For farmers in Africa, the climate change disaster has started
Sir: It is very good news that Sir David Attenborough has finally said that human-induced climate change may lead to "major disasters on a global scale" (24 May). In Ethiopia we have not needed to wait for graphs to prove climate change is hurting us.
We have seen it in increasing floods and droughts and decreasing and less predictable rainfall. These disrupted seasonal patterns leave millions at risk of starvation, as we see today in the Horn of Africa.
An 82-year-old farmer in northern Ethiopia, Mr Mengesha, recently told me that 30 years ago his harvest lasted his family for more than two years, but now erratic rains mean his sons barely harvest enough to last them seven months. With the exception of a tiny and fortunate minority who have access to irrigation, most Ethiopian peasant farmers depend on rain to grow traditional crops. Planting and harvest are fine-tuned to specific times of year, so when rains arrive late and finish early, poor farmers can expect drastically reduced harvests. Pastoralists in Ethiopia and Kenya are facing calamities as a result of extended droughts and erratic rainfall.
For us the effects of climate change are a daily reality pushing us closer and closer to disaster. Graphs of lives lost will soon replace graphs of rising carbon levels unless the world not only acknowledges the problem but legislates to change its behaviour."
PROGRAMME SUPPORT ADVISOR, TEARFUND HORN OF AFRICA SUB-REGIONAL OFFICE ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA
Sir: It is now generally accepted that global warming is threatening the future of our planet and is to a large extent the fault of the industrialised world.
The environmentalist lobby and even the Government threaten us with dire consequences if we don't mend our ways. We are exhorted to use our vehicles less, buy cars with lower fuel consumption, save water, reduce the temperature in our homes, use low-energy bulbs and so on.
The Government was elected to lead us and if the threat is as great as we are told then there should be compulsory measures to ensure that we consume less of the earth's resources and cause much less pollution. What would the consequences have been if blackout curtains and the civil defence measures taken during the Second World War had been voluntary? Waiting for George Bush is not an option.
ELLESMERE PORT, CHESHIRE
Israel, Palestine and academic boycotts
Sir: We heard with dismay that the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education in its national conference on 27 May, will consider a motion recommending boycotting Israeli academics who "will not publicly dissociate themselves from Israeli policies".
Academic boycotts are to our mind unacceptable and counterproductive. Apart from their condemnation by international bodies, and general considerations of harming progress in science, the arts and education, such boycotts, whatever their underlying causes, alienate the very people - university academics - who are generally the most active in trying to alleviate these causes.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of Israeli and Palestinian policies in the Middle East conflict, there are many other conflicts in the world today: the Russian crushing of Chechnya; the Sudanese genocide in Darfur; and the Chinese occupation and on-going ethnic takeover of Tibet, to say nothing of severe human rights abuses by governments in many other countries. These conflicts are arguably as bitter, if not much more so, than that between Israelis and Palestinians. Yet the country singled out for condemnation and boycott is Israel. We have heard nothing of the boycotting of Russian, Chinese or other academics.
We do not agree with those who claim that any criticism of Israeli policies must stem from sinister motives. But when, of all the conflicts in the world today, you choose to single out for condemnation and boycott the Jewish state, and only the Jewish state, we can only repeat the words of the Times editorial that greeted the similarly perverse AUT actions a year ago, that such "actions are an echo of the Nazi ban on Jewish academics, and the general discrimination so common three generations ago".
We urge the members of NATFHE to oppose this motion. If passed, it will cause much damage to the cause of academic freedom. It will also taint NATFHE with the mark of extreme selectivity, to put it at its mildest.
PROFESSOR JACOB KLEIN PROFESSOR RAYMOND DWEK, FRS
UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD BARONESS DEECH HON FELLOW, ST ANNE'S COLLEGE, OXFORD PROFESSOR MARK PEPYS, FRS UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON PROFESSOR SIR ALAN FERSHT FRS UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE
Sir: Muslim Aid has made an initial allocation of £100,000 towards the provision of medicine, food, and the other necessities of life to the long suffering poor of Palestine. The situation today is grim. Over 70 per cent of the population is in long-term unemployment, hospitals have run out of medicine and as a result people are dying. This is an unprecedented situation.
Aid and trade have been disrupted, causing immense hardship. According to international law, collective punishment is illegal and this is what is happening in Palestine while the international community looks on.
Besides giving emergency relief to Palestine, Muslim Aid has for many years also provided hospitals with equipment and medicine; supported educational institutions to empower the poor; set up income generation projects to tackle poverty; promoted agricultural programmes; and taken care of the vulnerable sections of society, such as orphans, widows and the elderly.
Now the situation is such that all our empowerment programmes have had to be halted so that we can concentrate on life-saving initiatives. We will be providing urgently needed medicines to 10 hospitals in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as food for the poor, the sick and the disabled.
CHAIRMAN, BOARD OF TRUSTEES MUSLIM AID, LONDON E1 1
Desperate attack on Brian Haw
Sir: As a police officer with over 16 years' service I am horrified at the actions of the Metropolitan Police in relation to the veteran peace protester Brian Haw.
It is a measure of the two Blairs' absolute desperation to "hang on" that they choose to attack a solitary, slightly eccentric but totally harmless individual. It is also a clear demonstration that neither of them, to quote favourite Blairite jargon is "fit for purpose", for surely they realise none of us would even have heard of dear old Brian without their violent and unacceptable interventions.
I have written to the Commissioner and lodged a formal complaint. I ask that every like-minded person does the same in the hope that the police will be far too busy coping with their complex and bureaucratic complaints system to bother Brian any further.
