Letters: Get real about climate change

Sunday 23 October 2011 00:32

Neither wood-burning nor nuclear power generation is as terrible as your correspondents aver (letters, 21 and 27 October). But both massively underestimate the impact of climate change, by far humanity's greatest man-made threat. To take our eye off that ball for the sake of well-meaning concerns over carcinogens in woodsmoke or the "dangers" of nuclear waste is to fiddle with purist hobby-horses while civilisation burns.

It is important that burning wood is fairly carbon-neutral because the alternative for most people with fires is coal, our most carbon-polluting fuel.

However, in a planet with over six billion people, a key part of the solution is not wood-burning but nuclear power. In a heating world it is irrelevant that nuclear waste takes so many years to lose its radioactivity, when nuclear power emits no greenhouse gases.

If the price to pay for a significant reduction in carbon dioxide emission were that we all continue to live with radioactive waste stored overground, it would still be a price worth paying. Happily, we don't even have to do that: proposals to deal with waste by burying it are sophisticated and safe. If we can't live with that, where are the realistic proposals for the production of base-load energy? We can't store electricity and the renewable sources available to us are too unreliable to plug the gap.

Old-school environmentalists really have to grow up and learn a bit of pragmatism – and fast. It really won't do to keep on saying "no" to everything that works while the world gets inexorably hotter.

John Clinch, London EC2

Your balanced article of 28 October speaks of the development of windfarms coming off the rails in the face of public opposition. Yet again the British public is showing good sense.

Grotesque wind turbines in our countryside and shoreline are nothing more than fatuous tokenism. They blight our beautiful countryside and are a menace to our natural habitats and feathered friends, with no substantial benefit. Nuclear energy is clean and relatively inexpensive.

Being Green does also mean protecting the countryside.

Steve O'Connell, Assembly Member (C) for Croydon and Sutton Greater London Authority

You report on "local campaigners slowing down windfarm applications". In some cases yes, this is selfish obstructionism. However, each case needs to be considered carefully.

Growing up on the west coast of Scotland, I have seen what a hot topic windfarms can be. You wouldn't place a windfarm next to Stonehenge. It is not necessarily that it would be an "eyesore" but that there are many areas much better suited which are much less inhabited. Personally I am all for windfarms and there are many areas in Scotland, including Kintyre, that would suit perfectly.

Lauren Inglis, Glasgow

Am I alone in spotting a contradiction in government policy? We are all meant to swallow the £83bn spending cuts, to address a problem not of our making. Yet at the same time, the Government plans to spend £500bn on eight new nuclear reactors, with all the attendant risks of human error, terror targeting, and still no solution to the vast stockpile of toxic waste.

Perhaps we don't want to pay for all this dangerous and obsolete technology. Perhaps a fifth of that sum spent seriously on sun, wind and wave power would balance the books, while producing energy a lot more safely.

Rollo Maughfling, Archdruid of Stonehenge and Britain, Swansea

Humane way to kill lobsters

Tom Aikens claims that chefs can guarantee lobsters are killed humanely "because it happens in your own kitchen" ("In the heat of the kitchen, a knife is the quickest solution", 27 October). However, scientific research has shown that his "traditional" methods of killing lobsters, by cutting with a knife or freezing before cooking, are in fact not humane, and the animal is likely to take several minutes to die. The most humane way to kill a lobster is by electrical stunning, using a machine such as the Crustastun (report, 27 October).

Increasingly scientific understanding of lobsters' nervous systems and behaviour indicates that they are in fact sentient and likely to experience pain and suffering. Physiological studies of lobsters show that they are very stressed by the process of catching, handling, transport and being kept out of water. When they are cooked alive they make vigorous efforts to escape.

In addition, their complex behaviour shows that they can recognise and remember painful or threatening objects or situations and try to avoid them. They also have the ability to learn, to make discriminations and show some understanding and memory both of places and of other individuals.

With this ever-increasing knowledge comes a responsibility to modernise our laws and practices so as to reduce unnecessary suffering.

Ross Minett

Campaigns Director, OneKind, Edinburgh

All in this together

D S A Murray says that expecting the private sector to fund the "bloated bureaucracy" of the public sector is a "false economy" (letter, 25 October).

