Letters: Save the rainforests

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The Independent Online

Save the rainforests - from booming Chinese demand

Sir: The Independent stands out among UK papers for the excellence of its environmental coverage. But be careful of going ever the top.

Mature rainforests (report, 28 November) are hopeless as sinks for CO2. Good for local rainfall (probably), biodiversity and non-timber products (certainly), but not much good as greenhouse gas guzzlers. Sadly, nasty things like fast-growing eucalyptus plantations are much better at the job.

Also in your leading article be careful again about "we who chopped down our own forests". Who is "we"? France, for example, has a lot more tree cover than three centuries ago. The Scandinavians and Germans and even the Japanese are in the same ballpark. The Canadians are trying to stop trees taking over their prairies and in British Columbia there are lots of creatures that benefit from controlled clear felling, not least the grizzly bear.

We should, indeed, pay these poor countries to save the mature rainforest. But we should do so to stop China. As your special edition a few weeks ago explained so brilliantly, the demand from China is far and away the biggest threat to the global environment. I have been an environmental film producer over two decades. Wherever my crews go these days, from Sakhalin to Surinam, the Chinese are moving in.

Anti-American NGOs are obsessed with Bush, but Beijing is what we should be truly concerned about if we want to have at least a passable try at salvaging what's left of our natural life support systems.

Keep up the good work.



Costs and benefits of nuclear power

Sir: While your editorial on the nuclear issue (29 November) fills in some of the gaps, the front page is perhaps a little too balanced.

The nuclear power lobby's main argument these days is on the zero carbon emission. The extraction process for uranium is so carbon-intensive that it already makes nuclear generation a third as bad as coal for greenhouse gases, and this proportion may double as the good quality uranium ore runs out and lower quality ores have to be used.

Your second pro-nuclear argument relates to security of supply. That would be from the famous Shropshire uranium mines, presumably.

You omit one of the main arguments against: that the huge costs of a nuclear programme would soak up the investment, both financial and political, that should be going to alternative energy sources. Windpower alone, given the same investment, could easily provide as much power, sustainable for as long as you like, without any waste products.

The clinching argument, though (also omitted) is that, if we are to rein in global warming at below the two-degree rise that spells potential disaster, the next 10 years are critical. Nuclear power stations that take 15 years to build aren't going to be much help.



Sir:Your reports on the future of nuclear power stations give prominence to their disadvantages and play down those of renewables. In particular:

Safety: Chernobyl was the result of an unsafe reactor design being used by incompetent technicians for an unauthorised experiment. Thousands of years of reactor experience have now been built up.

Terrorism: Easily available biological agents would be more attractive for a "dirty" bomb.

Waste: Safe storage of the very small volumes of highly hazardous waste for hundreds of years has been shown to be feasible. The legacy of the much larger volumes of waste arising from the nuclear weapons programme and older power stations should not now affect the decisions on future nuclear power stations.

Fuel supplies: There is little incentive to prospect for new uranium deposits because the world price of uranium is already low. Reprocessing of spent fuel to produce reusable material has been largely abandoned because of cost but could be revived if necessary.

Cost: Nuclear is very capital intensive and uncertainties over the discount rate have deterred private investment.

On the other hand, renewables undoubtedly have a part to play in coping with global warming but:

Intermittent generation has to be covered by an expanded, wasteful and carbon-dioxide producing "spinning reserve". Connection of intermittent renewable generators to the national grid involves considerable control problems.

Cost: Renewables have benefited from the effects of the carbon levy and renewables obligation certificates. An assessment of the basic life-cycle costs of power generation, carried out last year by the Royal Academy of Engineering, quoted base load offshore wind power as 5.5p per kWh compared with 2.3 p for nuclear.



Sir: In 2003, the Government published an Energy White Paper which indicated that renewables and energy efficiency could offer a more significant part of the solution to our emissions reduction targets in the medium term out to 2020. Nuclear was put on hold, but the option kept open.

Whatever decisions are taken, we must make sure that the debate is balanced and fully incorporates the need to reduce energy consumption as well as reduce emissions. We must avoid the "nuclear or renewables" boxing match. Part of the answer to security of supply is to harness a diversity of energy resources.

I have been involved with energy efficiency and demand reduction for a quarter of a century and appreciate that demand reduction is a complex subject, which requires public engagement and behavioural change. Demand reduction is achieved through the development of a mix of technologies and the involvement and awareness of the people who use them.

Many large organisations have understood the business opportunities and savings that energy efficiency can bring. However, smaller organisations and the public at large, fail to seize these opportunities. You only have to walk down the high street on a sunny Saturday to see shop window lights on and the pub car park floodlight blazing. Collectively we can achieve a great deal to manage energy use efficiently. We have barely started.



Sir: I take issue with Robert Handyside (letter, 24 November) in decrying wind farms. Most of the many wind turbines I have seen in Denmark and Holland enhance rather than detract from the environment. In rural areas they will normally help the local economy. If sited, as on the continent, on field boundaries, they will provide a much-welcomed support for farmers' incomes

Not all local residents are averse to them. A couple of my acquaintance live in isolation in rural Wales, close to a group of wind turbines. The wife has told me that she would be sorry to see them go, as she enjoys their graceful movement, and in times of solitude they help to keep her company.

