Letters: Perspectives on global population

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Consumption is unsustainable

Scratch the surface of any environmental problem and population growth and unsustainable levels of consumption are the root cause (report, 12 July). We are already in breach of the planet's capacity to support 6.8bn people, with over 1bn people without access to clean water.

Do the sums: population times consumption equals impact. That is why non-coercive population policies must be fully integrated into the environmental policies and action plans of every nation. And that is why consumption-fixated governments must ditch outmoded economic models that treat people as economic units contributing to gross domestic product (GDP), creating the myth that big populations are good for the economy and for well-being.

Countries such as Iran, Thailand and Korea have successfully reduced their rate of population-growth through education and awareness campaigns. The lives of many millions of women in these countries have improved immeasurably because of their ability to manage their own fertility.

Nick Reeves, Executive Director, Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management, London WC1

Taboo subject finally being broached

Your welcome coverage of the Royal Society's investigation into global population shows that a taboo on this subject may be breaking down.

There has long been a reluctance to question the UN's view that humanity will number only around 9bn people in 2050. This is based on the assumption that average material wealth will increase in the poorer countries, and that an indirect effect of this will be to reduce fertility.

But how can this be achieved? Countervailing factors include the lack of reproductive education and empowerment for women, poverty, development goals that cannot be met, the failure of water supplies and ecosystems on a continental scale, and climate change undermining everything.

Thus there are many who worry that our numbers are more likely to overshoot and crash, than to gently stabilise in mid-century amid universal prosperity.

Dr Julian Caldecott, Bath

It's not just about human beings

Dominic Lawson (Opinion, 13 July) considers only human beings in his argument, not the billions of other animals that share our planet.

We should think carefully about how we spend money, which often goes on needless, ecologically unfriendly items.

Poorer people, especially in developing countries, need to up their income to meet basic needs, but us (relatively) wealthy westerners need to reconsider our lifestyles.

A world rich in biodiversity will improve everyone's quality of life.

Phil Dunk, Westmeston, east Sussex

An Anglican view

Dominic Lawson takes to task the Optimum Population Trust, and attributes to them a range of sinister motives. Perhaps while he is at it he would like to tackle that other terrifying organisation, the Public Affairs Commission of the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia, which has published a statement about population growth, advocating restraint at candobetter.org/node/2027. I wonder what motives he will ascribe to them.

Roger Plenty, Stroud, Gloucestershire

Plans for NHS are perverse

The Government's White Paper on health, if implemented, will make the administration of the NHS more expensive and unwieldy than it has ever been before (report, 12 July). Instead of a relatively small team of professionals with appropriate skills managing multi-million pound budgets for large areas, the Government wants to hand this to private contractors running small businesses.

The Government could have removed the Strategic Health Authorities, rationalised the Primary Care Trusts and ruled that all of the Trust Boards must be weighted in favour of clinicians; they would have got closer to what they wanted. What they are proposing to do is hand the health service to a collection of small private businesses and hope that they will develop all of the management skills required in the space of three years. Of course they won't, and will be forced to pay for that expertise on a piecemeal basis and at far greater cost then the existing model.

Perversely, the big winners in the medium term will be the staff who have the expertise in the soon-to-be-defunct organisations. Those who aren't reabsorbed into the huge NHS machine can set themselves up as consultants and sell a service that they used to provide as an employee back to the NHS through the multiple consortia; they could treble their money. Money that should be going on patient care.

Rob Field, Maidstone, Kent

Dr Chand (Letters, 12 July) repeats a common misconception that the founding principles of the NHS were "universality, equity and quality". In fact, quality was only introduced as a principle in 2000 as part of the Labour government's modernisation programme, along with the requirement to provide a comprehensive range of services.

Unfortunately, the three principles of "comprehensiveness", "quality" and "universal availability" form what logisticians call an incompatible triad, in that – within a limited budget – only two of the three can be achieved at any time. In other words, it is possible to have a comprehensive range of high-quality services that excludes some people, a restricted range of high-quality services that is available to all, or a wide range of so-so quality services that everyone can access freely. The challenge for all health-care systems is to achieve the best possible health outcomes for the population as a whole, with the least possible compromise to any of these three contradictory goals.

