better way to celebrate the birthday of a man responsible for the theory of evolution, as laid forth in his groundbreaking work, On the Origins of Species.
This not only put Britain on the world centre-stage when it came to biology, it has also meant our understanding and empathy towards primates, our evolutionary cousins, and other animals has changed beyond recognition.
Having a public holiday in the name of Darwin would reinvigorate his theories in the classroom and further emphasise his importance to a whole new generation. In turn, I am hopeful that this would help instil a new passion for the sciences in our youth and lead them to take up a science at university.
Ashok Kumar MP
(Middlesbrough South & East Cleveland, Lab), House of Commons
Native Americans for President?
Responding to a letter about whether Americans will elect an atheist president, Steve Mackinder (letters, 22 January) counter-queries whether Americans will ever elect a Native American president.
Piyush "Bobby" Jindal, the Governor of Louisiana, is the first Native American to hold state-level elective office in US history. There was speculation among conservatives that he might be chosen as John McCain's running-mate. He is 37, and his name has already cropped up as a possible Republican presidential contender in 2012.
Many Americans are entirely open to a Native American holding high office. But it is unlikely that an avowed American atheist would be elected to a neighbourhood association, much less a governorship.
Dr Andrew Crawley
Christ Church, Barbados
Build a railway for the Middle East
As part of rebuilding Gaza, now is the time also to start planning a proper modern Middle East railway, connecting Lebanon, the West Bank, Gaza and Egypt. Maybe it could partly use the Israeli system to pass through Israel, rather than install totally new lines.
Until Israel and Arabs make friends, trains could pass through Israel non-stop under Israeli control, just like the fast trains from West Germany to West Berlin though East Germany in Iron Curtain days. If Gaza's inhabitants are enabled to travel they might see more to life than just Israeli oppression and become less disposed to want to attack Israel.
On holiday in 1969, I travelled on a train from Lienz in south-east Austria to Innsbruck that ran non-stop through the Italian South Tyrol. When it had to pause to await a train coming the other way at a passing place on the single line, a couple of Italian police jumped out and pointed guns at the train in case an Austrian terrorist jumped out to blow up a bit of South Tyrol, believing it still ought to be Austrian.
I bet that doesn't happen now, 40 years later, with passport-free travel and a common euro. Is it possible that a bit of freedom to travel might help dissipate Arab-Israeli hatred over 40 years?
H Trevor Jones
Ban Ki-Moon's remarkable statement in Gaza placing the Israelis in the dock for the destruction of many Gazans and their place of incarceration, did include one error. Calling for Palestinian unity is wrong if it means subjugating the democratically elected Hamas to the corrupt Fatah they fairly beat in the elections three years ago. Were Sinn Fein taken over by the SDLP or the UUP forced to unite with DUP in Northern Ireland?
If we believe in democracy should we not accept its results? I fear there can be no peace in Palestine without the inclusion of the de facto government of Gaza and the de jure of Palestine, whatever the spineless Europeans and Arabs say.
Mark Steel (21 January) rightly condemns Hamas for "smuggling" weapons, food and fuel past the Israeli blockade, instead of disarming, starving and freezing as decency demands. But they are also wicked, as Israel keeps telling us, to defend themselves against invasion by fighting from built-up areas, instead of bringing their peashooters out into the open, to confront the Apaches and F16s face to face and die like men.
Robert Vincent is talking rubbish (letters, 21 January). A boxer or horror-film actor is a willing combatant or participant. Audiences know this. Hunt followers training binoculars on a fox or deer as it tries for hours to escape the horror of the "screaming hunt" (their term of approbation) know it is not.
Gary McKinnon is fighting extradition to the US (report, 21 January), where he faces life in jail. So a British citizen who has never set foot in the US can be extradited there on a charge of computer-hacking. Had it been a US citizen doing the same in Washington into the UK's security system, he could not have extradited. Why did the British government allow this one-sided law to happen? No doubt had George Bush been in office much longer, he would have wanted this person held without trial in Guantanamo.
Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire
Airport gets bird
Chris Evans (letters, 17 January) says the US Airways ditching in the Hudson highlights the risk of flight paths over London, and the only long-term solution is a new airport to the east of the capital. In fact, such an airport was rejected in April 2003, the reason being, as reported in The Independent, "£9bn Thames airport ruled out because of birds hazard". As the RSPB said then, "Birds and planes just don't mix".
The write stuff
The importance of using the right set of "banal questions" ("The right patient? The right limb", 15 January) on a simple paper checklist is a vivid confirmation of the adage that, "If computers had been invented first, and pen and pencil later, the latter would have been regarded as one of the greatest IT breakthroughs since history began". In clinical care, if far less than 1 per cent of the funds wasted on NHS IT fantasies had been spent on higher quality national paper proformas, we would all be much healthier.
Rupert Fawdry FRCS
See you, pal
Paisley is not, and never has been, "a suburb of Glasgow" ("The man who lost £28 bn of RBS cash", 20 January). It is Scotland's largest town with a population of more than 70,000, and the home of one of the nation's most sublime ecclesiastical buildings, the 13th-century Paisley Abbey.
Hamilton, South Lanarkshire
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