Letters: Nothing green about burning wood for electricity

The following letters appear in the 7th January edition of the Independent

Wednesday 06 January 2016 18:35
The electricity generated by Drax accounts for about 7 or 8 per cent of the total power of the National Grid
The electricity generated by Drax accounts for about 7 or 8 per cent of the total power of the National Grid

By burning wood pellets instead of coal Drax power station has turned green, according to your report “Green energy: How one power plant chips away at the UK’s carbon footprint” (5 January). We would strongly disagree.

The pellets for Drax are coming from the forests of south-east America where pellet exports have dramatically increased in recent years. The European Commission has this week opened an investigation to assess whether UK government plans to support the conversion of part of the Drax plant to operate on biomass are in line with EU state aid rules.

Wood pellets from the US are not made of only low-grade waste wood or residues that serve no other use. A majority of the pellets are made of whole, hardwood trees, harvested by vast clear cuts. A study by the American Forest & Paper Association confirmed that 76 per cent of the feedstocks used to produce pellets is pulpwood that could also be used for paper, packaging or wood panels.

The forests of the south-eastern US are the most biodiverse in North America. They protect water resources and provide storm protection. Left standing, they are a defence against climate change – they remove and store vast amounts of carbon. When harvested for energy, this carbon is released into the atmosphere, and while carbon is taken up in the growing process, the emission savings estimated by Drax ignore the impacts on the carbon storages of forests.

If plants such as Drax are allowed to get away with burning trees in place of coal in the name of reducing carbon emissions, all the progress made towards achieving a low-carbon energy future will be significantly undermined. Even worse, it will accelerate carbon emissions, while fast-tracking the destruction of forests across the globe.

Forests should generally not be looked to as a primary fuel source for generating electricity. Instead we should value them for their life-supporting climate, water, storm protection and biodiversity benefits and use the amount of wood that can be harvested sustainably in the most efficient way possible.

Jeremy Wates

Secretary General

European Environment Bureau, Brussels

Doctors must avoid pay trap

Adrian Whittaker’s well-argued defence of the decision to strike by junior doctors (letter, 6 January) made me think of a similar episode during my training as a hospital doctor in the 1970s.

One of the main differences was that we believed that the British Medical Association was our professional organisation, rather than our trade union, and would act in the best interests of the profession. Of course, we had the usual ill-founded criticisms of our proposed strike action by the politicians, with weasel words about being “disappointed” and accusing us of putting patients at risk, as though they had no responsibility in the matter.

Sadly, for many of us, the opportunity to reform working practices only resulted in the BMA negotiating more pay. I hope that my profession does not make the same mistake again.

Angus McPherson

Findon, West Sussex

Your sub-editors do a disservice to Jane Merrick’s thoughtful article on the junior doctor crisis (6 January) when they headline it on the front page: “A waitress by night, a junior doctor by day”. This will only add to confusion in the minds of the public about this dispute, as the article refers to a medical student, not a doctor, who was moonlighting as a waitress.

Junior doctors are not students but highly qualified doctors who in many cases are in their middle 30s or older, have several postgraduate qualifications and are in effect working as independent practitioners within the hospital; most are settled with families and mortgages and have a right to expect fair compensation for their very difficult work-life balance.

Dr Joanna Raeburn

London SE21

To the list of workers in the NHS backing the junior doctors’ stance (letter, 6 January), you can add the name of at least one patient: mine. And I can’t be alone.

Eddie Dougall

Walsham le Willows, Suffolk

Both Jeremy Hunt and the junior doctors are publicly funded. Who is of more use and benefit to the NHS and thus represents value for taxpayers’ money?

S Lawton

Kirtlington, Oxfordshire

Europe’s borders under pressure

The EU refugee crisis is a growing concern; with the intensity exacerbated by the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, unrest in Africa and instability in Libya, refugee migration exceeded 1 million in 2015. Migration is burgeoning under the conflict, so is it really a surprise that EU countries are now seeking control over their own borders within the Schengen Zone (“The end of Schengen?”, 5 January)?

I acknowledge the discomfort that exists as a byproduct of this decision, however it is a small price to pay for the security of one’s own country.

Aaron Trzcinski

London SW6

The European dream began as a western European club with free movement of people from the major western European member states. And like any manageable operation it worked well.

It all started to go wrong when the ex-communist eastern European countries with lower living standards became members. Not only did millions of poorly paid workers see gold in the west but it extended Europe’s borders to the volatile Balkans, Russian states and Asia, covering a vast area impossible to control, enabling millions of non-Europeans to try their luck.

We are now seeing the result of this insanity, as every poor and persecuted person in Africa and Asia believes they have a right to seek a better life in the richer and more liberal western European societies. And Angela Merkel has given millions all the encouragement they need to head west.

Peter Fieldman


Fewer schools open to boys

Girls who attend single-sex schools are at a disadvantage, according to Richard Cairns, headmaster of Brighton College, reported by Richard Garner (5 January). Predictably Caroline Jordan, president of the Girls’ Schools Association, does not agree.

For the past 13 years I have had a chance to gain my own perspective, having advised independent school parents on senior school options first in London, then in Sussex and most recently in Norwich, where I am head of a leading independent prep school. During that time, I have visited countless senior schools. Few have been for boys only, with the vast majority being either co-ed or all-girl. I have seen excellent examples of both and, in the belief that different schools suit different children, rejoice in the diversity the independent sector offers pupils.

Except that the choice is definitely more diverse if you are a girl. It can be much harder for boys to find a good place. So many fantastic options are simply not open to them. I have thought on a number of occasions visiting all-girls schools how much many of the boys I teach would enjoy and benefit from what they have to offer.

Just as many former boys’ schools have welcomed girls, while still maintaining their distinctiveness, I would like to see more all-girls schools welcoming boys.

Nicholas Bevington


Town Close School, Norwich

Among the effects of attending a single-sex girls’ school, not cited in Richard Garner’s article, were for me: an inability to treat boys as friends rather than boyfriends; a horror of socialising with groups of females; and suddenly discovering, in a mixed group at college, a whole different way of understanding many aspects of English literature.

Aline Turner

Falmouth, Cornwall

Growing power of backbench MPs

While Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to allow Labour MPs a free vote on Syria and David Cameron’s decision to let Tory MPs do the same on the EU are invariably viewed differently by a largely right-of-centre media, they both reflect an age when the power and influence of backbench and dissident MPs is growing at the expense of leaders.

That surely is no bad thing in general for parliamentary democracy. One might even see it as the legacy of Corbyn’s backbench revolts in the 1980s and 1990s.

Keith Flett

London N17

Odd attitude to lottery odds

It has always interested me that people seem to be convinced that they are in with a chance of a huge win in the lottery despite the enormous odds (letter, 6 January). If, however, the same odds were given against contracting a dreadful illness, they would feel completely safe.

Ann Smith


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