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Saturday 7 June 2008
Letters: The end of cheap oil
Tough times ahead as we adjust to the end of cheap oil
Sir: It seems highly likely that the inexorable hike in oil-prices does indeed reflect proximity to the point, if not of "peak" production, that at which supply can no longer keep pace with demand. There were predictions as far back as 1956 that we would arrive at such a time, and around now, but no one took any notice.
When the Opec nations were persuaded to crank-back production by around 5 per cent in 1973 (and the Iran-Iraq war had a similar effect in 1980), the price of oil rocketed. Now it is a geological, not a political problem, and cannot be solved simply by policy or economics.
Then cheap oil came back on to the markets and everybody forgot about the various schemes to seek alternatives to the eventuality of no more cheap oil. This is a great tragedy. If the world had taken the consequences of Opec as a wake-up call and begun in earnest the search for alternatives that the world has no choice but to scramble for now, we would have got through far less oil, still have a comfortable period for R&D and possibly have a sustainable energy mix by now.
None of these things happened, and hence we are in for some very tough times now: trying to implement new, sustainable energy sources against the backdrop of conventional energies most likely being unable to hold fast against existing demand, let alone meet the flow of bringing new technologies on stream.
Transportation will be the first use of energy to go, with the happiest scenario being a relocalisation of society around local, sustainable economies; or complete social disintegration, at worst. I try to remain optimistic that the former outcome will prevail, but without clear government policy – from any government in the nations of the world – how can it?
Professor Chris Rhodes
Sir: Is this a portentous sign? At a party here in deepest Shropshire there was a serious discussion about getting rid of the Aga. One couple are definitely going to do it and others considered the option, because of the price of oil and its environmental impact. It was felt that as with the larger car, prices of second-hand Agas will plummet and the time was ripe to do it now.
How long, I wonder, before estate agents will no longer boast of gorgeous farmhouse kitchens with four-oven Aga, keeping it quiet in the hope its existence will not deter potential buyers?
A clash of rights over paternity
Sir: Deborah Orr's otherwise excellent article on paternity ("For a man to refuse to acknowledge a baby he has fathered is about as low as it gets", 4 June) neglects one possible reason for not wanting to bring a father's identity into the public domain. That is where he is married to, or living with, someone else, and perhaps has another family with her.
His primary family may be unaware that he has fathered a child elsewhere, and a public revelation of this may be damaging, including to his children. The new Bill suggests, according to Orr, that: "A mother should be expected to give details about a father who is reluctant to register, so that the local authority can track him down and insist that he signs the certificate." Children in general have a right to know their parentage, yes; but as so often, rights clash with other rights – in this case, the rights of other children of the man not to have their own family life blown asunder.
The decision to go public on paternity, or to reveal to a child their biological origins, is often a complex one, and one that should be taken responsibly. To dictate that all children's birth certificates should ideally include the name of their biological father, which seems to be the Government's position, betrays what so many government policies do – a lack of imagination.
Lorraine M Harding
STEETON, west Yorkshire
Sir: The answer to the "problem" presented by the Government's proposals to pursue fathers who do not appear on birth certificates, as discussed by Deborah Orr, is obvious.
In the 1960s my parents registered me and all my three siblings on birth certificates only stating my mother's name. This was a small protest on their part against the stigma at the time against women who could not for one reason or other state the father's name. I have continued this tradition with my own three children. My father was extremely involved with our upbringing, as is my own husband with our children.
I suggest that all liberal-thinking parents should use this simpler certification, not only to put a spoke in the wheel of governmental observation of each and every part of our lives, but to rid children of any stigma which may ensue from the continued anomaly of having a birth certificate for the well-off, with both parents named, and one for the poor with only the mother's name on it.
Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire
Sir: Much as I enjoy Deborah Orr's columns, I have to take issue with her comment that "Just as marriage has become, increasingly, a luxury indulged by the more affluent, lone, unsupported parenthood has likewise become a challenge undertaken most frequently by the financially and aspirationally bereft."
How exactly is it a luxury to decide to get married (unless you believe that a Hello-style ceremony is an indispensable part of the process)? And who exactly challenges the financially and aspirationally bereft to become sole parents?
Sir: Apparently the Government wants to force mothers to register the name of the man who fathered their child so that he can be forced to support that child, thus avoiding the need for the state to do so. With its other hand the Government wants to allow women to have a baby using IVF without the need for a father around to support the child, presumably leaving that state to pick up the bill.
Fearful wait for the TV licence raid
Sir: Adrian West (letter, 4 June) is fortunate to have escaped the TV Licensing bully-boys. I have never owned a TV, and have always replied promptly and politely to the regular accusatory letters.
The most recent missive announced in large bold letters: "This addressed is unlicensed" and below, in red: "Your details are being passed to our Enforcement Officers," who, I am then informed, "are scheduled to call on you shortly, and may call at any time during the day or evening . . . They are authorised to use sophisticated detector equipment on unlicensed households." But there was still time to avoid a visit if you renewed your licence immediately.
For several months I went to bed fearful of the late-evening knock on the door. It has not come, and possibly I shall be left in peace for the few remaining years until I reach the magical age of 75.
Valuable skills thrown out
Sir: We read with interest Nigel Morris's report "Hostility to immigrants 'is holding Britain back' " (2 June). Indeed great numbers of column inches have been filled about the crisis of skills shortages in the United Kingdom. But the Government should make more use of what it already has.
