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Monday 28 December 2009
Letters: Year of anniversaries
What a year 2009 has been for anniversaries
With 2009 approaching its end, it seems appropriate to look back at the amazing abundance of anniversaries this year. Five centuries ago (1509), Henry VIII became king. And it is two and a half centuries since Kew Gardens began, and the births of William Wilberforce, who ended the British slave trade, and Robert Burns whose love was "like a red, red rose".
Two centuries back (1809), another poet, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, was born; two statesmen, W E Gladstone and Abraham Lincoln and, of course, Charles Darwin. The Origin of Species was published a century and a half ago.
On the high street, Sainsbury's celebrates 140 years and Marks & Spencer 125. Sadly, Woolworths closed 100 years after the opening of its first British store in Liverpool. One hundred and twenty years ago, two men were born whose personas included black moustaches: Charlie Chaplin and Hitler. It is 90 years since the Treaty of Versailles was signed, 70 since the Second World War began and 65 since D-Day was launched.
This year is the centenary of Louis Bleriot's first aeroplane flight across the Channel and 40 years since man landed on the moon. Sixty years ago, legal aid began; George Orwell's last book, 1984, was published and (of no relevance except to me and close family) I was born.
Communism was established in China and Cuba 60 and 50 years ago respectively. Fifty years ago, music legend Buddy Holly died in a plane crash and 40 years back the Beatles played their last concert on a blustery rooftop in central London.
Thirty years ago, Britain's first woman Prime Minister was elected, and it is 20 years since Tiananmen Square and the fall of the Berlin Wall. In 1992, Francis Fukuyama wrote his book, The End of History and the Last Man. But history still has stings in its tail.
Our future must lie in renewables
Although the failure at Copenhagen may have raised questions about nuclear power ("Low carbon price threatens investment crucial to meet UK green goals", 22 December), there is huge potential in renewables.
Research reviewed in the November issue of Scientific American shows renewables can meet 100 per cent of the world's energy needs (not just electricity) and that it is technically feasible to do it by 2030. This is in line with other reports showing how to decarbonise the world's economies via renewables and improvements in efficiency.
For example, the US National Academy of Sciences reported this year that wind power could supply more than 40 times present worldwide consumption of electricity and more than five times total global use of energy in all forms.
Another report, from the European Environment Agency, shows that the "economically competitive potential" of wind-power in Europe is three times projected demand for electricity in 2020 and seven times projected demand in 2030. Offshore wind-power alone could meet between 60 per cent and 70 per cent of projected European demand for electricity in 2020, and about 80 per cent of projected demand in 2030.
A report from the Tyndall Centre shows that photovoltaics could generate about 266 TWh in the UK, 66 per cent of the UK's present electricity demand. The supposed problem of variability in wind-power is much less of an issue than is sometimes suggested. There is a range of techniques available for matching variable supplies with constantly varying demands.
A recent report, Nuclear Subsidies, from the Energy Fair group, shows how the real cost of nuclear power is disguised by several subsidies. Without those subsidies, nuclear power would not begin to compete with renewables, regardless of the price of CO2 emissions.
Dr Gerry Wolff
Energy Fair, Menai Bridge, Anglesey
I am troubled by apocalyptic visions as a result of our inability to deal collectively with climate change, culminating in the tragic failure at Copenhagen. What has become abundantly clear is that the human instinct of self-interest transcends reason. And that law-of-the-jungle mentality will ultimately lead to our extinction.
The apocalyptic visions to which I refer are not those related to the terrifying physical effects of global warming, floods, famines, storms, droughts. These will all come in time but probably long after our pitiful, shameful generation has been and gone. Instead, I refer to the equally terrifying changes that will be imposed on us far sooner.
Sooner or later, the truth, scale and severity of the climate chaos that will be unleashed on us will be irrefutable. It will by then be too late to avoid although, nevertheless, we will try; but the magnitude of the actions we would need to take will be too great to be left to nations and individuals. So they will be imposed on us.
We will have failed to exercise our freedoms and liberties with responsibility, and so we will have them removed. Since it is our rapacious demand for energy and food that drives the whole mess then all our activity that fuels that demand will be strictly limited by the state. Worse still, the states themselves will have their oversight and enforcement policies monitored by global military powers.
Of course, it will not work, and there will be mass population migrations and wars before the planet takes its ultimate revenge on our profligacy. Most people can envision those developments but do they also see the inevitable Orwellian state that will be with us far earlier?
If China, the US and others are unwilling to make the necessary commitments to help reduce global warming, then those who are willing to make the sacrifices should impose a carbon duty on all imports from China, US etc.
This tax could be given to those developing countries most at risk from the effects of global warming.
How to cut down the NHS legal bill
The massive legal bills incurred by the NHS in medical negligence claims reveal only part of the story; the final cost is much higher ("Scandal of lawyers' NHS payout bills", 15 December).
