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Thursday 2 June 2011
Letters: World food prices
The alarms are going off everywhere ("World's food system broken, Oxfam warns", 1 June). Oxfam's prediction of doubled food prices in a few decades is based on analyses that are almost certainly too conservative.
The available data on climate change is changing alarmingly fast; in every case predictions are outstripped by the horrifying realities of positive feedback loops on a planetary scale.
If our world food system is falling to pieces now, just imagine what it'll be like in 20 or 30 years, when wildly irregular weather fluctuations are wreaking continual havoc with agricultural economies all over the planet.
It's not a pretty picture, but it's one that most of the developed world's politicians seem determined to ignore. Short-term thinking has brought us to the brink of disaster; now is the time when our species must learn to think in the long term, not just decades, but centuries and millennia. Humanity's survival hangs in the balance.
Medford, Massachusetts, USA
Oxfam's recent report, Growing a Better Future, predicts the doubling of world food prices by 2030 and makes a series of recommendations aimed at increasing the production of food and making its distribution more efficient and equitable. In this the charity continues to focus on just one side of the equation, supply.
When Oxfam was founded in 1942, world population stood at 2.3 billion. This year, world population will pass the seven billion threshhold, a three-fold increase in less than 70 years.
And the United Nations has said that the world's population is now projected to continue to grow, passing 10.1 billion by 2100.
No matter what cunning supply-side innovations Oxfam cares to dream up, it cannot defeat a basic law of physics: the finite resources of a single planet cannot sustain the unlimited growth of any species, especially one as voracious as our own.
In Oxfam's 69-year history, it has stubbornly refused to recognise, let alone engage with, the need to restrain the growth of world population.
Now the world is close to "peak oil" and heading into a time of "peak everything", when a deadly combination of dwindling resources and ever-increasing population will give rise to ever-rising prices.
Resultant starvation will then bring about those reductions in population that past contraception initiatives should have delivered, starting with the poor of the world, of course.
As "one of the dogs that failed to bark in the night", Oxfam continues, among other major environmental charities, in their stubborn refusal to confront the greatest challenge ever to face mankind; how to prevent ourselves breeding ourselves out of existence.
The lessons of Onagawa
In all the publicity and anti-nuclear panic about the Fukushima tragedy, nobody seems to have taken any notice of the lessons of the Onagawa nuclear power plant.
This is less than half the distance from the epicentre of the 11 March earthquake, sited on a peninsula further up the coast and subject to a larger tsunami than the Fukushima plant.
Onagawa has four reactors that were built in 1984-2002; those at Fukushima date from 1967-73. There was almost no damage at Onagawa, and the short radiation alert it experienced on the day was attributed to radioactivity from Fukushima.
The tsunami defences at Fukushima were inadequate but, by contrast, residents from damaged houses in Onagawa took shelter from the tsunami within the nuclear station. Clearly, modern nuclear reactors are safer because of advanced design and construction.
Shutting down such modern reactors in response to the failure of old ones makes no sense. Future nuclear stations will not be built to old or faulty designs, and closing modern ones as a gut reaction to the failure of old ones is blind prejudice or political manoeuvring.
Chancellor Merkel's somewhat cynical election-minded about-turn abandoning her 2009 pledge to support nuclear power sounds like another case of volt-farce. Or perhaps vote-farce?
In the 10 years remaining before lights start to go out all over Germany (and Switzerland), France should quickly build a few more nuclear plants to supply her neighbours' needs.
Lasting legacy of a son's sacrifice
Here, at the Hay Literature Festival, the answer to Stuart Alexander's question, "Was my son's death in Afghanistan a price worth paying?" (Front page, 30 May) does not seem as easy to calculate as some maintain.
An unconsidered part of the equation is this: without the Taliban in power a generation of girls have enjoyed a basic human right, education.
Even in the worse-case scenario – if the forces of darkness and repression regain control – that inestimable good cannot be undone, for literate mothers will be able to pass the essential life-skill of reading on to their daughters. And so on.
It is these nameless individuals, part of an incalculable multitude, and not Blair and Cameron et al, who are the true beneficiaries of Sam Alexander's sacrifice.
