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Monday 19 July 2010
Letters: Stabilising our population
I always enjoy Dominic Lawson's regular dusting-off of his familiar anti-OPT rant ("Affluence, not control, is the answer", Comment, 13 July), uncontaminated as it always is by any reference to what we and our patrons actually say, and resounding instead with spine-chilling references to enforced abortions, coercive birth-control, extinction of the human race, compulsory euthanasia, racism etc.
Rather than repeat myself this time, let me quote others Lawson can add to his extensive demonology: "Population stabilisation should become a priority for sustainable development" (Kofi Annan); "It would be absurd to deny that the necessary global transition to to a [more sustainable] future will be infinitely harder to achieve in a world of 10 billion rather than 6.8 billion people" (Save the Children); "Family planning could bring more benefits to more people at less cost than any other technology" (Unicef).
All population growth on our finite planet makes all environmental problems harder, and ultimately impossible, to solve. Until our numbers stabilise, we're all running up a down escalator without an end. I'm delighted the Royal Society, like Reith Lecturer Martin Rees, recognises this.
Chair, Optimum Population Trust, Wells, Somerset
Dominic Lawson's head is still firmly stuck in the sand, it seems, when the question of overpopulation crops up. No one is likely to dispute his headline, and declining European birth rates, which he quotes extensively, illustrate this point.
But his regrettable sarcasm gets the better of him, blinding him to the inescapable conclusion that, on a finite planet, infinite population growth is impossible. The total human impact on our planet is the average human impact multiplied by the number of people alive. In my lifetime, the world's population has risen from 2.2 billion to 6.8 billion, which means, if my sums are right, that my generation outnumbers the sum total of all those who have ever lived before.
Mr Lawson acknowledges that African birth rates are rising rapidly but declines to mention those of India, Indonesia, Central and South America among other large populations, all of which dwarf those of Europe.
The Royal Society's Population and the Planet working group is a long overdue initiative. Its conclusions are unlikely to embrace Mr Lawson's alarmist references to attempts elsewhere to enforce population control, but are much more likely to include educational and other social initiatives in a belated attempt to secure cultural acceptance that, where population is concerned, enough is enough.
There is an aspect of the global population debate that has not yet been directly touched upon by correspondents (letters, 14, 15 July). It is the peak-oil phenomenon.
As world population has grown exponentially over recent decades, some of the most populous nations have moved quickly to adopt our high-consumption lifestyles. This has resulted in a massive increase in fossil-fuel use, the main source being crude oil.
It appears likely that oil production is now at or near its upper limit and will soon start to tail off. Thus there will be less and less energy to go round. There are currently no viable alternatives to replace energy from oil in the vast quantities required, nor any on the horizon.
It seems inevitable that we face a transition to a low-carbon lifestyle. The burning question, if you will excuse the pun, is whether we can manage this in a smooth and controlled manner, or will future decades be marked by economic crises, energy and food shortages and, heaven forbid, yet more resource wars?
We seem to be sleepwalking towards this fundamental issue rather than seeking to address it head-on. As every former Scout knows, it pays to "Be Prepared". Nations that act quickly will have a significant economic advantage. Unfortunately, Britain cannot yet be numbered among them.
About 40 years ago, the Conservation Society was founded with the aim of raising awareness and seeking solutions for the looming problem of global human population growth. Despite sterling efforts by some members, the society disbanded in the 1970s. The indifference, to say the least, of Britain's scientists, and that included ecologists, had been notable.
So, applauding the Royal Society's new Working Group on Population, and wishing it all the skill and expertise that it obviously has, and all the luck that it obviously needs, I suggest that future historians will need to ask "Why the delay?"
John R G Turner
University of Leeds
No problems with the burka
As the son of a doctor who wears the veil and has practised in the UK ("This burka ban does not translate", leading article, 17 July), I find the ignorance regarding the issue laughable, or would do were it not such a serious issue.
Let's address the really ludicrous arguments first. No, veiled women are not endangering their lives due a lack of vitamin D. One could argue that they are protecting themselves from wrinkles and skin cancer caused by the sun, to the extent that I am often mistaken as the husband of my 49-year-old mother despite being 30 years younger.
