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Wednesday 14 July 2010
Letters: Rising world population
Too many of us to all be rich
When Dominic Lawson yet again aims his invective at those concerned about human numbers, my blood boils (Opinion, 13 July).
Affluence is not the answer to the solution of a rising world population. Any hope that "after peaking around the middle of this century" the affluent human race will decide to have smaller, sustainable families and so save us from disaster is false.
It is most unlikely that western-style affluence will reach every corner of the globe, and even if it does, the consequent accelerated decline of other life forms and rapid exhaustion of natural resources will render the planet almost uninhabitable.
His suggestion that David Attenborough, OPT members and others of like mind see the human race as a curse on the planet deserves contempt. None can deny the many glories that human effort and imagination have wrought, but nevertheless we are still an intrinsic part of the animal kingdom, and bound by the same set of natural laws. If we despoil our planet and exhaust its wealth, there is no future for more than a handful of us.
East Bergholt, Suffolk
We at the Royal Society read Dominic Lawson's column regarding the launch of our study of global population with interest. He highlighted the names of less than a quarter of our working group on population, indicating that the study would be biased towards a particular perspective.
The working group is in fact made up of 23 different members, including the President of the Union for African Population Studies, the President of the Ethiopian Academy of Sciences, and the Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at the University of Oxford, chosen to incorporate a wide range of views and expertise.
In addition to drawing on such variety in our working group, the Royal Society welcomes submissions from all interested parties. Mr Lawson remarks that the noted author on population matters Fred Pearce is not in our working group. Although this is indeed true, we are delighted that Mr Pearce participated in an event discussing population at the Royal Society recently and would welcome any submissions to the study that he, or any others, are minded to make. Submissions to the study can be made via the Society's website.
The study is only now beginning and is expected to take well over a year to complete. It will examine not only population growth, but other significant issues, such as population decline, migration and ageing.
Professor John Sulston
Chair of the Royal Society working group on population, The Royal Society, London SW1
Every 40 years or so another generation gets exercised by the issue of overpopulation. In the 1970s I was engaged in research at the Science Policy Research Unit, University of Sussex, on population and world resources.
We found that only a few nations have accurate population statistics – most do not even collect any – and that "resources", broadly defined, are only measured by what is traded, meaning that the resources used by the poorest people are not measured at all.
It also became apparent that concentrating on birth control deflected attention from survival. Since then, the population situation has been further complicated by HIV; many of those being born in Africa and Asia will not survive to have children.
It seems to me now, as it did then, obscene and irrational that we allow the expenditure of millions of pounds/dollars on IVF and other fertility assistance, and on research into prolonging life. The most important factor in the mismatch of population and resources is still the concentration of wealth and power in a diminishing number of global institutions, financial and commercial.
Steve Connor should surely have injected a little scepticism into his report about the population "explosion" (12 July). The Optimum Population Trust's definition of overpopulated and its disdain for trade would condemn most countries to a North Korean lifestyle if they took the targets seriously.
While there are plenty of good reasons to promote family planning and population restraint, the key messages from the population-control advocates are misguided. When countries trade, everybody gains. Those who grow cheap food sell to those who make computers. As a result, the world has more food and is more wealthy. As the extra wealth advances, people choose to have fewer children.
So the fastest way to stabilise Africa's population would be to lower the barriers to agricultural trade (like EU farming subsidies). This would make Africans wealthier, and likely to choose smaller families.
Dr Stephen Black
Affluence as a way of reducing the birth rate sounds fine but it is just not possible. This planet does not possess the natural resources for every person now alive to have the same standard of living as the average western European. We would need the resources of five Earth-size planets to give every developing-world person a car, washing machine, fridge/ freezer, TV, computer, enough food, clean water, etc.
Forty years ago Paul Erlich (The Population Bomb) was laughed at, but many of his predictions have come true.
J W Wright
Special schools have vital role
Dr Sakellariadis (Letters, 7 July) lumps together all children who attend special schools as if they can be blandly described as having "unusual bodies or minds".
