Letters: Perspectives on a stressed planet

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The Independent Online

The end of cheap energy

Well done for your excellent editorial linking climate change to "peak oil" (6 January). The whole of our social structure is based on the availability of cheap energy, and this is clearly not going to last.

The IEA is being very optimistic in its estimation that oil will only reach $100 a barrel in five years' time, when it is at $94 today. Although almost all of our electricity production is not from oil, the prices of both natural gas and coal, which we do use, track the oil price, so that we can expect the price of electricity to rise as well. Reducing our dependence on fossil fuels will save us not only from climate change, but also unprecedented social change as well.

We are fortunate that Liberal Democrat Chris Huhne is the minister responsible at the Department of Energy and Climate Change. He believes in what he is doing, and away from the glare of publicity, he is pushing on with (Al) Gore's Law - reduce global emissions by a balance of conservation, carbon capture and storage and renewables and nuclear. Chris Huhne is having to fight off the extreme environmental lobby at one end and climate change deniers at the other. So far he is doing well and needs all the help he can get. Politics is about power, and he is exercising what power he has to do what he believes in.

On an international perspective, it's clear that the majority of the oil we have left is in Muslim countries, so there is a good case for getting on well with them. Muslim countries have the best deserts as well, which is where the solar-generated hydrogen will come from when oil runs out.

And will China stand idly by when the price of oil starts to affect its economy, as it will? When we had the first "oil shocks" in the 1970s, my boss used to wonder aloud why the US did not "liberate" Saudi Arabia and other gulf states. Should we be substituting China for the US? May we live in interesting times!

Dr David Pollard, Blaby, Leicestershire

Climate change brings hunger

Food commodity prices are being hit from all sides: competition for land with non-food crops, higher fuel – and therefore transportation – costs, and extremes of weather. And the countries being hit the hardest are those that are least food-secure in the developing world, especially Africa.

We may not be at the stage of widespread civil unrest yet, but it is surely just a matter of time before we replay the hunger of 2007-8 and the concomitant violence.

Changes in climate and extreme weather events wiped out and damaged huge swathes of crops and farmland last year, just as the floods in Australia are doing now. Why, when we are given such palpable warning signs, are rich nations still showing little leadership on cutting greenhouse gas emissions to a safe level?

Will it take UK and EU fruit and meat prices to rocket unaffordably before the bloc moves forward to a unilateral 30 per cent cut in greenhouse gases? And will it take widespread hunger across food-insecure nations to force rich countries to find the sources of financing for the Climate Fund to protect the poorest nations from climate impacts such as food price volatility?

Dr Jasber Singh, Climate change researcher, CAFOD, London, SE1

Build-up to crisis

There may be concern in the UN about the "coming hunger", but here in Kent we live in a different universe. Swale Borough Council, along with others, is handing out Grade 1 agricultural land to developers so fast it's hard to keep pace. The road to UK food poverty is paved with houses.

Kay Murphy, Bapchild, Kent

VAT rise leaves Clegg exposed

I have seen no public acknowledgement of the reason why the present Coalition has proved so disastrous for the Lib Dems. No one can object to hard decisions on the detail within an overall equitable grand strategy. Nick Clegg's complete identification with the current grossly inequitable one, and the seeming failure to recognise that it is intrinsically unfair is the real problem.

As an example, let us consider the extent to which we are "all in it together" as exemplified in the apologia for the VAT increase. We have been told that the richest will pay some £10 per week extra, against only £1.30 from the poorest.

Since a likely estimate puts the ratio of the weekly earnings of the richest to those of the poorest at something like 100, this means that the poorest are "in it" some 70 to 80 times deeper than the most affluent. And this is true of every other detail arising out of George Osborne's strategy to cut the deficit.

Richard James Snell, Chippenham, Wiltshire

You report that Ed Miliband says the VAT rise will cost each family £7.50 a week. For that to be the case, a family would need to be spending £352.50 each week on Vatable items alone, which exclude rent or mortgage, food, council tax, lottery tickets, television licence, insurance, road tax, savings and charitable donations. The VAT rate on electricity and gas is not rising.

An MP earns £66,000 a year, which gives them £870 a week after tax to spend on all these items. Perhaps it is MPs' families that Ed Miliband has in mind.

