Looming energy crisis, Apology from Blair and others

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The Independent Online

Don't rely on hydrogen to solve the looming energy crisis

Don't rely on hydrogen to solve the looming energy crisis

Sir: Your excellent two-page spread on the dilemma of soaring demand for oil in the face of static supplies was marred only by Hamish McRae's apparent complacency ("Higher oil prices are just what we need", 29 September). His statement that "What we do know is, that as coal was displaced by oil, so oil will be replaced by something else", is wildly optimistic. We actually know the exact opposite: that there is simply no replacement, even on the far horizon, for the cheap oil on which global society utterly depends.

Oil replaced coal not because of a coal famine but because it was much more energy-dense, transportable and adaptable to a huge range of uses; it was quite simply a much better fuel, just as coal had earlier been seen as a far better fuel than wood.

But there is nothing out there better than oil. We may have to resort to nuclear power, but not because it is a cheaper, better fuel than oil. The much-touted "hydrogen economy" is a red-herring; the production of hydrogen involves huge energy losses, only to produce a fuel which is also far less convenient and practical than oil.

Coal, natural gas and oil, the fossil fuels, are a capital reserve of millions of years of stored sunlight which we will have used up between the mid-19th and mid-21st centuries. Having squandered this "capital" we will be back to living on solar "income" - current sunlight in the form of solar, wind, biofuels and other "renewables". These will be both scarce and expensive because of their low energy density in comparison with oil, while biofuels will compete for land with food production.

The imminent energy crisis has correctly been described by one oil expert as "the greatest discontinuity in human history". For how much longer do our politicians think they can hide it?

Netherwitton, Northumberland

The only apology we really want from Blair

Sir: Blair feels that he cannot honestly apologise for removing Hussein from power. Well that's convenient for him then - currently the nation isn't asking him to.

We're asking him to apologise for allowing his underlings to remove caveats from intelligence assessments (or encouraging their "mates" at the JIC to do so), then using the subsequent propaganda to deceive Parliament into supporting a spurious and premeditated war of aggression at the behest of Washington.

Whether or not removing Hussein from power was a sensible course of action remains to be seen. Later the nation may well demand his apology for replacing Hussein with a new dictator, theocracy or civil war. For now, his apology for the aforementioned and blatant complicity in the jingoistic machinations of the Washington "crazies" will suffice - and nothing short of it will do.

Reading, Berkshire

Sir: Tony Blair is right not to apologise for taking us to war in Iraq. Saddam Hussein declared war against Israel in 1967 and in 1973, against Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990. He massacred both the Kurds and the Iraqi Shias and perpetrated a savage terror against the general Iraqi population. His support of suicide bombing was wrong and tragic for some Isrealis and all Palestinians. Saddam Hussein is directly responsible for a body count that runs well into seven figures.

It is against this background that Mr Blair had to consider his past possession and use of chemical weapons and the still undisputed fact that he could not account for the disposal of remaining stocks. This would lead any sensible person to conclude that he still possessed the weapons.

It is odd that it seems no such weapons exist after all, but this is another exhibit for the prosecution against Saddam Hussein. He exposed the people of Iraq to a decade of needless sanctions.

I find it odd that Saddam's track record could not persuade the UN to support his removal unanimously. In future perhaps the UN will be much more careful about meaning what it says when it issues a resolution. That it is still in danger of becoming a talking shop armed with a sternly wagging finger and no credibility shouldn't make anyone comfortable. Particularly if you live in Darfur.

I cannot understand the moral perspective of people who, in opposing this war, by default ally themselves with Saddam Hussein. He would still be in power and we would still think he had weapons of mass destruction if we had not gone to war. This is what Saddam Hussein would have wanted.

Loughborough, Leicestershire

Sir: I find it impossible to see how there can be an argument about the legality of this war: it is illegal. The UN warned Iraq that if it did not comply with UN resolutions, there would be serious consequences (war not actually specified); it was the UN which had to decide what action was necessary, and authorise its members to take that action. Since this had not happened before the attack, or since, we are thus behaving as international vigilantes.

Guisborough, Redcar and Cleveland

Sir: Nothing justifies this or any prime minister taking our country to war on flawed intelligence. The CEO of a commercial company who failed to carry out due diligence before making a decision that would cause serious harm to his firm would be dismissed.

In this case, the consequences are infinitely more damaging. Thousands of lives have been lost and the Middle East destabilised to a degree that threatens the entire international community. Mr Blair should have listened to his electorate, not to the beguiling voices of his inner ego who promised him immortality. The terrorists who are promised virgins in heaven are equally misdirected.

Westbourne, Dorset

Sir: Tony Blair has very reluctantly apologised over the faulty intelligence used to take us to war in Iraq but immediately afterwards stated that he will not apologise for removing Saddam Hussein. Yet I distinctly remember him standing up in Parliament right before he sent in the troops and stating that this whole saga was not about regime change but about weapons of mass destruction. So Mr Blair will forgive us if we do not fully believe him.

London W14

Hostages' plight

Sir: Cahal Milmo tells us of the sad plight of Kenneth Bigley (30 September). He also quotes Mr Blair's response to criticism from the Bigley family: "I feel absolutely sick about what has happened. I feel desperately sorry for Ken Bigley and the whole of his family."

I would guess that most people in the UK feel the same, especially when confronted with the pathetic image of the man in his cage featured on the front pages of most of the papers. But aren't we forgetting something?

