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Thursday 11 August 2005
Letters: The new world of higher oil prices
The poor will need help to cope in a new world of higher oil prices
Sir: Consumers have benefited from low oil prices over the last decade, but record prices at the pump may be something that we will have to get used to. Even after this week's price hike, oil prices in real terms are lower than they were 25 years ago. Inevitably, a tight oil supply and a rising, but relatively inelastic, global demand raises new risks.
Although the world is different, we know what some of these risks look like. Out of the oil crisis in 1973/4, for example, came a series of innovations, from investment in renewables to fuel efficiency in cars. These are the same approaches that are now key to contemporary action on climate change.
Our concern is that if oil prices rise further, then a cold winter in the UK will spread illness and take the lives of people who are unable to warm their homes. The UK Government needs to draw up an emergency plan that can ensure not just that the poorest households have the money to heat their homes, but that insulation and efficiency programmes go further in making sure that their homes cost less to warm.
CHIEF EXECUTIVE, NATIONAL CONSUMER COUNCIL, LONDON SW1
Sir: You report that "British motorists are spending an extra £7.5m a day on fuel" ("The oil crisis", 9 August).
The 2004 National Travel Survey found that around a quarter of all car journeys are under two miles: an easy personal way to ease the pain is to drive a bit less and walk a bit more. An increase in oil prices might enforce a bit of reality in transport planning, which until now has assumed an infinite supply of cheap fuel.
TRANSPORT 2000, LONDON N1
Sir: When I bought my first car in 1970 at the age of 17, petrol cost 30p per gallon and I earned 30p per hour in my Saturday job. This week I realised that the situation is exactly the same for my 17-year-old niece, except that the relevant figure is £4.
So when I was aggressively overtaken this morning by a five-litre SUV at full throttle, I wondered if $64 a barrel is really much too low. We seem to have learned very little in the intervening 35 years.
UN forgets the right not to be bombed
Sir: You quote Manfred Novak, the UN's special rapporteur on torture, as "damning" UK proposals to deport Islamic extremists and foreign terror suspects. The risk of torture - despite the UK obtaining assurances to the contrary - is, he opines, sufficient that such deportations are "absolutely prohibited under international human rights law".
As a Londoner who heard the Tavistock Square bus bomb, knows people on the underground where bombs went off and has twice had to walk home (mild, I know, compared with being blown up) I regard Mr Novak's statements as patronising, arrogant - indeed virtually beyond satire.
Would this man care to tell us Londoners what we are supposed to do with the Islamic extremists and terror suspects whose human rights he so assiduously protects (but not mine not to go in fear of being bombed)? We can't shut them up or stop them preaching hate or recruiting for terror operations in London. And Mr Novak says we can't deport them. Also, would he explain why the French are signed up to international human rights law yet frequently deport Islamic extremists?
Unless he has something constructive to say, let's have no more from Mr Novak.
Sir: The letters from Richard Newson and Alan Pillinger (10 August) complement each other perfectly. Of course we must seek to understand suicide bombers, just as we should seek to understand every human being we encounter. But as soon as we start talking as if their self-immolation somehow conferred a privileged entitlement to understanding, we are on the road that leads to justification, however much we may deny it.
Sir: Mr Blair told us that terrorists would not be allowed to change our way of life, but he has now changed the rules of his "game" by publishing new grounds for deportation and exclusion from our country.
These new grounds will include "advocating violence to further a person's beliefs or justifying or validating such violence". Does this mean that he will not allow George W Bush in again, and to where will he deport himself?
We need no civics lessons from the US
Sir: Having scored a hit on the sloppy thinking behind the concept of multiculturalism, Janet Daley (Opinion, 10 August) goes on to demonstrate the intellectual laziness of which she has accused her target group. Her nostrum for disaffection among young people from different ethnic groups is to adopt the US practice of allegiance to the flag and civics lessons in state schools. She implies that this has worked in the United States.
Really? In a country where potentially violent sects, from white supremacists to the black Nation of Louis Farrakhan, abound; where the outcome of national elections is largely determined by white voters because most African-Americans, and people, particularly young people, of hispanic and Asian origin don't even bother to vote; where, in many of its city districts, violent youth gang-culture dominates the streets, and the infant mortality rate amongst black families is as high as that in the poorest African countries?
I don't think that deprivation, discrimination and massively unequal life-chances are going to be straightened out by singing the national anthem every day and writing to your MP.
Sir: Janet Daley does well to highlight the benefits of US-style "civics" education. Britain is not a politically engaged nation; the current Government seems to dream up policy initiatives (super-casinos, ID cards, all-night drinking) in a vacuum, with little or no reference to the people.
I am sure that children would benefit from the experience of writing to their MPs and following legislation through Parliament. Giving young people, especially the poorest, a strong sense that Parliament exists to do their will would be a step towards curtailing the power of the political elite. Oh well, that won't happen then.
Argentina's peaceful nuclear programme
Sir: Your article "Iran agrees two-day uranium delay" (2 August) mistakenly presents the Argentine position on non-proliferation issues. Anne Penketh says in the article that "there are questions about Brazil and Argentina's intentions". In the map illustrating the article, Argentina appears listed among "countries in the NPT suspected of weapons development".
