Solutions to global warming lie in painful choices, not quick fixes
Sir: Paul Crutzen's idea for seeding the upper atmosphere with sulphur as an "escape route" from the global-warming crisis (report, 31 July) is rife with potential irony. While Crutzen sees his proposal as a way to break the log-jam of political inaction, and especially American intransigence, regarding climate change, such proposals may in fact have the opposite of their intended political effect.
As an American reader, what strikes me about all such proposals is the way they appeal to the peculiarly American faith in technological "get-out-of-jail-free cards". Americans are easily seduced by the idea of applying technology so as to avoid politically or socially painful choices. When confronted by profound problems, Americans are always tempted to believe that just around the corner there may be an inventor-entrepreneur with a "technological fix" - a solution that may involve paying a small fee but which will not otherwise disturb our (radically overconsumptive) lives. This optimistic faith is a profound part of the American national temper.
What's disquieting is that this faith also provides Americans with a rationale for indefinitely postponing tough choices. The result, in the case of global warming and many others, is that the problem gets worse and worse, harder and harder to deal with, while Americans just keep expecting technological salvation to arrive, deus ex machina - in this case, literally from the sky.
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA
Sir: Mr Blair has announced a carbon-trading agreement with the state of California committing the parties to work together to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and promote new clean-fuel technologies (report, 1 August).
Here's a suggestion. Why not do more to encourage people to buy cars with low emissions? For example, all such cars could be given exemption from the London Congestion Charge and issued with a different shape tax disc enabling them to park free, or at reduced rates, in local authority car parks and even at meters. This would cost little real money other than reduced revenue and would make a measurable difference if it encouraged the wholesale purchase of low-emission cars. Further, increased sales of such cars would influence car makers to develop low-emission car technologies for the future, perhaps even in California.
Warped logic that punishes innocents
Sir: I agree with much of J D Norman's letter (1 August) and also with what he has to say about an insidious anti-Semitism raising its ugly head again. I, too, detest testosterone-fuelled, gun-toting rallies, be they by Nazis, Hamas, Hizbollah, or other obsessives.
However, his suggestion that it is probably all right to collectively punish parts of any given enemy population, which is already cowed by an aggressive fascist or otherwise undesirable minority, sends a distinct chill down my spine. As a little boy I just about survived the firestorms sent my way by the RAF/USAF and I beg to differ ever so humbly.
In Lebanon roughly two thirds of the population have no truck with the Hizbollah militia or party. In Germany about two thirds did not vote for the Nazis. For rabid Islamists one of the main arguments that bombing the British population is justified is because they returned Tony Blair to power; only about 22 per cent of the vote was responsible for this result, yet the vast innocent majority is still considered free for the cull, including the millions who demonstrated against the war. This is the perverted logic of the madhouse.
Ultimately it all comes down to our innate tribal impulses, and we far too easily use what Hannah Arendt called die Sprache des Unmenschen (roughly: the language of inhumanity) with respect to our opponents or perceived opponents. Such language comes at a price.
Sir: The widely held popular view of politicians as cynical and selfserving is wholly endorsed by the failure of Labour MPs, and the Cabinet in particular, to rise up in protest against Tony Blair's complicity in the carnage taking place in Lebanon.
A revolt by his administration and MPs would surely jolt him out of his fantasy world of hubris and messianic posing. Their failure to act implicates them all in the atrocities taking place. Who would want to vote for such repugnant or weak people in the next election?
I do not want people running my country who are prepared to put their own career prospects above the unnecessary and unjustified taking of hundreds of innocent lives and the wilful destruction of a country's infrastructure.
Sir: Sir Geoffrey Chandler claims that the underlying cause of Middle-Eastern terrorism is "the unlawful occupation of Palestinian land" (Letters, 25 July). Wrong.
The underlying cause is the refusal by the Arabs to accept the existence of Israel (UN Resolution 181, November 1947) and the desire to drive all of its Jewish inhabitants into the sea. Arabs have been murdering Jews in Palestine since the 1920s, at least, long before the Jews occupied any Palestinian land.
Also the "wanton murder of civilians must be laid at the door" of Syria and Iran. These governments deny Israel's right to exist and will continue to attack the Jews until the last drop of Lebanese and Palestinian blood has been shed. I cannot understand why Israel is not attacking Syria (Hizbollah's bankers) with even more ferocity than Lebanon.
Sir: No one could dispute that the people of Lebanon deserve aid. What should be in dispute is who provides the aid. The wanton destruction of Lebanese infrastructure and the growing refugee crisis has been created by Israel with US support.
Why should the international community be expected to pay for Israel's barbaric destruction of a sovereign state? Surely, just as Germany paid war reparations after the Second World War, it must be Israel that pays.
M S HIRST
Sir: Tony Blair's warning to the World Affairs Council about the "arc of extremism stretching across the Middle East" is similar to the tactic of the arsonist who yells "fire!" in order to avoid being blamed. Unfortunately for Mr Blair, millions of us caught him in the act and - despite his bid to distance himself from the catastrophic results of his actions - we continue to hold him responsible for the flames now sweeping across the Middle East and beyond.
