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Friday 4 February 2011
Letters: Perspectives on the price of oil
Green technology arrives too slowly
The message from Hamish McRae ("Let's get real: cheap oil is never coming back", 2 February) can never be made strongly enough or often enough. Oil prices will continue, with minor fluctuations, to rise inexorably.
His second point is just as true: that whatever we may do to mitigate the problem from now on, in the 2020 timescale, alternatives will provide only around 20 per cent of the requirement and the demand for oil will continue to rise.
The technologies we can move to cannot be developed in time to have more than a minor impact in the short term. Here is one example among many. The installation of solar plant in just 1.5 per cent of the world's desert regions could supply the whole of the world's electricity needs. Not only do we need to develop the equipment to do this on such a massive scale, but the thinking about the electricity and hydrogen infrastructure to get the energy to where it is needed has hardly started.
At a political level, there is no indication yet that the Coalition is applying joined-up thinking to the situation. Chris Huhne at the Department for Energy and Climate Change is pressing forward as fast as he can, but on renewables the structures for training people to implement the Green Deal seem a long way off; and whereas DECC is offering substantial grants for home insulation, other ministers in the Coalition are allowing developers to get away with building homes with poor insulation standards.
Dr David Pollard, Blaby, Leicestershire
Hamish McRae's article on oil ignores the potential impact on the oil market of the quantum changes in natural gas supply. He also exaggerates the importance of oil as a petrochemical feedstock.
For example, oil is not a significant feedstock for fertiliser production. Nitrogen fertilisers are made from natural gas (or coal in China) not oil; the same is true of most petrochemicals.
Natural gas prices are becoming de-linked from oil prices, notably in the United States, where the rapid development of shale gas reserves has seen gas prices fall at a time of rising oil prices. The same techniques that have transformed the US natural gas market are now being applied in other parts of the world and will allow countries such as China to meet an increasing portion of their energy requirements from domestic resources and reduce their relative dependence on imported oil.
In the 20th Century oil took over the role of "King Coal" as the key hydrocarbon; as the 21st century progresses the relative importance of oil in meeting the world's energy needs will continue to decline. Even oil's dominance as a transport fuel will eventually be challenged by the development of gas-to-liquids and fuel cells.
Barrie Bain, Director, Fertecon Ltd, Tunbridge Wells, Kent
Waiting for the new jobs
Unfortunately, improved manufacturing figures ("Manufacturing continues to buck economic gloom", 2 February) have not translated into a large upswing in recruitment in the manufacturing sector. In short, it is largely a jobless recovery.
Currently, most manufacturers are able to respond to increased demand without recruiting, in large part due to spare capacity built up during the recession. As margins have been squeezed, many manufacturers have looked to recruit specialist operations managers who are tasked solely with reducing costs and lead times. The focus is on recruiting people who allow manufacturers to improve their service, as in the short term this is the only way they can increase the price they charge.
Another promising trend is that manufacturers are looking to recruit people in "advanced manufacturing engineering roles". That is pre-production design and new product development roles. We're hopeful that once these new programmes and products reach the manufacturing stage, firms will then look to recruit more widely.
Jonathan Lee, Chairman, Jonathan Lee Recruitment, Stourbridge, West Midlands
I am writing to express my endorsement of George Osborne's confidence in the private sector's ability to absorb all public-sector job cuts.
In a few months' time, when the Coalition's disastrous slash-and-burn cost-cutting measures have raised unemployment well above 3 million, when street riots are becoming more commonplace and when Osborne has been made sacrificial scapegoat to allow David Cameron to distance himself from the mess, I am confident that our ex-Chancellor will find employment as a shelf-stacker with Tesco.
Ian Aunger, Peterborough
I do not claim to understand all the workings of this country's finances, but one thing is clear to me. Until the annual deficit is reduced to zero, the overall debt, together with the interest payable thereon, will continue to increase.
When, therefore, Labour politicians say that they would reduce the deficit more slowly than the Coalition, they should be obliged to add that, of course, this will result in the overall debt burden being even higher.
Reg Chalkley, Spalding, Lincolnshire
Mubarak's hired thugs
The thugs attacking Egyptian pro-democracy protesters and reporters are not "pro-Mubarak protesters", but mostly hired thugs and plain-clothes police like those Mubarak used to attack opposition campaigners during the 2005 presidential election and referendum – which were rigged. The army were ordered to allow them into Tahrir Square and given no order to stop them attacking.
