Letters: The threat to whales

Loss of polar ice exposes whales to new threats
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The Independent Online

Further to Michael McCarthy's timely article on the polar bear ("Hunters under fire in battle to save polar bear from extinction", 16 March), there is also a need to take climate change into account in the conservation of those wholly aquatic marine predators that are, albeit less obviously, dependent on the sea ice – the whales.

In the Arctic, three whale species, the narwhal, beluga and bowhead, all live close to and even inside the ice. They are as much animals of the frozen north, as the polar bear. Marine productivity at the poles is strongly linked to the extent of the ice edge, and changes in the ice cycles can be expected to have consequences for the whales' prey as well as their habitats. Ice retreat will also allow new human activities including large-scale fisheries, boat movements and fossil fuel extraction into polar sea areas that were previously too difficult to exploit. These activities bring threats of entanglement, ship strikes, loud noise and other disturbance to populations of slow-breeding whales that have not experienced such challenges in the past.

Those whale species that migrate to the poles to feed may also be affected by changes in their prey's abundance and location and the timing of its availability as well as any new human activities in their key feeding grounds.

The big question for the survival of whales dependant on polar areas is probably how adaptable will they be to these swift changes. Climate change clearly poses a terrible threat to the polar bear, these whales and the entire polar ecosystems, and it is essential, as McCarthy consistently reminds us, that countries unite to address this issue comprehensively before it is too late.

Mark Simmonds

International Director of Science

Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society

Chippenham, Wiltshire

Brave attack on binge drinking

I was disappointed by your third editorial "Hard to swallow" (16 March). Alcohol is a choice, not a necessity. Sir Liam Donaldson proposes a course of action likely to have a significant impact on binge drinking. Do you applaud the brave, politically tough, common-sense approach? No, you say "Oh no, not yet!"

Stephen Johnson

Chidham, West Sussex

In your editorial you identified the cost of alcohol-related hospital admissions as a reason for tackling excessive drinking. A simple way to meet these costs would be to charge for the treatment.

Surely the National Health Service was not created to provide free treatment for self-inflicted wounds. There is no need to incur the additional costs of going through the courts to claim the money; simply change the individuals' tax codes to until the amount charged has been recovered.

Dave Ridley

Eckington, Worcestershire

The Government is once again showing little leadership with its knee-jerk rejection of Sir Liam Donaldson's sensible suggestion to price alcohol at 50p per unit.

One side-effect of this would be to encourage wine and beer producers to reduce the percentage of alcohol in the bottle. Forty years ago, wine alcohol levels were usually at 8-9 per cent; now they are 12-14 per cent. Beer too has increased from 2.5-3 per cent to 4-6 per cent.

Drinks could still be as cheap, but not as lethal.

Roger Hobson

Woodbridge, Suffolk

We have the same problem with binge drinkers here in Australia.

In the last budget the government increased the price of alcopops, to reduce the amount of binge drinking by teenagers. It raised a lot of extra tax but failed to stem the tide of binge drinkers: they just bought bottles of vodka and bottles of soft drink to go with it. The government is now looking at an education campaign.

Robert Pallister

Punchbowl, New South Wales, Australia

Gordon Brown should show leadership and impose minimum pricing for alcohol. He should not run away at the first volley from the Tories and the drinks industry.

Robert Craig

Weston-Super-Mare, Somerset

Dangerous ruling on cycle helmets

A worrying precedent is set by Mr Justice Williams' ruling in the High Court that cyclists who choose to leave their helmets at home are guilty of contributory negligence ("Outrage at ruling on helmets for cyclists", 16 March).

If I'm out walking and a car mounts the pavement and hits me, am I guilty of contributory negligence because I chose to leave my fluorescent jacket at home?

How about if I'm caught in the crossfire of a gangland shooting; am I guilty of contributory negligence because I chose to leave my bullet-proof vest at home?

Chris McClelland

London E3

The car is king! Penalising cyclists for not wearing a helmet is just the first step. Pedestrians next – any pedestrian who is injured in a traffic accident should clearly be charged with gross irresponsibility for not using their car. Pathetic excuses such keeping fit or cutting emissions to save the planet should not be allowed.

Rob Basto

Reigate, Surrey

A better image of teenagers

The impact of the media on our children is well understood. Research by Parentline Plus has shown that children are affected by headline news. It is therefore no surprise that the drip-feed of negative stories about teenagers is affecting how a generation of young men are perceived by society (report, 13 March). If the behaviour of people in one city or in one ethnic group was regularly described in the terms used by the media to describe young men in this country, we would quite rightly be outraged.

What we really need is leadership from local and central government, the charity sector and our schools, to reshape how we define British teenagers in the 21st century. We must stop treating teenagers as an easy target for the media and politicians. Positive steps would mean recognising the influence of peer-group leaders at school and the importance of role models in the lives of our children. Our recent survey showed that 88 per cent of people feel that a parent remains the most crucial role model for their children.

