Letters: Tornado wake-up call

The Birmingham tornado is a wake-up call for all of us in Britain
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Sir: What a telling coincidence; Birmingham experiences a tornado on the same day that a hopelessly inadequate scheme to tackle climate change is agreed by the world's worst-polluting countries (Leading article, 29 July)

This tornado is a wake-up call for us in Britain. We need to lead the world toward real measures to cut greenhouse emissions substantially, and soon, if we do not wish to condemn our children to a bleak and terrifying future.

Climate change is with us. Let us without further ado sign up to the only real solution that exists, the "Contraction and Convergence" framework, which guarantees a fair share of emissions to everybody now and in the future.


Sir: The leaders of the three main UK political parties have agreed on plans to combat terrorism. It seems this was felt to be too important a subject to be undermined by the adversarial politics of Parliament or the unpredictable verdict of the electorate. It is now well known that the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir David King, is on record as believing that climate change is an even greater threat than terrorism.

Why then can there not be a cross-party consensus on robust strategies to deal with global warming and climate change? Only by removing the risk of electoral penalties will the UK and other democracies be prepared to take the radical actions needed to stabilise CO 2 emissions at a level which will give civilisation a chance of survival.



Sir: Michael McCarthy's 5-Minute Briefing on the new United States-led pact on climate change (29 July) says that the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate is "diametrically opposed" to Kyoto, in that the former is technology-based while the latter demands "belt-tightening" cutbacks in energy use.

In fact, Kyoto only demands reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions, not energy use, and doesn't specify how this must be achieved. Signatories are free to use the US's technology strategies if they wish, or go solar, plant forests, trade capacity with other nations or whatever else they see fit. If the US and Australia had so much faith in the ability of their technology to reduce emissions, they would have no problem signing up to Kyoto.

What this new agreement means is that the signatories plan to develop cleaner technologies but take no responsibility whatsoever if those technologies don't work. In other words, it means nothing.



The IRA's statement is only the beginning

Sir: Having been born and grown up in Belfast through the worst years of violence, excuse me if I don't mirror Tony Blair's enthusiastic reaction to the IRA statement (report, 29 July). Those of us who have studied events in that area of the UK over many years will see it for what it is: a repositioning strategy and an attempt by Republicans to force the ball back into the court of Mr Paisley. After all, if the Republicans renounce the armed struggle, what barriers now exist to power sharing?

The IRA statement says: "The overwhelming majority of people in Ireland ... want to see the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement." However, we must not lose sight of the fact that Mr Paisley does not give a fig for the Agreement and when any Executive is finally set up, he will use his power to scupper it completely or rewrite it to something which will be totally unacceptable to Republicans. The Unionists will do what the Unionists have always done when things are not going their way; they will withdraw from government and kill any Executive then in place.

If this happens, the repositioning of the Republicans may have pushed the British and Irish Governments to a point where they will have no alternative but to "take on" the Unionist veto. At that point, we may begin to see genuinely hopeful circumstances for a sea-change in Irish politics.



Sir: The IRA statement giving up the bomb and the bullet offers some welcome good news. It appears, for once, that the British Prime Minister's description of this development as one of "unparalleled magnitude" lends itself more to truth than rhetoric.

How sad for him that what should have been a legacy of helping to bring peace where so many others failed, will be dwarfed by the fall-out from his disastrous international military adventures. The Troubles' final death toll rests at 3,700. Meanwhile in Iraq it is 128,000 and counting, with 55 per cent of the victims being women and children under 12. The new generation of terrorists, created in no small means by this slaughter, have already accounted for 52 deaths in London.

Blair should be congratulated for his pragmatism, determination and courage in dealing with Irish terrorism. He should then be shown the door for creating a new threat and forgetting the lessons from his own history on how to deal with it.



Sir: In dealing with badly behaved individuals (be they colleagues, teenagers, toddlers or dogs), you are most likely to modify the bad behaviour if you are willing to try to understand their grievances and, crucially, reveal that willingness to them. This does not imply capitulation on your part. Your offspring and your dog are more likely to co-operate if they perceive your relationship to be one of mutual respect.

Bludgeoning them into submission may be effective in the short term but will ultimately produce an angry, resentful child or a fearful, aggressive dog. Surely the same principle should be applied to terrorists. The major improvement in the Northern Ireland situation did not begin until Sinn Fein were brought into the discussion. The "war on terror", in attempting to demonstrate determination without understanding is applying the mentality of the playground. Grown-ups listen, and show that they are listening, Mr Blair.



Risk analysis, not hysteria, is called for

Sir: Of course we need intelligent, long-term operations and policy to counter Islamic terrorists. But we also need to remember, without reducing our compassion for any of the victims and their families, that for instance, the victims of 9/11 were equivalent to about five weeks of the normal American murder rate; while those of 7 July in London equate to some five days of the normal British death toll from traffic accidents.

Common sense, and a sense of proportion, are both needed. I yearn for a politician or a newspaper which will help educate us into a grown-up, ie actuarial, view of risk. This is essential to fighting hysteria about terrorism, and avoiding the counter-productive responses embodied by Bush's mad, bad and ludicrously misnamed "war on terror".



