Letters: Terror laws

Driven from the party by Clarke's loaded questions on terror laws
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My initial reaction was a mixed one: annoyance that it was only after near-defeat in the Commons that he sought the opinions of Labour Party members, let alone the broader public; but also some degree of relief that such consultation was being engaged in, however belatedly.

Following the link to the website, however, I found the "consultation" to be no more than an appalling three-question multiple-choice questionnaire whose only objective could be to provide justification for petty politicking with no genuine engagement at all. There was not even a space for additional comments or suggestions, as is standard on such web questionnaires.

Take the second question: "Do you think police should have the time and opportunity to complete their investigations into suspected terrorists?" (Possible answers: Yes/No/Not sure). Clearly, no one is going to answer No to this question, and a large number of Yeses will presumably be taken as support for the proposed 90-day detention orders. If this was a genuine consultation, would it not have been more appropriate to ask what period of detention is justifiable, not this leading, biased and ultimately useless question?

The third question: "Do you think the Government should make sure there are new safeguards to protect innocent people?" Again, biased and pointless. Yes, I do think there should be new safeguards to protect innocent people. But I also strongly object to the particular "safeguards" proposed by the Government, including the "glorification of terrorism" clause.

Support for the Labour Party is haemorrhaging; many of us who have remained in the party have done so with increasing misgivings. How can the party justify trying to manipulate even its own members in the name of petty politicking? For me personally, this has been the last straw, and I have resigned my membership.



Memories melted by global warming

Sir: I was most interested to see your front page story on 5 November, because people do not realise just how desperate the situation is becoming. I too have experienced "the melting mountains", albeit in a less exciting manner than Joe Simpson.

When I was a youngster (30-35 years ago) we used to visit a small glacier in the Slovenian Alps in the summer, to go skiing and play in the ice cave. In fact the Yugoslavian ski team used to train at slalom there. The glacial waters ran into a small pond at the foot of the valley which was so cold no plants grew in it. On a hot day we would sometimes plunge into this icy water.

A couple of summers ago, while on holiday in nearby Austria, I decided to take my son and husband there for a surprise snowball fight. Can you imagine my horror when I realised the glacier was gone? It had melted. Initially I couldn't believe it and checked out the entire mountain, thinking I had lost my way, but after making inquiries with several locals, I had to accept the truth.

That day my son did not get his promised snowball fight. Nor did we plunge into the icy pond, as it is now filled with plants and algae.



Sir: Jonathon Porritt did not answer his own question, "Is it possible to operate an alternative model of capitalism?" Nine-tenths of his article "How capitalism can save the world" (4 November) presented the proof that environmental degradation world-wide was increasing apace, under "today's particular model of capitalism". The rest was a vague wish-list of "outlawing irresponsible wealth creation" or "less keeping up with the Joneses".

He did not address the problem that in a competitive private market system only ever-increasing consumption can keep the system afloat. The forces of production unleashed by capitalism are matched only by the need to create waste on an ever grander scale.

I was disappointed that our leading spokesperson on the environment should leave us with the impression that "enlightened self-interest" will save the day. If there is no understanding of how an "alternative capitalism" might work; how co-ordination and co-operation must be sought; then the "old capitalism" will continue to play a game of brinkmanship with the environment.



Sir: I was interested to see that EDF, the French state power company, is interested in building nuclear power stations in the UK (Business, 2 November).

This is not before time, as a missing feature of the debates on nuclear and wind power is an attempt to learn from other nations' arrangements. The French generate 60 per cent of their electricity from nuclear power (and sell us the excess), but we do not hear anything about any decommissioning or waste disposal problems. They have also built tidal generating stations (as opposed to endlessly discussing them).

In Germany, wind turbines are sited on field boundaries in developed agricultural areas, close to centres of population, saving both transmission costs and areas of outstanding natural beauty. There is plenty of room for wind turbines in the central belt of Scotland - and plenty of wind too.



Sir: The Independent is to be congratulated for keeping the climate change debate at the top of its agenda. But the cause is not best served by some of the vague and uncosted suggestions that make up your 10 ways to save the world (1 November).

You talk of improving energy efficiency in light bulbs, homes and cars without recognising that the benefits of improving energy efficiency are at least in part taken in increased economic activity. If we have to spend less on energy then the savings will be spent on something else which will itself require energy somewhere along the way - after all, we've been getting much more energy efficient for years but energy demand still continues to grow. (On the other hand, an increase in the cost of energy, by switching taxation away from, say, employment and towards energy, would be more effective though difficult politically.)

The most worrying aspect is the idea that untested renewables can be relied upon to generate the 75 per cent plus of British electricity that currently comes from fossil fuels (or indeed the more than 20 per cent that comes from nuclear energy). The "technical and financial difficulties" that you rightly acknowledge have slowed investment in windpower are not because of a lack of subsidy but because of their basic economics and problems with intermittency. Yet you do not mention nuclear energy, although it and large-scale hydro are the only proven very-low-carbon methods of generating electricity on a large scale.

Good intentions must be matched by a recognition of reality if we are to do anything about the enormous threat of climate change.