The best we can hope for is an honest discussion about which way we want this three-legged stool to tilt. Seeking to balance it by changing (again) the structure of the NHS, or by creating an artificial market within a publicly funded service, is likely to be futile. When will we learn?

Dr Warwick Hunt, Burton Latimer, Northamptonshire

Health minister Andrew Lansley mentions en passant that all NHS trusts will acquire foundation status within three years. If the experience of my local hospital's trust is typical, the change will be welcomed enthusiastically by managers, whose remuneration will rocket, but less so by patients, who will foot the bill out of total trust-allocated funds.

Thus between 2006, when foundation status was approved, and 2008-9, the trust chief executive's salary rose by £75,000 (71 per cent), and her lump-sum entitlement at 60 years of age by £40,000 (21 per cent). During the same period the five other senior executive managers' salaries rose collectively from £330,000 to £590,000 (79 per cent). All lump sums and pensions also rose substantially.

Unless such pay rises are strictly limited in future, government claims that "we are all in it together" will ring very hollow.

Dr Robert Heys, Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire

Who is going to treat our aches and pains now that our GPs are to manage change within the NHS? Those GPs foolish enough to seize this baton will soon find that Change Management is a beast that devours ever more of their time. Patient care will become an irritating intrusion into their busy lives.

Sir Humphrey will give a wry smile; he, as we all know, had always been of the view that patients were an impediment to the smooth running of the health service.

Peter Martin, Muir of Ord, Ross-shire

The transition to the new coalition Government has not rooted out the dull, part-thought-out language of the ancien régime, judging by the Health White Paper. Expressions like "Implementation will happen bottom-up", could have come from any New Labour document, as well as "Money will follow the patient through transparent, comprehensive and stable payment systems," which means something to a sharp suit in Whitehall, I guess. Plus ça change...

Colin Standfield, Chair, Ealing Hospital SOS Campaign, London W7

As an ex-senior sister in a very progressive inner-city Accident and Emergency department, and with more recent experience as a triage nurse in a large GP surgery, I question the need for so many GPs. More use of nurse practitioners would save the NHS a lot of money. Most surgeries that currently operate with 10 or more GPs on their payroll could manage with a maximum of five.

Karen Wilkes, Stafford

Despite what they would have us believe, this is not "the most significant advance in healthcare since 1948".

Surely it is just the Tories old, failed "GP fund-holding" system under a new name?

Robin Petherbridge, Cowes, Isle of Wight

Rebel militias of Somalia

You are right to say "outside intervention has only made matters worse" in Somalia (leading article, 13 July), yet your suggestion that the world "needs to start from the specifics in Somalia and build peace and reconciliation from the ground up" is vague, to say the least. How does one go about achieving such goals in the face of ideologically driven insurgents operating in a lawless state? Indeed, your proposal would seem to require engaging in an indefinitely long occupation and arduous nation-building – this in a country that ranks bottom in the Corruption Perception Index. The US tried to do such things in 1992 and failed miserably.

Instead, the focus should be on containment. As in Yemen and Pakistan, we face a situation where overt help undermines our allies. Hence, we should urge the forces of the Organisation of African Unity to withdraw gradually, put an end to occasional US drone attacks, and limit ourselves to giving covert financial backing and arms supplies to those in Somalia opposed to al-Shabab, as well as cutting off sources of income for the group.

To this end, it is worthwhile to recognise and support the secessionist state of Somaliland, where the de facto independent government, opposed to al-Shabab, has control and authority over its area. We should crack down further on piracy, and monitor mosques in the West attended by expatriate Somalis, from whom al-Shabab has recruited members and received financial support. At the same time, we should issue a warning to al-Shabab that any aggression against other countries will be met with severe retribution.

Aymenn Jawad, Cardiff

History will surely record without mercy the international community's continuing dysfunctional handling of Somalia's suffering. But is this the best we can do? The recent Istanbul Conference on Somalia was claimed as a "major breakthrough for both the international community and for the people of Somalia". Maybe, and maybe that breakthrough prompted this desperate response from al-Shabab. But the large Somali diaspora worldwide is pretty well integrated into their host communities and is prepared to help rebuild Somalia – but without al-Shabab. Until recently, the capacity for leadership of this diaspora has been missing, leaving the international community few credible Somali partners.

