Stop frightening our children with panic-tales of global warming
Sir: It was refreshing to read Dominic Lawson's article "Alarmism based on dubious economics" (16 January), a moment of calm reflection in an atmosphere of near-panic in The Independent on global warming.
Any sensible person is concerned at the aggressive way the world is burning up carbon fuels and the vast majority recognise that this global problem needs to be tackled on a global scale. It makes no sense to approach the whole question on the basis of imminent catastrophe. It is obvious that very little is going to happen in the short term because of the difficulties of forging international action. There is a danger that people will tire of the forecasts of doom and information-overload will cause them to turn off (unfortunately not literally).
We should stop trying to frighten the children, as some children's publications have done, with pictures of cuddly baby polar bears accompanied by dire warnings that they will all die unless - what? What do we seriously expect children to do about it?
In a local school the 11-year-olds have been told as a matter of fact that their homes will all be under water when the sea level rises by twenty feet in the next twenty years. Whilst it is entirely reasonable that children should be informed about these questions this is just stoking up fears about matters over which they have no control.
I don't believe that scientists are much better at forecasting the future than the average tipster and to make forecasts about climatic developments without knowing what technological advances are around the corner, or what international agreements may be achieved, is not helpful. Can we please calm down a bit and avoid panic measures like green taxes which will merely pour more money into the exchequer and ensure that it is the less well-off who pay the price for the well-heeled to carry on as before. I hope we can look to The Independent for a more measured view.
Sir: Dominic Lawson's article was a good read, as ever, but invites the dubious response "Up to a point." The climate change exercise is a gigantic experiment for which there is no hypothesis to validate. There appear to be at least four positive feedback parameters: melting of Arctic ice is transforming an excellent heat reflector into a black-body heat absorber; sharply rising temperatures over the tundra threaten to release the CO2 locked into peat; rising sea temperatures threaten mass release of methane from solid methyl hydrates; acidification of the surface level of the oceans is destroying the mechanism by which plankton lock CO2 into their exoskeletons, eventually sinking to the sea bed as raw material for limestone.
The jury is out on whether these effects may feed on each other, and the eventual outcome in climate terms, but the precautionary principle suggests that the Stern Report is well worth reading. His basic message is that we will all have to tolerate changed lifestyles to meet the absolute constraints of a small planet. Detailed criticism of Stern's risk priorities do not change the implications of that stark conclusion.
Sharing data is no cure for red tape
Sir: The question John Hutton should be asking is not "Why aren't we sharing data more effectively?", but "Why do I have 44 teams of people harassing bereaved relatives?" ("Proposals for 'super-computer' to share personal details spark civil rights uproar", 15 January). What is needed is a root-and-branch re-organisation of his department to eradicate duplication of effort; simply putting all the data in one place won't make the slightest difference if the 44 teams of people are still doing the same jobs.
There must be hundreds or thousands of government data-bases if we include the Inland Revenue, Customs and Excise, NHS, social services, CPA and local authorities. Each one of us will be listed in many places. Matching the records across databases is an arduous, sometimes impossible, task. Some will store full names, others just initials; some will contain date of birth and some will not. They all, probably, will contain our address, although it may not be up to date.
To create a composite record about each one of us, the Government faces a massive technical problem. Errors are certain to occur with records merging and people ending up with more than one entry. So you might get more than one tax return, more than one benefit payment and, yes, more than one letter inquiring about your recent bereavement.
I do not believe anything on the scale the Government is proposing has been attempted before in this country and, let's face it, their track record in large-scale IT projects really sucks. So don't worry - it might never happen.
Sir: When my parents died I remember that we registered the deaths, informed the pensions and tax authorities and the local council. According to Blair (who claims the super-database would avoid the need to contact 30 or 40 agencies after a family bereavement), we missed some 25-35. Could he inform us who they are and why none of them appear to have noticed that my parents died some years ago?
BEVERLEY, EAST RIDING
Sir: Incomprehensible as it may seem to Mr Killingray (Letters, 16 January) quite a lot of his fellow citizens are not too keen on the prospect of living in a new East Germany, only with more stuff in the shops. Indeed, in view of the ways things have gone, just why did we waste all that money defending ourselves against the Communist bloc?
B J FEARNLEY
Sir: I share most of the anxieties expressed in the letters (17 January) about the proposed centralised Whitehall database. I have an additional anxiety - that the data will be shared with, for example, the USA, where Whitehall would have no control over its use.
Sir: How do I become one of the 100 ordinary people the Prime Minister intends to consult in March about his data-sharing plan? I'm terribly ordinary, but am I one of the 100 most ordinary people in the country, and if so, how do I make that known to No 10 without becoming a little bit extraordinary?
GPs have earned their pay rise
Sir: I read with anger and dismay your recent article about GP pay and performance (12 January). You rightly point out that GP pay has risen recently, but not as much as headline figures suggest, because the way pension contributions are made falsely inflates this figure.
You also fail to consider the state of GP morale prior to the new contract in 2003, when general practice was on its knees and GPs were leaving in droves and not being replaced. Places like the South Wales valleys and inner cities were in danger of becoming GP-free zones.
I recall on one occasion 10 years ago, my wife (who is also a GP) and I were on call for our different practices for neighbouring towns covering a population of 60,000 at weekends, whilst bringing up three young children. There were no receptionists to take calls, no nurses to triage patients, no NHS direct or walk-in centres. We had to do the on-call by ourselves and we simply did the best we could. This service cost very little to provide, as we were being paid peanuts for this but had a considerable cost to our family life and morale.