No, veiled women are not a security risk either, because it's perfectly acceptable for them to remove their veil for identification and security purposes. No, veiled women aren't particularly oppressed either; my mother chose to don the veil during her medical school years of her own free will. In fact, if anything, I am the oppressed one. As a non-consenting adult, I am still forced to clean my room by the aforementioned lady.
When this morass of groundless arguments is sifted through, one finally reaches the one argument that actually holds water, that the veil hinders communication. This is true. I have never seen someone flirt with mother (well, other than my father). But in all other avenues of communication – dealing with patients, lecturing, working on inter-faith initiatives, buying the groceries, making me clean my room – my mother has never had an issue.
And why should she? Since we moved to Saudi Arabia a year ago, I have been interacting with veiled women in all spheres and professions and I have never had a problem communicating with them.
Khobar, Eastern Province, Saudi Arabia
Your leading article states, "religious and cultural tolerance is a hallmark of this country and must remain so". Why does The Independent always seek to ignore the views of the majority on issues of moral, social and security concern? How does tolerating the wearing of the burka or niqab promote social cohesion and togetherness?
The wearing of the veil by some Muslim women is a deliberate act of defiance by them to live separate lives from the rest of society by using the intellectually bankrupt argument that it is their religious and human right to do so. What about the human right of the rest of society not to feel intimidated and threatened by an alien dress code, which veils the identity of the wearer?
Britain seems to be playing catch-up with the rest of progressive Europe, where they seem to be coming up with a solution that will bring all citizens together and not allow a minority to exist separately.
US 'insult' over Megrahi release
It is difficult to contain my anger at the announcement of the latest attempt by the US to discredit the administration of justice in respect of the prosecution and sentencing of the Lockerbie perpetrator(s). It is impossible to disguise my contempt for successive leaders of a nation which vaunts its model of democracy as sufficiently valuable to justify interference in other states' internal affairs.
After long international consideration, a unique court constituted for that purpose with agreed jurisdiction tried two men for the bombing. Megrahi alone was convicted. After the conviction, managing his sentence was a matter for the Scottish administration, and as the sister of one of the victims of the incident I both advocated for Megrahi's release and was delighted Scotland did free him.
It is not relevant to this decision that Megrahi may now have recovered somewhat. I wish him well and hope that, whether or not the conviction accurately reflected what actually happened, he will find some peace in the rest of his life.
What an insult by the US to all of us who have a direct personal interest in discovering and dealing with the truth about the largest modern mass murder in Britain, a truth which as yet is very far from ascertained.
St Helens, Merseyside
Free schools mean no choice
Why does Mr Cameron think his free schools will be so much better than the existing schools in central London? Perhaps they will be funded for smaller classes; so fund the existing schools for smaller classes. Perhaps they will have the freedom to adapt the national curriculum; so allow the existing schools similar freedom. Maybe free schools will do what many academies do and exclude the most disadvantaged children to enhance their results.
After we have free schools and academies most parents will have no choice of school; these schools choose their students, not the other way round. However flawed the present system, it is accountable to local council taxpayers and it does give parents the right of appeal.
Free bus passes must be kept
The "annual cost" of free bus travel for the over-60s must be less than £1bn (letters, 17 July). My grandparents enjoy a weekly trip across London to visit Kew Gardens. But the pass does not allow use of busy peak-time services, and they much prefer the less busy services anyway. The marginal cost to the bus operator of filling an otherwise empty seat alongside fare-paying passengers is basically zero.
In fact, what the £1bn represents is 40 to 50 per cent of the annual subsidy provided by the government to bus operators. Without this income – and I doubt that the elderly, particularly those on low incomes, would be taking quite so many non-essential leisure trips if they had to pay for them – there will be big cuts in bus services for fare-paying customers as well.
So it might not just be my Gran who rediscovers her car, but commuters who rely on this subsidy for more frequent and reliable services.
It would be a mistake for the coalition to tinker with free bus passes. It is one of the few things the Labour government gave older persons. Everything else they took away: our trust in government and the integrity of the policy-making process, civil liberties, the lower 10p band of income tax and the return on savings.