Julian Gall, Godalming, Surrey

It appears that our Tory Chancellor has only just found out what a progressive tax is. Give him a few more months in the job and he might even have grasped some of the trickier terms, like "fair", "all", and "together".

David Woods, Hull

The more you tax something the less you get of it. Therefore, the VAT rise will harm commercial activity and cause job losses. I can only assume that the Government expects the economic recovery (if it occurs) to hide the damage.

Scott Varland, Purley, Surrey

Lib Dem record to be proud of

Judging by the letters published on 1 January, it is time to rename The Independent as The Anti-Liberal Democrat. I remain convinced that both Vince Cable and Simon Hughes are politicians of integrity and conviction, and with instincts (helping the poor and disadvantaged) that I approve of. They were placed in an incredibly difficult position on the issue of tuition fees.

The problem with the pledge is that it was made for the case of going into opposition. This was possible as, unlike the other parties, the party had a programme for phasing out the fees eventually. The pledge should have been "If in opposition, with either a Conservative or Labour government, we will oppose tuition fee rises; if in government with either party we will fight to mitigate the effect of increases, particularly on the poorest students."

Despite being very much the junior partner in the coalition (less than one fifth of the seats with almost two thirds the number of votes) several major concessions and improvements were made, for which I have seen no recognition or gratitude in the anti-Liberal Democrat press from The Independent and The Guardian down to the Mail, Mirror and Sun.

There was no chance of stopping the Conservatives (or, for that matter, Labour, if in power) from raising the cap on fees, and to have left the Coalition would have allowed the Conservatives to call an election, win an overall majority and implement harder-line policies in general.

Unfortunately, not enough of the electorate supported the Lib Dem programme for the party to become the government and implement its policies. The commentators write about the party not meeting its manifesto commitments, as if it were in a position to carry them out. Have they not noticed the party does not actually have an overall majority?

In fact the Lib Dems have achieved a remarkable amount, and I am proud and pleased that some constraint is being applied to the Conservatives, though I regret that the party is not in a position to go much further towards achieving a social liberal society.

David Brandwood, Alderholt, Dorset

Don't go out after dark

Joan Smith (6 January) commenting on advice issued by the police in the Jo Yeates murder in inquiry, suggests that men rather than women might be told to stay indoors rather than go out unaccompanied .

Before Christmas I was outraged to hear that a rail company had advised passengers travelling home from a day out in York to destinations going towards Middlesbrough to abstain from alcohol before starting the return journey and not to make return journeys in the evening unaccompanied. Passenger safety could not be guaranteed because of increased incidents of drunkenness in trains going towards Middlesbrough.

The issue is not gender. Are single people of both sexes going to be expected to stay indoors every night, or be discouraged from going out at night unaccompanied, or visiting other towns and cities unaccompanied?

Peter J Brown, Middlesborough

Some years ago, when I lived in Leeds, one evening some leaflets appeared on the streets, purporting to emanate from West Yorkshire Police, advising men not to go out in the evenings, unless accompanied by their wives, as there had recently been a series of attacks on women, and the Yorkshire Ripper case was still fresh in people's minds.

It resulted in several men ringing the police to ask for advice. It transpired that the notice was, unfortunately, a spoof, suggesting that if men stayed indoors women could be safe on the streets. It did, however, have a very good copy of the West Yorkshire Police logo.

Dr Jane Susanna Ennis, London NW6

Myth of the drunken Irish

As an Irishman and an experienced mental health social worker with some experience in substance abuse, I take exception to a statement in the article "Baker Street star Gerry Rafferty dies" (5 January). This article states that Gerry Rafferty "was unable to shake off his troubles with drink, which he inherited from his Irish father". You have managed to perpetuate two myths in one short phrase.

By emphasising that Gerry's father was Irish, you appear to be reinforcing the stereotypical connection between being Irish and having a drink problem. Certainly some Irish people do have problems with alcohol; alcohol is a difficult drug, albeit a legalised drug in common use in Europe, and in countries which inherit their alcohol use patterns from Europe. But problems with alcohol are not exclusive to the Irish.

There is no evidence that anyone "inherits" a drink problem. While some health problems are clearly inherited, this is not the case with alcohol abuse or dependence. You may be more likely to have a drink problem or any other problem if your parents suffered from one, but to state that you can inherit it is highly questionable.

