Letters: High energy prices could be good

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If we accept that global warming is happening and that this may be countered by reducing the use of fossil fuels, why are rising fuel prices not welcomed? In alcohol usage, it seems accepted that undesirable behaviour can be discouraged by increasing prices.

If energy prices rise then, presumably, two positive outcomes are likely. First, usage will go down and second, looking for alternative sources of all types of energy will become more attractive. Uncomfortable perhaps but logically consistent.

John Henderson


At EDF Energy, we share many of your concerns surrounding fuel poverty (report, 10 February) and wholeheartedly agree that energy prices must be as fair and as affordable as possible.

But your figures are out of date. The most recent Ofgem data show profit figures substantially less. Indeed, an independent analysis by economic consultants NERA show a figure less than half your reported figure. We have a strong track record for consistently delivering some of the most competitive standard energy prices on the market and, crucially, offering these during the times of year when people use the most energy.

The future energy challenges facing Britain are huge. The regulator itself has stated that £200bn of new investment is required over the next decade to replace ageing power stations that are due to be decommissioned.

New plant must be built to ensure that the nation can keep the lights on and meet its commitments to reducing carbon emissions. In recent years, we have invested about £1bn each year, half in maintaining our existing fleet and half in new projects.

Any returns we make should be considered in the light of the investment we are making. On that, the figure you quoted for 2010 appears to relate to the published net income of the worldwide EDF Group. The UK business – EDF Energy – represents only about a sixth of the overall global turnover of the group. We will be investing billions of pounds in low-carbon generation, creating thousands of jobs and providing a major boost to the UK economy and to local communities.

But our investment must also deliver a fair return for our shareholders. We know there is much to be done to restore trust in our industry. We are determined to get it right.

Martin Lawrence

Managing Director, Energy Sourcing and Customer Supply, EDF Energy, London SW1

There is a simple solution to the problem of fuel poverty (letters, 11 February): issue each pensioner with a government voucher to buy a ski jacket, ski trousers and gloves.

Thus for an outlay of about £50 (the Government consequently cutting the winter heating allowance by that amount), you ensure that pensioners stay warm even with the central heating turned down low. I know; I have tried it.

John Michael Wade

Woodford Green, Essex

Muddled views on secularism and humanists

Peter Popham, in his otherwise interesting article ("No secularism please, we're British", 15 February), goes wildly off the rails when he says that only religion can inspire "compassion, altruism, serenity, even enlightenment", and that just after blaming secularists for arrogance.

I will leave Richard Dawkins to treat as libellous the suggestion that he is advocating at one remove a return to "the hells of the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Mao's Cultural Revolution and the Khmer Rouge" but Popham has ignored and muddled vital aspects.

For most "secularists", the term means support for equality and non-discrimination and hence opposition to privilege for religion in law and politics. Many religious believers are secularists, and 74 per cent of Christians in the Ipsos-MORI poll for Richard Dawkins this week agreed that "religion should be a private matter and should not have special influence on public policy".

But Popham uses the term loosely, often as an equivalent for "atheist", as in his quote from John Gray, "Secularism is... a condition defined by what it denies". But most atheists have a primary identity as humanists, opposed to dogmas of all types because all are denials of the value and extraordinary potential of human life.

Humanists find in their beliefs an inspiration to compassion, altruism, serenity (and action) and see the modern origins of their beliefs in the Enlightenment that delivered us from the superstition and dogma of the wars of religion. Their attitude to religion is founded on commitment to human rights and support for freedom of religion or belief.

All they ask is that aggressive Christians cease from their misrepresentations which seem more an attempt to entrench institutional religious privilege as a defence against waning popular support.

David Pollock

President, European Humanist Federation, Brussels

Peter Popham states, "it is incredible that we should be ready to pay serious attention to a prophet [ie Richard Dawkins] whose message is the same as those whose schemes led straight to the hells of the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Mao's cultural revolution and the Khmer Rouge".

Dawkins is not a prophet. He doesn't claim to be. Second, Dawkins has never endorsed a Nazi-style society. Just because Nazi society was not based around religion, does not mean that every atheist who is open about their views wants a Nazi society.

