Alok Sharma is one of the few in our parliament who is aware that global ecological collapse is now well under way (“As Europe burns, climate chief warns: I may quit if new PM dumps net zero plan”, News). Showing his emotion at Cop26 revealed that his motivations are more profound than the usual desire for profit and personal status.
A recent paper by the UN Commons Cluster is urging that we need to rise above petty party political differences to fully address the escalating climate and ecological collapse. These existential crises are a global threat: if we cannot cooperate within our own borders, how can we provide worthy leadership to the rest of the world? I would like to see an emergency cross-party government established in the UK to begin to address the reality of ecological collapse. Tragically, our pursuit of GDP growth encourages us to increase all three of the key drivers of environmental damage: population, affluence and technology. We urgently need a new direction.
Long Hanborough, Oxfordshire
Covid risks were all too real
As a doctor with the erstwhile NHS Covid response team, and the father of teenage girls, I must take issue with Dr Breathnach (“Paying the price of lockdown”, Letters). The risks of Covid were not “vague”. We had real-life evidence from Italy of how a health system could be overwhelmed. Our response was time sensitive, and ultimately tardy, with more than 180,000 deaths. A time-consuming series of intergenerational debates was not feasible.
The mental health of young people is extremely important, and the cuts to child and adolescent mental health services further give the lie to the Tory boast that they “got the big calls right”. Few families have been left unscathed. However, when your house is on fire, you cannot commission a study into the demerits of water damage due to fire hoses. While many aspects of the pandemic were not handled well, treating the pandemic as a public health emergency was not a mistake.
Needless deaths of chickens
Jon Ungoed-Thomas’s article makes for sobering reading (“Every week one million chickens ‘die needlessly to keep prices low’”, News). To put the numbers in perspective, the 2001 cull to prevent the spread of foot-and-mouth disease saw some 6.5 million animals killed. This number will be exceeded on UK poultry farms by the time a new PM has taken office, and exceeded fourfold by Christmas. Regardless of one’s position on the farming of animals for meat, the scale of this needless death seems unjustifiable. That such deaths could be greatly reduced through initiatives such as the Better Chicken Commitment, and that many of our largest retailers refuse to make such a commitment, seems a damning indictment of our society’s relationship with the animals we consume.
Tell us what can be recycled
Thank you for an illuminating report about the sorry state of recycling in the UK (“We’re rubbish at recycling”, Special report). However, I feel the biggest issue is the public being set up to fail, owing to a lack of clear instructions given to households about what is recyclable and what isn’t.
My local council, Manchester City, provides three separate recycling collections but only very basic information to residents about what is accepted. Nothing about ‘the tennis ball rule’ or whether “compostable items” can be included with food waste; no instruction to wash items or information about what would contaminate the recycling process. Furthermore, there is a system of coding plastics for recycling but that isn’t explained to residents either.
The comment in the article of a rather over-enthusiastic recycler, James Piper, resonated for me: “It is better for people to recycle cautiously than to over-recycle.” If councils can provide more comprehensive information to households about how to better prepare their waste, the system might have a better chance of success.
Disturbing call for war
Simon Tisdall’s call for war by Nato against Russia is deeply disturbing (“Putin is already at war with Europe. There is only one way to stop him”, Foreign affairs commentary). Nato would undoubtedly win a conventional war against Russia and there is little doubt that, pushed into the corner of imminent defeat, Russia would revert to the means by which it could equalise the conflict, using nuclear weapons, probably on the battlefield at first. Tisdall’s call for Nato to defend Ukraine, therefore, is a clear willingness to countenance a nuclear holocaust as it would not be possible to contain a nuclear conflict once it started. However, he does not even make a passing reference to this, the biggest danger of the crisis.
China on the wane
If the loss of China’s global No 1 position in terms of population leads to a lower “soft power” ranking, think what the psychological effect a population collapse over the next few decades will have on the Chinese Communist party (“No longer the most populous, but still China wants to be the world’s number one”, Comment).
The UN’s global population project predicts a fall in China’s population to 1.3 billion by 2050 but this estimate may be too conservative. In May 2022, China’s own government statistics showed that the country’s fertility rate is already as low as 1.3 (lower than Japan’s and Europe’s) and in Empty Planet, authors Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson suggest the country’s population “could decline by almost half in this century”.
The CCP may have been right to invest heavily in soft power for the sake of international prestige but it may soon have to reduce its charm offensives in order to focus on maintaining its economic clout.
Keeping cool? It’s child’s play
After reading Katherine Latham’s “Body shock: the dangers of overheating” (News), I have hit on the best way to cool down in the “red alert” heatwave. I indulge in daily cooling of hot, tired feet in granddaughter’s baby paddling pool. Even one minute is totally refreshing. The water lasts for days and can be recycled in the garden. Makes me smile every time and brings out the child in me.