The NHS is clearly intent on fighting all negligence claims, irrespective of their merits. Not only does this result in colossal legal bills for the taxpayer, but it also forces the victims of medical negligence to go through the additional trauma of court action. This must deter many genuine claims, particularly since not all of the victims will be eligible for legal aid.
There are two alternative approaches that would offer swifter justice at a fraction of the cost. One is to establish an independent ombudsman to adjudicate, styled along the lines of the financial services ombudsman scheme.
The other is to set up a mediation scheme, following the Acas model to encourage settlement before cases reach the tribunal stage.
Morally unfair way to aid recovery
Personally, I don't want to learn from the Irish government (Hamish McRae, 16 December). Hacking huge chunks out of people's income seems an odd way to fuel recovery. Then there is the moral unfairness of the whole thing.
Why should the people who did the least to cause the crisis pay the greatest price? Here, some cuts are obvious: Trident, pointless imperialist adventures to curry favour with US hawks, failed computer systems.
That gets us on our way to the first £100bn and gives our foreign policy a more modest moral compass. Then we could rebalance the Sheriff-of-Nottingham tax system with a little Robin-Hood redistribution.
Finally, am I naive to ask why the banks don't repay some of the cash Gordon took from my pocket without a vote? Or isn't that the sort of question I am meant to ask?
If cheques go, then our society suffers
I have written 14 cheques over five months in circumstances where I could probably have paid by card (letters, 26 December). But, in the same period, I also wrote 10 cheques to payees who could not possibly accepted payment by card, to clubs, small charities and the like.
There are thousands of these small groups, some with local membership and support and others countrywide. These little community-interest groups are part of what makes us Britain, and if they are damaged the whole of our society is damaged.
Are we to decline into a soulless corporate state, in which the only recognised use of money is for making purchases from big businesses? Or are we destined to become a cash economy, in which people have to risk carrying large sums, and tax evasion is facilitated? The banks should think again about their social responsibility.
My wallet, containing my credit cards and cash/debit card, was stolen on 10 December. Stopping the cards and ordering replacements was easy because all are registered with a card protection scheme.
My replacement Egg card arrived on 14 December, my replacement Amex card on 16 December and even my replacement senior railcard on 17 December, but I am still waiting for a replacement cash/debit card from my bank.
Because I have no cash/debit card I can no longer use online banking, so I had to send a cheque to EDF, and had to go with chequebook and passport to my bank for cash. What emergency arrangements do banks intend to put in place when they withdraw cheques?
Who did what and when for Dr Who
Golly, Pandora must be a young whippersnapper if she thinks Russell T Davies was the creator of Dr Who (24 December).
Admittedly, he breathed new life into the adventures of the eponymous Time Lord but, putting aside the presumption that the Doctor is the progeny of a mummy and daddy Time Lord on the planet Gallifrey, he was first brought to our attention in 1963 by several people at the BBC, including head of drama Sydney Newman, head of script department Donald Wilson, writers C E Webber and Anthony Coburn, story editor David Whitaker and producer Verity Lambert.
Ironically, 1963 was the year Russell T Davies was born.
Your reporter writes, "... the Archbishop of Canterbury suggested that children were forced to grow up too quickly in his Christmas sermon" (26 December). Whatever he was preaching must have been strong stuff.
Why all the fuss about the coming increase in postage stamps? I have sufficient stamps from my incoming post to last until June. This year, at least 45 per cent of all envelopes received have not been franked and the stamps can be re-used. I have had 100-plus letters and cards in the past three weeks and more than 45 have unmarked stamps. This equates to £17 or £18 lost to the Post Office. Multiply by, say, 800,000 to one million households and the PO has lost about £18m. What a way to run a business.
Face-off with the law
There has been a lot of talk about the wearing of the burqa in this country. But, since it is not required by religion, and is only a personal preference, how would it be if all of us were to hide our faces? Since it appears not to be illegal, it seems possible for every man, woman, youth, yob or criminal to walk the streets legally masked. Could this be stopped by police because these new wearers are not Muslim? Would that mean one section of society being given preferential treatment over another?
J H Moffatt
Ian Burrell writes (14 December) that Notting Hill is the "epicentre" of trendy London eating. So, all those trendy eaters are scoffing away underground, maybe at the junction of the Central and Circle lines? The word "epicentre" has a precise meaning: the point or small area directly above the focus of an earthquake or tremor. It is not just a longer way of saying "centre". Is the old trade of sub-editor now as extinct as those of the linotype operator and the tea-lady?
Your correspondents Brian Lile and Doug Meredith (letters, 22 and 24 December), with their ears tuned to pick up broadcast items which combine the meteorological with the tautological, would have appreciated the BBC weather forecaster who promised "a good deal of sunshine during daylight hours".
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