If anything, the concession should be extended to everyone. Just as the railways made Victorian Britain the industrial hothouse of the world, moving goods and materials quickly and efficiently around the country, free bus passes for all would be the key to renewed economic growth by greatly increasing the mobility of labour. It would be greener too.
If this means the renationalisation of the bus companies, then let's do it. Britain has an unrealised major advantage over competitor nations in that we already have a good bus route network that could be improved and a relatively higher population density. Other countries such as the US and France just couldn't do it.
Despite pre-election promises to protect free bus passes for the elderly, they are coming under review.
It is an extraordinarily blinkered view to regard the provision of these passes as a drain on the public purse. From the length of the queues of pensioners I see forming at 9.30 every morning, all of whom are determined to spend, I conclude that free bus passes are a value-for-money way of unleashing the grey pound, and so boosting the economy.
It is particularly ungracious of Her Majesty's Government to refuse admission to the Iroquois lacrosse team (report, 14 July), since, during the American War of Independence, all but one of the Iroquois tribes remained steadfastly loyal to the Crown, for which they suffered grievously.
Rochester, New York, USA
Ups and downs
Regarding your review of the Waterloo station production of The Railway Children (14 July), you do not travel by train "down" to the capital. In railway usage, the "up" line leads to London, and the "down" line leads away. And Bernard Cribbins played the role of Albert Perks, the Porter, not the Stationmaster.
Stung into health
I'm waiting for a genetic breakthrough for wasp stings ("Created by genetic engineering, a mosquito that can't catch malaria," 16 July), to replace the poison in them with an anti-flu virus. That would mean a widely protected community by the end of summer, and millions (pounds and people) saved every winter.
London SE 22
Perspectives on sporting behaviour
How football has degenerated
I very much enjoyed Brian Viner's column on how well golf compares with other sports in terms of sporting behaviour ("No other sport is as virtuous", 15 July).
As a football obsessive from a working-class background, I was probably one of those "blinkered critics" put off by the class image projected by golf, but I found it impossible to argue with his assertion that "football has become a game of institutionalised cheating (and what finer example than the Uruguayan last-ditch handball that, in effect, denied Ghana a place in the last four of the World Cup)".
In a queue at my local post office I was amused to witness a middle-class father attempting to explain away the injustice of the above handball incident to his son, aged nine or 10, who was being extremely persistent with his questions.
Clearly exasperated, the dad pointed out that the culprit, Luis Suarez, had been punished by not being allowed to play in the semi-final to which the boy (clearly more intelligent than some of our highly-paid TV "pundits") replied, "But if the ball had crossed the line, wouldn't Ghana have been playing in the semi-final instead anyway?"
Dad thought about this for a while, but with as much authority as he could muster had to fall back on the old stand-by, "Well, that's football". I don't envy the modern parent sitting down to watch football with his or her child because in my youth there were role models such as Pele, Bobby Moore and Bobby Charlton.
I still vividly recall Eusebio of Benfica applauding Alex Stepney of Manchester United for denying him a near-certain goal in the 1968 European Cup Final. Such sportsmanship in football is hard to find these days.
The ubiquitous use of ex-pro footballers as TV pundits does not help because we are encouraged to think in terms of "professional fouls" instead of cheating. We are told that a player is "naïve" if he does not go down after an opponent makes slight contact with him, so we grow ever more tolerant of excessive time-wasting and play-acting or "simulation" (to use the current euphemism).
BBC TV pundit Alan Shearer, in his "analysis" of the Suarez handball, seemed to think he had justified the cheating by saying that he and his fellow professionals would have done the same.
So that's all right then, eh?
alan J Fisher
Don't blame the Dutch
It hurts that the Dutch team did not win the World Cup, but it hurts more that English newspapers write, "The Dutch football players are criminals on the field" and, "The Dutch are destroying football this way".
The English papers are writing this only to cover up the failure of the English referee. Only De Jong made a big mistake (and deserved a red card) and a few errors were made by Van Bommel.
Our Dutch footballers and coaches work all over the world because of the great Dutch football. The Dutch are not destroying the world's football, but what is destructive are the ridiculous amounts of transfer money in England.
Rudy de Haas
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