Letters: Renewable energy

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Oil companies move towards a future of renewable energy

Sir: Jeremy Leggett's extended article (20 January) is a timely reminder of the challenges posed to our societies by Peak Oil and the end of cheap hydrocarbons. The Independent's coverage of energy issues such as Peak Oil and carbon dioxide emissions (stimulated recently by James Lovelock's article, 16 January, and accompanying letters) is most encouraging.

If Dr Leggett was to return to academia he'd see how far we have moved on from his day. We teach Peak Oil for careers in an industry environment that is more akin to farming than big-game hunting.

I'm confident that petroleum engineers and geoscientists in most parts of the world are both technically competent and ethically responsible. It is in the presentation of the results - using criteria such as "reasonable certainty", "greater than 10 percent probability", "technical best estimate" - that different practices are used around the world. Help is on its way in the form of the UN Resource Classification which the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate has recently adopted and is promoting within the industry. Greater consistency and transparency of global reserve and resource stocks is needed in order to manage effectively their eventual decline.

In Dr Leggett's book, he is very sceptical about carbon capture and storage as he sees this as just a fix to allow the oil companies to carry on operating as usual.

Many in the petroleum industry see this as proven technology that can both increase oil recovery and safely store the unwanted wastes of fossil fuel burning. Only political will power is needed to force the systematic capture, transport and storage of carbon dioxide in this country. One day, we may even want to bring the carbon dioxide back out as we head into another ice age at some time in the future.

I am much encouraged by the increasing synergy between the petroleum companies and renewables industry. If you enter "renewables" into the search engines on the home pages of the major European oil companies such as Shell, BP and Total you would be surprised just how much activity these companies are involved in (in the US, only Chevron appears to have significant activity by the same measure).

If the petroleum industry can be further stimulated to work along with renewables, perhaps we can ensure a smooth transition to a renewables-dominated supply of energy.



Oaten's private life is a public matter

Sir: I find your observation that Mark Oaten's behaviour with a male prostitute was a "personal tragedy" quite extraordinary (leading article, 23 January). In fact it was total stupidity.

Mr Oaten had a choice. Given his recent prominence, the fact that he chose to have sex with a male prostitute reflects a major flaw in his character of a type which we all need to be aware of in our elected representatives.

At election time we have to make snap judgements based upon very limited information. How a person behaves in his private life is a more accurate indication of his true character than the public persona.



Sir: Your leading article states, in respect of Mark Oaten's paying a man for sex, that "at heart, this was a private matter". A few days ago, following a government initiative, the media, including your paper, were full of the view that when men pay women for sex it is not a private matter at all and they should be criminalised.

Are you wrong? Are they wrong? Or is there some essential difference between male and female prostitutes?



Sir: Your leading article says "media attention will be shining relentlessly on the Liberal Democrats". Dream on, unless there are more sex and booze stories.

Last week while recovering from flu I listened to 5Live and read your paper and several others. I could not find any reference to the Liberal Democrats' statements on policy, nothing on the position on the restrictive lists of teacher employment. Nothing on the energy situation. Only the column by Bruce Anderson where his limited mindset says we Liberal Democrats should disappear.



Sir: Like Mark Edwards (letter, 24 January) I have often wondered what the Lib Dems were for, born as they were of a marriage of convenience between the near-dead Liberal Party and the Gang of Four's temper tantrum with Old Labour. But now I know. They exist to entertain us. What other use could they possibly have ?

But regretfully they are showing worrying signs of morphing into something more serious. First the drinking, then the rent boy. Just as soon as they can get themselves a nice financial scandal we will have to start taking them seriously as a real political party.



Spiral of poverty and population

Sir: The letter from John Blacker (23 January) on Kenya's population growth rate and its negative impact on the environment and living standards is timely. Through the last 40 years, during which I have lived in Sierra Leone and Tanzania, I have also been a frequent visitor to tropical Africa. During this time poverty has visibly intensified as populations have quadrupled. Aid programmes have had minimal impact.

From Cairo to Cape Town and from Dakar to Dar es Salaam, burgeoning shanty-town slums in cities and rural deforestation and desertification are environmental catastrophes largely attributable to population pressure.

Present and recent famines in Niger, Kenya, Ethiopia and elsewhere are a direct result of over-population. And yet well-meaning do-gooders and greens such as Bob Geldof, Jonathan Porritt, Zac Goldsmith, Peter Melchett, Tony Juniper and your own leader writers, scarcely mention, never mind acknowledge, the population time bomb.

John Blacker is right to say that the question "is no longer fashionable or politically correct". Moreover, his theme is highly relevant to the problem of global warming. If mankind proves unable to avert the threat of a further doubling of world population, to a realistic estimate of 12 billion by 2050, anything we achieve on other fronts such as curbing economic growth (as if that is likely!) will be to no avail.

I agree with James Lovelock that the outlook for our species is grim.



Sir: John Blacker puts the cart before the horse in seeking to reduce poverty in Kenya by cutting population growth. In country after country - including our own - it has been shown that parents start having fewer children as soon as they have the assurance that the ones they have will survive.