"Unusual" hardly begins to describe the conditions of a severely physically handicapped child supported in a hammock, or a severely autistic child. The ordinary grant-maintained school cannot provide for these children; the teachers are neither trained nor have the time, with classes of 30-plus.
My own experience is that the autistic child may suffer both educationally and psychologically in such a setting. Confidence evaporates when the child cannot keep up with other children educationally or socially, however well-meaning the teacher.
The professionals I speak to express frustration when they spend more time in their cars travelling to "support" special-needs children in the ordinary school than with the children themselves.
Dr Sakellariadis also seems unaware that one can "discriminate" in favour of (as well as against); this is the case with blind children who go to a special school such as the renowned Worcester College for the Blind, where they benefit from the vast experience of its staff and its special facilities.
That is not to say that some children with milder special needs could not be taught in the ordinary school, but clearly others cannot.
Dr D I Lloyd
University of Birmingham, Worcester
From the age of 11 in 1964 until the age of 16 in 1969, I was a boarder at a special school. In decades past, pupils at special schools such as myself were often told that we were lazy, had no future and would be unemployable on leaving school. The days when disabled children would be told that it would be their ability that counts, not disability, were a long way off.
I was badly traumatised by my experiences at school which had a devastating effect on my education, employment and earning potential.
I fear that in the coming cuts in Incapacity Benefit, former special-school pupils will be prominent among those pushed into poverty.
Peter J Brown
Special schools certainly do not belong in the past. My 12-year-old grandson was diagnosed as being autistic while still at playschool. Despite several attempts, he was not granted a statement of special needs until the age of 11, and so went to local mainstream schools until last September when he started attending a fantastic special school.
While I am pleased that he learned social skills at the mainstream schools, he did not progress educationally in any way, despite being given some one-to-one help.
He has become a totally different boy since he changed schools. I recently read his report for the past year. From being a child who kept in the background and could barely write, just assuming that he was stupid because he could not cope with the classwork, he has gained incredibly in confidence and improved in all subjects. He has also blossomed in sports, and has told his parents that he would like to become an Outward Bound instructor.
He may not, of course, succeed in this, but he now has a goal which should encourage him to work even harder. Should he be returned to inclusive education, I am convinced that he would again retreat into his shell.
Moat: can we learn from US?
According to your report (5 July), Durham Prison warned Northumbria Police that Raoul Moat intended to harm Samantha Stobbart upon his release from prison, but the police failed to pass the warning along to her. Moat then shot and grievously wounded Ms Stobbart and David Rathband and murdered Chris Brown.
This horrific outcome might have been avoided if a policy had been in place similar to that found in American states such as New York and Kentucky, where prisoner information is disseminated to the public in two ways.
An individual may go on-line to learn about a prisoner's crimes, his or her sentence, the scheduling of a parole hearing, parole-hearing results, a scheduled release, etc. Second, an individual may register to receive a computer- generated telephone call or email that provides notice of a prisoner's release.
I am at a loss to understand some of the reaction to Raoul Moat's suicide. It appears to have been forgotten that he was a ruthless killer, whose intention it was to murder all three of the people he shot, and whose stated intention it was to go on killing. Judging by the comments made by some sections of the media and the public at large, one could be forgiven for thinking Moat was a martyred saint rather than the woman beater, bully, lifetime thug and killer that he was.
I can understand the concern over the apparent mistakes made by the police, not least their failure, despite a warning, to stop Moat going on a shooting spree in the first place. But to cast the police as possible villains of the piece and Moat as the unfortunate victim is patently absurd.
My opposition to capital punishment stems not from the idea of the state itself becoming the killer, but from the long list of wrongful or doubtful convictions and the fact that a mistake once made cannot be corrected.
But in the case of Raoul Moat, should we not applaud the fact that he took his own life after his senseless murders and attempted murders, thereby saving the taxpayers from an expensive trial that could have only one outcome, and the huge cost of incarcerating him for life?
Housing-benefit rules are crazy
We strongly disagree that the Government's cap on housing benefit will force poor families out of central London (report, 12 July). The previous system was economic lunacy; families on housing benefit could live in some of the most expensive real estate in the world at the taxpayer's expense. If they could prove they were eligible, we had to pay out up to £2,000 a week. To afford this rent in the private sector, a household's income would have to be £300,000. To be clear, we have no issue with the families who have been claiming these levels of benefit, as it is the system itself that is at fault.
