Letters: Nuclear armament

Britain's chance to give the world a moral lead on nuclear arms


Sir: Lee Willett's letter on Trident (1 December) implies that the current levels of nuclear proliferation militate against disarmament by the UK. It is precisely this proliferation that makes disarmament by the UK so potent a diplomatic card. As proliferation leads to these weapons being held in more and more hands, the security of mutually assured destruction as a deterrent against use becomes less reliable: the more fingers there are on the nuclear button, the more likely it is that one of them, one day, will blink.

It is only by a nation taking a moral lead in the diplomatic process that this proliferation can be reversed. Two hundred years ago, Britain took a moral lead in the abolition of slavery. It now has a unique opportunity to take a similar moral lead in reversing nuclear proliferation

Tony Blair blew his gamble for a historic legacy on the disaster in Iraq: by choosing not to replace Trident, his successor has the opportunity to be remembered as the prime minister who restored our standing as a nation of which we could all be proud.



Sir: If terrorists were to obtain nuclear weapons, where would we bomb? Bradford? Birmingham? Hackney? If North Korea and Iran obtain operational nuclear weapons, how precisely would our so-called deterrent be called into action? Even if things were to turn sour again in Russia or China, how would our own nuclear deterrent help matters?

We occupy a small island which could be wiped out by half a dozen well-placed missiles. They are quasi-continents on which our force could inflict mere flesh wounds - albeit causing unspeakable harm to millions of innocent civilians.

It makes no sense whatsoever and is merely the politicians' equivalent of the pop star stuffing socks down his Y-fronts to impress the audience. As with the pop star, the game will be up when it's time for action.



This is no way to cut aircraft emissions

Sir: As a motorist living in a rural area I have no quibbles with the Eddington report. It is going to get a lot more expensive to travel by road and, probably, so expensive that there will be a very necessary, significant reduction in car use. Fine.

But air travel? That is also going to get more expensive and will be brought within the carbon emissions trading scheme. So far so good. But he then seems to revert to his previous incarnation as CEO of BA and suggests building more airports and, specifically, another runway at Heathrow.

Therein lies madness. Far better to squeeze air passengers till it really hurts through making it far more expensive and continue to frustrate them in overcrowded airports until numbers drop than build more runways to eliminate stacking. If more runways are built, more planes will fly more passengers and the absolutely essential reduction in aviation's carbon footprint will never be achieved.

There is no evidence that I have seen that there is a cast iron link between growth in aviation and growth in the economy and improvement in people's happiness factor. Certainly as far as the latter is concerned, the evidence points to the converse. But there certainly is evidence that unless aviation's carbon footprint is contained, it will effectively be quite impossible to achieve a 60 per cent reduction by 2050.



Sir: Road pricing has nothing to do with protecting the environment or conserving depleted oil reserves. Its real purpose is to raise taxes, make life more pleasant for the rich and keep the "riff raff" off the roads.

Taxes are inconsequential to the wealthy, who have ways of claiming them back as deductible expenses. As always, worse hit will be the poor. This is rationing transport by economics, not social justice.

Easing road congestion for the privileged few will mean queues and waiting for the many. For them, poor quality, unreliable public services whilst the wealthy ride in comfort. But whether we want it or not it will be imposed without a single vote being cast. And we have the audacity to pretend this is democracy!

In parallel with road charging is an expansion of airports, the most environmentally damaging of all transport systems. So the real motive for these two conflicting policies is to improve mobility for the wealthy.

The simplest and fairest method would be for all vehicles to be given a fixed annual fuel ration. When the fuel allowance is used, that is it. The vehicle owner, no matter how rich, would have to use public transport. When they have to suffer, only then will there be any concerted effort to improve public transport. Fuel rationing would be a low-tech solution, reduce global warming, pollution and congestion and be fair to all, not just make life better for the rich.

And it is for that very reason it will never be considered.



Sir: The Independent commonly presents aviation in such terms that many readers (and evidently some of your staff) believe it to be the major source of atmospheric carbon dioxide. A quick survey of my friends shows that the non-technical among them believe aviation accounts for 40 per cent of emissions.

Demonising aviation stifles informed discussion on how to really combat carbon dioxide emissions. Recent US data shows aviation contributing about 3 per cent, while electricity generation accounts for 34 per cent. The Independent recently reported that 19 per cent of all electricity use in the UK goes into lighting. Assuming the US findings apply, this means that lighting accounts for over 6 per cent of all carbon dioxide emissions. Twice the contribution of aviation.

Leaving office blocks with lights burning all night, lighting roads that nobody is using at 3am and lighting huge billboards throughout the night should be outlawed. Not only will it reduce carbon dioxide emissions with no adverse effects, it will make the astronomers happy.



Sir: The reference by Paul Marston of British Airways (letter, 1 December) to the "sustainable development of Heathrow" is a contradiction in terms. Further development of air travel - especially short-distance air travel - is and, if permitted, always will be environmentally disastrous.

If British Airways really were "committed to reducing its environmental impact" it would immediately discontinue all its flights of less than 500 miles.



The court must listen to Misbah

Sir: I read with interest and some disappointment Joan Smith's article (Opinion, 30 November) about the difficult issues raised by the case of Misbah Ranah/Molly Campbell. Her conclusion is undoubtedly correct and she is also right to assert that Misbah's father was wrong to arrange for Misbah to return to Pakistan without her mother's knowledge or consent. She is also correct to assert that children do not belong to their parents and to question the extent to which parents have rights as opposed to responsibilities in relation to their children.

