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Wednesday 19 December 2007
Letters: European Demons
The paranoia that fears non-existent European demons
Sir: John Simpson (letters, 14 December) has used a very selective view of history regarding the European Union.
The French Foreign Minister in 1950, Robert Schuman, in his declaration which launched the European Iron and Steel Community said "any war between France and Germany would become not merely unthinkable but materially impossible", coal and steel being the two industries that still provided the industrial muscle for military power. After 1945, Europe was fortunate to have such far-sighted statesmen as Schuman, Monnet and Adenauer.
It was the EEC that tied West Germany into peaceful development. The tragedy for Britain has always been that, with the exception of Sir Edward Heath, our leaders have failed to grasp the opportunity to be a fully engaged member of the EU. We could have taken the lead in setting up the Common Market, but when the Treaty of Rome was signed we just sent along some junior observers. Our Prime Minister now avoids participating in the signing ceremony of the Lisbon Treaty.
We must stop looking for non-existent demons from across the North Sea. We have far more to fear from the Washington of George Bush than from Brussels.
Sir: Thank you for your balanced leading article on the EU treaty (13 December). Yet on the letters page of 14 December you publish intemperate ravings like those of Mr Simpson, based on ignorance and covert xenophobia: we can get those in the Murdoch press any time.
Like the UKIP (the name itself is fraudulent the UK is independent already) these Euro-paranoiacs refuse to understand basic realities such as that the EU is a union of democracies, or that splendid isolation and/or "the special relationship" with the US (special because it's one-way) aren't serious alternatives.
But never mind, the lack of evidence for this evil conspiracy doesn't mean there isn't one it just shows how devious these garlic-chewing foreigners are. I bet they appointed the dictator while Mr Brown was on the way to Lisbon! Run for your bunker, Mr Simpson!
Brian Connor Robles
Future is low-carbon and prosperous
Sir: Given his negative comments about environmentalists, he might not appreciate the support, but Bruce Anderson is spot-on when he writes (17 December): "It is perfectly possible for the world to go on enjoying a rising standard of living while reducing carbon emissions."
If anything this statement is too weak. If we don't cut our carbon emissions our standard of living will go down. It is vital that we demonstrate that a low-carbon future will be a better place to live.
Unfortunately, Mr Anderson's article also rolls out some standard myths. First, there is not necessarily a connection between economic growth and energy consumption. For example, a massive programme of home insulation would create thousands of jobs and generate growth in the building and associated manufacturing trades. Energy consumption would drop as a result.
Second, Mr Anderson assumes that there is a direct connection between economic growth and quality of life. Beyond a certain level of GDP a country's quality of life is not correlated with economic growth. America has a higher per capita GDP than Europe but the average American has a lower quality of life.
Environmentalists have long argued that our economy must use less energy and the energy we do use must be carbon-free. The economic benefits jobs, business opportunities and increased social welfare of this model are now widely recognised, as the recent report on climate change by the CBI demonstrates.
Economics Campaigner, Friends of the Earth, London N1
Sir: Bruce Anderson asserts: "There were always two problems with Kyoto. It was far too influenced by the Greenpeace-style excesses of mid-90s environmentalism and it did not include America." These points are both incorrect.
First, the main influence on Kyoto, which could have otherwise produced simple regulation like the successful Montreal Protocol in relation to ozone-depleting gases, was mainly American economists who wanted to increase efficiency of regulation by introducing a market-based mechanism, to whit, cap-and-trade. Second, it did include America throughout years of negotiations and satisfied American negotiators.
Anderson then asserts that there was never any question of America signing because "The Kyoto limits were incompatible with economic growth" again, factually inaccurate. The UK record shows it is possible to decouple growth from growth of carbon emissions and there was a reasonable view at the time that the US would sign, along with everyone else. We nearly all missed the then growing influence of Chicago School neo-liberal/ right think-tanks and economists with their radical opposition to any constraints on the market and how this would influence the US Senate's ratification.
With increasing appreciation of the potential dangers of accelerating (positive) feed-back to the global climate system, Anderson's inaccuracies represent a clear and present danger to human security.
Professor Emeritus, Middlesex University
Sir: It is sad that Bruce Anderson feels the only way he can make a point is to label lots of worried and committed people as lunatics.
And what a point: that wind turbines don't work, cost too much and despoil the countryside. They are one of the most elegant energy-producing solutions the human race has yet devised. They are today's technology with no known problems, can be built quickly (unlike nuclear), leave no toxic wastes (unlike nuclear), do not add to carbon emissions (unlike coal).
We are currently buying our energy at a price below its true production cost. Factor in the environmental effects of coal, and the dangers and toxic wastes of nuclear, and the true cost of those technologies goes way beyond wind turbines. It is they that are attracting the major subsidies, not wind power. If wind turbines were adopted on the grand scale, their costs would plummet. As to despoiling the countryside, they should be built at sea where they do no harm to anyone. With regard to reliability of supply; build enough of them in enough locations and you will get it (as a major EU study suggested only last week).
I agree with Bruce that most of us don't want to go back to the dark and dismal past, and that a ready supply of affordable, sustainable, non-polluting energy is needed to maintain our present standard. And we have a proven solution staring us in the face: wind.
Finally, even if they had to be built in the countryside, which they don't, what would you rather have in your back yard, Bruce, a nuclear power plant, a coal-fired power station, a gasworks or a bunch of windmills? I know where my vote would go.
