Letters: The party of principle

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Voters will reward Lib Dems for being the party of principle

Sir: Bruce Anderson can hardly contain his visceral hatred of liberal politics ("Does the Liberal Party still have a reason to exist?" 16 January), especially now that the Tories have elected a leader he thinks will recover former Tory votes that have, in recent times, gone to the Lib Dems (or "Liberals" as he insists on calling them). Leaving aside his ludicrous jibes about the Lib Dems' campaigning methods and policy stances, Mr Anderson ought to ask himself which party (and its leader) has shown the most consistency over the great political issues of recent times.

The Lib Dems were consistently opposed to an invasion of Iraq that so clearly breached international law and resulted in the death of tens of thousands of completely innocent people. All Lib Dem MPs held fast to this stance, before and since the invasion, despite a vicious campaign against them within Parliament and in the press by the likes of Mr Anderson.

The Lib Dems have consistently opposed tuition fees in higher education and opposed the use of public money to subsidise people to jump NHS waiting lists.

I could go on, but instead I challenge Mr Anderson to tell us which party leader has, in the past few weeks, comprehensively ditched the principles and beliefs one assumes he previously sincerely held on the above key issues, and indeed campaigned vigorously in the general election just six months ago on a platform that he has now almost entirely repudiated.

Most "middle-class" potential Tory voters are as opposed to tuition fees, a market free-for-all in the public services and invasions of other people's countries that kill and maim their citizens as the Lib Dems are. If Mr Anderson thinks otherwise he is deluding himself.



Gaia's revenge: Lovelock predicts global catastrophe

Sir: I do not know where James Lovelock ("We are past the point of no return", 16 January) has been in the last decade but every biologist I know has been teaching the implications of homeostasis for years - even if we didn't call it Gaia!

I spend a lot of time giving talks to local groups, specialist and lay. Every talk involving global warming and ecology contains a flow chart illustrating the interdependence of wildlife and the physico-chemical environment. It also highlights the fact that man is just another species - his demise would allow the planet to live as long as the sun exists.

But man made the great mistake of assuming superiority over all other species and imposing his "civilisation" with all its polluting accompaniments to interfere with and destroy the natural cycles. For the last two years, at least, I have been saying that we have reached a point of no return because we are now in a phase where the failure of normal homeostatic controls has resulted in a positive feedback system and therefore an accelerating one.

Things can only get worse unless real action is taken now - we do not have until 2010. Action, however, should not include nuclear power since that simply adds to the pollution, but we should ask the Government why it has stopped the research money for tidal flow generators.

Globally, wave energy could supply 10 times the world's electricity consumption. In Britain, 100 tidal flow generators could supply 50 per cent of our electricity, 2,000 wind turbines 20 per cent, leaving only 30 per cent to come from energy saving at community level, solar and photovoltaics, ground and water heat exchange systems, insulation and improved energy efficiency.

All these would improve our living conditions (and health) and save us money. So why is legislation to provide the necessary renewable energy development not yet in place? It is time we remembered that wildlife does not need man, but man cannot exist without wildlife.



Sir: There are many credible scientists that are very worried about global warming, but who would seriously object to the most significant points raised in the 16 January articles by James Lovelock and Michael McCarthy.

Dr Lovelock cites the predictions of 5C tropical and 8C temperate latitude warming by the end of this century. The 2001 IPCC report indicates that these changes are at the very extreme of all model projections; more conservative scenarios yield increases about one half those values.

Although I certainly agree that global warming is a real and serious problem, it seems almost outlandish to claim that "before this century is over, billions of us will die, and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic". Yes, it will be warmer in the tropics, but it was probably that warm 100 million years ago in the tropics and life, though very different, was nowhere near to being extinguished.

Although I agree with Dr Lovelock on his pessimistic assessment on international negotiations to reduce greenhouse gases, there is some real hope that increases might be contained if first world countries undertook a genuinely serious effort to aspire towards energy independence. Such efforts would be self-serving in the short term but they could help reduce greenhouse gases if, for example, "clean" coal and nuclear, became the primary transitional source of energy for the next few decades.

But that may only be possible if, rather than castigating others and raising wild alarms, environmentalists are willing to sit down at the negotiating table with industry and conservative politicians and do some good old-fashioned "horse trading" in which one side does not feel as if it is being the target of extremist views.



Sir: Hopefully James Lovelock's new theory will succeed in waking leaders to the need for urgent action to prevent climate-induced disaster. However, to state that we have reached the point of no return takes away hope, which could turn his views into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Lovelock dislikes wind turbines, favouring nuclear power. He says that there is insufficient space to grow food and build turbines. However, the two are not mutually exclusive; the land around wind turbines can be farmed.

Nuclear power is too expensive and too dangerous. Renewable energy, clean coal technology, carbon capture and energy efficiency can provide the required 60 per cent cut in carbon dioxide emissions. These industries can also create employment and expertise to export worldwide. The UK started the industrial revolution and thus played a catalytic part in creating the world's "morbid temperature". It would be fitting if it 'cured' the world by rapidly building and exporting sustainable energy.



Sir: Our planet is sick, as we are regularly reminded by a string of reports, the latest being James Lovelock's truly scary piece on Gaia's revenge.

Though politicians make speeches paying lip-service to the environment, business continues as usual. Coal is mined; forests are burned; people still fly off on holidays and inexorably the planet warms. Must we be locked in to an economic system which depends on exploitation, even though we know it's bound to come tumbling down, probably taking most of us with it?