My disappointment lies in the fact that the article gives no recognition whatever to the rights that children such as Misbah have under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the UK government signed up to and ratified in 1991. This includes the right, under Article 12, to express their views freely in all matters that affect them and to have the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings that affect them. It's a right that is also reflected in family law in the UK, which requires that the courts consider, among other things, a child's wishes and feelings.

There is a large body of evidence that so clearly demonstrates that children can, indeed, be very competent and responsible in dealing with such issues. The article implies, however, that because Misbah is only 12 years old, the seriousness with which her clearly expressed wish to remain with her father in Pakistan should be taken ought to be qualified in view of her excitement at living in comfortable circumstances, on a different continent, and at finding herself the centre of so much attention.

Sadly, as well as giving no weight to Misbah's rights, such a view conveys and confirms an outdated attitude towards children. The extent to which her wishes and feelings will be taken into account by the Scottish courts will be decided in the light of her age and understanding and, under the provisions of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995, a child of 12 years of age or more shall be presumed to be of sufficient age and maturity to form a view. It is to be hoped that when this matter comes before the Scottish courts, Misbah's views, rather than the "rights" of either of her parents, will weigh heavily in determining what is in her best interests.



The terrorism that fails to terrify

Sir: Two weeks ago insults about being "soft on terror" were being hurled across the floor of the House by Reid and Blair as they demanded more draconian laws against "Islamic extremism".

Then the issue suddenly disappeared. Instead we had examples of "real" terrorist activity - a British citizen poisoned to death by terrorists and radioactivity in various places in London. Imagine if it had been traces of ricin and linked to "Islamists"!

The Government seemed to react in precisely the opposite way. We were told not to worry, and the only possible source of such sophisticated poisoning, the Russian authorities, were helping us with our inquiries. Everything would be fine.

This government decides what we should be worried about for political reasons. It highlights the threats it wants us to be afraid of, and underplays the ones it wants us to ignore. Osama bin Laden is a threat to world peace, but Putin cannot even be criticised. Is it surprising that so few trust this government in its "war on terror"?



Killings by people with mental illness

Sir: One murder a week by a person with mental illness is certainly tragic (report, 4 December), but should be seen in the context of the surveillance task performed by mental health services.

Let us assume that 1 per cent of the adult UK population suffers from a chronic mental disorder requiring an assessment by a health or social care professional every three months - conservative assumptions both. This equates to 480,000 individuals seen on 1.92 million occasions per annum. If each of these service contacts represents a potential "prevention opportunity" so far as imminent homicide is concerned, then a failure rate of 52 per annum means that 99.997 per cent of contacts are not followed by a homicide.

Of course, the situation is more complex than this; only a small minority of these patients represent a significant danger to other people, and they are usually followed up more intensively. However, 1 per cent of this patient population seen on a more frequent monthly basis would still translate into a success rate of over 99.9% of service contacts.

There are still lessons that can be learned from examining these failures, but predicting dangerous behaviour will always be very difficult, and the cost of certainty - if that is what we want - will be high.



Sad slogans of the computer age

Sir: Your report "Young minds in hi-tech turmoil" (30 November) strengthens my own suspicion that computers are stultifying our young.

Friends teaching at good universities tell me that their students grow dimmer and more incurious each year. Here at Harvard Law School, I recently saw a young man and woman at a long study table in the library. They were seated so close to each other to look as though they were in love. And then I approached, and I saw that together they gazed at a single computer displaying a large picture of a shoe for sale. Thus the study of law in Massachusetts.

As for university entrance exams elsewhere, "text-speak" has been permitted by a recent ruling of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority. Orwell once wrote of "the streamlined men who think in slogans and talk in bullets". Judging by the OMGs and LOLs with which many Americans greeted the fall of Baghdad, slogans may be getting a little long-winded. And computer use - alongside, as you say, immense ambient pollution - deserves much credit for this unbraining of the young.



Historic exams

Sir: I see the Prime Minster has announced plans for a new "super" grade of A-level. I seem to remember some 40 years ago when I sat my A-level physics that I also did a similar exam - S-level. The world goes round, and round, and round ....



Seasons confused

Sir: Looking out of my kitchen window this morning, 2 December, I saw a pair of red admiral butterflies flitting about. I suspect this isn't a record but I can't help feeling it's not natural. Shouldn't they be hibernating or something at this time of year?



Generous millionaire

Sir: How dare Dan Melley (Letters, 29 November) criticise John Caudwell for giving his staff cash gifts. How many millionaires give anything away? It was not in lieu of wages; it was a financial thank-you. Presumably their wages were good ones or they wouldn't have stayed so long. Perhaps Mr Melley should turn his venom on to the City fat cats and overpaid footballers, who give nothing away.



God-like science

Sir: You write, "One implication is that there are aspects of the universe that we cannot see... 'There could be shadow galaxies, shadow stars and even shadow people,' Hawking said." How is he so sure there is no invisible God, inhabiting an altogether different dimension?



Sir: Your interview (4 December) has made it even harder for me to believe in the existence of that supreme being, Richard Dawkins.



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