Media stunts do not prove Tasers are safe

Sir: Your account of a police chief being shot by a Taser overlooks key facts as to their potential effects (report, 28 July).

Tasers can do a lot more than "hurt like hell". In the USA and Canada 130 people have died after being shot with Tasers since 2001. In 15 cases coroners have cited the Taser as a cause of death. And in the US their potential for abuse has been made frighteningly clear: we've documented cases where people already handcuffed have been repeatedly "Tasered".

These devices have not been subjected to rigorous, independent testing of their safety and potential medical effects. Indeed, some experts have noted the potential risk of heart attack for those under the influence of drugs or with health conditions like heart disease.

Tasers should be treated like a lethal weapon and only used by trained firearms officers. They should not be more widely deployed. And we must have a full, independent review of their safety - rather than stunts for media.



Creative solutions to the water shortage

Sir: Nobody expects to pay for electricity, gas, bread or milk other than in relation to amount they use, so despite what Stephen Cook thinks (letter, 26 July) metering is the fairest way to charge for water. There are other means by which poor families can be supported than by subsidising their water consumption.

Part of the problem with the water shortage in South-east England is that "nimbyism" prevented the building of another reservoir in Kent some years ago. Restrictions on water use for gardens have been imposed in the past on householders but not, it seems, on golf courses and the like.

We need to think about our options. Water is heavy and expensive to transport, but some of the supplies to Liverpool and Manchester come from the Lake District and Wales, so moving water from the wet western to the dry eastern parts should be feasible.



Charles is a guardian of our countryside

Sir: What Janet Street-Porter fails to acknowledge in her wish that Prince Charles should not only pay Corporation and Capital Gains Tax, but also Inheritance Tax ("If only I were Prince Charles ... , 28 July) is that if Inheritance Tax were to be paid by the Prince large parts of the estates would need to be sold off and broken up.

Who is this going to benefit? The landscape of the UK? It depends on who buys the land, but without a doubt much of it would come under threat from development. The tenants and farmers? Again it depends on their future landlord, but how many would, as the Prince did following the foot-and-mouth crisis, keep down or reduce rents to help them through that period? I could go on, but won't.

Prince Charles does not sell his lands, does not overdevelop them and as such, is a curator of the British countryside. I'd far rather he had this job than anyone else.



Sir: Janet Street-Porter laments that she is unable to enter a legally binding union and enjoy the tax breaks that homosexual couples do. She can - it's called marriage. The only significant difference between a civil partnership and a marriage is the term used, which has the sole aim of appeasing the bigots.

Once married again, Ms Street-Porter could then twist the usual practice of referring to civil partnerships as "gay marriages" or "pink weddings" and refer to her own union as a "straight civil partnership". Voilà, inheritance tax avoided.



Double standards over weapons

Sir: On the front page of The Independent (28 July), you picture a terrorist nail bomb. Could I suggest that anyone with an interest in the hardware for murdering and mutilating innocent men, women and children, might like to attend the DSEi Arms Fair in Docklands in September (30 per cent bigger than last year as the organisers proudly point out) where they can find a range of state-of-the-art weaponry far more sophisticated and deadly than such home-made instruments of terror.

Whilst I unreservedly and absolutely condemn the actions of terrorists of any stripe, surely the point is that weapons are weapons, whether they are used for so-called defence, or terror. Whilst we continue to glibly allow our industries to manufacture and sell the most obscenely destructive munitions ever created, we are guilty of a double standard that imperils us all.



Was force 'reasonable'?

Sir: As a barrister I am amazed that the focus on the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes is not on the question of the legality of the act. Who says that the Metropolitan Police can operate a shoot-to-kill policy? Who says that the Government can authorise such a policy? The rules about the use of force are laid down by parliament, and the key word in that legislation is "reasonable".



It's just not cricket

Sir: I wish to express my annoyance at the experience of those who, like myself, held expensive fourth-day tickets for the recent Ashes test at Lords. Although rain is no one's fault, the bar is set very low at 10 overs for a refund. Cricket relies a lot on the "spirit of the game" and it is against this spirit that fans should pay money and get nothing. With cricket struggling to survive against all-powerful football, supporters of the great game should not be treated in this cynical manner, especially with network TV about to lose test coverage.



Citizenship problems

Sir: Andrew Armstrong writes (letter, 29 July) that he is "proud to be a citizen of the world, Europe and the United Kingdom, in that order". Fine as a figure of speech, but only the third has any legal implications. A British citizen enjoys certain "civil" rights, but also has an overriding legal duty of allegiance to the British state. As "the world" is not a state, the term "citizen of the world" has no comparable significance, while "European citizen" is still no more than an abbreviation for "citizen of an EU Member State".



Irish playwrights

Sir: No doubt you will already have been inundated with corrections from outraged scholars of Irish theatre. Just in case you haven't, may I point out that Playboy of the Western World was penned by J M Synge and not Sean O'Casey, as stated in your leading article (27 July). Your mistake has probably caused further riots in Dublin.



A stab in the back

Sir: Baroness Williams saying what a nice man James Callaghan was (report, 29 July) rather makes me think of Lady Macbeth saying that on the whole old Duncan had his good side and history will forgive and forget a small stab in the back.