Yet not all turbines need to be sited in isolated areas, for the closer they are to centres of population, the less energy is lost in transmission. For instance, if technically feasible, the sloping vegetation-covered cliffs here in Bournemouth and Poole would provide ideal locations for wind turbines, providing a boost for local energy supplies. (Such coastal locations have higher wind speeds than inland areas.)

In any case, energy security must take precedence over amenity. And if the plans of Scottish Power for the effective storage of wind power come to fruition, its potential will be transformed. Industry must be encouraged to provide its own wind power: ever-resourceful Nissan is saving £800,000 a year from six wind turbines at its plant in Sunderland.



Parental help with GCSE shunned

Sir: Where are all these teenagers who allow their parents to help them with GCSE coursework (report, 22 November)? I have found that as children grow older, they are less and less likely to allow parents to see their work, let alone help with it.

My partner works in IT and was not allowed to comment on, let alone help with, our son's IT GCSE coursework. Any offers of any assistance at all from either of us were politely rejected. This pattern is beginning to emerge in our two younger children, who find even the mildest of comments infuriating. I have checked with friends who are parents, and they all agree that parental help is not sought, or welcomed.

Maybe politicians should not assume parents are doing GCSE coursework, but should consider that maybe young people are clever enough to do it themselves.



Tories still in a bygone age

Sir: Women may now join the Conservative club in Scarborough as full members (report, 29 November). However, I think the attitude of some members may still need a bit of work before the women are taken seriously as full members.

According to Barry Robson, "We needed to make some changes attract a younger membership - and their wives and girlfriends." As a 42-year-old woman, I join clubs where the leadership is interested in me as a member rather than just wanting to attract new male members and wanting to be hospitable to their partners.

While I realise a club doesn't speak for the Tories, such comments definitely make me think a number of Tories don't really get it, so why should I vote for the party?



Britain pays its fair share to the EU

Sir: Although this government does not make a practice of conducting EU budget negotiations through the correspondence columns of the press, I can't let pass entirely without comment the incomplete picture painted by the French ambassador in his letter to you (29 November).

To take just one example, his comment that the UK pays 11 per cent to the budget while France pays 18 per cent refers to gross contributions, that is payments to the EU only, and takes no account of our receipts back. When you take those into account, the picture is rather different. The proposals tabled by the Luxembourg presidency in June would have meant that the UK would pay 0.53 per cent of its GNI to the EU over 2007-13, while France would pay only 0.38 per cent - a cash difference of over €20bn over the period. That is why we could not, and will not, accept them.

The more general point the ambassador omitted to mention is of course that UK payments to the EU were two and a half times higher than those of France over the past decade.

In short, by any measure the UK has paid its fair share to the EU, and will continue to pay a fair share of the cost of enlargement. It is against that background that we are committed to seeking a generally acceptable budget deal at the summit meeting in December.




Pensions in the public sector

Sir: The letter of Ray Sirotkin (29 November) about public sector pensions is misleading. It is not just the deductions from his wages that go towards his pension but also the employer's contribution, in effect paid by the taxpayer.

The same applies to the pensions of MPs and the other public sector employees he mentions. The position for private sector employees is not dissimilar but the payments are not made by the taxpayer.

The position for the self-employed is very different. They have no one to contribute towards their pension save themselves. When Mr Sirotkin retires he will be able to raise a glass to Mr and Mrs Taxpayer for providing him with his pension. The self-employed can thank themselves but may be unable to afford to raise a glass.



Sir: The main problem with our national pension scheme is that it is ruled over by civil servants and MPs who have exceedingly generous pensions funded from the public purse. Remove these and every pensioner will get a fair deal.



Cameron's social mix

Sir: David Cameron, who has been criticised for his own privileged upbringing, believes teenagers should be made to mix with their peers from different backgrounds ("Cameron gathers support over national service for teenagers", 29 November). Where we come from, they already do. It's known as comprehensive education.



Proud traditions

Sir: I feel vindicated. I have kept faith with both cricket and pantomime because they are such vital bits of the British cultural landscape. It has been hard work reminding people of the rules for both. At the Old Vic last year audiences didn't know what was expected and there was no song sheet! It is a traditional form that needs precise and unchanging ingredients as well as a modern spin. Hooray for Ian McKellen's enthusiasm ("I don't believe it ...", 28 November). I can't wait to see Freddy Flintoff as Buttons.



Gay marriages

Sir: I am proud that at last England will become one of the few places in the world that will give my relationship with my girlfriend the legal acknowledgement it deserves ("Marriage? No thanks, we're gay", 28 november). If we register our partnership it will be not only a celebration of our commitment, but a recognition of the lesbians and gay men who fought to enable me to be in such a position and a reminder that there are many places in the world where gay men and lesbians are treated with bigotry, violence and oppression.



Sir: Both objections of principle and taste were directed against "gay marriage" by Julie Bindel in her article. May I suggest she moves to Zimbabwe so she can continue revelling in her bitter joy of "being a sexual outlaw"?



Operatic interruption

Sir: Letters about mobile phone interruptions in theatres reminded me that during the Second World War my sister and I often went to Sadlers Wells opera. The "alert" signal often came, followed by booms and bangs from big guns and falling incendiaries. The magnificent Sadlers Wells company carried on superbly. I well remember the beautiful baritone of Don Basilio in The Barber of Seville competing with the mayhem.