Sir: Yes and yes 10 times over to your 10 ways to save the world, but there is more than one elephant in the room. Human population pressures have consistently undone our efforts to reduce consumption of oil and energy - and a six-year-old could make that link. Why can't politicians and green activists be upfront about too many people and our deteriorating world?

There is no chance of our planet supporting Western levels of consumption which some have already achieved and the rest aspire to. If we weren't human, a gamekeeper would have culled us years ago.

Two to three billion is about the carrying capacity of our planet. Each country needs a population target to be achieved by birth control and female emancipation, which will deliver higher standards of living for all without trashing our only home.



Sir: Unless Leandra Briggs sprinkles coal on her cereal or crude oil in her coffee she need not worry about contributing to global warming by her breathing (letter, 2 November).

On the contrary, the vast biomass contained in the human population must surely be regarded as one of the most valuable and rapidly-growing carbon sinks available on our planet. Any substantial drop in human numbers will release millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, with possibly disastrous effects on the global environment. The more the merrier to save the planet ! Now why hadn't I thought of that before ?



Riots show folly of importing labour

Sir: The riots in France are the result of the folly of importing immigrant labour to prop up French industry. Our own riots in northern industrial towns stem from this same mistake made in the Sixties to try to prop up the textile industry.

Importing immigrants who only came for the money leads to huge numbers of unassimilated people who do not share the same values as the host society, and who do not even like that society. When the jobs go, or the children of the original immigrants cannot get work, hostility and chaos follow.

The economic justifications for immigration are false. Industries that need cheap labour to survive should be allowed to wither and die, or adapt to the labour market that already exists. To try to solve these problems with mass immigration is a recipe for disaster.



Coursework: go to the back of the class

Sir: It is true that the coursework system for examinations allows sundry opportunities for cheating ("Coursework: the charter for school cheats", 4 November). However I find Johann Hari's attitude towards both middle- and working-class parents appallingly patronising. He seems to be asserting that it is only middle-class parents who can - and want to - help their children with their work.

I am a teacher in a comprehensive school and I know working-class parents who regularly help their children with homework. Even if they lack detailed subject knowledge, they are determined to set an example of commitment to education. And there are certainly middle-class parents who are too busy with their jobs to be bothered with their children's school work.

The coursework regime is atrocious. But let's blame the people in charge, not those who are trying to live with it.



Sir: Some 25 years ago, I was teaching a course for non-standard entrants - those without the O-levels and A-levels normally required for entry to higher education courses. The failure rate was at first very high.

I sought the advice of an external examiner (who a little later became a university vice-chancellor). "Simple," he replied, "reduce the number of unseen examinations and increase the weighting of continuous assessment". This was done and failure soon became a rarity. Visits to other colleges and universities as a validator or examiner in the following decade made it evident that the message had been widely spread.

Johann Hari is surely right about unfortunate effects of coursework, but should acknowledge that schools have only followed practices long established in higher education.



Historic quarrels best forgotten

Sir: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown alleges that the Israel was formed on land stolen from the Palestinians. J A Brennan (letter, 4 November) states that that same land was stolen from the Jews in the 7th century. While we're recalling land-theft in history I'd just like to ask the English to give back Northern Ireland. While we're at it maybe the Americans should give the continent back to the native population. Maybe we could even give Ireland back to the Norwegians.

Maybe then we'd all get a bit of peace and stop arguing about pointless and long-gone history which we can't do anything about now anyway.



Blair on football

Sir: Before setting off to watch Sheffield Wednesday play Derby County on Saturday I switched on Football Focus on BBC1. I was stunned to see Tony Blair simpering away on the pundit's couch. Presumably as part of his rehabilitation he was trying to impress us chavs with his knowledge of the beautiful game. I don't know about anyone else but it made me feel as sick as a parrot.



Lesson of 5 November

Sir: The quatercentenary of 5 November 1605 is an appropriate time to remember the good example of King James I, who reacted to the Gunpowder Plot with conspicuous good sense and moderation. Faced with an attempted outrage that seemed to confirm Protestants' worst fears about the threat of popish terrorism, he refused to take what he thought unjust or disproportionate steps against the great majority of his peaceable Roman Catholic subjects.



Nuclear threats

Sir: Andrew Pring asks whom we should fear (letter, 5 November). I think we should fear anyone who possesses nuclear weapons. And remember, a conventional war took place over the result of a football match a few decades ago in South America. So, yes, we had better look out for the French. You never know.



Sir: The trouble with John Reid's argument for retaining nuclear weapons (as long as any potential enemy anywhere in the world has them then we should retain them) is that the same rationale can be applied to any other country in the world. Therefore the logic suggests that if you have nuclear weapons, keep them, and if you don't, then get some.



Naturally inventive

Sir: Your columnists credit bacteria with inventing the wheel ("Does it hurt when you're beheaded", 2 November ). Possibly so. But the description of the mechanism suggests that certain bacteria actually invented both the electric motor and the propeller. Some people, electrical engineers and naval architects included, would consider this to be somewhat more significant than merely developing the wheel. Perhaps of greater interest are the things that nature has not bothered to invent at all. For example, the piston engine, the paddle steamer and the atomic bomb.