How consent is manufactured
Sir: On reading Max Hotopf's letter (24 May) I was not surprised. As a former telephone market researcher for a major UK research organisation I carried out one of the surveys commissioned by the Government into choice in the NHS. Mr Hotopf's damning assessment of the research matches my own.
The questions were highly biased and leading, with little or no qualitative inquiry. The whole questionnaire focused almost entirely on the possible benefits of choice, with no mention of the trade-offs involved. If you ask someone, as this survey did, where they would go if given a choice between four NHS hospitals and one private one, you are not only loading the question (by singling out one private among many public) but ignoring the many issues that come with it.
Market research companies are paid large amounts of money to come up with findings that are to be used for a purpose. In light of this, as well as research standards that wouldn't pass an A-level psychology course, I am not surprised that I ended up manufacturing consent, only ashamed.
JASPER PIDDOCK JACKSON
'Da Vinci' makes serious points
Sir: Mr Thomas approves the Da Vinci Code film, but only on the safe ground that it is entertaining baloney (letter, 25 May). It is in fact a creaky plotted, modestly entertaining film, but the real interest lies in the unusual attempt to combine entertainment with ideas.
The use of eccentric ideas to combat orthodox ones is not an aesthetic fault: eccentricity should cause both thought and amusement. Cries of "Baloney!" are clearly defensive and one-sided: scholars have not done enough to draw popular attention to the intellectual ferment of early Christianity, and should not merely scoff when an outsider makes the attempt.
Drawing attention to texts like the Gospel of Philip, which are significant though not authoritative, deserves more than derision: it's a bold thing for a popular film to do. Has the point that fanaticism about religion is extraordinarily dangerous, and that those who seek to oppose it may fall right into it, been made so often and so well within popular culture that we need not hear it again?
I started with the feeling that the critics' condemnations were excessive and ended by thinking that they were a little sinister, a sign of the enormous power of mutual indoctrination among elites.
Alternative cures on the NHS
Sir: There have been no tests proving the validity of acupuncture nor homeopathy, nor of any other "alternative medicines". If there had been, they wouldn't be "alternative". Nevertheless, you want the NHS to pay for them (leading article, 24 May).
What do you want us all to pay for? Your visit to Lourdes? Your appointment with your guru in India? Your trip to the Amazon jungle to see your witch-doctor? The list is endless, all of them making you feel good, because you believe they will.
No sir, pay for them yourself. Why should I pay? All the "treatments" are barred to me, since I don't believe in any of them and the feel-good factor wouldn't work.
Sir: People turn to "alternative" medical methods not to be bloody-minded or to upset the medical establishment, but when conventional medicines and procedures have not worked or caused too many side effects.
While we, as taxpayers, have no option but to contribute to the NHS we should be allowed to choose methods of help we feel appropriate. The NHS is there for all of us.
Sir: It is time to recognise that the "placebo effect" is merely a label for any effect that cannot be explained. Its presence offers little more to understanding than any putative effects of alternative medicines.
Part of the confusion comes from a simple acceptance of what the patient claims the benefits to be. My studies of patients' experience of alternative medicines have shown that although their assessment of their condition was the same before and after treatment they claimed that the treatment had been very helpful. We need much closer examination of what the "benefits" of palliative treatments actually are before we accept or reject any therapy.
PROFESSOR DAVID CANTER
SCHOOL OF PSYCHOLOGY THE UNIVERSITY OF LIVERPOOL
Sir: The arguments for using faith-based medicine alongside evidence-based medicine mirror the arguments for including teaching creationism alongside evolutionary theory.
First we had fundamentalist religious types arguing that one book contained the truth about creation, despite the evidence provided by geologists, astro-physicists and geneticists. Now we have a prince arguing that alternative therapies work, against the opinion of the vast majority of trained medical practitioners.
I look forward to the day when religion is kept out of science lessons, hocus-pocus is banished from medicine, and princes are confined to fairy tales.
You can't win
Sir: All we need to know about the gambling industry (25 May) is that if you win too often the casino will bar you and notify other casinos, while the bookie will close your account. We don't hear about this because it doesn't happen too often - most gamblers are hopeless losers.
ESKDALEMUIR, DUMFRIES AND GALLOWAY
Sir: Mr Pattison (Letter, 25 May) reports many members of ethnic minorities flying the flag of St George. This despite repeated government efforts to promote Britishness. It suggests to me that the Union flag, curtseying to the Queen, and having faith in the Home Office, are dysfunctional and unfit for purpose. On the streets, Britishness unites no one.
On the bottle
Sir: After all the recent correspondence concerning the merits of breastfeeding, and the often negative public attitude to the practice, what a great pity that the photograph accompanying your article about caesarean births (23 May) shows a mother bottlefeeding her infant. Surely The Independent isn't squeamish about such matters?
THE REVD SHARON GRENHAM-TOZE
Bikes on the pavement
Sir: Can we move on from who the bastards are? Both pedestrians and cyclists are now name calling because the real bastards have divided and ruled: the car drivers think that the road belongs to them, they are the ones who are the cause of it all. If Government and councils put in proper cycle routes the cyclists would stay in them , the pavements would be for pedestrians and the this petty name-calling would stop. At least cyclists and pedestrians are not destroying the planet. Car drivers are. Bastards.
Sir: Mr Cohen (letter, 23 May) suggests that Nigel Havers "should try spending a bit of time on a bike surrounded by murderous mental machines driven by bastards like him". When I lived in Chelsea I occasionally saw Mr Havers on his travels. He rode a bike.