The West has been asking itself how it should react to the Russian invasion of Georgia. With so much Caspian oil at stake, it is no wonder Russia is nervous, as the US and Nato have both invaded Afghanistan and have become so chummy with so many of the ex-Soviet states (some of them quite dubious) in that region.
When you look at Iraq and Afghanistan and realise to what ruthless lengths the US (and Nato and the EU) will go to secure supplies of oil, then it is only natural that the Russians move to maintain control of their own back-yard. The US has been trying (unsuccessfully) to do the same with Cuba for many decades now.
But beyond the political issues, it is our insatiable demand for oil which causes these pressures, so if we, as individuals, want to do anything about the situation, then we should start by cutting back on all the oil-based luxuries (cars, flights, retail consumption) that we so insist on having.
If we don't do this and if we don't start telling our politicians that the human cost of oil is far too high, then we are heading for disaster . . . especially considering that many of the players in this "game" possess nuclear weapons.
The hostilities between Russia and Georgia should provide a salutary lesson to the anti-EU brigade. The EU has made the thought of war between members inconceivable. In western Europe before the EU, and now outside of EU, states resort to arms to settle their disputes. Without the EU, we would yet be viewing the French and Germans down the barrel of a rifle.
The quibbling over how to define a sausage and the rest of the tabloid-inspired nonsense should be seen in this context. Thank heavens for the European Union; and thank God we are inside it.
More people than the planet can hold
The thrust of our British Medical Journal editorial, ignored in Paul Vallely's well-researched article (Magazine, 9 August) was that – in all countries – one less birth is one less human to trash the planet.
People in high-resource countries do this far more than the poor are able to, so the climate-change impact of one less rich child is greater. But the ever-increasing millions of low-consumers aspire (as is their right) to exit their poverty. Therefore, one less birth into poverty is not only one less person to suffer poverty but also one less to unavoidably produce more greenhouse gases in (hopefully) escaping poverty. Millions of previously-poor Chinese have been doing this, causing major global impact without even getting close to the unfairly high per-person carbon footprints of Europe or North America. In summary, we wrote: "Contraception helps to combat climate change, although it is not a substitute for high emitters reducing their per capita emissions".
The situation would indeed be even worse if the world's average family size were still six children. But it's bad enough. The Living Planet Report shows that humans now, numbering 6,700 million, are over-utilising the planet's biocapacity (fresh water, croplands, fisheries and forests) and "by midcentury humanity's demand on nature will be twice the biosphere's productive capacity". According to their data, this means that by 2050 around 40 per cent more people than now will be endeavouring to utilise two planets' worth of bio-capacity.
In this demonstrably unsustainable predicament, with no second planet available, humanity faces a stark choice: either a gigantic cull by nature in the second half of this century through violence, disease and starvation (all aggravated by climate change); or prioritising now the necessary balance through fewer births.
We argued that a good start on this more humane option can be made through meeting – wisely and compassionately – much well-documented unmet need in low-resource settings for voluntary family planning, properly funded and accessible to all; along with education and the removal of many largely male-generated barriers to women.
Emeritus Professor of Family Planning & Reproductive Health, University College, London, Oxford
Paul Vallely rightly points out the variation in birth rates and trends around the world and that the global population will probably peak in around 50 years' time. However, he fails to appreciate why many environmentalists take population growth so seriously.
Climate change, resource depletion and environmental despoilation are already major problems, driven by the sixfold increase in global population over the last two centuries. These problems will only worsen as developing countries industrialise and urbanise.
The UN projection that global population will grow by almost 40 per cent over the next 40 years is a recipe for disaster.
That's why the BMJ article by Guillebaud and Hayes rightly argued that having fewer children is the simplest and biggest contribution anyone can make to leaving a habitable planet for our grandchildren.
Candidates for the Fourth Plinth
I agree with Gordon Williams (letter, 8 August) that, ideally, the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square should be occupied by an outstanding leader, parliamentarian and/or reformer, rather than someone's undeserving offspring, as has happened too often in the past. But I would not begrudge it being reserved for Her Majesty, on the understanding that it is the Last Plinth for the Last Monarch.
I wonder whether I am alone in appreciating the symbolism of the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square remaining empty. The column and the other three plinths are memorials to our imperial history, but we have abandoned imperialism. The emptiness of the fourth plinth is a memorial to our abandonment of imperialism.
Bletchley, Milton Keynes
Your feature on the royal statues of London (7 August) omits the only statue in London to be found in a public place of Henry VIII. The statue, by Francis Bird, stands above the archway of the magnificent Henry VIII Gate of St Bartholomew's hospital, facing north on to Smithfield, flanked by the allegorical figures of Lameness and Disease. Built in 1702, of Purbeck stone, the gate has had many uses: in 1834 it was a residence for the house surgeons, and in the early 20th century as accommodation for the hospital beadles and their families. It is still in daily use as one of the main entrances to the hospital.
Trust Archivist St Bartholomew's Hospital, London EC1
Strange decision to drop board game
I am one of the creators of the "War on Terror" board game you featured in a news report on 9 August – thank you for that.