Many refugees have unique skills, a fact highlighted by the professional contribution to HIV awareness and prevention of Amdani Juma. Mr Juma was given humanitarian protection in the context of the genocide in Burundi and Rwanda. He has been in Britain for five years and has spent his time tirelessly working with people at risk, with a unique ability to reach persons of African origin.
Unfortunately, the Government has decided he should no longer be here, and since Friday 30 May has him locked up in an immigration detention centre with a deportation notice for Tuesday 10 June. Amazingly Mr Juma has continued his advice work even while in detention.
A huge campaign has been mounted to prevent his return, which will not only risk his own life, but it will also negatively impact on HIV prevention efforts in the UK. We call on the Home Secretary and Secretary of State for Health to intervene to prevent Amdani's removal.
Nottingham and Notts Refugee Forum, Georgina Caswell, African HIV Policy Network, Lisa Power, Terrence Higgins Trust, Nottingham
'Freedom to smoke' is a selfish illusion
Sir: Even from someone as eloquent as Joan Bakewell (Opinion, 6 June), the arguments that "smoking is freedom" are unconvincing.
Tobacco smoking is a historical curiosity, which owes its existence to the fact that it goes back nearly 400 years, becoming dramatically more widespread as cigarettes achieved popularity from the 19th century onwards, when food and drug legislation was minimal.
By today's standards, tobacco smoking is stupid, selfish and arrogant, and its devotees will in almost all cases end up costing society heavily in medical bills while subjecting innocent fellow citizens to a repulsive smell and demonstrably carcinogenic chemicals, in sharp contrast to indulgence in the "freedom" to undertake other dangerous activities, which do not threaten third parties.
The "freedom" to smoke anywhere near a non-smoker is as illusionary as the right to defecate in public, and smokers fully deserve to be harassed out of existence by all means possible.
Students held back by low expectations
Sir: Any reasonable person would agree that entry into Oxford, Cambridge and other top universities should be based on academic aptitude rather than socio-economic background (letters, 6 June). However, in trying to achieve this I fear we are attacking the problem from the wrong end.
If we want more state-sector students to apply for entry to these universities we need to ensure that from the outset of their careers in education all pupils are encouraged to have high aspirations. The young plutocrat entering a posh prep school expects to progress on to great things (even if uncertain as to what exactly they will be), while for too many of their state school counterparts the only expectation is to proceed via the nearest comprehensive to whatever job the system funnels them into. All too often, these low expectations remain unchallenged and become self-fulfilling.
Newcastle upon Tyne
Sir: Still more and more letters all too readily assuming that Oxbridge really does offer the very best undergraduate education and has the divine right to cherry-pick the brightest and the best of our struggling, underfunded state schools.
Why haven't we had responses from the heads of all the other UK universities? Is their silence an admission that they are all indeed second-rate? If so, God help UK Ltd in the continued Oxbridge-dominated centuries to come. High time for a really clever millionaire to pour money into non-Oxbridge universities and level out the playing field just a bit.
(MA Oxon)St Ola, Orkney
Sir: I find it difficult to understand how people can complain of elitism and pursue it at the same time. A true social egalitarian would opt for a good education that is not elitist. I recommend University College London, where some departments are as good as, or better than, their Oxbridge comparators, and there is a non-sectarian, utilitarian tradition.
Admittedly, opting for other than Oxbridge, when parents and school want you to put a feather in their caps, can make for a stormy transition. But an early grasp of authenticity and integrity is worth some short-term hassle for a valuable long-term gain.
Members of the Oxbridge elite are unlikely to tear down the walls of their ghetto unless the rest of us can demonstrate that life outside those walls is too good to miss. It does not make sense for people to shore up the walls from the outside.
Sir: While various cosmetic companies claim that their products "reduce the appearance of lines and wrinkles", I've now seen an even greater claim on BBC News that "people carrying knives are getting younger". Will this mean a surge in older people carrying knives for their age-defying properties?
Newcastle upon Tyne
No real threat
Sir: Otis Ogede is disingenuous when comparing Bruce Anderson's current perception of a Muslim threat to Europe with that of early 20th-century journalists writing about a "Jewish threat" to Europe (Letters, 4 June). As we have all seen from the likes of 9/11 and 7/7 there is a possible radical Muslim threat, however small, but an unquantifiable radical Muslim threat nevertheless. There never was even a minimal Jewish threat.
Attack of the grumps
Sir: I'll probably be shot down by the cultural theorists and will certainly be criticised by my fellow Lancastrians, but we have an alternative word in these parts for what you refer to as David Hockney's "grumpiness" (5 June). It is "Yarkshire" and long may it exist.
Sir: Private firms could be brought in to run some NHS hospitals and primary care trusts. No doubt there can be discussion on whether this is the best way forward. However, there can be no doubt that drastic remedies are called for. On 6 May I had an assessment at my local hospital for treatment for my chronic fatigue syndrome. On 3 June I rang to inquire why I had heard nothing. I was told: "The letters for May have not gone out yet."
The Rev Andrew McLuskey
Sir: In Looe, Cornwall, the eastern end of the main river bridge is served by a small public toilet block. Above both the male and female entrances, the most central brick bears, impressed, the town's name.
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