Letters: The climate challenge

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Will the climate challenge call forth the spirit of 1940?

Sir: Runaway climate change is probably the greatest threat this country has faced since 1940: and there are parallels. Then as now, there are those who turn a blind eye to the threat, those who welcome it and those who claim that we are doomed to defeat. Then as now, our individual contributions may seem insignificant - but how are we going to face our children and grandchildren if we don't at least make an effort? Then as now, we could accomplish a lot more if and when the Americans decide to join in - but in the meantime, someone's got to take a lead. If not us, who?

There are also differences: we are fortunate in that the sacrifices we are called upon to make are relatively trivial. On the other hand, Blair is unfortunately no Churchill - nor are any of his obvious successors. In the end, it's up to us: can we once again be a nation of heroes? Or are we now a nation of spoilt brats, throwing our toys out of the pram at the prospect of flying less often or driving smaller cars?



Sir: I never cease to be amazed by the increasingly outrageous arguments deployed by those who seek to persuade us to do nothing about climate change. Dominic Lawson (7 November) uses the disastrous aftermath of our invasion of Iraq to argue against any application of the "precautionary principle" - as though being a bit careful with our use of fossil fuels is somehow on a par with the invasion of a sovereign country resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths. If it weren't so tragic, it would be risible.



Sir, Following Chris Huhne's letter on green tax-switching (2 November), if we are serious about making green taxes credible, then we should not only penalise carbon emitters but reward those who change behaviour. One area which I have yet to see any mention of is tax on electricity.

Currently, households pay VAT at 5 per cent whether the electricity is derived from fossil fuels or renewable sources. If VAT on so-called green electricity was reduced to zero, while increasing the VAT on other electricity by say 1 per cent, such a move could be revenue-neutral, green electricity would become more competitive, and more people would switch.

This in turn would give producers more clout to build additional supply sources such as wind farms, while greater economies of scale would reduce prices, ensuring a virtuous circle of increasing demand and supply.



We can beat TB - but it will cost

Sir: Jeremy Laurance's article "Tuberculosis returns with big jump in cases" (3 November) was balanced, factual, and informative.

Last week, I saw three cases of tuberculosis: an Indonesian who came to the UK six years ago to work as a nanny, an Afghan who came to the UK three years ago to work as a chef, and an indigenous-born English man who has been working as a builder with a group of Romanians who came to the UK two years ago.

The Indonesian, the Afghan, and the Romanians have been coughing for over a year. They never had chest X-rays, and have never been screened for TB since they arrived in the UK. All those cases of TB could have been prevented had they been screened. They were not screened because of the cutbacks in the NHS.

We, chest physicians, know that immigrants do not bring TB with them. They catch it here within an average of two years of their arrival in the UK. When I was appointed chest physician 21 years ago, I held a weekly clinic to screen all new arrivals. Those who needed vaccination were given the BCG, and those who had latent disease were treated. That was why the number of TB cases was decreasing steadily.

Now, because of the cutbacks in the NHS, I no longer hold TB control clinics. Since the mid-Nineties, chest clinics have been closed in London, including the one that I used to work in.

What is happening in London now did happen in New York a decade ago. The Americans spent a billion dollars, implemented arguably draconian reforms to public health legislation, and put TB on the front pages of newspapers and the lips of politicians. These measures reversed and contained the outbreak. We in London should and could do the same. The Government has to spend money to recruit more chest physicians and specialist nurses and to reopen the chest clinics. So far the Government are talking about taking steps to control the situation. Enough talk. What is needed now is action.



Sir: I read with growing anger your report on the large rise in the number of TB cases. I am angry because I recently received a letter from my son's school saying the local health authority has decided to stop BCG vaccinations for indigenous children in what they have decided are low-risk areas.

How short-sighted is it to save a few pence per child in the short term whilst building up a local population with no immunity to the disease in the long term? If immigrants to the UK are not going to be closely screened the least we can do is protect children already here from catching it.

I have heard some feeble excuses that TB is hard to catch, and that you have to live in close proximity to someone with TB to catch it so therefore indigenous children are not going to be affected. Our population is very mobile these days. What about when our children go to university? What if they go to work in hospitals in high-risk areas?

It must only be a matter of time before TB again becomes a problem for British society. I have written to my MP to try to get the vaccination reinstated, and urge others to do the same before it is too late.



Criticisms dismissed by the police

Sir: The letter from the President of ACPO and the Chairman of the Police Federation (6 November) merely reinforces the points made by Matthew Norman.

The letter contains plenty of righteous indignation and assertions but no facts or statistics in rebuttal. It is an example of the police arrogantly dismissing all criticism, demanding unquestioning approval from a grateful public. As for suggesting that Mr Norman "spend some time on the front line" - how fatuous. Perhaps if the writers of the letter were to lose an innocent relative to a police marksman or in custody, then they would understand better - equally fatuous.

What proportion of investigations by the IPCC have led to serious consequences? How many police officers have stood in the dock following the death of a member of the public? How many have been convicted of any crime committed whilst on duty? How many of them have been sacked or encouraged to resign for poor performance? No organisation is perfect. If the police want us to believe their good intentions, then we must be able to see them clearing out their "bad apples" - or is the whole barrel rotten already?