You also can't say that there has been an "equally intolerant reaction" to the "fanaticism of Islamists" from secular quarters. No. Fanatical Islamists want to kill people. France does not want to kill Muslims. The burka has been banned, a veil which obscures the face. Headscarves are not allowed in French schools, and have not been for 20 years, and therefore it cannot have been an intolerant reaction to Islamists.

"Mosque building" has not been banned in Switzerland, merely the feature of minarets. Again, this is not an equally intolerant reaction; it is not on a par with bombers and murderers, for instance.

Miranda Robshaw

London E17

Having read and heard most of my life that Hitler was an atheist, I was surprised to come across a piece of history showing that when the Nazis came to power in 1933 they abolished all atheist and free-thinking societies by decree, and that Freethinkers' Hall in Berlin was confiscated and handed to the church authorities to use as a religious advice centre. In a speech in October 1933, Hitler said, "Atheism – we have stamped it out".

Jean Elliott

Upminster, Essex

For the first time that I can recall in her very long reign, our Head of State has expressed an opinion on a current controversy, which may reveal better how much the religious lobby is now on the defensive.

Church Establishment, she says, should be endorsed because it protects the rights of eight other "faiths" as well as Christianity. Even if that were true, it does nothing to protect the rights of the many, perhaps even most, who have no religious affiliation.

Nor, since it's only the Church of England that's established, is it in Scotland, or in Wales and Northern Ireland, in both of which places Anglican churches have been disestablished for a century or more.

Tim Hudson

Chichester, West Sussex

Salvation Army Major Stephen Poxon's quotation from Ecclesiastes (letters, 16 February) is indeed a thing of beauty and wisdom. But this piece of wisdom exemplifies its own point in that it was derivative rather than new.

In the early 5th century BCE, well over 100 years before Ecclesiastes was written, Parmenides said that there was "nothing new under the sun"; to which Heraclitus (a man who famously never stepped into the same river twice) responded that the sun itself is new every day.

Such wisdom also has the advantage of differing perspectives on impermanence and change: neither is definitively "right all along".

Peter McKenna


Diamond music for the Jubilee

In response to Jessica Duchen's rather uncharitable comments about the music selection for the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant (Arts, 14 February), I am proud of our musicians and performers and stand robustly behind their selection. The 10 music barges have all been carefully chosen to represent a suitable and fitting musical celebration as part of our tribute to Her Majesty The Queen on 3 June.

The barges establish a thread of live music through the seven and a half miles of the flotilla, a mixture of ancient and modern, representative of the diversity of our culture, music selected for its inspiration and its capacity to be experienced and enjoyed in what will be a challenging open-air and, of course, floating environment.

The music is of the highest quality and is aimed at setting the river and its banks alive to enthral both the live audience and the worldwide viewers on TV. I hope that Jessica will be among those watching and enjoying the Pageant.

Adrian Evans

Pageant Master, London SW3

Abortion is a private matter

In "Women seeking abortion will be shown image of unborn child" (report, 8 February), we need to establish some definitions: a foetus is an unborn human being; a child is a human being that has been born. A foetus is not a child and no amount of screaming from the Texas anti-abortion lobby will change that.

No woman wants an abortion. What they want is not to be pregnant. It's a personal (and private) decision and to intimidate and browbeat patients into changing their minds is shameful.

Emilie Lamplough

Trowbridge, Wiltshire

We scored

In all honesty, as a regular reader of The Independent since 1986, I'd be happy to read more football articles at the expense of less important sports. I've never found your columnists to be anything other than objective, except for those occasions when they don't seem to understand that Manchester United will triumph every time, no matter how things look at any given point.

Stuart Monk


No Greek tragedy

Hamish McRae wrote about Greece, "the treatment of the country by its eurozone partners is disgraceful and self-defeating" (Comment, 15 February). For many years, the Greeks have avoided paying their taxes, feather-bedded tens of thousands of state employees and have borrowed money all over Europe to give themselves an even higher standard of living. Now they can borrow no more. Most people doing that get to a position where the bailiffs walk in. What else do they expect?

Sir Reginald EW Harland

Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

Idyll faces ruin

Has West Berkshire Council no conscience? Their plans to build over beauty spots beloved of readers of Watership Down merely confirm the book's own prophecy of selfish, human-centred desecration. This is heartless treatment of author Richard Adams, who at 91 deserves to be supported in a national counter-campaign.

Dr Christopher Shell

Hounslow, Middlesex