But new groupings such as the UK-based G18, whose members have strong associations with all 18 of Somalia's regions, can fill this gap using clan, family and business links to help return to Somalia its lost sense of nationhood.

If we are incorporated such initiatives into mainstream efforts, history might record the Kampala bombings as the darkness before the dawn.

David Wardrop, Strategies for Peace, London SW6

Summer babies disadvantaged

Kate Johns writes about the problems her son has encountered because of starting school when he was not ready for it (Letters, 10 July). What short memories people have.

Two or three decades ago, it was decided that all small children should start school in the September of the academic year in which they would turn five, instead of staggering the school intake, which had previously had the result that summer-born children had a year less in school.

The admirable reason for this change was to ensure that all children had an equal amount of time in education at a crucial period in their early development. Lengthy research had revealed that summer-born children were severely disadvantaged by spending two or more terms fewer in school than their peers; the result was that on average they achieved much less than autumn-born children. For the younger ones, entering a class of children who had already had a year's schooling, formed peer groups etc, obviously had a deleterious effect. This was no short-lived failing, but one which followed them through life.

As so often happens, what was once an innovative move designed to right an injustice is now criticised by the next generation who have no knowledge of the reasons behind the decision.

Jean Hopkin, Tideswell, Derbyshire

Too high a price for fashion

Vogue's Emily Zak, quoted in "The hot spot for cool customers" (12 July), about the arrival of the Swedish store Acne, says: "It more than fills gaps in your wardrobe... Acne is more than a fashion brand, at a time when we all want more from fashion."

Forgive me for being a party pooper, but what we want from fashion is affordable, sustainable clothing. A hat for £110 and a pair of boots for £1,400 is not what any sane person wants. They don't fill gaps in the wardrobe – they just remove large chunks from the bank balance along with any remnants of common sense.

Charlie Brown, London WC1

What employers really want

The letters from Joanna Biddolph and Ruth Spellman (8 July) demonstrate exactly why most graduates cannot find a job.

Biddolph is trying to recruit graduates with at least five years' experience; while Spellman requires graduates to have performed unpaid volunteer work, or obtained professional qualifications.

In both cases they view a degree as having little or no value and prefer to hire people based on their work experience. If employers stopped maintaining the facade that a degree is important and actually admitted that having work experience is the best way to get a graduate job, there would be far fewer unemployed graduates.

Thomas Wiggins, Wokingham, Berkshire

Cheek of US to criticise Cuba

Of course imprisonment without trial is to be condemned in Cuba as everywhere else. But it does not become a nation like the US to do so when it not only imprisons and tortures foreign nationals without trial itself, but destroys defenceless people abroad, including women and children, from the air. Cuba does not murder people with pilotless drones, thank goodness.

Malcolm Pittock, Bolton

Tesco battle

Good luck to the residents of Sheringham in their fight against Tesco (report, 10 July). I live in Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, where we lost this fight. The building went ahead even after a tunnel which Tesco built across the railway line collapsed, only missing a train by seconds.

We have been living on a building site for six years, in dust, noise and traffic chaos, which turned this once pleasant place into a disaster area. How many more towns have to be ruined and small shops be put out of business before anyone stops it?

E Sowels, Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire

Empire builders

References in your columns to the phrase "the British Empire, on which the sun never sets", sometimes seem to imply that the Empire was expected to last forever. We were taught that this was a geographical reference, i.e. that there was always part of the Empire where it was daylight. No one with any knowledge of history would think any grouping would last forever.

W A Hayday, Freshwater, Isle of Wight

That's the spirit

I don't understand how the Home Office will be able to ban the "ancestors of the original creators" of lacrosse from coming to Britain to play in the World Lacrosse Championships, as Jerome Taylor reports ("Why the tribe who invented lacrosse can't play it here", 14 July).

Does red tape now beat bell, book and candle as the exorcist's weapon of choice?

Tina Rowe, Ilchester, Somerset