Letters: UK roads

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The Independent Online

Our Top Gear-led culture is to blame for the carnage on UK roads

Sir: Along with Sean O'Grady (23 September), I, like so many others, would wish Richard Hammond a speedy recovery. Yet this is the only form of speed I would wish on him, or anyone else. Why has it required a near-fatal incident to provoke a serious debate about our society's attitudes to speed and to driving and what does the delay in having such a debate say about us?

Television programmes like Top Gear ought to have provoked debate on questions long ago such as: why does our society have a higher risk tolerance for driving as compared to other forms of transport, given that the fatality equivalent of a Hatfield disaster occurs on our nation's roads every week? How many accidents are being caused by programmes like Top Gear through promotion of driving habits that are aggressive and speed-focused? Should TV not take some responsibility in promoting an awareness of the fact that a car is a potential lethal weapon, not merely a vehicle for bolstering a false sense of self-esteem and status? Should TV really be exploiting the middle-aged insecurities of men and women by encouraging the former to drive flash speedy cars and the latter to drive what are effectively domestic tanks (4x4s) in irony-rich attempts to keep their families "safe"? How much additional CO 2 is unnecessarily being emitted through Top Gear-fuelled aggressive driving so much in evidence on our roads today? And can the UK continue to be a car-obsessed nation while it attempts to address the most serious issue of all, climate change?

It seems our society has completely lost the plot when it comes to road transport and has largely forgotten the meaning of the issue at hand; how to get safely from point A to point B. Mr Hammond symbolises the untold numbers of anonymous victims of our society's adolescent attitude to driving. I hope that we as a society can get well soon and recover some semblance of a more adult attitude towards driving and to transport, given that it is so critical an issue for us today and for the future.



This crazy biofuels bubble must burst

Sir: Why is Richard Branson (report, 22 September) hailed as a saintly philanthropist by the great and the good from Downing Street to Friends of the Earth (letter, 23 September) for making a strategic R&D investment to protect his pernicious aviation interests?

Mr Branson is the latest to join the biofuel.com bubble. Yet his announcement came the same day as the US Department of Energy announced that alternative fuels are only at a 2.5 per cent level in the US, and revised its target of 30 per cent of cars running on alternative fuels by 2010 to 2030. This is despite recent intensive growth in the US corn ethanol industry. Just where on earth are we going to grow the crops for Mr Branson's aircraft if the US, with its huge natural resources, can't achieve even 30 per cent alternative fuels for its cars before 2030?

Recent research shows that the energy- and carbon-emissions savings from corn ethanol are very poor so Mr Branson's investment will hardly help the climate anyway. One report says there are only 13 per cent carbon emission savings for corn ethanol. Some researchers posit that the savings are less or even negative, due to the huge amounts of fossil fuels required to grow, fertilise, plough, transport and process the fuels.

Massive biofuel production is also linked to lowering already depleted water tables, and to destroying biodiversity. If biofuels are grown for aviation, then the already aggressive vehicle biofuel industry in the EU and US will look to an emerging South American and South East Asian biofuel cartel for supply. This will inevitably lead to huge plundering of rain forests in the Amazon, Malaysia and Indonesia.

The biofuel.com bubble is going to burst soon as it becomes clear that there are not enough natural resources to feed us, fuel our cars, and allow us to continue flying with impunity. Sadly, the planet may be irreversibly damaged first by the destructive growth-rate of this industry.



Sir: Dominic Lawson's erroneous assertions ("The debate on climate change is far too important to be shut down by the scientists", 22 September) demonstrate why the debate on climate change is far too important to be guided by (former) newspaper editors. As the author of the letter to ExxonMobil, and now a former employee of the Royal Society, I can absolutely refute Lawson's laughable suggestion that it was part of a campaign to promote George Monbiot's new book. My correspondence was a response to a letter that ExxonMobil sent to me alongside a new report that contains misleading statements about climate change.

Lawson's defence of the statements published by ExxonMobil puts him at odds with the assessments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which concluded in 2001 that "in the light of new evidence and taking into account the remaining uncertainties, most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations".

Lawson's article also fails to acknowledge that lobby groups that are ideologically opposed to environmental regulations have been seeking to justify their views on climate change by misrepresenting the scientific evidence about its causes and potential consequences. They are unable to gain credibility for their views through peer-reviewed scientific journals, because they are based on ideology rather than evidence, and instead use websites, public presentations, advertisements and newspaper articles to undermine the scientific research that should be the proper basis for informed public debate about how we respond to climate change.



Sir: Ben Stewart of Greenpeace (letters, 14 September) says that I oppose "international mandatory cuts" in emissions. Nothing can be "mandatory" in the case of sovereign states. Treaty obligations are self-imposed. As I have previously noted, some important countries are likely to see gains from moderate global warming, and others only modest losses. That will make it hard to achieve universal consensus on effective action - which is why some adaptation will be inevitable.



Fears for brother at Guantanamo Bay

Sir: Your account of new allegations of torture suffered by Shaker Aamer at the hands of US guards at Guantanamo Bay (report, 21 September) are particularly distressing for those who have relatives trapped at the camp.

My brother Omar Deghayes has been held without charge or trial at Guantanamo for over four years. Like Shaker, Omar appears to have been brutally mistreated. He has told his lawyer that on one occasion guards beat him and forced a finger into his eye while repeatedly pepper-spraying him in the face. He is, we understand, now blinded in one eye.