So what's being done? One problem is, ironically, democracy, because it ensures that nothing unpopular can be done; tackling climate change seriously is going to be very unpopular indeed. Another problem is outright denial that there's anything wrong by most of the rich world. It seems we really are trapped into wilfully destroying the very life-support system we depend on - Gaia - whilst simultaneously setting in motion the sixth great extinction event.

If an asteroid was heading our way, due to strike in 10 years, that would galvanise the world's governments into co-operation to tackle the threat. Gaia's revenge promises to be much worse. So how do we kick the butts of the world's movers and shakers?



Sir: Yes, James Lovelock's article is a "wake-up call". A call for us to get off our backsides and act as the adults we actually are.

We need to be careful how his projection of "doom" is presented, because it could be used as an excuse to party even harder before our ship sinks. That's not fair on the life that is left clinging on. Let's listen to wise instinct. Do we really need that extra cheap flight to Barcelona? We think we do until we see we don't.

Time to become DIY doctors in this planet with a raging temperature. Cool our passions, cut back our thirst, chill out. Celebrate, act our values, say sorry and I really hope you get well soon.



Sir: So there's nothing to be done, and we are all doomed to die in a stinking morass of war and pollution. Why, then, does The Independent bother to tell us about it? Just to lift our spirits on a grey Monday morning? How do any of your staff muster the enthusiasm to get out of bed and write such epistles of unrelenting misery?

I realise shooting the messenger may be a pointless exercise, but according to your apparent editorial policy, no more futile than life itself. Perhaps rather than free DVDs you could offer cyanide capsules with next Saturday's bulletin of woe. Or Tamiflu for readers with a remaining shred of optimistic spirit.



Sir: It seems to me that the unwillingness of the US government to commit to any agreement to combat climate change suggests that it is fully aware that climate change has already become irreversible, and in its determination to secure Middle Eastern oil supplies the US is clearly attempting to "find the best use of resources they have to sustain [their] civilisation for as long as they can", in James Lovelock's words.

So we have tipped the threshold. How do we prepare our children?



Unfair lending to the desperate poor

Sir: Anyone aggrieved by a high interest rate on their loan has had the right to complain to the courts about "extortionate credit" since the 1974 Consumer Credit Act; but no valid legal principles about what can be termed extortionate have emerged. So the Government has introduced a new test called "unfair relationships" in a new Consumer Credit Bill.

There have been rich pickings for 30 years, with legal door-to-door companies regularly lending £1,000 with £700 interest repayable over a year to unemployed parents desperate at Christmas or school clothes time, who receive state benefits below the Government's poverty thresholds.

The Bill requires the courts to have regard to all relevant matters. But what is a relevant matter? Banks will argue for a narrow, purely commercial, interpretation. The Bill will reach the report stage in the House of Lords on 18 January. Peers will consider an amendment we have proposed stating that " 'all relevant matters' shall include the personal and financial circumstances, the health and the literacy of the borrower and the extent to which these matters were taken into account by the lender". Without it Parliament has laid a another sterile egg.



Minority religions in British life

Sir: Daniel Baird (letter, 16 January) implies that Simon Carr is guilty of bigotry in using the word "Jesuitical" of Ruth Kelly. I do not believe that Ruth Kelly could have been appointed a Minister of Education in today's Chile, or Spain. Her commitment to Opus Dei would be a very big hurdle to leap in places which know too much about the Catholic right.

One should not blithely assume that it really doesn't matter if ministers have guiding beliefs profoundly at odds with those of their fellow-citizens. So Simon Carr should continue to remind us on every possible occasion what Ms Kelly stands for.



Sir: I was in my local bank the other day wearing a balaclava, which I always do when its cold, when one of the bank staff approached me and asked me to remove it. I apologised and removed it straight away.

I noticed a Muslim woman in front of me wearing the veil. She went to the cashier's desk, completed her business and left without being challenged. This is discrimination.

Wearing a veil or any other kind of mask in public is anti-social. This not a problem that is going to go away by simply ignoring it.



Killing for fun

Sir: No, Mr Bonner ("Hunting Act isn't about fox welfare"; Letters, 16 January) it is about our self-respect as decent human beings in not wanting to kill for the fun of it.



British day

Sir: For balance, convenience and celebration, the Monday of the fourth week in October should be selected for the British national day suggested by Gordon Brown. There is a long gap between late August Bank Holiday and Christmas Day. It is half term for many schools. The battles of Agincourt, Trafalgar and El Alamein were fought and won around this day.



Perils of belief

Sir: Dominic Lawson (Opinion, 17 January) says people need belief. No, we don't. All belief is potentially dangerous; it can justify any action or inaction and take away personal responsibility to think and act for yourself. Once you admit to one belief it is a short step to any other. It is not relevant that Hitler was a Catholic, but it is that his people were prepared to believe, not question and prove.



Canoeists welcome

Sir: I have seen more otters on the river Wye in the last few years than I ever did fifty years ago before the canoeists came to my village (letter, 13 January). I have also seen kingfishers and having reached 50 gave up counting the number of swans feeding on the Lower Gro this winter. Maybe there are other factors affecting the sandpipers and plovers? Most canoeists revel in the quietness of the river and without them, Glasbury would be yet another dying country village in Mid Wales.



New Tories

Sir: First the NHS, and now education. If this continues, the Conservative Party will be able to repackage itself as Old Labour.