A new life begins after computers
I went to hear James Gleick talk at the British Library a few weeks ago about how we are constantly subjected to almost infinite amounts of information ("Too much information?", 31 May). I talked to him about this later, and we agreed that self-filtering is an inevitability. Not spam-filtering; self-filtering.
I walked home thinking about this, and had a Eureka moment somewhere around Clerkenwell. I threw my i-phone in a bin. I expect a homeless person now has it; best £500 I ever threw away.
The next day I bought a little Nokia with a decent-ish camera on it for £50, and downloaded my phone numbers on to it from my laptop. Then I took the laptop into my office and haven't brought it back. I now live without a computer. It was like giving up drugs.
That Saturday I lay in bed reading a book. I have started scanning Time Out over lunch to see what's on, and now go to see interesting stuff in the evenings as I used to. I'm not sure why this has happened, but it has. My partner has commented on how relaxed I am and how much more I seem to do in a day.
I am aware of the common pitfall of reformed addicts so I hardly ever mention this to my friends. The ones who have noticed think I am a weird Luddite.
I feel a little like the only AA person in a pub. They all sit checking their i-phones frantically every minute or so. And me? Well, I don't.
OK, I'll break my rule. Try it; it's great.
When I read the Natalie Haynes article, "How X-boxes are grounds for divorce" (1 June), and her assertion that men used video games as an escape from reality, I dropped my broadsword in surprise and disgust.
I then vowed to dedicate my life to avenging the insult aimed at my kind, not realising at first the power the gods had bestowed on me for this very purpose ...
Henry St Leger-Davey
Where are our black teachers?
I totally agree with Christina Patterson ("Prejudice and the pursuit of 'cool' ", 1 June). As one of the 13,950 white professors she cites, I can at least evidence the struggle of trying to publicise the "invisibility" of black teachers in Liverpool, the UK city with the longest history of a settled black population.
Black teachers occupy 0.05 per cent of the city's teaching workforce, a percentage that has not increased in the past 40 years despite reports such as those of Rampton, Swann and Gifford, and an indefensible situation which the Liverpool City Council defends with platitudes about equal opportunities regardless of ethnicity.
How can five black teachers out of every 1,000 Liverpool teachers continue to be considered equitable?
Professor Bill Boyle
School of Education, University of Manchester
Cost of saving the rainforest
If Chris Boddington's suggestion (letter, 31 May) that The Independent should set up an account for contributions toward the £100m needed this year to save the Yasuni rainforest in Ecuador bears fruit, I will certainly contribute.
While we wait, can we shout loud to stop this government from ill-considered shale-gas drilling at home ("Small earthquake in Blackpool", 1 June")? Haven't we seen enough recently and all around the world of the consequences of short-term, planning and of turning a blind eye to possibly horrible consequences?
Chris Boddington can count me in for £1,000 to add to his rainforest fund.
Blatter's Fifa changes flawed
The reforms announced by Sepp Blatter at the Fifa Congress are certainly to be welcomed, even if they are overdue. But establishment of a new committee on corporate governance, while conceptually good, is flawed, because it will be formed of Fifa members only.
To be an effective, transparent and credible body, it should be entirely independent of Fifa and comprise external members suitably qualified and experienced and not affiliated to any other sports governing body. Whether the reforms will be acceptable to Fifa sponsors, who have rightly voiced their concerns, remains to be seen.
Professor Ian Blackshaw
International Sports Law Centre, The Hague, Netherlands
Bahrain leader wanted reforms
I write as a former British ambassador to Bahrain (2003-06) to take issue with the tenor of the article "PM urges Bahrain to embrace reform" (20 May).
When speaking to the Crown Prince, Mr Cameron will have known he was preaching to the converted. Sheikh Salman has been a champion of reform in Bahrain since before I took up my appointment and if he had had his way, he would have led the government side in a negotiated settlement to address the demonstrators' principal grievances.
I have little doubt he shares my hope that all political parties, including al-Wefaq, who represented the majority of Shia in Parliament, will agree to resume the process of dialogue he initiated, and stand for re-election on 24 September to the 18 seats in Parliament that were resigned in protest at the authorities' heavy-handed suppression of the demonstrations.
