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Thursday 15 December 2011
Letters: Our world is on the brink of disaster
The discovery of vast fountains of methane spewing into the atmosphere (report, 13 December), terrifying though this revelation is, merely represents the latest in a series of climate-change phenomena whose speed of development has been dangerously understated by mainstream climate policy analysts.
Despite the achievement of Durban, the reality is that the widely adopted targets of 450 ppm CO2 and 2c temperature increase are based on models which have either excluded from consideration, or consistently underestimated, the amplifying effects of feedback loops and other impacts.
Recent peer-reviewed studies by climate scientists indicate that, on current policies, there is little or no chance of adhering to either of these targets under even the most optimistic carbon reduction scenarios: that, without radical early intervention, we are heading for 650 ppm CO2 and 4-6C global average temperature increases – well past tipping points which trigger uncontrollable climate change. For nearly 30 years, science, public understanding and politics have been playing catch-up with this phenomenon – repeatedly underestimating its complexity, underlying momentum and seriousness.
In the face of such a challenge, the endless prioritisation of economic growth has all of the sanity of extending a house while it is on fire. These gargantuan methane plumes must surely be the final warning that we no longer have the luxury of time – either we decide now to safeguard a future worth living, or the choice will not be ours to determine.
I have recently attended a planning appeal concerning a proposed wind farm. It has become clear that the motive for the original application is simply to get £10,000 per annum per turbine for the landowner. Objectors to the proposed wind farm have not been allowed to query the proposal on grounds of efficiency as this is deemed to be outside the planning system's remit.
One of the ways renewable energy companies get round the problem of lack of wind in lowland areas is to increase the height of the turbines. The extra cost of these turbines cuts into the profitability of the resulting wind farm which of course means that the actual electricity generated costs more; the higher the cost eventually working its way to consumers. As a result of the inability of the subsidy system to distinguish between high- and low-efficiency sites, large parts of lowland Britain are now threatened with massive wind farms with turbines far bigger than on upland sites because of the pressure from landowners to bag their share of the subsidy.
It would be reassuring for the public to know that public money was being spent to encourage the best practice rather than reward those lucky enough to have a field big enough on which to plant some turbines.
Britain still wields considerable power in the EU
Supporters of the European Union should be angry not with Mr Cameron but with the bizarre way recent negotiations were conducted ("Clegg's day of rage", 13 December). How credible is an institution which signs up 26 countries in the middle of the night to a treaty their inhabitants have not even seen, much less had a chance to consider?
The treaty is aimed at imposing tighter fiscal discipline some time in the future but actually does nothing to tackle the current euro crisis. The real aim seemed to be to punish Britain for its temerity in not joining the euro – even though it has clearly been disastrous for some of the countries which have adopted it – by seeking to impose a tax on financial transactions.
Mr Cameron appears to have defeated this move. This leaves us isolated in Europe, for the time being. But bear in mind that Britain remains a huge net contributor to the European Union budget and still wields considerable power.
I could not agree more with Robert Fisk (10 December) on the dominance of the financial institutions over democracy in Europe. There is a direct parallel between the hegemony of Wall Street institutions' interference in European affairs and the USA's interference – through the CIA or its military – in the affairs of Central and South America and the Middle and Far East. With Britain ever more distanced from Europe, we could become increasingly connected to the US, politically and economically, to the disadvantage of all but the super-rich.
Let us hope those eurosceptic MPs who doubtless are celebrating our all-but removal from the European Union do not find they have secured a pyrrhic history. They do not seem to have a great grasp of history because for most of it our country has been a poor island off the shores of Europe.
If Europe succeeds in saving the euro we shall find it more and more difficult to have any influence over EU decisions which could have consequences for our exports to the eurozone; and if the euro fails, then we shall not escape the dire consequences, which will be felt worldwide.
So the future of the European economies depends critically on saving the euro. Would it be safe to assume then that there were no viable European economies before the euro existed? Hmmm.
Doesn't our future relationship with Europe depend entirely on the strength of the pound against the euro, and that's it? If Cameron's decision helps make the pound competitive against the euro for exports, he did the right thing; if it doesn't, he didn't.