Almost as shocking is the fact that the UK government is still refusing to help either Omar or the other seven longstanding residents of the UK illegally held with him. My family - along with two others - has had to resort to legal action to pressure the government to act. Amnesty International has also repeatedly pressed the Government to step in.

Why does Tony Blair's Government condemn the regime at Guantanamo but do nothing to help imprisoned UK residents who desperately need its help?



Civil partnership law is homophobic

Sir: Rather than resulting from "heterophobia" (letter, 18 September), the predicament of the two elderly sisters who, banned from entering a civil partnership, face losing their home to inheritance tax is a direct consequence of the Government's homophobia.

The Government invented civil partnership as a parallel institution to marriage, with close relatives prohibited from civil partnership and marriage alike, in order to justify maintaining the ban on marriage for same-sex couples. Lesbians and gay men have been given instead a virtually identical institution with a different name.

In modelling civil partnership on marriage, an opportunity was lost to create a new modern form of relationship recognition, a "civil commitment pact", clearly different from marriage but offering recognition and support for loving and committed relationships like that of these sisters.

The Government should end the ban on same-sex marriage and also find ways of supporting the different kinds of caring relationships in Britain today. Homophobia hurts everyone.




World is to blame for Palestinians' plight

Sir: I write to thank you for your excellent coverage of the conflict in the Middle East and for dedicating The Independent's front cover of 19 September to the crisis in Gaza. Palestinians have been living under occupation for almost 40 years yet many analysts and political experts agree that the situation has never been as grave as it has been since the international community decided to impose an economic blockade on the democratically elected Hamas government and, as a result, on the people of Palestine. As such, the world is directly responsible for the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the West Bank. The question remains: when will the international community put an end to the collective punishment of innocent Palestinian civilians?



British casualties in Afghanistan

Sir: Your report on the inaccuracy of casualty figures in the conflict in Afghanistan (22 September) is a mirror of the army's performance in the past. The Army's official figures for the "Emergency"in Aden report 57 killed and 651 wounded, but in his excellent book about the conflict, Aden Insurgency, Jonathan Walker reports that this refers only to Aden State. The majority of servicemen served "up country" where the fighting was most common and most severe. By examining regimental records Mr Walker has found those killed to number nearly 200 and speculates that because of the nature of the fighting the wounded would have numbered more like 1,500. The British Army, it seems, keeps its habits - sorry traditions - alive even today.



Scientific argument will end vivisection

Sir: I am a research scientist who, like Joseph Harris, objects to the pain and suffering inflicted on animals in British laboratories every day ("Cancer scientist jailed for animal test attacks", 21 September). Like many of my (often silent) peers, I believe there can be another way. However, unlike Mr Harris, I believe the only way to influence the scientific establishment to change its habits is through proper scientific argument - which is why I chose to join a peaceful and professional organisation to help challenge the status quo. I believe it will be informed debate, not vandalism or intimidation, that will achieve the BUAV's vision of a world where no one wants or believes we need to experiment on animals.



Speaking of Marmite

Sir: So far your cache of Marmite folklore has not raised the question of the correct pronunciation of the word. Today Marmite's advertising suggests it rhymes with "might", not "meet". However, during a heated argument in about 1937 a friend telephoned the firm and asked "Is that the Marmight factory?" only to be put down by the receptionist with her tart reply "Marmeet, madam".



Sir: Your readers might appreciate the words of the medical nutritionist who described Marmite in a lecture as "Five per cent vegetable matter and 95 per cent salt, to prevent the putrefaction it so richly deserves".



Yes, I remember it well

Sir: Virginia Ironside has fallen into the trap of believing her memory gets better as time goes on ("How to grow old disgracefully", 19 September). Sadly, it is far more likely that, like the motorist who is convinced he drives better under the influence of alcohol, her memory is beginning to fail - it's just that she doesn't remember what she's forgotten. Bliss!



We need high-speed rail

Sir: Your report of 21 September strikingly illustrates the huge benefits high-speed rail has brought across Europe. With the exception of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Britain has lagged behind in this revolution. Sir Rod Eddington's transport study is due by the end of the year and we hope it will reiterate the case for high-speed rail in Britain. However, recent rumours have suggested that it will not form part of his recommendations. If this is the case we are eager to know what alternative will be proposed that can offer the equivalent economic, social and environmental benefits of high-speed rail.



The Peterloo massacre

Sir: According to your article "Protesters gather to vent their anger at PM" (23 September), the St Peter's Square area of Manchester "includes the site of St Peter's Field, where Manchester's 'Peterloo' occurred after a radical orator, Henry Hunt, addressed 60,000 people in August 1918 and police officers intervened, killing 11 people." Actually the massacre happened in August 1819. Also "police officers intervened" is putting it mildly: 60 Yeomanry cavalrymen attacked the unarmed protestors with sabres, followed by an army unit (the 15th Hussars) being called in.



Biblical bears

Sir: Following on from your correspondence about bears in the Bible (Letters, 22 & 23 September); my wife sang as a child in the church's choir. She was convinced for many years that the hymn containing the words "Sadly, my cross I'd bear" was about a cross-eyed bear named Sadly.