It is vital for parents to be at the heart of a national strategy to redefine teenage years as a time of opportunity, progress and enjoyment. Responsibility has to be shared in making this change, and while the media has their role to play, tackling the current negative stereotypes is a challenge we all have to face up to.

Claire Walker

Director of Policy and Communications, Parentline Plus

London, NW5

Into the future without a tie

In a letter to The Independent some years ago I welcomed the fact that the tie appeared to be on the way out. Unlike Richard F Grant (letter, 12 March), I am pleased to see, from television and elsewhere, that this is definitely the case.

Even formally dressed businessmen no longer appear to consider it obligatory to wear this unnecessary, uncomfortable and constricting garment. I suspect that it is not that presenters "refuse to wear a tie"', but rather that wearing a tie is no longer part of the dress code and may even be frowned on (except, apparently, for news-readers).

The real problem, as I'm sure Mr Grant recognises, is that the British find it hard to draw the line between "smart casual" dress, such as jacket and trousers with open-necked shirt, and leisurewear, for example jeans and a shirt with the tails hanging out. The former is certainly acceptable for presenters on television, the latter possibly not.

Nick Chadwick


Men are victims of violence too

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith's latest initiative to combat violence against women is welcome. It is only a pity that she doesn't seem to be aware that men suffer violence, and particularly domestic violence, from women, because she didn't mention male sufferers once.

Research by the Irish Economic and Social Research Institute for the Irish National Crime Council found that 15 per cent of women and 6 per cent of men suffer severe domestic abuse. However, 29 per cent of women and only 5 per cent of men report domestic abuse to the police.

A Trinity College Dublin based study involving over 300 patients attending six general practices in Dublin, in both affluent and deprived areas, found that 52 per cent of men and 43 per cent of women have experienced domestic violence. There is plenty of other research to support the claim that men suffer significant abuse and violence from women.

This gender-based discrimination regarding domestic violence is unjust. Combating domestic abuse and violence should be approached primarily as a human rights issue, not as a gender issue. It is time the denial was ended.

Brian Abbott

Cork, Ireland

Christian right promotes Israel

Janet Green is right to point out that not all pro-Israeli supporters in the US are Jewish (letter, 14 March). The Jewish lobby in the US, led by groups such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the National Unity Coalition for Israel, have made an astonishing alliance with the fundamentalist Christian right, and in doing so have become the second or third most powerful lobby in America, depending on what source you read.

According to Christian Zionist theological beliefs, the Jews must congregate in Palestine and establish a Jewish state on all its territory, so as to make the second coming of Christ possible. However, before the coming of the Messiah – and they don't tend to dwell on this – all the Jews must convert to Christianity, and those who don't will perish in the gigantic battle of Armageddon.

Trifling matters such as this don't seem to bother the pro-Zionist groups like AIPAC. As long as the lobbying arm of Christian Zionism, with all its powerful contacts in Congress and Washington think-tanks, stays on-side and the US promotes a pro-Israeli agenda, all is well.

Michael W Cook

Soulbury, Buckinghamshire


Clash of stereotypes

In chastising Horne and Corden for a sketch stereotyping a gay war reporter, Philip Hensher (16 March) falls headfirst into hypocrisy by characterising Corden primarily by the fact he is "fat". At least Corden is able to make fun of himself rather than taking offence at every comedy sketch that lampoons an overweight person.

Robert McSweeney


Not proven

I expected the article "Science proves acupuncture is sound medicine" (14 March) to report a major piece of research demonstrating the validity of acupuncture. In fact the article centred on the publication of a journal on the subject by the BMJ Group and some comments by the journal's editor. This no more proves that acupuncture is sound medicine than the existence of journals devoted to theology proves the existence of God.

Duncan Chambers


Peace in the North

Where do these researchers get their information from? Until last year we lived in rural east Hertfordshire, rated third in the Halifax quality of life survey (report, 14 March). We then moved north to Bowness on Windermere in the Lake District. We can assure all of your readers that there is no competition – South Lakeland leaves East Herts way behind. Friendlier people, lower crime, less traffic, less pollution, much more peaceful.

Sue Thomas

David Thomas

Bowness on Windermere, Cumbria

Grade's shares

With reference to your story "It's not all share alike for Michael Grade at ITV" (9 March), I would like to appraise Stephen Glover of the facts. Michael Grade and John Cresswell invested their entire 2007 cash bonus in ITV shares at market price, something they were not required to do. This created a personal tax liability and they sold the minimum amount of shares to cover this, retaining the majority balance. All of these actions were disclosed to the market at the appropriate time.

Mark Gallagher

Director of Group Corporate Affairs, ITV plc, London WC1


Dick Kean (letter, 12 March) writes: "A 'United Ireland' is not our call and must remain off the agenda unless an overwhelming majority of unionists request it." Would an ordinary small majority of the people be sufficient to return it to the agenda in your opinion?

Andy Turney