It's too soon to know what the impact of the cuts will be on the millions of private-sector jobs currently servicing the public sector, let alone the many borderline, bloated businesses that can ill afford the reduction in customer spending that these cuts will create.

Let's overlook the obvious facts that millions of public-sector workers work very hard for little money, and that millions of private-sector managers and company directors are ridiculously overpaid and, frankly, useless. My guess is that none of this will matter when we find out the real meaning of false economies.

David Woods, Hull

No Dunkirk in Afghanistan

It is critical that a deal is made with Russia allowing the transit of all military equipment to and from Afghanistan, not only for the re-supply effort but for the eventual withdrawal, which once started will take years ("Russia steps in to help Nato", 27 October).

Nato, the US and the UK have not only more than 150,000 troops and civilians in Afghanistan, but billions of dollars' worth of their most up-to-date military hardware. The personnel can be flown out. But the US lacks the airlift capacity to remove the fighting vehicles and other heavy items. The majority of this equipment will have to be removed by land routes.

US military logistics is straining to remove its equipment from Iraq by December 2011, even with the advantage of not being under threat of enemy action and with dedicated modern highways to the port in Kuwait.

Unless a deal is struck with Russia, withdrawal of the equipment from Afghanistan by 2015 is highly unlikely. Mr Cameron would not want to go into a general election with British military vehicles abandoned in the Afghanistan desert, reminding British voters of the images of the beaches of Dunkirk.

George D Lewis, Brackley, Northamptonshire

US bleats about 'interfering' Iran

Adrian Hamilton is right in his criticism of US policy over Iran's involvement with its neighbours (Opinion, 28 October).

I never cease to be amazed at the American reaction to Iran in this context: if we were to reverse roles, it would not be difficult to imagine their response if, for example, the Chinese had sent an army to occupy Mexico. Yet we get constant bleats about Iran "interfering" in Iraq and Afghanistan, regardless of the Americans having themselves hundreds of thousands of troops and mercenaries in those two countries alone.

Only last week, the State Department spokesman Philip Crowley was quoted as saying that the United States has "long-standing" concerns about Iran's meddling in Iraq's affairs. If nothing else, this speaks for a quite colossal lack of self-awareness in the State Department.

Richard Carter, London SW15

Helping men to live longer

Men's lives are too short but men's genes play only a small part in this ("The real reason women outlive men: it's all a matter of breeding", 25 October).

We know that other factors are much more important because the difference between men's and women's life expectancy varies hugely from country to country. Even in the UK men's life expectancy varies greatly depending on social class. Men in social class 1 can expect 80 years of life, but in social class 5 only 72.7 years. Mortality rates are also far higher for men in manual work than for professionals.

We need to get more men physically active, tackle men's mental health problems and address men's high cancer rates. We need health services to work better for men, especially primary care. This will tackle men's poor health. Blaming male biology will not.

Peter Baker, Chief Executive, Men's Health Forum, London SE1

Football's finances

Your leading article (15 October) on the Premier League's role in regulating the finances and governance of our member clubs was clearly written from the heart and not the brain.

The Premier League presides over the most equitable distribution structure in European football and has taken financial regulation and governance to a place few would have imagined possible even a few years back. The introduction of licensing criteria, a strengthened owners' and directors' test, future financial information, now required on a change of ownership as well as every season, combined with the means and abilities test, creates a framework that encourages responsible and sustainable financial management by the clubs.

It is far better to have regulation that the clubs have bought in to and willingly submit to than a system that precludes responsible development and still doesn't safeguard against financial mismanagement, debt and irresponsible ownership.

It is simply not true that a majority of our clubs are running unsustainable losses. Most make operating profits – indeed last season we reclaimed our crown as the most profitable league in Europe from the Bundesliga. Add to this the highest stadia occupancy rates in Europe, the strongest revenue streams, the most money redistributed down the football pyramid and our huge international appeal, and the picture for English football is not quite so black.

Dan Johnson, The Football Association Premier League, London W1

A newspaper for tough times

I grew up in the 1950s when things were, by today's standards, tough. The drop in everyone's standard of living which the Cameron-Clegg cuts presage will no doubt bring echoes of the Attlee-Churchill era, when scrimping and saving were the order of the day, but there were few accompanying cries of anguish.