Interesting to see an official response from Zavvi as to why they pulled our product off their shelves after just a few hours. "Low sales" is an intriguing answer, and not just because it's more than we ever managed to get out of them. If I were a Zavvi shareholder, I'd be questioning how many other products are bought, with the intention of them forming a major part of the Christmas offering, then distributed nationwide to all 130 stores, only to be recalled the same day because in those few hours on the shelf they didn't sell enough? It's a harsh and seemingly less than economical decision.
Even more strange, since we were told by their Sheffield store manager on the weekend it happened that not only had our game sold "surprisingly well" during its short-lived time on sale (and without an iota of promotion), but that the staff there were particularly frustrated by the fact that they all wanted to buy a copy, but weren't allowed to since they'd been locked away in the store room.
Made in China? We just don't know
In his article on the appalling conditions in which many Chinese work (Opinion, 7 August), Johann Hari says that, through our choices at the till, we aid and abet the Chinese dictatorship every day. But there are many people like myself who try quite desperately to buy goods that are not made in China and finish up having to do so.
Most goods in the shops do not state the country of origin. Over and over again, I have asked assistants to find out if a particular item is made in China, only to be told that no one can give me that information.
Haven't Western countries made a terrible mistake by transferring their means of production to China, without any guarantee whatsoever that the workers will be given humane conditions? And has it not been a terrible mistake to give so much industrial power to a ruthless communist regime, which will not scruple to look after its own interests?
J M Werner
Iris Robinson's views on 'sodomy'
At last we have a successor to Mary Whitehouse: Iris Robinson, the wife of the Northern Ireland First Minister (report, 4 August). She appears not to be quite sure what she believes, although she believes it with impressive ferocity at any given moment.
In a committee meeting in the House of Commons last month, she announced that "There can be no viler act, apart from homosexuality and sodomy, than sexually abusing children." So according to her, gays are even worse than child abusers.
A little later she had second thoughts: "I cannot think of anything more sickening than a child being abused. It is comparable to the act of homosexuality. I feel totally repulsed by both." Gays have gone up slightly in her estimation, and now we are neck and neck with the child abusers.
After yet more reflection, Iris changed her mind again: "I clearly intended to say that child abuse was worse even than homosexuality and sodomy . . . at no point have I set out to suggest homosexuality was worse than child abuse." She added: "I am trying to reach out to people. I try to reach out and love them. Anything I say is out of love. I am not hate-mongering."
So now gays are not quite as bad as child abusers, and she loves us – albeit in a rather peculiar way. If her views continue to shift in this direction, she could be embracing the joys of lesbianism within a week or two.
Natural fate of foxes is no fun
If Maurice Brett (letter, 12 August) considers that Britain's image abroad depends significantly on whether or not hunting with dogs is permitted, he is deluded. What about binge drinking, rotten public transport, hospital-acquired infection rates, the pomp and circumstance of monarchy, our bearpit of a parliament, our sneering ignorance of other countries? (This list is not exhaustive.)
And how does he imagine wild creatures end their lives if left to their own devices? Elderly foxes do not retire to some vulpine old-folk's home to pass away painlessly and in peace: they die – slowly, unless killed by predators – of disease and starvation. Hunting with dogs is certainly no crueller than mother nature.
We might find killing for fun offensive, but that is not in itself a reason for banning it. Indeed, to the extent that the killing is necessary for pest-control, why not make the process enjoyable? And at least foxes and the like are not specially raised so that they can be killed for sport, unlike game birds.
A civilised society can never be seen to operate a two-tier justice system. We do not want men facing custodial sentences while women who commit exactly the same crimes do not (Letters, 12 August). With the increase in violent crimes committed by women, it is imperative that we do not allow ourselves to be led down this path.
london se 19
I wish to correct Andy McSmith in his article on Prince Philip (9 August). Gordonstoun is not an English public school. Did he mean a British public school? Is British synonymous with English in his eyes? For the record, Gordonstoun is a Scottish public school.
Murray Hedgcock (letter, 11 August) has only explained part of the confusion with the words "football" and "soccer". America has been covered in previous letters but in Australia football, or "footy", refers to the most popular code, which is rugby league. The word rugby in this country can refer to different games depending on whether you come from Hull or Bath, and commentators of both these codes often make reference to the quality of football being played. Followers of association football should be grateful that there is a short, easily recognised and unambiguous name for their game.
What children know
"Below the age of 10 and 11, children do not have the intellectual development to appreciate some of the scientific concepts they are tested on" (Sue Worley, letter, 11 August). And yet children much younger are watching, and supposed to "get", the ironic viciousness of the summer blockbuster, The Dark Knight. We assume too much "knowingness" and maturity in the very young.
Prone to anxiety
From Monday's Independent we learnt that one in four people may have inherited a double copy of a gene for anxiety. Tuesday's Health pages discuss the one in four people who suffer from medically unexplained symptoms (MUS). Are these groups by any chance related?