Mubarak hopes this tactic will let him avoid responsibility for the people they injure and kill. He can't. While the Obama administration continues to provide his government with financial aid they are responsible too. They should cut all aid until he is gone and an all-party transitional government is in place.
The supposed threat of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover is no excuse for propping up the dictatorship. Even if the Brotherhood took power, Egyptians couldn't be worse off than under a dictatorship whose police and thugs torture, rape and murder them – and there is every chance of a multi-party democracy replacing Mubarak, with the Brotherhood just one party in it.
Duncan McFarlane, Carluke, Lanarkshire
Julie Burchill's self-regarding, purple journalism has reached a new nadir – or, to use the Arabic, nadhir – with a vile slander against the Egyptian Revolution, comparing the diverse, democratic uprising of the Egyptian people to the Iranian dictatorship (3 February).
The truth is that if there is a parallel between the Egyptian Revolution (secular and religious, Muslim and Christian, overwhelmingly democratic) and Iran, it is with the courageous but, sadly, so far unsuccessful movement against the Iranian theocratic dictatorship.
Well might Burchill, a self-confessed "evil Zionist cheerleader", fear the democratic will of the Egyptian people. The end of the increasingly vicious, US-sponsored and pro-Israeli Mubarak dictatorship is likely to give way to an Egyptian democracy which demands real justice for the Palestinians. That, and not a chimerical anxiety about an "Islamist" government in Cairo, looks like the real source of Burchill's (and Benjamin Netanyahu's) fear of the Egyptian Revolution.
Mark Brown, Glasgow
A struggle to protect the old
I read with great interest Johann Hari's proposed 10-point plan to protect older people in care homes (26 January). I believe all the points made were extremely valid. However the article failed to mention the work undertaken by social workers and their line managers, who work tirelessly investigating adult abuse, not only in care homes, but also older and other vulnerable people living in the community. Allegations of abuse are diligently screened and investigated.
Adult safeguarding investigations can take many weeks or even months to investigate thoroughly, and the man-hours are vast. As money from central government decreases, social workers will be dealing with "crisis intervention work" as the eligibility criteria for services are raised. Dealing with adult abuse will always be a priority, but those on the front line will be under increasing pressure.
Kay Brown, Shoreham-by-sea, West Sussex
We appreciate the concern raised by readers in response to Johann Hari's article about his grandmother's care. We know that people can be unsure of who can help when they are concerned with the care they, or a family member, is receiving.
The role of the Local Government Ombudsman is to investigate individual complaints about service failure. We have dealt with complaints from people whose care is funded or arranged by their council for many years. A recent extension to our powers means we can look at complaints about adult social care whether it's privately funded or paid for by the council. This gives everyone the same access to our free service regardless of how the care is funded.
Our job is to investigate complaints in a fair and independent way. We do not take sides and do not champion complaints.
When something goes wrong, our main objective is to get redress for the individuals affected and to promote service improvements from the lessons learnt. Whether it's about standards of care or mistreatment of individuals our primary aim is to get providers to put things right.
We work closely with the Care Quality Commission to reinforce their essential standards and will provide evidence where appropriate.
Jane Martin, Local Government Ombudsman, Acting Chairman of the Commission for Local Administration in England, London SW1
Further to Johann Hari's recent articles on care homes for the elderly, there is another way forward. My parents have moved to a retirement village run by the charity Extracare.
In this the residents live in their own apartment or bungalow, owned or rented, and if needed, care is provided in their own home, ranging from no care, all the way up to full care-home provision. Residents can either move in when they have no need of care, knowing it will be available at a later date, or move in when needing care.
The other key point is that it is run by a charitable trust, rather than a company who have to make a profit. There is a full range of activities, with the residents who are fit and well running a lot of the social activities.
Living in such a facility provides peace of mind for my parents, knowing that if they come to need extra help, it is already available without a traumatic move.
Elaine Shardlow, Ravenshead, Nottinghamshire
Woodlands in danger
Not content with covering our beautiful countryside with hideous and ineffective wind farms, the Government now wants to sell off our treasured, irreplaceable woods and forests to private enterprise. What is to be next, our beaches, coastline and the air that we breathe?
