Letters: Grouchy greens

Green campaigners who dislike human happiness
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The Independent Online

Sir: Well said, Dominic Lawson ("Should we believe politicians when they promise to save the earth?", 14 September). There are important things that should be done, and have been done, to improve our environment. But the mentality of environmental campaigners is reactionary, anti-humanity, anti-development and anti-progress. Indeed, many are uncomfortable with the idea of human happiness.

The greens' professed concern over climate change is no more than an excuse for an attack on consumerist lifestyles. Offer them practical ways of dealing with climate change that do not involve stopping the economy in its tracks – adaptation, carbon offsetting, technological advance – and they react with horror.

Underlying it all is the same old Malthusian nonsense that motivated every reactionary movement of the 20th century. That this cult of irrationality is casually repeated by politicians (yes, I too heard John Gummer not only saying that the Gulf Stream was going to stop flowing but also that we could stop this by adopting his menu of car park taxes and VAT on short flights) is extraordinary.

Chris Savage

London SE3

Sir: Dominic Lawson misses the point of the Conservative Party's Quality of Life report. At the heart of the report is the argument that society can prosper in a world threatened by climate change only if polluting activities are tackled through taxes, offset by a reduction in taxation elsewhere in the economy; what the report calls eco-taxes.

This is not anti-capitalist, as Lawson seems to imply. It is a sensible tool to help bring about a low-carbon economy. Such an economy may look different from today's: less freight; more local food production, for example. But, given the threats facing the world, there is little alternative to moving in this direction. Interestingly, Mr Lawson makes no attempt to sketch out any alternative.

John Stewart

Chair, AirportWatch, London SW9

Sir: Donnachadh McCarthy (Comment, 17 September) is quite right that paid lobbyists should have no place on the benches in either House of Parliament, but then nor should we have an appointed Lords.

Donnachadh has a great record as a green campaigner but because he fell out with the Liberal Democrats he now fails to acknowledge just how much we have moved the political agenda forward on green issues. That the Tories are now even arguing about taxing pollution not people is because Liberal Democrats put that on the political agenda years before Cameron had even talked about climate change.

Variations in the polls will not affect our determination to continue to lead that agenda; the party has set a new goal of a zero carbon economy by 2050 and a plan on how to achieve it. I am confident the polls will come to reflect that lead. Personalties come and go but our green commitment is constant.

Sue Miller

(Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer) House of Lords

Why Britain needs the European Union

Sir: Anthony Pick (letter, 13 September) asks pro-Europeans to explain clearly, "What is the EU for" and, implicitly, why is Britain in it. Allow me.

We want Britain to be a leading player in a well-functioning EU for idealistic, pragmatic and selfish reasons. The idealistic reason is that the EU has helped to create, in a continent previously torn apart by warfare, an area of peace and stability, where we can have our arguments at a negotiating table or across a debating chamber rather than on the battlefields of Europe.

The pragmatic reason is that we are a set of highly interdependent countries with a need to find common solutions to common problems in a range of areas.

The selfish reason is that it is vital for the British economy and British jobs, when the overwhelming majority of our exports are going to countries in the common market, that we have a voice in the institutions that set the rules for that market.

Richard Corbett MEP

(Labour, Yorkshire and the Humber), Brussels

Sir: Anthony C Pick's excellent letter of 13 September asks, "What is the EU for?" People will continue to ask that question as long as our governments continue to fiddle around the edges with the odd trade agreement here and there.

Pick's closing paragraph says that the German and French answer is "to create a European state". This must be ours, too, because 20 miles of water does not make us non-European.

Europe and Asia are one huge land mass, and United States of Europe, on good terms with China, India and Russia, can easily match the Americans, causing them to abandon their clearly demonstrated determination to run the whole world.

For the sake of our grandchildren, we really must get down to serious negotiations with our colleagues across the Channel.

John Brisbourne

Dorking, Surrey

Moral difference of illegal occupation

Sir: Howard Jacobson (Comment, 15 September) thinks that Zionist dispossession of Palestinians is not a "moral" issue but a ""tragic political consequence", apparently inevitable. Yet there is a moral difference between the Jewish and Palestinian plight.

Let's disregard the "moral difference" about earlier Zionist settlement, between Jewish rights to land they had lived on roughly 1,800 years before and the rights of those actually living there since. What is crucial is that since 1967 Israel has illegally occupied Palestinian land.

At least since 1971, though arguably before, Arab states and Palestinians have repeatedly offered peace in return for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories. Israel has consistently evaded such a settlement.

This is what nearly all critics of Israel object to. Not the right of Israel to exist but Israel's refusal to allow a Palestinian state to exist as well. Unless Jacobson explicitly makes this point when he writes on the Israel-Palestine conflict he cannot possibly be taken seriously as an impartial commentator.

Sam Bennett

Gosport, Hampshire

Sir: Howard Jacobson makes a valid point in his article when he says, "We do nothing to ameliorate a situation unless we understand it". And I agree that any act of Palestinian repossession "won't be pretty, should it happen, either".

What I disagree with is that it's a waste of breath. As an adopted person, I have probably shared many emotions born from dispossession and from my possessive insecurity on return to my birth family. It may have been the political religious morality of the day that caused my dispossession in 1962, but now it is my personal moral responsibility alone to ensure I don't gain my security at the expense of others, or loss of freedom to myself.

If we do understand the situation, perhaps we can avoid argument about political or moral right and wrong, and use our breath instead to raise awareness of the vicious nature of insecurity and oppression.

Alison Noble


Sir: In response to Howard Jacobson's earlier column (4 September), Lord Balfour did not promise the Jews a homeland in Palestine in 1917. The British Mandate in the area did not begin until 1922, so such a promise was not within his remit.