Mr Cameron will also have known that Denis MacShane's characterisation of the Crown Prince of Bahrain as "Bahrain's torturer-in-chief" was well wide of the mark.
Lewes, East Sussex
Courtesy the key
As a pedestrian, a cyclist, a bus-user, a motorist and a delivery-van driver, I am very disappointed by the recent correspondence concerning pedestrian v cyclist v motorist v trucker etc.
There are thoughtless, selfish people and courteous people whatever mode of transport they employ. It is up to us on the courteous side to attempt to educate the others, no matter how they are travelling.
Some years ago, the editor's report on a book of mine which the University of Virginia Press were publishing included the immortal remark, "Never in my life have I come across so many relentlessly fused infinitives" (letters, 31 May).
Professor Nicholas Lash
Perspectives on drug prohibition
We can find a way to reduce the demand for cocaine
Mary Anne Sieghart (30 May) says there must be a better way of dealing with the drug problem, and there is, one which does not involve the decriminalisation which many would consider irresponsible. To date, the Government's millions have been spent in trying to reduce the supply of drugs. Very little time, money or thought has been given to reducing the demand.
The Colombian government has a campaign focusing on the environment, and the British government has a project dealing with health and similar issues. Young people ignore these issues. But no one has dealt with the immense damage caused to the very poor, and particularly children, in the Third World.
Our researcher in Colombia has evidence of the mass graves of 300 children who have outlived their usefulness to the drug cartels. Our information is that children are taken from their families and deliberately addicted to cocaine. The boys have to help produce cocaine and the girls are prostitutes for the drug armies. When they are worn out they are shot.
If young people knew these horrendous facts, there would almost certainly be a groundswell of disapproval towards users. They would be regarded as a "depraved older generation, losers". Cocaine use would be comparable with blood diamonds, apartheid, ivory, and slavery.
The charity FWP Hibiscus produced a film in 2005, the story of a drug mule. But the proposal of a further film, with the same team, aimed at reducing the demand by aiming at the latent idealism of young people, has met with refusals from various government departments, the Customs and police.
Tass and Alured Darlington
White Line Anti-Cocaine Campaign, London W7
It's really a war against the legal ban on narcotics
One sentence stands out in Mary Ann Sieghart's excellent critique of the war on drugs. She says, "The evidence now is that the prohibition creates at least as much harm as the drugs do, if not more".
Of course, if prohibition had achieved its primary objective drugs would by now be causing little if any harm. In reality, the "war" on drugs is now predominantly a "war" on the consequences of prohibition's failure, confirmed by the bizarre transformation, in 1997, of UN International Drug Control Programme into the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
It is perhaps understandable that our leading politicians would be cautious about immediately introducing wholesale reform of drug-control policy. Given the overwhelming evidence of the massive worldwide damage prohibition's failure is causing, it is incomprehensible that they have set their faces so resolutely against an objective and comprehensive review that could finally give us a drug-control policy that actually worked.
Clutching the tiger's tail
The war on drugs will not end, for drugs are merely the tail of the tiger. From Iran-Contra to the conflicts today in the Middle and Far East, much of the weaponry and war-making capability is fuelled by drug money. Thus, the war on drugs is one of the bases of the world economy and is vital to the financial and arms markets. These forces, the real rulers of America, which is the driver behind world drug policy, have compelled the electorate to supply a nearly unlimited flow of tax money for their use.
In addition, the domestic American punishment industry is enormous, and the more restrictive the drug policies, the more money these people make. It is corruption through and through, using people as a commodity. Money and its influence is why sitting politicians refuse to touch drug policy.
Los Angeles, California, USA
Swiss have shown the way
Thanks to Mary Ann Sieghart for a gutsy column. My fondest hope is that her speaking truth to power will embolden the powerful to speak truth. To those frightened by the word "legalise", I suggest the world follow the Swiss to reduce opiates bought on the street. Then meth and cocaine will become less prevalent and cannabis smoking won't change.
Palm Harbor, Florida, USA
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