Mr Blacker notes the drop in births per woman between the 1970s and the 1990s, following the customary pattern as Kenya gradually developed. The subsequent reversal of the trend can be ascribed to the onset of HIV/Aids and the attendant co-scourge of TB. Parents no longer have any assurances of the survival of their children, or indeed of themselves.

By all means provide Kenyans with the wherewithal for birth-control, but don't expect them to use it much until the problems of poverty and disease are solved.



Grey squirrel cull may fail to help reds

Sir: Plans by the Government to cull grey squirrels are short-sighted because there is so much more to saving red squirrels than culling greys.

The RSPCA is concerned about the welfare of both red and grey squirrels, and believes measures to protect rare species should be both realistic and humane to all affected animals.

Conservation bodies argue that if no action is taken we could lose the reds. But the factors that affect conservation status also have welfare consequences. Reds can suffer and die from parapox virus spread by the greys, which themselves remain unaffected. They can also suffer and die because the habitat they need to survive is being lost to greys. But some measures proposed to control populations of grey squirrels would cause the reds to suffer.

The RSPCA firmly believes that work on science-based alternative measures to reduce the negative welfare impact on both reds and greys should have the highest priority. These could include maintaining habitat that is more desirable to reds than greys, selective support-feeding to support reds, and possibly immuno-contraception trials to reduce the breeding success of grey squirrels

The RSPCA believes that control must not be interpreted solely as lethal control and urges the investigation of alternative measures to reduce the impact of grey squirrels on reds, whilst ensuring both reds and greys do not suffer.

We support a more measured approach. Eradicating long-established entire populations of greys, as well as being ethically questionable, would be very difficult and cause unnecessary suffering. The RSPCA will always support plans that achieve the best possible welfare outcomes for the species concerned.



Muslim memory of the Holocaust

Sir: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's describes Muslims (23 January) as "the new Jews of Europe ... We are the despised 'other', blamed for all the ills of the world."

She fails to mention that Jews in Nazi Germany were systematically persecuted, expelled and murdered by the Nazi state. In Europe today all races are protected by the European Convention on Human Rights, and in the UK by the common law, the Human Rights Act and the Commission for Racial Equality.

If Ms Alibhai-Brown equates criticism of Muslims and incidents of unlawful discrimination against them with the state-sponsored persecution of Jews by the Nazis, it is because she has lived a largely comfortable life under the benign protection of the British state.



Sir: Outside the institutionalised Islamic setups in UK and abroad, ordinary Muslims do remember and abhor the Holocaust. Islamic institutions and politicians who think otherwise do not necessarily represent the people on whose behalf they claim to be speaking.

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown was spot on when she called on Muslims to remember the Holocaust. Regardless what some politicians and self-appointed Muslim spokespersons might occasionally declare, the vast majority of Muslims worldwide are just ordinary and sensible people and they realise that the Jews of Europe have been subjected to one of the deadliest mass exterminations in human history.



Medicines save the NHS money

Sir: Far from being a cause of the NHS's financial difficulties, as suggested in your analysis (NHS crisis, 18 January) modern medicines are part of the solution.

With an average cost of a medicine well under £11, compared with a week's stay in hospital as the result of an unchecked condition costing some £1,500, medicines are among the most cost-effective treatments available. In addition, the UK spends less than any of its European counterparts - £168 per head per year compares with, for example £247 in France - and has lower take-up of new medicines and the highest rate of generic prescribing.

In any case, the cost of medicines is already falling. A year ago, the Government cut branded medicines prices unilaterally by 7 per cent, and this has been directly reflected in a 4.5 per cent fall in spending for January-November last year.



British cuisine?

Sir: To sum up Raymond Blanc's article "If we want to be healthy, we have to learn to cook" (Opinion, 23 January): we just need to be a bit more French. I'll drink to that.



Circus animals

Sir: I agree that the use in circuses of truly wild animals such as big cats, bears and zebras causes them undue stress and should cease ("Ban on circus animals urged by welfare groups", 19 January). However restrictions have, under pressure from animal rights activists, become undesirably widespread, with some famous circuses becoming totally devoid of animal acts. It is surely absurd to ban domesticated animals like horses, elephants and camels in this way, and some animals such as seals and dogs clearly enjoy performing.



Switching channels

Sir: One wind-up radio will give 60 minutes of listening on FM compared with just three minutes of digital listening. If this 20-times difference is the same with analogue compared to digital TV, and since TV is hardly a necessity, why on earth is the Government going forward with digital TV and what will be a vast increase in energy use?



Golden Rule

Sir: Jean Stephenson (letter, 23 January) comments on the similarity between the standard of behaviour suggested by humanists and the command of Jesus to "love your neighbour as yourself". Surely Ms Stephenson is not implying that Jesus was the first to propose such standards? The Golden Rule, which can be summarised as "Treat others as you would wish to be treated", is very much older than Christianity, and there is a version of it within the philosophies of many religions and secular communities.



Intelligence failures

Sir: For the well-intentioned New Labour supporter, surely the scandal isn't that the Government has been caught spying (Russian diplomatic row, 24 January), but that the Government hasn't been spying enough (dodgy dossiers, missing WMD, "faulty" intelligence reports etc etc).