Sir: Your excellent coverage of the "Destruction of Africa" as described in the UN Environment Programme's new atlas (11 June) follows your ground-breaking report on the "epidemic of extinctions" revealed by the latest Living Planet Index (16 May).
The former shows no less than environmental collapse across a whole continent, while the latter documents a global mass extinction that is already taking huge bites out of the richness of our planet's species.
This news from the world is very bad. We are making for ourselves a future that no previous generation of people could have imagined outside of apocalyptic visions. By any reasonable accounting, we are making a future that is no future at all, for anyone. Another kind of vision for the future is needed, one that can motivate people on the streets of Cairo and Lagos as much as those in Paris and Ottawa.
And that vision, with all that it implies for lifestyles and businesses, needs to be implemented by a mass action of unprecedented determination and inclusiveness.
But where are these things? We can survive these challenges – perhaps – but only if we reinvent ourselves, and our governments become more firmly focused on the future. Our leaders need to govern on behalf of future generations of people, and to preserve the future in-tegrity and productivity of diverse eco-systems.
Old, short-term ways of thinking and acting are not good enough for the new emergency. The decade 2010-20 will be the most critical in the history of life on Earth, when we simply have to get a grip. Since those years may well be the heart of David Cameron's premiership, let's hope he's paying attention.
Dr Julian Caldecott
Bath & North-east Somerset
Davis: is it courage, or merely vanity?
Sir: The Ramadhan Foundation, the UK's leading Muslim youth organisation, commends David Davis on his courageous and principled proposal to resign as the shadow home secretary and as an MP. For so long, politicians have been accused of putting their own interests before their principles. Mr Davis has done what is right and we salute his courage and commitment to defending civil liberties in this country.
The Government failed to provide any evidence to suggest the need for an increase of pre-charge detention; the Labour MPs that changed their votes and voted for Gordon Brown should hang their head in shame. Rights that have taken hundreds of years to be enshrined in British law should not be given up on the basis of shoring up the failed premiership of a lame-duck Prime Minister.
David Davis's principled defence of civil liberties and the rule of law is an inspiration for the nation. We look forward to a debate based on the issues and evidence, not jumped-up proposals for political benefits. The Government should not play politics with people's lives.
Chairman, The Ramadhan Foundation, Manchester
Sir: David Davis claims to be taking a principled stand against the Government's anti-terror measures. I fail to see how resigning in a fit of pique, triggering a by-election that will cost hard-working local council taxpayers thousands of pounds (in a safe Tory seat, where there is almost no chance of losing) and attempting to persuade people to vote on a single issue is a principled stand.
I believe MPs should represent their constituents' interests (all polls show the public to be enormously supportive of measures to protect us from terrorist attacks) and if they disagree with a policy to make the argument and vote accordingly. That is a principled stand.
Resigning in a blaze of camera flashes so you can portray yourself as a martyr, while local people pick up the tab for your unnecessary and meaningless by-election is simply the politics of vanity. Mr Davis should be ashamed and the Tory party should repay local taxpayers for this vanity by-election. In Yorkshire, we deserve better.
Sir: David Davis has taken a decision that will almost certainly deprive him of high office under the present Tory regime. But he has had the guts to stand up for a cause that millions of fellow Brits believe in. That is freedom from a Stalinist-like state, which spies on your every move and puts one in prison without being charged with any offence.
Mr Davis plans to stand in a by-election on the issue of freedom for the people of Britain without interference by the Government. Yet, that same yellow-bellied administration is so scared of being found out, that the people in fact agree with Mr Davis, that they will, childishly, not put up a Labour candidate against him.
Bridlington, East Yorkshire
Sir: I am not in the position of being able to make the kind of principled stand David Davis announced. But, after the disgraceful vote in the Commons, I did what I have been thinking of for too long and done nothing about: I went online and joined Liberty.
Clearly, Parliament has given up on preserving liberties under this most tyrannical administration, and it is only non-governmental free associations that we can have faith with. I note that my MP was not on the list of those who voted for Magna Carta, and hope that everybody will check how their alleged representative voted.
If that puts me on one of the many lists Gordon Brown and his henchmen seem to delight in, it will be a small price to pay.
Sir: I am in favour of 42-day detention for suspect terrorists (not others), but with one proviso; it should be operative for one year only and then renewable annually by Parliament, as was the old Militia Act for about 200 years.
We are at war against evil forces, and in time of war some civil rights must be abrogated; in 1939, hundreds of aliens were imprisoned lest they prove a danger to our security and nobody complained. Let us be realistic.
Dr P D Hooper
Chale, Isle of Wight
Sir: Again, Gordon Brown has forced highly dubious legislation through the Commons, resorting, if reports are to be believed, to bribery to ensure the support of his Celtic cousins from Northern Ireland.
The people of England, who make up 85 per cent of the population of the UK, can only watch in despair as the precious civil liberties their forebears gained over centuries of struggle and sacrifice are eroded. And for what? So that Mr Brown and his Celtic cohorts can hang on to the illusion of power and keep their lucrative jobs for a bit longer.
These unprincipled, self-serving individuals care nothing for the 50 million people who live in England. It is so unjust that hard-won rights enshrined in ancient English law can be interfered with and degraded by politicians who, as representatives of constituences outside England, have no mandate to govern us.
