Letters: Rainforest conservation

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Money deals offer a chance to halt the 'long defeat' of the forests

Sir: I have worked since 1975 in the "long defeat" of rainforest conservation. In that time, concern about carbon emissions and the extinctions of species and cultures has become a global anxiety. The seemingly unstoppable conversion of extraordinary forest realms, for example of Borneo or Sumatra, to fire-maintained grasslands and oil-palm plantations, makes the world poorer - less interesting and less healthy - by the day. Hence the Rainforest Coalition initiative (report, 28 November) to encourage tropical forests to be considered as tradable carbon stores is welcome, as is any other mechanism that allows those who control the fates of such ecosystems to be paid for conserving them.

There are many such mechanisms in embryo, but they need to multiply and grow quickly. One such is the use of trust funds to manage contracts with forest land-owners, to pay them regularly in return for their setting aside some of their forests as biodiversity refuges or carbon stores. Such open-ended transactions need to be sustained by the right laws, institutions and educational messages, and are often in competition with the short-term demands of logging and plantation companies. But they can be effective ways to harness global willingness to pay for wild species to local willingness to co-operate for a fair price. How to fix the price is a challenge, though, since in tropical forests most of the species that might be saved are completely unknown to science - are they therefore worthless, or invaluable, or must we adopt an arbitrary figure for each?

The challenge of conservation, in these end-game conditions, is to forage urgently for workable compromises, new incentives and win-win outcomes, and spread lessons on what works far and wide. But one thing is certain: that the survival of forests and forest species will cost someone, and we may as well commit ourselves to the most equitable, sustainable and effective mechanisms that we can find. For the route to sustainable development is, in fact, a toll road.



Nation split by unfair pensions

Sir: In the light of the Turner report , it's become even clearer that the pension arrangements for public workers need to be revised. In recent decades the cost of providing a defined benefit pension - and thus the value of the already generous public pensions - has shown a dramatic increase. This results from a killer combination of plunging annuity rates and greatly reduced predictions for investment returns.

To the extent that the value of their benefit has soared , public employees have already received a massive, but disguised, pay rise , with no compensating adjustment to basic salary. Their unions' claim that they should be allowed to maintain the conditions on which they joined is one that could be turned against them.

Any private-sector employee would find laughable the proposition that a benefit added to salary on joining should remain an entrenched annual entitlement decades later, irrespective of large increases in the cost of provision - not that any private employee could ever have the job security to be able to look decades into the future in the expectation of continued employment.

Public pensions, as they currently stand , are now ruinously expensive, unjustified and deeply divisive. They create an unfair society of two classes . We cannot sustain a position where public fat cats lap up all the cream , while the private proles, who have to pay for that cream, face investment risk, probable poverty and many more years chained to their desks. Radical change to future entitlements, respecting rights accrued to date, is now imperative.



Sir: The Government, as a reasonably fair employer (not a particularly good one), pays the contribution towards the pensions of its its employees. To say that the "taxpayer" pays it (David Bray; letter, 30 November) is rather like saying that the "price-payer" contributes towards private-sector pensions

Despite the comparatively poor pay in the public sector, public employees have at least the assurance that they will receive a pension at the end of their working lives. However, it is worth pointing out that the average pension of public- sector employees is £3,800 per annum; and if they do "raise a glass" it will have to be a very cheap one. I wonder how this sum compares with what Digby Jones's pension will be when he retires?

I am sure we all sympathise with Mr Bray; but my experience of people who have chosen to be self-employed - plumbers, electricians, solicitors, medical consultants for instance - is that the prices and fees they charge will ensure that they will not starve in retirement.



Sir: The letter of David Bray about public and private sector pensions is misleading. Private-sector occupational pensions are subsidised by the taxpayer, because contributions to the schemes are tax free throughout the members' working lives. So private-sector pensioners should join their publicly employed counterparts in raising a glass to the taxpayer.



Sir: Does it not occur to the Government that one way to encourage many people to save for retirement is to cut inheritance tax drastically? People will not save if most of the money they could have enjoyed during life, or could have given to their families, will go back to the Government after their death.



Licensing law hits live music events

Sir: You toast the "more liberal"' licensing regime (leading article, 23 November) apparently in ignorance of its wider implications. The new Act is not confined to alcohol. It regulates a vast range of recreational activities irrespective of whether alcohol is sold, including the performance of live music, dancing, and indoor sporting events.

As a professional musician I often perform in hospitals and care homes. These events are arranged by various charities, and as the bandleader I share organisational responsibility. Until now the performances have escaped licensing, because they have been treated as private.

However, I have been informed by my local authority that under the new licensing regime these events become licensable. This means that, unless first licensed, the performance is a criminal offence punishable by fines up to £20,000 and six months in prison.

Indeed, private charity fund-raising events featuring live music even in one's own home become a potential criminal offence for the first time under the new law.

Is this truly a "more liberal" licensing regime?