My country never pursued military purposes while developing its nuclear programme, which was purely designed for the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
For more than 20 years, Argentina has undertaken a series of actions whose common denominators have been the strengthening of integration with our neighbours, a ban on weapons of mass destruction and participation in the international arena in an effort to consolidate a safer and more stable world. The process of transparency, mutual trust and convergence of nuclear policies developed together with Brazil allowed us to establish a system of mutual safeguards over the nuclear installations and materials of both countries, with the Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials (ABACC) as application authority.
My country has participated in the drafting process of the Model of Additional Protocol in the framework of the IAEA and favours its universalisation. This protocol perfects the regime and is a confidence-building measure for those countries where doubts persist about the peaceful nature of their nuclear programmes. It is our intention to move forward to the ratification of the protocol.
The five countries possessing nuclear weapons keep investing in their nuclear arsenals. Such double-standard policies play a key role in the current non-proliferation crisis in the Middle East and the Korean peninsula.
AMBASSADOR, EMBASSY OF THE ARGENTINE REPUBLIC LONDON W1
Still searching for the origins of species
Sir: The Darwinian propaganda machine is once again in full swing (letters, 9 August ) and is attempting to stifle any discussion by equating intelligent design with creationism.
Some agnostic biologists, like myself, are interested in this and other forms of teleology; we call this approach science. It seems that the evolutionists are convinced that they have found the last word on life, some of us however, doubt that they have the full answer, and so are still searching.
DR MILTON WAINWRIGHT
DEPARTMENT OF MOLECULAR BIOLOGY AND BIOTECHNOLOGY UNIVERSITY OF SHEFFIELD
Sir: It is ironic that the US fundamentalist political right is so sceptical about the teaching of evolution in science lessons, when so many of its policies at home and abroad are based on Darwinian-like principles of "survival of the fittest". At home this is survival of the richest, abroad survival of the best-armed. In contrast, the New Testament emphasises the duties of care for one's neighbours, especially the needy, and of seeking peace.
PROFESSOR RICHARD BOWEN
SCHOOL OF ENGINEERING UNIVERSITY OF WALES SWANSEA
Media scare about '24-hour drinking'
Sir: It is misleading of the Association of Chief Police Officers to say that the lively alcohol-fuelled revelry in Faliraki and Ibiza will happen in the UK under relaxed licensing laws. The situation abroad is different; people are there to have a blast for a couple of weeks - they are not going to sustain that level of partying for 52 weeks a year.
"Twenty-four-hour drinking" is an invention of the media; in reality no one wanted or expected it. People only have so much money and can only drink so much. They will drift home when they have had enough.
I am in favour of the new laws. Anyone who is out most Saturday nights and actually knows what goes on will welcome the removal of pressure to drink up before the 11pm closing time. The hours of opening will not make any difference to alcohol-related crime - the only way to stop that is to ban alcohol altogether.
EASTBOURNE, EAST SUSSEX
Africa's roads to prosperity
Sir: Martin Juckes (letter 6 August) apparently expects Africa to do without roads. He must be indoctrinated with extreme green ideas that have no sensible application to real life.
Many countries in Africa have a network of minor roads, dating from the colonial era, which are no longer adequately maintained. They could be improved relatively easily with local labour and materials. This could have dramatic benefits, allowing rural shops to be restocked, local produce to reach the towns, patients to get to hospital and doctors to reach local clinics. Money earned by road-workers would benefit the local economy.
New minor roads could also be built , especially in flatter and less populated areas. Railways are pie in the sky. We should be thinking of a Road Aid fund.
Voting reformers mourn a good friend
Sir: Robin Cook's death has been keenly felt among those advocating a fairer voting system. Cook has been the leading advocate of electoral reform within the Labour Party for a generation, and, as President of the Make Votes Count coalition, has done much to keep the debate on the agenda when it became unpopular in the Labour Party to advocate reform.
His loss is all the more crushing since it comes at a time when the case for PR is becoming irresistible. One of our best friends in the Labour Party has gone, and we will miss him terribly.
PARLIAMENTARY OFFICER, ELECTORAL REFORM SOCIETY LONDON SE1
Sir: "Asian" is too wide a term. As somebody of Indian origin I would be proud to be called "British Indian". The British Indian community is proud of its achievements in this country and it acknowledges the many opportunities that this country has offered it. In the current climate it is also easy to forget that there are over a million Hindus in this country. Hindus are loyal, law-abiding citizens and proud to be British.
Sir: For several years I have been content to see myself just as the holder of two passports and a citizen of two countries. Now it seems I have to grapple with the dilemma of whether I want to be Australian British or British Australian. Or, having been born and bred in a third country and culture, am I really Singapore Australian British? Am I losing the plot, or is it the Government?
FARLINGTON, NORTH YORKSHIRE
Struggling with Sudoku
Sir: Could some thought be given to printing Sudoku puzzles on wipe-clean plastic? I am spending a small fortune on correcting fluid and pencil erasers, and on the admittedly rare occasions when I finish a puzzle it looks very messy.
HOLYWOOD, NORTHERN IRELAND
Wait for the emergency
Sir: In response to Damien Cominos' letter (10 August), one of the reasons that so many minor cases end up in A&E is the lack of easily accessible appointments to visit a GP. My own surgery can only offer me a planned appointment in 10 days' time, unless I am prepared to say it is an "emergency". The justification that unless seen within a matter of days a relatively minor ailment will become an emergency makes no difference.
Red rag to bullies
Sir: So redheads enjoy a higher level of pain resistance (report, 10 August)? Ginger children countrywide will doubtless be thrilled that their contemporaries will be putting the theory to the test.
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