I notice that The Independent is getting us back into the mood of those drab days by reverting to black-and-white reproduction of the photographs on many of its pages. It makes one realise how, in the past few years, we had taken near-100 per cent colour pictures for granted. I'm not sure whether I'm complaining or not.

Alan Bunting, Harpenden, Hertfordshire

We are new converts to The Independent, having escaped the political bias and proprietorial influence of The Times. We are thoroughly enjoying the content, particularly Mary Ann Sieghart's column.

The bonus from my husband's point of view is being able to read The Independent in bed, without my getting very irate about printer's ink on sheets.

Connie Francis, Reading

Affordable housing

Government moves to redefine social housing are long overdue ("New tenants face soaring rents to fund construction", 21 October) but this must result in a workable solution that ensures the most vulnerable have a roof over their heads. Identifying where this safety net is needed and where it is not is an absolute imperative. Alongside this, we must also become a lot smarter about providing affordable housing that can be built without money from the public purse.

If you are going to channel people on social tenancy waiting lists on to "intermediate rents" then there must also be a path to home ownership for the growing numbers of people who can't afford ordinary open-market housing. Many such people – nowadays referred to as the squeezed middle – are on low to moderate incomes and will be neither eligible for social housing or able to afford rising private rents.

We need to innovate the planning system so that we can create clear paths through which the private sector can deliver homes for these people, reserving government funds for the families that most need it. Otherwise plans for social housing will amount to nothing more than tinkering around the edges.

Marc Vlessing, Director, Pocket, Private developer of affordable housing, London W1


Presidents Obama and Medvedev are to negotiate a reduction in their nuclear arsenals. In view of the Russian willingness to supply helicopters to Nato forces in Afghanistan, could not the Russian navy be persuaded to sell a redundant nuclear missile submarine as a replacement for Trident? Little used with one careful owner, it could be a bargain.

Alan Meikle, Ledbury, Herefordshire


This morning on Radio 4's Today programme, in a discussion about some assessment or other of police forces, it was asserted several times that "adequate" is "not good enough". I am left wondering whether we should accept this apparent change in yet another word's usage, or is it time to say enough is enough?

Jonathan Wallace, Newcastle upon Tyne

PERSPECTIVES on voting reform

Give them the fear of defeat

Steve Richards (Opinion, 28 October), writing about the forthcoming AV referendum, remarks that "voters are self-interested" but omits the most powerful point of self-interest – which is that it is in all our interests if the voting system requires candidates to work hard and to face the fear of defeat.

The current electoral system performs abysmally on that score, with nearly half the seats never having changed hands between political parties even once in the past 40 years. Changing the voting system to AV will reduce the number of such safe seats, forcing politicians to work harder to win our support – and also encouraging less of the narrow-minded Punch-and-Judy style as politicians are forced to appeal across traditional party lines for the lower preferences of voters who give their first preferences to other candidates.

Mark Pack, London N19

This is not a fair vote

Steve Richards, as always, writes well about the Machiavellian manoeuvring over the referendum on the alternative vote system.

Yet our politicians have no mandate to meddle with the electoral system. Following the expenses scandal and the incompetence over the economy, trust in our parliamentary system is in short supply. It does nothing to rebuild that trust when the proposals for electoral reform appear to have everything to do with gaining electoral advantage. Conscientious MPs, who put the wellbeing of the nation above personal advancement, must be having sleepless nights.

They would be relieved of this worry if the electorate were given real choice over electoral reform. A proper referendum should offer every reasonable system. I am outraged that we should, grudgingly, be allowed to choose between the alternative vote and first-past-the-post. By what right do the politicians restrict our choice in this way?

It will be argued that the electorate is not really interested. Of course the electorate will not be interested in something they can do nothing about. However, if real choice were to be offered, then I would expect a vigorous debate.

Following a referendum and an election under the new rules, Parliament would at least have a proper mandate. It might also go some way to restoring confidence in our dilapidated legislature.

David McKaigue, Thornton Hough, Merseyside

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