Surely it is time to say a resounding no these dictatorial impositions, time government listened to the people.
Dave Haskell, Boncath, Pembrokeshire
The otherwise admirable Caroline Spelman seems to have launched a crusade against wild swimmers.
The rise of private angling clubs has forced many of us to slip into the water at dawn before fishermen awake. But now Mrs Spelman will turn us into criminals as we plunge into the rockpools and quiet places to be found on what is currently the Forestry Commission's land. Privatisation of the forests is an attack on those who swim in the rivers that flow through them.
Francis Davis, Southampton
You report that the Government is under the impression that selling off irreplaceable capital assets such as our ancient forests will "help ... Defra meet its spending cuts target".
I'm no accountant, but surely in order to cut spending, one has to – er – cut spending? Selling assets may balance the budget once, but spending (and more importantly, unnecessary spending) will be unaffected and we will be in the same situation next financial year – but minus the assets.
Sue Jensen, Godalming, Surrey
The Conservatives' financial governance is dominated by asset-stripping. Maggie did it, now the Cameron-led Government is doing the same.
Lindsey McLennan, Frome, Somerset
Voting reform not just politics
Your article "Tories fear 'betrayal' by Cameron over electoral reform" (2 February) shows that, while voters are tired of the old politics, politicians and political journalists are as happy with it as ever.
The assertion that "a Yes vote in the [alternative vote] referendum ... would almost certainly ensure that the Coalition lasted until the next election in 2015" may or may not be true. The key point is, why should it matter? The alternative vote is a voting system – a fairer one – not a party political negotiating tool.
Labour activists are treating AV as a tool to bring down the Coalition, and Conservative leaders, it appears, are treating AV as a tool to keep the Coalition alive. Did I miss something? When did a referendum on changing our old and broken politics become a tool for the same old politics to exploit?
Elliot Folan, London N20
Found 'guilty' by the press
As your leading article of 1 February states, the adjectives "creepy", "lewd", "strange" and "peeping Tom" are both unjust and untrue as applied to Chris Jefferies, the man who was questioned by police, but not charged, in the Joanna Yeates murder inquiry.
I would remind readers that sections of the British press participated in an unmitigated character assassination of Amanda Knox as "foxy Knoxy" and "angel-faced killer with cold eyes", well prior to her conviction in Perugia for the crime of murder.
In doing so, elements of the press in this country supported a public prejudgment of guilt, where the jury was not and could not be sequestered.
Thomas Merriam, Basingstoke, Hampshire
A parody of prejudice
It's not just Americans who don't get irony; your correspondents complaining about Top Gear (3 February) clearly don't either.
The point being made by the Top Gear presenters was to parody the huge over-reaction by the right-on politically correct brigade about the Sky commentators – something mentioned immediately before the Mexico part of the programme.
Those unelected, self-righteous nobodies who would police us all into pale grey avatars of ourselves, but who are too dim to know when humour is at their expense, really should do what Clarkson has done, and get a life.
Paul Harper, London E15
The wrong Dame Edith
John Walsh is very lucky indeed that Dame Edith Sitwell is no longer with us (Notebook, 3 February). The wrath with which she would have descended on him for mistaking her for Dame Edith Evans would have been like King Lear's: the terror of the earth.
In any event, they weren't much alike: Evans, like every great actress, looked like whoever she was playing at the moment; Sitwell was a cross between Queen Elizabeth I and Dante, and the idea of her possessing, much less pronouncing, a handbag, is ludicrous.
Derek Parker, Mosman, New South Wales, Australia
Peter Fines refers to the high rates of interest charged by high-street banks on overdrafts (letter, 2 February). It gets worse. I have just found for the first time on my most recent bank statement a charge of £5 for using the overdraft facility. I don't know whether they thought I was going to keep it cost-free in the garage. This seems extraordinary.
Bernard O'Sullivan, London SW8
Chris Sanderson's letter (1 February) about Catholicists, and subsequent replies, remind me of the news report seen on a Boston TV channel in the 1970s. The American interviewer asked the Belfast taxi driver for "his views on the religious struggle taking place in Northern Ireland". The taxi driver replied: "It's not a religious struggle, it's them Protestants."
Mike Cordery, Almeria, Spain
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