Yes, the identical plight of four other Britishers held for the past three years by the US at Guantanamo Bay. Surely, now is the time to remind our Prime Minister of the "special relationship" he is supposed to have with Mr Bush.

Mr Blair pleads that he has difficulty contacting Ken Bigley's hostage takers and goes on to say: "Of course, if they did make contact, that is something we would immediately respond to." As Mr Blair has no difficulty contacting Mr Bush, why then are the other Britons still being held illegally by the Americans?

Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands

Save the suburbs

Sir: The Deputy Prime Minister's proposal to build new houses on "surplus land" sounds worryingly vague ("Prescott promises cut-price homes", 27 September), particularly when looked at alongside the Government's plan to relax laws protecting the Green Belt from development. Helping first-time buyers get on the property ladder is an important goal, but the Government must not be allowed to concrete over our rapidly diminishing green spaces to achieve it.

Mr Prescott's house-building targets are a devastating threat to Britain's Green Belt and open spaces. In areas like Barnet, for example, the Government would like to see 43,000 new homes built. Such an increase would completely change the character of the area and put a big strain on already stretched public services.

Despite the fact that so many of us live in suburbs, they seldom receive more than cursory attention from policy-makers. Labour's house-building programme threatens the suburban communities that have been the backbone of social stability in Britain for well over a century.

If the Government is genuinely committed to preserving our environment, they must start listening to the suburbs and to those who have fought for the preservation of the Green Belt since its inception 75 years ago.

(Conservative, London)

After deer-hunting

Sir: Almost all the discussion about a ban on hunting with hounds has centred on fox-hunting.

In large parts of the South-west, red deer are numerous and stag-hunting is as important as fox-hunting. I am no supporter of stag-hunting, but I am concerned about the alternatives. The Government appears to have given no thought to what will happen to red deer in areas such as Exmoor and the Quantocks if hunting ceases.

At present, very few deer are shot in these areas, as it is the "done thing" to leave them for the hunt and their presence is tolerated because of the tradition of hunting. Nevertheless, large herds of deer can be very damaging to crops and grass. In the absence of the hunt, farmers would soon become less tolerant and would begin to take matters into their own hands. If uncontrolled, shooting of deer would be indiscriminate. Not only would this lead to frequent injury and suffering, but it would be bad for the health of the deer population.

If operated correctly, stag-hunting is much more selective than most people realise, with weaker stags being identified and targeted in advance of hunting where possible. This is a natural process that maintains population health and that could only be replaced by selective stalking by experienced marksmen. This may require that deer could only be shot under licence instead of being classed as vermin as at present.

Crediton, Devon

Rustic idyll

Sir: I am not quite sure what point T P O'Connor is trying to make about Long Marston (letter, 27 September). His choice of phrase to describe the village was, however, telling - we apparently "serve" as a commuter village. I challenge him to name any village in Yorkshire (indeed the UK) that does not. Presumably this function differentiates us from all the other villages that consist solely of inbred yokels.

Quintessentially rural? Actually Long Marston is the epitome of ruralness. We have all the usual delights: aggressive speeding drivers; a shortage of affordable housing; complaints about the smell; no shop; few buses; drive everywhere on roads full of potholes; hours for the police to arrive, if indeed they arrive at all; my children refused entry to local school because their places are taken by incomers; dogs running free and frightening our stock; fly tipping; burnt-out cars.

If he thinks that the only people that live in Long Marston are commuters from Leeds and York then he has more than confirmed my original complaint that country folk are non-persons: truly we are invisible! I can assure T P O'Connor that we were plenty rural enough for the delightful Johann Hari ("My days in hell", 25 September). Is there anybody out there wearing a smock and driving a horse and cart who would like to host his next brave foray into the untamed wilderness beyond the M25?

Long Marston, North Yorkshire

Something of the day

Sir: Conservative politicians are up in arms at the "in the dark" excuse offered by Jack Straw for his handshake with Robert Mugabe. Conversely, those people introduced to Michael Howard in daylight hours could not be blamed for failing to recognise him.

West Felton, Shropshire

New Jaguars

Sir: Jeremy Warner writes that Jaguar cars are "notoriously unreliable" (Outlook, 18 September). Jaguar's quality record has been transformed. The authoritative indicator on automotive quality, J D Power, has highlighted in its latest survey that the Jaguar brand was the leading European manufacturer. Jaguar was ranked third overall and the new XJ saloon was ranked second in the premium luxury car segment. Jeremy Warner also implied that Jaguar had no diesel engines. We actually have two, in both the X-type and S-type range. Both have received media acclaim.

Manager Corporate Affairs
Jaguar Cars

Atlantic drift

Sir: As a generalisation the press reflects the underlying emotional and intellectual response of their readers to events. With heated arguments for and against the re-election of President Bush, no such furore occurs with European elections. It suggests we lack emotional and intellectual ties with Europe. We do not see ourselves as European, which questions why we should persist in the pretence.

Clapham, Bedfordshire

Time travel

Sir: Time will reverse after 2650, when the winner of the Olympic 100m women's event that year will finish before she starts. This major looming disaster is surely to be studied next by the Oxford scientists predicting the continuing linear downward trend in winning times of 100m runners ("Women of the future are on track to run faster than men", 30 September).

Banchory, Aberdeenshire