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Wednesday 23 December 2009
Letters: Winter weather in Britain
Why Britain grinds to a halt at the first snowfall
Whenever we are hit by rare extreme weather, media headlines scream, "Why aren't we prepared?" and letters columns are full of people pointing out that the Scandinavian countries, Canada and Siberia do not grind to a halt during their winters.
Their winters last for months and are always extreme. They have to invest in the equipment to keep their transport networks operating.
In Britain, conditions such as we have seen over the last week occur perhaps once every 20 years and it would be impractical, not to say hugely uneconomical, for the authorities to invest hundreds of millions of pounds in equipment that will only be used for a couple of days every decade or so.
In response to Alan Searle (letter, 22 December) it may well be because of our increasingly litigious culture that pavements are not gritted.
Certainly when I used to work in a pub as a student I was always told by my boss not to salt or grit the paths in icy weather. If I did and people slipped over that would be my fault for not doing the job properly. If we didn't use salt and people slipped over that would be their fault for not looking where they were going.
As the Noughties draw to an unlamented close, is there any sight which better characterises our "Sod you" society than that of our house driveways swiftly cleared of snow, but the adjacent pavements left untouched, with dangerous compacted snow and frozen slush?
Since deciding to stay at home this Christmas, I have been wallowing in exquisite schadenfreude at the misfortune of those stupid enough to travel by air or Eurostar. Until yesterday that is, when I slipped on black ice and just managed a triple axel and double salchow before crashing to the ground. A passing stranger awarded me 5.9 for artistic interpretation.
Climate tragedy is already starting
The Independent is to be congratulated on its outstanding coverage of the Copenhagen summit, and Johann Hari in particular for his excoriating indictment of its failure ("After the catasrophe in Copenhagen, it is up to us", 21 December).
The real tragedy, however, is not simply that we failed to adopt hard targets, but that these were in any event way behind the curve in relation to what leading climate scientists now consider necessary.
The C limit on global warming is entirely arbitrary: it has been identified not because it has been established that this is a critical threshold or tipping point, but because it is considered a politically realistic objective.
Mr Hari rightly highlights the concern about natural carbon sinks breaking down to become carbon sources, and cites methane emissions from melting permafrost and the desiccation of rainforests as potential examples that could take effect once we cross the C threshold.
The reality, however, is that both of these phenomena are already occurring, and at an accelerating pace: West Siberian methane emissions were estimated at 100,000 tons a day in 2005; and a two-year drought in the Amazon recently brought large swathes of rainforest within a year of wholesale dieback.
If this is happening now, with a mere 0.75C of warming, by what possible logic is it argued that a rise of three times this level will somehow stabilise the situation?
Copenhagen – had it succeeded – would have represented only the first serious step toward sanity, along a road that will inescapably require the world to face up to the real challenge that lies ahead: an absolute reduction in greenhouses gases to a level that will actually stabilise our climate.
For this, not only must we achieve carbon neutrality (zero net emissions) as quickly as possible, but we need now to be urgently researching and investing in technologies (such as biochar) which can sequester carbon from the atmosphere and reduce greenhouse gas levels to a maximum of 350ppm CO2 equivalent.
In this context, the absurdly limited aspirations of the Copenhagen Accord remain rooted in our current madness.
Johann Hari is right that after Copenhagen it is "up to us". But how do we react?
He discusses joining pressure groups such as Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth or even taking non-violent direct action. All very noble. But it would be better to let the electorate make climate change the number one item on the mainstream political agenda.
With the announcement of the three main parties' televised debates, let us, the electorate, force these parties to cut emissions and introduce a real Green New Deal.
There is an opportunity for action and commitment, with Copenhagen seen as an abject failure, with unemployment still rising, with politicians desperate to reconnect with the public and a general election within six months. A mass demonstration in London on the day before the first televised debate should suffice.
If we can draw anything positive out of Copenhagen, it is that we don't need agreement to reduce our own carbon admissions; we, and other countries who recognise the problem, must do what we can, whatever the less-aware countries do.
We can only hope that in time the more backward countries (hello, China; hello, USA) realise what's happening and do what they can.
When you may hit a burglar
Bob Armstrong (letter, 18 December) complains that it was wrong for Munir and Tokeer Hussain to have been jailed, despite recognising that the law requires that people who defend themselves should "use no more force than absolutely necessary". He also makes the point that the law recognises that when in fear of their safety people may well react instinctively.
Whilst Munir Hussain had just cause to fear for his and his family's safety, once he and his brother had chased the intruders away the threat they posed was over.