Chapel Lawn, Shropshire
Mr Cameron has secured for himself real powers to control the City in the ways that are absolutely necessary for the economy and the fabric of British life. Brussels has been subject to too much compromise and easing of regulations to suit different economies. Westminster will now have a clear hand to impose the stringent financial controls and regulation of the City necessary to bring the market to order to the benefit of the economy and the country.
Afghan women's rights in jeopardy
You are right to warn of the dangers of Afghan women's human rights being traded away in negotiations with the Taliban (leading article, "Time to commit to the future of Afghanistan", 5 December).
Recent signs of "flexibility" on women's rights from the Afghan government of Hamid Karzai are worrying, as is the fact that hundreds of women and girls are currently imprisoned in Afghanistan for supposed crimes of "immorality".
The Afghan foreign ministry went into last week's international meeting in Bonn saying it would safeguard women's rights. The Taliban talks are, however, highly secretive and women's rights campaigners in Afghanistan are alarmed at the prospect of behind-closed-doors deals that could betray their basic rights.
Male politicians selling out women's rights is, of course, an old story. The long-term answer is to have more women in Afghanistan involved in the key negotiations, and indeed in wider public life.
Amnesty International UK
Immigrants don't 'boost growth'
Your article on the Office for Budget Responsibility report on the relationship between immigration and growth put an irrational spin on the question which I hope is yours rather than the OBR's ("Wanted: more immigrants to boost British economy", 3 December).
As the figures show, the economic "growth" related to immigration is proportional to the number of immigrants. In other words, immigration does not improve or reduce the wealth of the people of Britain, it only increases their numbers.
This is the absurdity of seeking growth for growth's sake and imagining that all growth must be good. It is not as if this particular growth is merely neutral in its effect, for we all experience the problems of crowding and resource depletion eventually, not all of which are economic but do affect our welfare.
One of the primary causes of hardship in Britain is the high cost of housing, and this is a function of supply and demand – the more people looking for and needing housing, the more expensive it becomes. This is experienced in house prices that have become simply unaffordable for most would-be new buyers in their 20s and 30s.
But those very high prices are interpreted by economists as "wealth". People with houses are seen as getting wealthier, even though the extent of their real property has not changed. The whole argument about population levels in general and migration in particular is seriously distorted by muddle-headed economic measurement.
Think these are hard times?
Howard Jacobson (10 December) is right; "Hard times" today bear no relation to those of previous generations. I too grew up after the Second World War; we lived in a room in a tenement with an outside toilet. My mother made most of our clothes and we were immaculately turned out. As a child it never crossed my mind that I was in any way deprived.
My father was a joiner and what he earned was well managed. I remember him telling me that when he was in his 20s he was the only one within his group of friends with a job. There was absolutely no work and no benefits then. In the morning the unemployed friends would meet and go for a walk to leave what food there was for the younger siblings and pull a turnip to eat from a field they would pass.
Nowadays most of us could probably trim what we actually "need" by a half and manage quite well.
I went to the counter of my local Nationwide branch and asked for £50: £40 in notes and £10 in silver (Letters, 13 December). The cashier told me that they did not deal in sums under £100, and if I wanted silver I should go to the Post Office. Believe it – we are in the Twilight Zone.
Robert Mugabe and many African leaders may have been "socialists and born in squatters' camps" like new Belgian Prime Minister Mr Di Rupo, yet the same African leaders may not welcome him to Abuja, Harare or Kampala; much less if he is to turn up with a male partner ("Gay, socialist and born in a squatters' camp – meet the new PM of Belgium", 7 December).
But Belgium is a major aid donor to Africa, so African countries, including Uganda which has debated a parliamentary Bill seeking to execute gay people as a state policy, will have to meet Mr Di Rupo.
In that sense, the new Belgian Prime Minister may the best person to persuade the anti-gay African leaders to accept that homosexuality is not an abomination after all.
Democratic Institutions for Poverty Reduction in Africa (DIPRA), London W3
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