Privatising the care of the elderly
Sir: Mary Dejevsky is right to be cautious about government plans to "create more competition among care agencies" by extending direct payments (Opinion, 11 December). In theory, the idea of giving individuals more control over their affairs is admirable, but in practice many in need of social care are those least likely to be in a position to organise and manage their own care packages.
A cynic might conclude (not least due to the unnerving consensus between New Labour and the Tories) that the main objective of this policy is to privatise accountability, and provide a smokescreen for further cuts in provision as means-testing criteria continue to be tightened. When a whole social-services department is in financial crisis because of cuts in funding it tends to make the newspapers; when an individual is no longer given sufficient funding to provide adequate levels of care it doesn't.
The prospect is of fewer and fewer of the most vulnerable being given the resources that any civilised society should regard as a minimum.
Vilified for trying to protect children
Sir: Jeremy Laurance, writing about David Southall, asks "Who'll save our children now?" (11 December), but unfortunately the answer is not social workers. The child-protection system is only effective if doctors and social workers have the confidence to rescue children at high risk without the fear of media derision and unwarranted hostility from parent pressure groups.
Social workers are already discovering that the personal cost to them as child-protection workers is too high and many are avoiding this area of work. The Southall case is further evidence of how professionals can be vilified for trying to protect children.
Too many young children continue to suffer and die because professionals fail to spot severe physical abuse. That so many scandals continue suggests that there is a laissez-faire attitude in society towards battered children and an over-emphasis on the rights of parents.
While doctors have an important role in identifying children who have been abused, it is social workers who have the lead role in investigating and taking action. The present multi-disciplinary system provides a range of different perspectives which leads to greater accuracy in identifying cases of child abuse. Some cases which would not stand up in a criminal court can be brought before a Family Court, where the burden of proof is lower.
The reluctance of social workers to remove children who have subsequently been deemed high risk is essentially a reflection of society's muddled attitude towards its most vulnerable children and their parents.
Model railway fans are human too
Sir: Once again those of us who "collect model trains" are subjected to insulting stereotyping (Hermione Eyre, 15 December). You would not permit one of your columnists to use the terms "black" or "Muslim" as a term of abuse but anyone whose leisure interests go beyond watching celebrity-obsessed "reality" television or terminally pessimistic soaps is considered fair game.
As the chairman of one of the largest model railway clubs in the south-east of England I can tell you that our members of both genders include civil servants, lorry drivers, police officers, fire fighters, civil engineers, mechanical engineers, research chemists, students and IT experts. Believe it or not, most of them are married with children and as far as I know have what pass for normal social lives outside of the incestuous metropolitan party circuit.
John K Quick
Crowborough, East Sussex
Give cyclists their own safe lanes
Sir: Because cyclists are so exposed compared with other road users they need the protection of an established cycle route network. However the pathetic provision of cycling infrastructure in the UK, which you highlighted (leading article, 13 December), means that cyclists are constantly faced with "lethal interfaces" with other forms of road transport. Should central or local authorities be encouraging people onto what is often a dangerous road system for cyclists?
The paltry funding allocated to cycling is disproportionate to the potential impact that a safe, segregated system of cycle lanes would have on reducing congestion and pollution, which in turn would encourage many more people to cycle. For example, imagine the positive impact if just 10 per cent more parents felt they were able to deliver children safely to school by bike.
Rehabilitation for Leni Riefenstahl?
Sir: Guy Keleny (Errors and Omissions, 15 December) was "playing with fire" or "on thin ice" (choose a clich) in expressing admiration for the films of Leni Riefenstahl. Only eight months ago Bryan Ferry was lambasted by the press for a similar utterance.
In other circumstances, the Riefenstahl films would be listed alongside Citizen Kane or Battleship Potemkin for excellence, but it remains to be seen what the public reaction will be to Jodie Foster's brave choice of current project. Perhaps it will bring the rehabilitation the subject deserves.
Milton under Wychwood, Oxfordshire
Missing in Iowa
Sir: So yet another batch of personal data slips through the Government's slippery fingers this time in Iowa. Iowa? What is it doing in Iowa? Why is the UK government sending details of UK citizens to the USA?
The power of steam
Sir: Don Manley (letter, 18 December) is quite right that your previous day's front page "Up in smoke" showed cooling towers, rather than the chimney that actually emits the smoke. However, your picture reminded me that coal-fired power stations generate more waste heat than they do electricity. I hope that Gordon Brown will have that fact in mind when he considers applications to build new coal-fired plant in the UK.
Dr Lawrence Clark
Terror and torture
Sir: Brendan Murphy (letter, 18 December) misses the point when he says that we put our troops in peril if we use waterboarding, as our adversaries may then use it against us. Al-Qa'ida's preferred interrogation technique usually involves summary execution. If they would stick to waterboarding they would be doing us a favour.
Sir: I'm perplexed by your positioning of photographs on today's television page (18 December). At first glance it appears that Oliver Twist features two blinged-up black gangsters, Ian Hislop and Paul Merton are implicated in the murder of a urologist and poor Anthony Worral Thompson features in Channel 4's "My Boyfriend the Sex Tourist". The pictures in fact relate to more mundane offerings elsewhere on the page. I think you need to be more careful. For a moment I thought there was actually something worth watching at Christmas.
Don't bank on it
Sir: If the banks have so little confidence in each other that they will not lend to each other, why should the public lend to the banks?
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