It seems a perfectly reasonable policy that no policeman should be put in the position of potentially killing on more than one occasion. It would be beneficial both from the policemen's view - not having to repeat the trauma of the responsibility for taking a life - and from that of the public - completely removing the possibility of "trigger-happy cop" accusations. There are enough policemen today for the resources argument not to apply. If they are short - train some more. Surely there are plenty of candidates.



Business needs European migrants

Sir: The Home Secretary's proposals on Bulgarian and Romanian workers are an unsatisfactory half-way house. He plans to restrict entry into the UK labour market and yet it will still be possible to live in the UK and be self-employed with no restrictions.

Recruitment professionals predict that this restriction will cause a decrease in tax revenue, with self-employed workers left to calculate their own tax, which will inevitably lead to a greater level of inaccuracy and an increase in illegal working, when the Home Office has enough trouble enforcing present immigration rules as it is.

The UK economy has benefited from the large number of migrant workers who came from the new accession countries in recent years. They have filled vacancies, which had laid empty in every sector of the economy, from fruit-picking to construction, social care to HGV driving. The differing approach to Bulgarians and Romanians is likely to create more problems than it solves.

Immigration policy should respond to businesses' needs and be explained to the public, not used as a political points-scoring opportunity.



At last, Ambridge matches reality

Sir: Why are people complaining about the Archers' love quadrangle being unrealistic? We've had to put up with BBC metropolitan bias on the programme bringing in pet subjects I have never encountered in half a century in the countryside: racial attacks, gay kiss, woman vicar, woman wrongly jailed by man judge, gay "marriage", rape etc.

(Meanwhile nothing about real rural outrages: council tax being taken to prop up corrupt Labour fiefdoms; subsidised Scots being used to ram through unpopular laws in England; middle classes being crippled for sending their children to university by Labour ministers who went for free).

Now we might have rampant heterosexual adultery on a farm. At last, something we recognise.



Museums seek new customers

Sir: Like Philip Hensher (Opinion, 24 October), I welcome the decision by the Heritage Lottery Fund to launch a special fund for museum acquisitions. But my jaw dropped when he went on to attack funding for "harridans with clipboards ... ask[ing] impertinent questions of visitors about their racial origins".

What is Mr Hensher actually saying? That publicly funded museums should make no attempt to find who is visiting them and, with that knowledge, encourage traditional non-visitors to come along? Would any commercial organisation be so incurious about its paying customers? I don't think so.

After nearly 10 years of this Government, I had rather hoped the old access/excellence argument - that it could only be one or the other - was dead and buried. So let me make it clear. We want both, and have invested record sums to that end.



Just wait - those expats will be back

Sir: Well said, Jemima Lewis ("Why all these emigrants make me sad", 4 November). But the expats will be back.

They get ill or old and need medical services or other state help not available wherever they've gone; or they get widowed and lonely; or they find the winters are cold and the intimate villages are a bit claustrophobic, and they don't want everyone knowing their business; and when air travel starts to cost, as it surely must, then they'll be telling themselves that England wasn't so bad after all.

My father used to say, "They all come crawling back to Blighty in the end", and I've seen it happen in a number of cases already.



Blair's triumph

Sir: Given that the execution of Saddam is the crowning achievement of the British and American invasion, perhaps it can be shown to the nation on terrestrial television rather than pay-per-view? We could warm up with a "shock and awe" fireworks display. And wind down with a memorial service to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have lost their lives to Blair's murderous folly.



Cyclist's dilemma

Sir: A S Byatt (5 Minute Interview, 4 November) says she hates cyclists. In reply to the very next question she reveals the tragic information that her son was killed by a motorist. If that motorist had chosen to ride a bicycle that day her son would probably be alive now. As a cyclist and motorist I make that choice every day. Which option would she have me choose today?



Modest national bird

Sir: Charles Nevin (6 November) is searching for Britain's national bird. I was always under the impression that it was the wren, since it was featured on the old farthing coin.



Virgilian metre

Sir: David Usborne's assertion that professor Fagles has "abandoned all metre" in his translation of The Aeneid, is absurd, as your lengthy extract clearly illustrates ("Viva Virgil", 3 November). Fagles has used a flexible form of blank verse similar to his Homer translations. It's the beat of the metre that drives the whole thing along.



Free to choose on GM

Sir: Tony Combes (letters, 4 November) writes: "It is time those opposed to GM crops to allow British farmers a choice." As a consumer of organic produce, I wish my food to be free from any GM contamination. A threshold of 0.9 per cent is 0.9 per cent too high so far as I am concerned. Allow consumers to decide.



Lurking menaces

Sir: Hilary Benn is right in calling for a ban on cluster bombs saying, "Essentially they are the equivalent to land mines." In fact they are far worse than land mines. They are indiscriminately sown and land in trees, houses, villages and towns. They remain unseen, not mapped like mines, and cause death and injury long after the war has ended.



Scientific evidence

Sir: Thank you for including a photograph of a cow with your report "Scientists seek permission for human-cow embryos" (7 November) to indicate to readers what a cow looks like.