Stapleford Tawney, Essex
Sir: I applaud David Davis's action. I'm not a Conservative and, for that reason, I find it absolutely disgusting that a Conservative is leading the charge against the 42 days. It highlights the complete moral bankruptcy at the core of New Labour.
But I have a solution; we should have an "I am Spartacus" moment. Let the 36 Labour rebels resign their seats and fight their own by-elections. Then we can have a proper debate.
Sir: Admirable, brave and right; thank you, David Davis, for having the courage to say what so many of us in this country can see and believe is happening, the insidious erosion of our liberties.
Thank you for following your conscience, challenging the spineless and the faceless and taking a position that some would say is neither safe nor politic. He should know that there are many of us in this country who will back him all the way.
Sir: I am a Year 10 student, at present reading Ian Kershaw's biography of Hitler. I was struck by how similar Germany's slide into dictatorship in 1932-34 feels to the present situation in Britain.
We are sliding into our own dictatorship, a police state where "anti-terrorist" laws are used by councils at will to spy on people, where our every phone call and email will be stored by the Government (and we know how careful they are with our details).
Add to this the ability to lock up people for 42 days without charge and Britain feels more and more like a dictatorship and less like a democracy, and this is before the looming menace of ID cards is added.
Apathy let Hitler into power, we may not have our own Hitler but we certainly have what feels like a dictatorship.
Smacking ban bad for our children
Sir: Far from putting the interests of young people first (leading article, 10 June), a ban on smacking would serve merely to advance the interests of a vocal minority intent on imposing their own views on parental discipline by force of law.
It would divert already overstretched child protection resources from the children who need them most, and expose happy children from loving homes to the trauma and potential damage of police and social service interventions, although they are not at the slightest risk of harm. In short, it would not give children more protection, but less.
The anti-smacking lobby's appeal to the principle of "equality" is deeply flawed because it fails to recognise that parents have a unique relationship with their children, bearing unique responsibilities and unique powers, and an occasional disciplinary smack is by no means incompatible with a warm family life where children are loved and cherished.
It is ludicrous to suggest that there is no difference between loving physical correction by a parent and a violent assault perpetrated by a stranger. There are many things parents do to and for their children every day that would be quite inappropriate, if not illegal, to do to another adult.
In Sweden, which banned smacking in 1979, physical child abuse cases classified as criminal assaults rose by 489 per cent in the period 1981-94. This hardly lends weight to the claim that legislating against smacking will lead to healthier inter-generational relationships.
Director, Family Education Trust, Twickenham, Middlesex
Sir: In your leading article, you say that "outlawing the physical chastisement of children would be a straightforward way for the Government to show that it is serious about putting young people's interests first". This can hold true only if the Government believes it is right to uphold children's "rights" without upholding the need for them to be taught their responsibilities.
You correctly identify that "our society has a grossly dysfunctional relationship with its younger members", but goes on to undermine what many consider to be a mainstay of responsible parenting – that is, discipline – effectively conflating the physical punishment of children with child abuse, rather than attacking the real issues of neglect and disinterested parenting that underlie the sad statistics of criminality and delinquency.
Abuse is already adequately covered by legislation, and the banning of ordinary, controlled smacking will not prevent one instance of sexual abuse or physical injury against children.
Sir: Copeland Borough Council's eagerness to "volunteer" future generations of Cumbrians to a dangerous nuclear dump is in direct contrast to their recent draconian treatment of a householder whose bin was slightly overfull.
Tragic emo fan
Sir: Having read the story on the emo fan (12 June), I looked for lyrics of the Black Parade album on the internet. Almost all are desperately negative, so how can My Chemical Romance defend their lyrics as anti-suicide? I do not find it surprising that these words provide some of the background to a tragic suicide. What a pity he did not heed the message of the one positive song I found in this album, which says: "I am not afraid to keep on living/I am not afraid to walk this world alone".
Too right, Digger
Sir: Your article about the drought in Australia killing thousands of cattle (12 June) used the word "ranch" in the headline. No Australian wants to see more creeping Americanisation of their heritage: the correct term is "station". And the picture caption also used "ranchers" when stockman or jackeroo would be more correct.
Sir: Is Jeremy Warner promoting the eating of breakfasts? In his column (Business, 6 June) he started by describing the Government's home-building target as "pie in the sky". In the next segment, he suggested the sustainable investment rule "is already toast". By the time he was telling B&B shareholders to "wake up and smell the coffee", I was drooling. Cruelly, I was trapped on a low-cost airline flight and unable to indulge the urge.
Sir: With no TV set, I thought I had finally escaped from the clutches of TV Licensing (letters, 11 June) when I entered this ancient establishment. Years ago, when I still had no TV set, I replied to their threats to the effect that I had no objection to a police officer searching my home, with or without a warrant, but that if any of their Gestapo made an attempt to enter my home they would succeed only over my dead body. Recently, I was again threatened in my present humble berth and I sent a similar reply.
Royal Hospital Chelsea, London SW3
Sir: As we arrived at Medstead & Four Marks station on the footplate of a Watercress Line steam engine with enthusiasts learning footplate skills, I spotted a fellow volunteer on the platform and called, "Hello Mark" as we passed him. Quick as a flash, from one of our students: "Is that one of the Four Marks?"
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