But the brothers, and others who had had no involvement in the original incident, continued to chase the intruders and then attacked one of them so severely that the intruder, having been hit with a cricket bat, was left with permanent brain damage. How on earth can Mr Armstrong consider that it was neither excessive nor disproportionate to inflict such injuries to someone already lying on the ground?
The judge was quite correct – this was not an instinctive act of self-defence, it was a revenge attack.
Bruce Anderson (21 December) writes that it is not the responsibility of the public to apprehend a burglar, but that of the police. I don't agree with this; the police are agents of the public, and were instituted to help the public with full-time law enforcement.
It is the duty of every citizen to help maintain law and order.
The recent case of the Hussains in chasing the burglar has two different aspects: the chase for, and apprehension of, the burglar is laudable and within rights; the subsequent meting out of punishment with a cricket bat is both wrong and reprehensible.
The same rules apply to the police: capture and restraint with minimum force is legal, but any use of excessive force is wrong, and should be punished.
The impulse to create sacred art
Tom Sutcliffe (18 December) tells us that he regrets the artistic time spent over reliquaries and crucifixions, martyrdoms and Virgin Marys, and wonders what if all that talent had been unleashed on its own inspirations and impulses.
Perhaps because he does not share the beliefs of these artists, it does not appear to occur to him that the two may not necessarily be incompatible. Religion (whether Christian or pagan, and whether objectively true or not) would not have survived had it not spoken to people's deepest feelings. I wonder what Tom Sutcliffe makes of the response of Dmitry Shostakovich to the pressures exerted by that tyrannical and atheistic state, the Soviet Union.
Dr Andrew Smith
Knaresborough, North Yorkshire
All proud of Peter Tatchell
I read your report about Peter Tatchell with mixed emotions – concern, sadness and yet profound pride in the wonderful man he is ("Neo-Nazi thugs left me brain-damaged, Tatchell reveals", 17 December).
Peter is my hero. He sustained brain damage from Mugabe and Moscow bashings in the pursuit of gay rights. Peter suffered for me and millions like me. I'm certain that history will judge him generously. I think he'll be best remembered for bravery, determination and quiet dignity, such as he often demonstrated in debate with homophobes on radio and TV. In provocative situations, I would descend into rant; not Peter. In self-assured, rational argument, he will quietly demolish his opponent.
Like millions of other members of the LGBT community, I hope he will heed medical advice. Please slow down, Peter, and recover. We need you.
The least the people of Oxford East can do in honour of Peter Tatchell is to elect whoever takes his place as their Green candidate.
Lyme Regis, Dorset
Israel with its back to the wall
Richard Ingrams's ongoing comments regarding Israel and those that would support this unfortunate country (12 December) display an arrogance that borders on the absurd.
Mr Ingrams seems to believe it best to leave this tiny country's fate in the hands of those that empathise with an Arab world that would rather see it gone. Carrying this argument to its natural conclusion would see a people with two thousand years of persecution once again with their backs to the wall.
However, this time it would be different. For this nuclear power would take down much of the Middle East with it, and what would Mr Ingrams and his friends do then for petrol?
Howard Jacobson is being economical with the truth by describing the "Zionist aspiration" as "the return of Jews to their ancient homeland" (5 December). Zionism is the idea that there should be a state in what used to be Palestine specifically for the world's Jews, and that Jews, no matter when or where they or their ancestors became Jewish, should have more right to Palestine and more rights in Palestine than the native non-Jewish population.
Ashcroft and Goldsmith? The people must be heard: No Representation without Taxation!
Back on stage
In his review of A Daughter's a Daughter (17 December), Paul Taylor says that the actress Honeysuckle Weeks is making her stage debut in this production. I saw her as Viola in a touring production of Twelfth Night originally staged by the Theatre Royal Plymouth back in 2005.
Friends with spiders
I empathise with Rosemarie Gunstone's arachnophobia (letter, 18 December). The cure for my arachnophobia was to acquire and raise in 2006 a baby south American bird-eating spider, whom I named Boo Boo. When you raise a spiderling as a pet you quickly realise how shy, vulnerable and fascinating they are. Boo Boo is now the size of my hand, and I would go as far as to call her cute: something I would never have dreamt of three years ago.
Kenn Virr's observations on the variability of economists' analysis of VAT rises and reductions (letter, 22 December) suggests that there's still truth in the old saying that if you took all the economists in the world and laid them end to end they still wouldn't reach a conclusion.
How delightful to hear of the police telling Clive Mowforth (letters, 21 December) that he should not take pictures in public because it could infringe people's human rights. At a stroke they have made illegal every speed camera in the land.
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