Instead, Lord Balfour merely "viewed with favour the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine" and stated that His Majesty's Government would "use best endeavours" to facilitate this, "it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine". Sadly, the second part of his statement is often overlooked.

Ian Carroll


Magpie falls to a sparrowhawk

Sir: Just after reading Stephen Usher's interesting letter about sparrowhawks (7 September) and the limits they have in the size of prey by their own size, especially the much smaller male, I suddenly heard the squawking of a distressed bird.

I watched a magpie fly a fast half-curve down into my neighbour's garden. The squawking continued but gradually became slower and more strangled.

I looked through the hedge and 15ft away on the lawn there was a magpie on the ground and perched on top of it with its wings half-open in that typical covering protective fashion was a male sparrow-hawk (smaller than the female with a slate-grey back).

Within a second or two it spotted me and flew off smoothly and, apparently, quite effortlessly, with the magpie dangling from its talons. For minutes, the trees in my neighbour's garden were full of the cacophony of about half a dozen loudly protesting magpies.

It may be that the sparrow-hawk's prey was not a mature magpie but an immature one from this year's brood, but it was certainly fully feathered with the distinctive colouring and was capable of flight. That was still an impressive catch for a male sparrowhawk.

Gary Collins

Stourbridge, West Midlands

Hedgehogs in the kitchen

Sir: Never mind roast hedgehog (14 September): the animals once had a far more important place in the kitchen. The second edition of Thomas Bell's A History of British Quadrupeds, published in 1874, makes the astonishing claim that the "fondness of the Hedgehog for insects occasions it to be kept in many houses in London for the purpose of ridding the kitchens of the innumerable hosts of cockroaches by which they are infested."

It goes on to say: "We have seen a Hedgehog in a London kitchen push its way beneath a piece of carpet in all directions, and heard it at intervals crunching up the cockroaches which it met with. In a short time it freed the place of these pests."

You recently detailed the cats who have lived at 10 Downing Street, but what about the Prime Ministerial hedgehog? I think we should be told.

Tina Rowe

Ilchester, Somerset

Labour support for shooting and fishing

Sir: Christopher Graffius of the BASC (letter, 14 September ) may think he has Labour policy sewn up in favour of killing birds and animals for sport, but many of us in the party are serving notice that the time of the dominance of shooting interests in Labour politics is coming to an end.

Money, power and establishment contacts can only hold back the tide of decency, compassion and real progressive values for so long. Just as the barbarity of hunting with dogs was banned, so shall we mount a campaign to end all killing for sport, a mass campaign that will bring the power of the civilised majority to change Labour policy.

Chris Gale


Historic stars of the silver screen

Sir: While not wishing to get into any arguments with Marjorie Willcocks of Brighton about the relative age of our local cinemas (letter, 13 September), I pose two questions: was the Duke of York in Brighton a purpose-built cinema, or was it built as a theatre then converted into a cinema; and has the Duke of York continually shown films since 1910 without a break, as the Curzon did?

I ask because all the research done on the Curzon has yet to turn up an older purpose-built cinema still in operation, but did show plenty of converted theatres and music halls, and many others that have stopped and started showing films. If Ms Willcocks is correct in her assessment of her local cinema then I yield to her, and congratulate her on being a patron of Europe's oldest purpose-built cinema.

Kevin Rawlings

Clevedon, North Somerset

Insult to age

Sir: Your cartoon of Sir Menzies Campbell (17 September) is unforgivable. An equivalent caricature of Jewish or black people would rightly be censured. There are many people effectively campaigning politically who are decades older than 66, and a Zimmer frame is an enabling device, not a symbol of decrepitude. Ageism is unacceptable discrimination.

Frankie Green

Whitstable, kent

Methods of martyrdom

Sir: Robert Fisk mistakes St Paul's end ("In the Colosseum, thoughts turn to death", 15 September). Tradition has it that as a privileged Roman citizen Paul was not crucified but beheaded. The apostle crucified in Rome was the Palestinian peasant Simon Peter, possibly upside down.

Colin V Smith

St Helens, Warwickshire

Driver in a burka

Sir: Mr Wedgwood (letters 15, September) may or may not be a racist. However, in trying to explain erratic driving by implying that the driver's vision was impaired because she was "attempting to see through a slot 3cm by 9cm in her burka", he is unobservant. I drive a motorcycle; my head is covered by a helmet and I look through the 11cm by 4cm slot defined by my glasses. Like the burka, they are immediately in front of my eyes and do not restrict my vision at all.

Sam Richmond

East Boldon, Tyne and Wear

Sir: Mr Wedgwood may or may not be a racist for questioning the practicalities of a driver wearing a burka, but his ability to measure accurately the aperture of its "slot" in centimetres whilst overtaking an "erratically driven" car on a motorbike is remarkable. Maybe he's the one who should be watching the road.

Emily Rose


Theology of science

Sir: Professor Richard Dawkins' stock line, "Would you need to read learned volumes on leprechology before disbelieving in leprechauns?" (letter, 17 September) has splendid knockabout value, but I was more helped towards an understanding of science by the physics teacher who began his 1977 A-level class by telling pupils they would do best if they realised most of what had been taught at O-level wasn't strictly true, an idea which has sustained me through frequent startling changes of perspective in reading both science and theology since.

Canon Peter Mullins


Eggs by numbers

Sir: I think it was in one of Bruce Bairnsfather's First World War cartoons (letter,17 September) that a kilted variant of Old Bill instructed a young newcomer: "The French for an egg is 'an oof'', or ye can ask for 'twa oofs'; the silly bissom'll bring three and ye gie her yin back."

Brian Mayes