Niall Murphy, Manchester

Labour voters want left policies

Tessa Jowell is correct that Labour needs to reconnect with its voters if it is to win the next election. But she is light years from reality if she believes that our core votes are the fair-weather sailors that Peter Mandelson is obsessed with cultivating (report, 4 January).

If the New Labour cuckoos bothered to venture north of Watford they would very quickly find that traditional Labour voters want traditional left-of-centre policies. The real reason why Gordon Brown isn't still at No 10 is because many disillusioned Labour supporters voted Liberal in the mistaken belief that Nick Clegg would be more left-wing.

I can assure the champagne socialists in London and the Home Counties is that if Miliband Minor indulges in another pointless round of alleged policy changes, he can forget about ever getting the keys to No 10. Ordinary Labour voters won't put up with the further Americanisation of the party.

Chris Youett, Coventry

Majority have no religion

According to your article "The Islamification of Britain" (4 January), the number of Britons choosing to become Muslims has nearly doubled in the past decade.

You might also like to take note of the National Centre for Social Research's most recent Survey of British Social Attitudes, which shows that the number of those describing themselves as having no religion has gone up from 34 per cent in 1985 to 50.7 per cent in 2009. By any measure this is surely a more dramatic change. And since it is one that relates to more than half the population rather than the few per cent who describe themselves as Muslims, perhaps more worthy of note.

The same survey reveals that trust in politicians has plunged. Perhaps if governments paid a little more attention to the opinions of the non-religious majority and a little less to those of so-called "faith leaders" they might begin to regain some of that lost trust.

Alastair Banton, London W4

Slaughter with the least pain

I am somewhat puzzled by Henrietta Nasmyth's letter (30 December) describing the death of her two ponies.I have never heard of a knackerman or a vet cutting an animal's throat. I have had several horses and cows put down on the farm over the years and with very few exceptions they have been shot by an expert.

This is instantaneous in that only occasionally does it take two shots, and even then the animal has fallen with a bullet in its skull.

With one or two highly-strung horses, I have asked the vet to tranquillise them first and then administer the lethal injection. It certainly didn't take hours for them to die; I wonder what sort of vets there can be in Bedfordshire.

But I am not convinced that electrical stunning is any more humane than a bullet, though obviously it renders the animal immobile for the captive bolt which has to be held to the skull A good shot can kill a cow cleanly at a few yards while she grazes in the field. This has to be the least stressful of all the methods, but of course is not practical for abattoir use.

I once nearly died from blood loss, after childbirth; I felt no pain, only sleepiness, so suspect that halal is not that traumatic for the animal as Ms Nasmyth suggests.

Penelope Reid, Wantage, Oxfordshire

Time for a Time Lady?

I am in two minds about Ben Walsh's article (4 January) about the possibility of a future Doctor being female. I have followed Dr Who since it began in 1963; then the Doctor was a grandfather (William Hartnell) with a granddaughter, Susan (Carol Ann Ford). For me, this indicates that the Doctor is firmly male, humanoids on Gallifrey having similar genders to those on Earth.

On the other hand, it would be interesting, nay entrancing, to see a female Doctor. I am sure that the script writers could wangle some pseudo-scientific jiggery-pokery to account for the sex change. May I suggest Toyah Willcox as a contender?

For me, though, any Doctor is better than none!

Eric Fitch, Hereford

Football's dinosaurs

Yes, football will have to embrace technology (Letters, 29 December). For a long time, I have been puzzled by the lack of an action in the courts against the governing bodies. Most clubs have shareholders who have lost significant sums of money as a result of errors of referees deprived of assistance available from the technology already in place.

An action for negligence and the resulting heavy financial compensation would concentrate the minds of these dinosaurs. It needs some courage by one of the big clubs .

David Hope, Enfield, Middlesex

AV results

Vaughan Thomas (letter, 6 January) need not worry: the Auf Wiedersehen, Pet outcome is not possible under the Alternative Vote, because a candidate receiving no first preferences would be eliminated. AV ensures the winner is the one with the most popular support, even if first preferences are divided between several candidates.

Edmund Woodfield, Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Frosty mystery

With regard to Frosty (letters, 1, 3, 5 January), I have been trying to pursue this cool customer for some time now. However, every time I near my goal he seems, somehow, simply to melt away.

The Rev Sharon, Grenham-Toze, Wilstead, Bedfordshire