Drug laws are part of a moral crusade
Sir: Britain's seemingly arbitrary drug-classification system (report, 1 August) is best understood in the context of the war on drugs. The drug war is not a science-based public-health campaign, but rather a quest for cultural purity. The most widely used illicit drug is cannabis, which occupies the place of alcohol in many non-western countries. Unlike alcohol, cannabis has never been shown to cause an overdose death, nor does it share the addictive properties of tobacco. If health outcomes determined drugs laws instead of cultural norms, cannabis would be legal. Not surprisingly, the US is the driving force behind the global drug war and has been from its inception.
Despite clear evidence that draconian drug laws fail to deter use, the US government uses its superpower status to export a dangerous moral crusade around the world. The short-term health effects of cannabis are inconsequential compared to the long-term effects of criminal records. Unfortunately, cannabis represents the counterculture to misguided reactionaries intent on forcibly imposing their version of morality. Cannabis can be harmful if abused, but jail cells are inappropriate as health interventions and ineffective as deterrents.
Sir: I was surprised to see a figure for cannabis deaths at 16 in 2004. It would be interesting to see exactly what these deaths were caused by as fatal overdose from cannabis is impossible; it is not toxic and no single death can be attributed to it in isolation. Will the Government now begin to discuss the illegal drug issues sensibly?
Sir: Heroin is a largely beneficent drug, if prescribed in its pure form in an appropriate dose. It is addictive for many people, and it does cause constipation, but it is probably unrivalled as a reliever of physical and mental pain. All the "deadly" effects of heroin arise from its prohibition, and the handing over of its control to the black market.
The GMC and proposals for change
Sir: The GMC has not "signalled its opposition" to Sir Liam Donaldson's proposals for the regulation of the medical profession, (Leading article, 28 July), nor indicated we would prefer "lighter touch" regulation. In fact, the GMC first proposed regular, quality-assured, checks on doctors' performance.
We have welcomed a number of Sir Liam's proposals and we are examining others which may have significant cost implications. But the case for change does not appear to have been made in some recommendations. These include the proposal to remove from the GMC the responsibility for undergraduate medical education. Such a major change would require clear justification; this justification is not in Sir Liam's report.
The GMC has been undertaking a far-reaching programme of reform, but much more remains to be done.
LAY MEMBER, GMC, LONDON NW1
Threats to wildlife and countryside
Sir: Your article "New wildlife agency in jeopardy after cutbacks" (27 July) raises fundamental questions about the ability of Natural England to deliver on any of its statutory duties.
In addition to the work of conserving and enhancing our biodiversity and landscapes, the agency has a vital role in improving public understanding of our natural environment, and securing the facilities for people to enjoy it. By championing the recreation opportunities available, Natural England will be able to create a virtuous circle: of greater public understanding and enjoyment of our natural environment, leading to a heightened desire to protect and conserve it. Sadly, it appears that this crucial work is at risk due to massive funding cuts.
THE RAMBLERS' ASSOCIATION, LONDON SE1
Sir: Your report on budget cuts for Natural England hardly mentions its largest constituent, the Rural Development Agency.
The RDA plays a crucial role in providing on-farm environmental advice from experienced project officers. The impact of cuts on this staff and the Government's belief that environmental schemes can be run without one-to-one practical advice are a bigger threat to biodiversity and the rural landscape than high-profile species-recovery programmes. These can be important in the right circumstances but it is the less glamorous encouragement of environmentally sympathetic management in the wider countryside that will deliver the greatest benefits.
BROMPTON-ON-SWALE, NORTH YORKSHIRE
Send freight by rail
Sir: Michael Harrison's article about Network Rail (Outlook, 1 August) refers to two ways of paying for railways - via taxpayers and fare payers - but forgets a third, which is by freight forwarders, a small but growing segment of the industry. With one freight train possibly replacing 20 lorries on the road, I'm sure many motorists will be pleased to see enhanced rail usage by freight.
H TREVOR JONES
Fidel Castro's legacy
Sir: Whereas Fidel Castro is undoubtedly controversial elsewhere in the world, his legacy in Cuba suggests something different (report, 2 August). It is well known that Cuba's levels of education and health are such that Cuba's life expectancy rivals the USA's; not bad for a third world country. No one knows what political changes will follow Castro's eventual passing, but it would be foolish to suggest that the Cubans will disown Castro's legacy in the same way as the East Europeans rejected Stalin's.
Sir: No, Fidel Castro has not "seen off" nine US presidents. Democracy saw them off.
Sir: While I applaud your paper for its ongoing campaign with regard to the plight of the house sparrow (passer domesticus), I was somewhat surprised that the cover for the feature (2 August) was a photograph of the North American species white-throated sparrow (zonotrichia albicollis). While the house sparrow is indeed in decline, I doubt that it will ever reach the degree of scarcity in the British Isles of the white-throated, which occurs only as a vagrant approximately once annually.
Great to be a Dane
Sir: So, the Danes are the happiest despite the high suicide rate (report, 1 August). Perhaps only the happy ones survive.
Sir: The report on nuclear waste being entombed (1 August) was fascinating in as much as the idea is completely bonkers. The earth is organic and things tend to move. There is nothing safe about storing a highly dangerous radioactive stockpile of some 470,000 cubic metres under the ground trusting that, over tens of thousands of years, it will be impervious to decay or movement.
Name that town
Sir: Ted Heath's suggestion that BBC announcers should pronounce the names of cities in the appropriate local accent (Letters, 1 August) is quite entertaining. Would that include Landon, Embra and Gleski? How about Bra'fd and Bareminggam? And could he give some guidance on the correct pronunciation of his home town, Solihull?