Anyone who encourages a return to the old system is lacking awareness of the very difficult situation the economy is in. Some charities have said that the cut in benefit will lead to an increase in homelessness. While we respect their views, the current system has artificially raised rents. When the new, lower, housing-benefit rate of £400 a week is in place, we believe that rents will automatically fall. Moreover, the new changes will not take hold until April 2011, giving us time to plan what the housing needs of Westminster will be.
We are doing all we can to increase the supply of housing. In March we launched the biggest council house-building programme that central London has seen for a generation, with almost 500 homes to be built by 2015.
Ensuring that people live in properties that are affordable and implementing a system that is fair to taxpayers is absolutely the right decision to take.
Cllr Philippa Roe
Westminster Council, London W1
The Twitter kids
Katie Best (letters, 9 July) claims of "Generation Y" (those born from the mid-1970s onwards) that "being immersed in social media, they have highly advanced social skills".
Eh? Surely people go on Facebook, Twitter etc, to develop anti-social skills. Why bother with the difficulties of liking some people more than others, the awkwardness of face-to-face interaction, or verbal communication (spoken or written), when you can instead electronically broadcast semi-literate inanities to all your "friends" at once? Obvo, innit. LOL! Yoz Faithflea – whatevs,
Terence Blacker complains about "good-hearted, liberal-minded folk" who make excuses for the despotic Cuban regime (Opinion, 9 July). But the examples he gives of such folk – Tony Benn and Ken Livingstone – demonstrate the real extent of support for that regime in the West. It is confined to the outer fringes of the left, the sort of left-winger for whom a "liberal" is (and always has been) someone too scared to admit to being a Tory.
Kingston upon Thames, Surrey
While delighted that the Rev Dr Russell Levenson (Letters, 13 July) had such a warm welcome in the UK recently, I rather cynically wondered if he wore his dog collar during his travels. Even in such an irreligious country as this one, most people would think twice before being as rude or abrupt to a clergyman as they might be to another visitor.
Perspectives on British embassies
In praise of consular services
A couple of letters on embassies ("Don't denigrate our diplomats", 12 July) prompts me to write to give credit where credit is due.
At about 3pm on Sunday 4 July, my wife and I lost our passports during an excursion from Croatia to Montenegro.
At 11am the following day, the Hon. Consul at Dubrovnik issued us with emergency passports to enable us to travel back to the UK that day. She took details from our tour manager, although it was a Sunday, and the following Monday she opened her office earlier than usual to deal with our requirement.
Our embassy in Croatia should be proud of their Consulate at Dubrovnik.
H D Shah
Cameron supports our diplomats
Denis MacShane MP (Letters, 8 July) criticised the Prime Minister for wanting to downgrade Britain and for allegedly sneering at our diplomats.
It is a bit rich coming from a former Labour Foreign Office Minister who, with his successor colleagues, contributed to a number of policy decisions which saw the Foreign Office marginalised by Number 10, losing its protection against exchange-rate movements, cuts in the number of overseas posts and a general decline in morale.
David Cameron and William Hague have said that foreign policy will be front and centre of Coalition Cabinet Government and both of them have gone out of their way to emphasise how much they value the talent and expertise of all members of the Foreign Office.
Keith Simpson MP
PPS to the Foreign Secretary,
Outdated and unhelpful
Robin Healey of the Czech Technical University writes about Pimm's, croquet, and strawberries and cream "on the ambassador's splendid lawn beneath Prague Castle" (Letters, 12 July). This typifies, I fear, the image that the British Embassy portrays all over the world. Certainly I know of no British exporter or regular business-traveller who has a good word for our Diplomatic Service when it comes to the sordid matter of providing assistance to, and information about, local business markets.
In my own travels on business in various parts of the world, the British Embassy would be my last port of call, and I would be interested to see how many would-be exporters rush to the defence of our diplomats.
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