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Saturday 29 September 2007
Letters: Global warming
Lovelock's ocean-mixing scheme ignores some basic science
Sir: There is a fundamental flaw in the idea that global warming might be controlled by enhancing ocean mixing (27 September). Areas where natural upwelling occurs, such as the equatorial Pacific, are highly productive, but they are also areas where the net movement of carbon dioxide is from the surface ocean to the atmosphere, not vice versa. That is because deep, cold water is not only rich in nutrients but is also rich in dissolved carbon dioxide, at a concentration that can be nearly twice as high as in the air.
It is unfortunate that scientists of the calibre of James Lovelock and Chris Rapley appear not to have checked this basic biogeochemistry before announcing their equivalent of a "perpetual motion machine", which would anyway require a major energy investment (and hence carbon dioxide release) for its large-scale manufacture.
Dr Phillip Williamson
Science Coordinator, UK Surface Ocean-Lower Atmosphere Study, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich
Sir: While it might seem convenient to place some tubes in the oceans to allow more nutrients to come to the surface and thus absorb carbon dioxide, it hardly seems the cure for man-made climate change.
There are so many simple things we could do, such as changing to progressively increasing tariffs for energy so that the relationship between use and cost become exponential. This might mean a free supply to everyone of enough energy to survive, paid for by increasingly expensive tariff bands, which would result in those who use more energy haemorrhaging cash as well as carbon.
The success of measures that might allow the planet to "heal itself" depends on us stopping damaging it. The effect on the environment of big engineering schemes should make us reluctant to fiddle with systems we don't understand, but we should take action with those we do.
Dr Colin Bannon
Burma's generals are part of any answer
Sir: Burma is far more complex than many people appreciate. The fact is the generals hold Burma together as an entity, and that without them there would still be violence, perhaps more.
The country is made up of numerous ethnic groups, many of which have their own armed forces. These groups do not see themselves as Burmese, but as Shan, Karen, Wa, Mon and so on. Burma is a political identity imposed by the British during their colonial rule. Unlike Thailand, it has failed to develop a sense of national unity.
The Burmese democratic movement could bring peace to the country, but it would still have to deal with the aspirations of these various groups, none of which will want to give up their local power bases. Such groups want a form of semi-independence , a federation. It is all very messy
What to do about it? Even if applied effectively, sanctions make local people suffer, not the generals. We have to engage with the generals. We have to bring Burma in from its isolated position and encourage its involvement with the rest of the world, especially through tourism. We need more people to visit the country and put money in the hands of locals. The generals will still hold on to power, but then they do so across most south-east Asian countries, directly or indirectly.
Even if the democratic movement took over, the generals wouldn't go away. But over the decades, there would be positive political change, democratic values would start to take root, and the generals would not be able to operate without the eyes of the world upon them. And most important, the people would start to prosper again.
I have been there, lived with the monks, been a monk in Thailand, and have many Burmese monk friends who have had their families killed in fighting during the past few decades. I have visited the Shan refugee camps on the Thai-Burmese border and it breaks my heart to see what is happening to these people.
Dr Stephen Whitehead
School of Criminology, Education, Sociology and Social Work, Keele University
Sir: The tragedy being played out on the streets of Burmese cities and the humanitarian disaster in Darfur have a common factor: neither the Burmese military nor the Sudanese government would be acting as they are without at least the consent of China. The Chinese government has described attempts by the international community to take action in Burma and Sudan as "not helpful", presumably because they are seen as not helpful to Chinese economic interests.
China is not the first and will not be the last state to see its own economic interests as vastly more important than human rights or human lives. But it does not need even to pay lip service to such notions, unlike the West. The concept of liberty has played no part in Chinese history, and it will not be a factor in the country's future, sadly for those who believe that China is the best hope for humanity's future. It is why China is an "interesting" country, in the sense of the Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times."
In order to change the situation in Burma or Darfur by force, China has to be reckoned with, either by force or by negotiation. Force is unlikely to succeed, short of armageddon, which leaves the deal: guarantee that Chinese economic interests will be satisfied in return for Chinese influence in the removal of these bankrupt tyrannies: make it "interesting" for them.
Sir: Even after the catastrophic failure of sanctions against Iraq, the stock response of so many in the West over Burma is yet more sanctions.
We know that sanctions don't have the desired effect of weakening dictatorships but are calamitous for the already suffering and impoverished and are easily sidestepped by those with power and money to buy anything they want on the black market.
Alternative ways of actually assisting the Burmese and other oppressed people have to be found, ways that actually have an impact on the specific problem.
Sir: It is evident that only China has real leverage over the murderous regime in Burma. On Wednesday, I heard an Australian government official suggest that a boycott of the Beijing Olympics would be "over the top". So how many innocent protesters have to die in the streets before it is no longer excessive to call loudly and continuously for civilised countries to abandon a propaganda exercise masquerading as a sporting event?
Sir: Two items in The Independent (27 September) caught my eye, both indicating that the Age of Reason seems to have had little effect on the world.
Both items concerned the apparent willingness of soldiers to accept orders without question: first in Burma, where the orders were given by a bunch of thugs dressed in generals' uniforms; second in Iraq, where American troops stood by while musical instruments (and much else) were destroyed, this time at the instigation of corrupt politicians.