The true financial cost of providing 24-hour care is now readily apparent to all, but GPs had been providing this service for next to nothing for the previous 50 years with little recognition. GPs still work long hours and make decisions which can have serious consequences. People have a right to expect those decisions to be correct and not made by individuals who are stressed and overworked as was the norm previously.
DR NEIL THOMAS
Homicides by the mentally ill
Sir: In The Big Question (9 January), you ask whether inquiries into killings by the mentally ill support law reform and answer in the negative, based on the Barrett inquiry.
John Barrett was exceptional because, at the time of the killing, he was subject to mandatory supervision, but the report said of his earlier violence that the only way of securing compliance would have been a community treatment order and that such an order would probably have been effective (page 211).
Numerous homicide inquiries over the last 20 years have called for the introduction of a community treatment order. Many inquiries also conclude that homicides are a consequence of poor treatment, and the most damaging myth perpetrated by the Mental Health Alliance is that risk management and optimum treatment are in opposition.
In truth, good treatment is safe treatment for patient and public alike. Fifty homicides each year by the mentally ill is too high a figure; similar collateral damage associated with any other form of medical treatment is unthinkable.
We should welcome reasonable and proportionate measures that will make it easier for services to offer good treatment.
PROFESSOR OF FORENSIC PSYCHIATRY, IMPERIAL COLLEGE LONDON
How I was nearly eaten by Idi Amin
Sir: Richard Dowden's assertion about Idi Amin that "when you mention his name many Ugandans laugh rather than weep"("The truth about Amin", 16 January) reminds me of a close call I once had with the mercurial dictator.
At the height of his terrifying powers in the mid-1970s I was part of a BBC current affairs film crew seeking permission to enter Uganda and interview the President. When other more conventional ploys failed, my colleague David Lomax telexed Amin's sinister British "fixer" Bob Astles. He said that the director (me!) was keen to make a sentimental journey to the country, in order to pay homage to one of my ancestors: the intrepid but foolhardy missionary Bishop James Hannington who was martyred (and, reputedly, eaten) by the then Kabaka of Buganda.
This apparently tickled the dictator's quirky sense of humour. We heard later that his reply on hearing the request was: "Yes, yes. Send more Hanningtons. The last one was delicious!"
Luckily for me, that initial welcome was later rescinded, and we never reached Kampala. I really had no wish to join the collection of Amin's former colleagues, reputedly beheaded and preserved for display in his office fridge-freezer.
WESTON LONGVILLE, NORFOLK
Who said that life had to be unfair?
Sir: It was good to hear Ed Balls saying that fairness is important: not just comforting to the consciences of the bleeding-hearted, but important to all of us in hard political and economic ways (report, 15 January).
What parent has not heard the small child's wail "It's not fair!" and replied, in some form of words, "Whoever told you life was fair?" Most of us learn to live with the petty unfairnesses of daily life. But when someone really feels deeply that something is not fair, it can be a very powerful motivation to act.
Ed Balls was talking about fairness in relation to "hearts and minds" and terrorism, and also in the context of mass economic migration. One could add fair trade, both national and international, fair taxation and distribution of wealth, fair access to educational opportunity and health care and many more issues that are daily in the news.
It may be only one of the root causes of offences from venial yobbishness to the worst excesses of international terrorism; but "It's not fair!" is one of the causes and it should be addressed. I hope if Ed Balls thinks it is important that means that Gordon Brown thinks so too.
STEEPLE ASTON, OXFORDSHIRE
Queen and country
Sir: So the Queen would have been Reine Elisabeth 1ere of Frangleterre? ("Warm beer and boules?", 16 January). No, she would have been Elizabeth II, because up to the reign of Victoria, France was still claimed by the English crown, and the fleur-de-lys was still part of the Royal Arms. Or perhaps this would have have been the first big argument of the new Grand Royaume Uni?
Right to speak our mind
Sir: It is reassuring to see The Independent newspaper so vigorously upholding the right of those with whom it disagrees to express their opinions in the European Parliament. Tuesday's hyperbolic and hysterical front page, to say nothing of the pages and commentary that followed, vividly underline the need for eternal vigilance least we lose our priceless right to speak our minds. Like it or not, Voltaire was right. Do you really want to be seen arguing for a single-party state without freedom of speech?
ASHLEY MOTE MEP
(INDEPENDENT, SE ENGLAND) STRASBOURG
Sir: Philip Hensher wrote (Opinion, 16 January) "Heath ... will be remembered as the prime minister who took Britain into Europe, but otherwise ran a fairly disastrous administration from 1970 to 1974." Otherwise? Millions of us believe that, truly dreadful as Sir Edward's premiership undoubtedly was, his treachery - and downright lies - over the then Common Market was far and away the worst thing he did.
WEST MEON, HAMPSHIRE
Lords of disdain
Sir: Mr Field proposes a "jury" of the nation's wise men and women to form membership of the House of Lords, thereby excluding politicians (letter, 16 January). He rather coyly suggests that this may "entail an all-appointed house". Can I ask who then, if not the great unwashed such as myself, will do the appointing? Can I suggest that since democracy seems to work for the rest of the democratic world we tag along and Mr Field take his political ideas to a nation that still believes in treating the voters with such patronising disdain.
The heat is on
Sir: I wanted to take a holiday abroad this year but was worried about offsetting my carbon emissions. Fortunately I have found the solution by turning down the heating in my house during the recent warm weather.
BILLERICAY, ESSEXReuse content