Shocking behaviour by Royal Marines

Sir: The nation is shocked by the behaviour we have seen of our Marines in the recent footage. Protectors of our country behaving in a manner akin to wild animals and savages is deeply disturbing.

The fact that this is the first time the public has been exposed to this kind of behaviour does not mean that it is the first time this has happened. It was an initiation ceremony which had been practised in the past, and no doubt will continue to be practised in the future.

There is a far darker and much more disturbing side to this. If the marines can treat their "own" in this way, humiliating them, beating them half to death, treating them as though they are worthless - then God only knows how they treat Iraqis and "insurgents". Now stories of abuse and degradation don't seem all that far-fetched.



School selection by the back door

Sir: I write to you as a parent of child with Down Syndrome ("City Academies 'will restrict choice' for parents of special-needs pupils", 19 November). Our daughter has attended local mainstream primary and secondary schools, but we have had to fight many battles. One has been the prejudiced view expressed often by other parents and teachers that "if we have her here it will be to the detriment of our children/other pupils".

I am angered and upset that such prejudice will be upheld by the DfES in relation to City Academies. Under the new Education White Paper Mr Blair wants most schools to seek "trust" status, where even more power will be delegated to the school. I worry for parents who have to travel the same path as we did. I fear that selection by the back door will be let in, and prejudice will be enshrined in legislation.



Old fashioned union 'bosses'

Sir You have a headline which identifies Tony Woodley, General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, as a "union boss"(" Union boss accused of inciting illegal strike at Heathrow", 28 November).

Why is Mr Woodley identified as a "boss"? The Independent does not identify prime ministers, or business leaders, or even its own editors as "bosses".

The word "boss" was derived from a Dutch word which was adopted by American workers after the Revolution in place of the traditional " master". In the employers' anti-union campaigns of the early 20th century, union leaders were called "bosses" to signify the employers' belief that they possessed unchecked power and to associate them with the corrupt political bosses of the day. It is an anti-union anachronism to continue to use the term in this manner.



Ofili paintings a bargain for the Tate

Sir: As an art history lecturer I defend the Tate's decision to purchase and, more importantly, display Chris Ofili's The Upper Room ("Something smells funny at the Tate", 29 November). It would have been regrettable to deny public ownership of this extraordinary work of art because the creator was a temporary trustee, ironically appointed to bring a greater "ethnicity" to the "board".

Anyway, the 13 paintings were acquired at a bargain price in comparison with the vast sums recently expended to "save works for the nation". With its vibrant colours, its jewel-like decorative elements, its tactile quality, its double layer of reflected imagery and its evocative smell - not of dung, but of the wood used in the creation of the ark-like environment in which it is displayed, this is a sensual masterpiece by an important contemporary British artist.

So, I urge readers to put aside the politics and the dung hype and seize the chance to experience it now, in perfect conditions, before passing judgement.



Sir: At last a major newspaper is looking into the funding and spending of public money in the art world! It has been going on for years but because politicians and others are so afraid of being seen as philistines they have not dared to challenge a situation which would have been a scandal in any other field.



Sir: Like Nicholas Serota, could I too have "a modest salary of £100,000" please? Try working in a supermarket for a tenth of that amount: that's modest.



Dylan Thomas was no binge boozer

Sir: Unlike Ian Irvine ("Trouble brews at the pub of a poet", 30 November) I am not at all sure that Dylan Thomas would have approved of the 24-hour, barbaric binge-boozers of Blair's Britain, causing their nightly disturbances in formerly sleepy towns.

From what I have read of the "fancy-talking" poet, Thomas's drinking tended to be conducted within the "rules" of the bohemian or local Welsh circles with which he associated. He would then wander back through respectable 1940s streets to the Boat House, along Laugharne's " heron-priested shore", no doubt thinking of a poem (or a letter to his bank manager).

I believe that this romantic and ultimately religious man would be horrified by the ghastly drinking culture of this country today.



Good advice on Iraq

Sir: I have just heard Jack Straw comment that the Foreign Office advises British citizens to stay away from Iraq. If only the British government would follow its own advice.



Why we loved Best

Sir: I am surprised and heartened by the reaction to George Best's very sad demise. After 10 years of Blairite self-righteousness, I think we're all reacting to the endless lectures about healthy eating, anti smoking, no more turkey twizzlers etc etc. We love an absolute rascal.



Keep out the cold

Sir: For one who experienced the winter of 1948, with power cuts and shortages, and 1963, with my only form of heating an oil stove, the prospect of fuel shortages this winter holds few fears. The secret is to wear good underwear. Now is the time to enlist the help of fashion houses to make it "cool". The only question is, does it take more energy to ship a pair of long johns from the far east than will be saved by the wearing of them?



Blinded by the light

Sir: Phil Pumphrey (letter, 29 November) asks why street lamps can't be fitted with a device that switches off the light when no one is around. How does he know that they aren't?