Contrast that with the debates that took place in the English Parliamentary army at the conclusion of the Civil War. It seems that we are far less willing to question now than was the case more than 350 years ago.
J N Ricketts
Sir: Is the David Miliband who has called on the military regime in Burma to "allow peaceful protest" the same David Miliband who is a leading member of the Labour government that banned peaceful protest from the centre of London?
Private schools in the public interest
Sir: You report (24 September) that "only 29 per cent of people believe parents should have the right to send their children to fee-paying schools". Rather than shedding light on education, this surely just shows that most people are only interested in their own rights, not those of others. Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children".
The poll was commissioned by the Fabian Society, so we know what was behind the question. I would be interested to hear how the Fabian Society would fund state education for those currently in private education, if it were abolished. Those who pay for their children's education are relieving the taxpayer of a huge burden. Taxes would have to go up significantly across the board.
You quote Tom Hampson of the Fabian Society as saying that the poll "showed a real antipathy to the free ride private schools have been getting". Exactly what is this free ride? Private schools are not run as businesses, and they do not make profits. They provide employment for teachers, cleaners, IT technicians, builders and administrators, and they frequently play a key part in their local communities. It has been reported that private schools' tax breaks amount to 2.5 per cent of their turnover. This is hardly excessive, given the savings to the state of 100 per cent of the cost of educating each child.
Mr Hampson speaks about "disquiet about parents who buy their children a better chance in life". This is astonishing. Are we to be prohibited from doing anything for our children if money is involved? Parents who pay for private education are frequently making large sacrifices. How is it better for these parents to spend their hard-earned and highly taxed income on foreign holidays, bigger houses and new cars? We need more parents to give their children a better chance in life in whatever ways they can.
A 'noddy' is not the end for the BBC
Sir: Terence Blacker's piece about Alan Yentob ("Noddies: a stitch-up too far", 26 September) just shows how far the internal breast-beating and external criticism of the BBC has got out of hand. We are not in the era of Lord Reith and broadcasting is much livelier for it.
With so much staff movement between broadcasters and such a significant role for commercial production companies in the BBC's output, control of individual broadcasters inevitably becomes more difficult.
But let's keep it in perspective. The BBC remains one of Britain's most valued cultural institutions,and while it should crack down on serious malpractice, let us stop getting so excited about spliced-in "noddies" and the like. Television is a highly artificial medium, and most of us have a fair enough idea of the tricks that programme-makers use to achieve the illusion of reality.
That the BBC has apparently been pulling current affairs and documentary programmes for fear of annoying the Government again is far more worrying.
Low-energy light bulbs are painful
Sir: Where does Hilary Benn's announcement that low-energy fluorescent light bulbs will soon be the only kind available leave the tens of thousands of people who, like my daughter, are highly allergic to this kind of light? She is already effectively barred from many public buildings and offices by their use of fluorescent lighting, which in the case of lupus sufferers like her causes dizziness, nausea and skin rashes. A genuine consultation before taking this step might have avoided an ill-thought-out initiative that will result in even more impairment to many people's quality of life.
Brompton-on-Swale, North Yorkshire
Sir: Hilary Benn estimates that the move to low-energy fluorescent light bulbswill save five million tons of carbon dioxide a year and so take the UK closer to its target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent by 2050.
Unfortunately, his cabinet colleagues in the Department for Transport are working in the opposite direction. They want to expand aviation in the UK and thus increase greenhouse gas emissions. For example, building another runway at Stansted would add more than five million tons of carbon dioxide a year. So all Mr Benn's light bulb efforts will be blown out of the water by just one extra runway at Stansted. So much for joined-up thinking in Whitehall.
Saffron Walden, Essex
Talk to the animals
Sir: I was pleased to read about how such a variety of animals have adapted, with the help of farmers, to a change in climate ("The new beasts of old England", 28 September). Perhaps they could teach us how to do it.
J S Jones
Lytham St Anne's, Lancashire
BT payment charges
Sir: Like your other correspondents, I object strongly to paying BT's £4.50-a-quarter charge for online payments. I sent BT a formal letter of complaint about two months ago and have continued to deduct the amount from my bills. This seems to have worked, as I have had no response from BT to the payment deductions or to my letter of complaint. I would encourage your correspondents and all others who are equally incensed by this sneaky and unnecessary charge do likewise.
The rousing rector
Sir: The Rev Sabine Baring-Gould, the one-time rector of the church of St Edmund, East Mersea, prolific author, and pet-bat owner, had one other claim to fame (letter, 27 September). In 1865, he wrote what became one of the most rousing of evangelistic hymns, "Onward, Christian Soldiers".
An English parliament
Sir: I wonder when the Conservative leader, Dave Cameron, is going to wake up and smell the English rose. The Tory party are a lost cause in Scotland and Wales, so he should be putting all his efforts into trying to win over the English electorate with positive thinking. He should stop worrying himself over how green is the valley and whether to take the high road or the low road. He could start to win his case if he looked at an English parliament.
Sir: So someone has been jailed for doing 172mph in a Porsche (25 September). Why are cars allowed on the road if they can do more than 70mph? The government should make it illegal to sell cars that can do this speed. This would make the roads much safer. If most cars could only do 70mph but police cars could go faster, it would make it easier to catch criminals.
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