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Europe diary: Cars and carbon

8 February 2007

BBC Europe editor Mark Mardell on the European Commission's proposals for reducing carbon emissions from cars, the rise of climate change to the top of the political agenda, and a flag for Kosovo.

FOREIGN CARS

Everybody here has had a good laugh at the way some inside the European Commission have been outraged that Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas is talking about the possibility of buying an environmentally friendly car that (shock and horror!) may not be European.

VW Autostadt
VW group has plants in 11 European countries
After all, in the week that he unveiled new laws to cut carbon emissions to 130g per kilometre, he is still driving a Merc that pumps out 270g/km.

Although his staff now say he's looking for the most environmentally friendly European option, the early rumour was that he was after a Toyota Prius. Would he have become the first commissioner to drive a "foreign" car?

Visiting British ministers are bewildered by the EU's version of economic patriotism. They ask in what significant way is Toyota less European than BMW? The answer is obvious in one sense, but it also reveals a gulf that still exists.

To many in the EU, the company's origin is very important. Under the Anglo-Saxon model, it's where the jobs are that matters more. And Toyota has plants in the UK, France, Poland, Portugal and the Czech Republic compared to BMW in the UK, Germany and Austria. Which is more pan-European?

A LONG ROAD

It is of course quite proper to mock politicians, like the commissioners, for not setting a good moral example by driving smaller and more environmentally friendly cars.

UK Tory Party leader David Cameron with a Toyota Prius T Spirit
Politicians do not actually use these cars
But it is also missing the point. Their proposed new laws are not trying to force people to make a sacrifice, but aimed at changing the technology so people don't have to make a sacrifice.

Of course, the car manufacturers argue that that means it is they who have to make the sacrifice, and they will be lobbying hard. This is the beginning, not the end, of a rather long road.

It's a road I intend to keep a close eye on. I must confess that even after 18 months here the law-making process occasionally surprises, and usually bewilders me. So I am going to try to track this one in quite a lot of detail, making a start here.

The detail of the commission's proposal will be discussed by desk officers from the representations of the 27 EU countries first, to identify the big issues that may cause problems. It will then be discussed in one of the weekly meetings of EU ambassadors or their deputies. I will let you know what happens there next week.

ACCEPTED WISDOM

Climate change is, quite literally, top of the agenda. The other day someone asked me where our piece on Kosovo was running in the TV bulletin. "Dunno, I can't get into the running orders," I said, kicking my laptop morosely, and cursing Pristina internet connections.

Snow in Cyprus
It still snows sometimes, even in Cyprus
"Probably next to the weather," I replied... in other words, right at the end of the programme. Then it occurred to me that "the weather" was actually the lead item on that night's news.

I remember the first time the 10 O'clock News ran an item on climate change as its lead story. It seemed an eccentric and courageous decision. Now it is the accepted wisdom.

A THREAT TO US

But I wonder whether the desperate search for solutions blinds us to some of the big questions about the subject. It seems to me that for years the debate was hindered by the calls to "Save the Planet". It is quite clear the planet is doing quite nicely, thank you, and would continue to revolve on its axis if temperatures doubled tomorrow.

A Red Panda
We feel closer to some parts of the biosphere than others
What is threatened are higher life forms in general, and us in particular. What climate change will do is put under water places where people live, destroy the crops and water supplies they live on. It is because it would trigger unacceptable mass migration and deaths that it is a danger, not because we have some mystical union with the biosphere.

Let's face it, we want to save polar bears because they are furry and impressive and the Brazilian earwig doesn't get the same consideration. I'm sure if we had been around at the time we would have wanted to save Triceratops, too.

What people are talking about is reducing climate change, altering the way things are going at the moment. But if it is changing anyway, what is our attitude to that? If the polar ice caps are going to melt anyway, in thousands of years, should we be investing in technology to stop that natural process? Presumably keeping the environment static would put the brakes on evolution. Do we want to, should we want to do that?

STRONG MEMORIES

Although I am now back in Brussels, it is hard to stop thinking about Kosovo. I went to the village of Racak where more than 40 people died in a massacre by Serb police. It was the final straw which led to Nato intervention and Kosovo's current protected status.

Burials in Racak, February 1999
Burials in Racak, after the 1999 massacre
Given the suffering they have been through in the name of independence, I want to know what people in Kosovo make of the UN plan which falls short of this. Not only does it not fail to mention the word, which is merely tactical, but it also gives the ultimate power to an appointed Western politician.

Racak is a pretty village, in a valley, nestled amid mountains. There is a new mosque and boys are playing football by a narrow stream. I talk to a group of men outside the village shop. They say they waited 100 years for independence, and they hoped this time they would get it. Mild disappointment I would say, certainly not fury.

Then one man Gjevgjet Mustafa, produces a bulging and slightly grubby envelope full of pictures. No holiday snaps these. Piles of bodies, with horrific injuries. Bullet wounds that obliterate features.

"These are my neighbours, my family," he says. The other man joins in: "My brother's head was cut off." Of course, I came here because I knew memories would be strong, but to immediately find someone who carries a constant reminder in his wallet is sobering.

RAW EMOTIONS

A few days earlier I was in the Serb enclave of Gracanica, in the centre of the province.

Gracanica
Anger and fear are palpable in Gracanica
There I meet, again unplanned, another group of men. This time they are mending an electricity sub-station, that clearly doesn't want to be fixed. Their anger and fear is palpable. They say that if Kosovo becomes independent, they won't stay.

"Why not?", I ask. One man replies in graphic, indeed unprintable terms. The gist is that wild Albanians will come across the border and rape, steal and burn.

With emotions understandably so raw on both sides, the really good news is that there was no trouble, not a punch let alone a grenade thrown in the wake of the announcement of the Ahtisaari plan.

YOUNG BLAIRITES

After our impromptu interview in the street, Gjevgjet insist that we take coffee in his house. Like many ethnic Albanians we meet, he stresses that he loves Britain, and Tony Blair. There aren't many places in the world where Britain gets praised as frequently as here.

Three months after the massacre here, Mr Blair set out his doctrine of international intervention in Chicago. Perhaps it was this first war that gave Tony Blair his enthusiasm for international action. Although I haven't tracked any down, I hear there are several seven- or eight-year-olds with the first name Tonyblair. Are there any in other parts of the world?

A NATIONAL SYMBOL

Gjevgjet tells us one of his children is called "Flag" in Albanian. The Serbs refused to register the name because national symbols were banned. In his home, a red shield featuring a double-headed black eagle hangs above the fireplace. This is the flag that flutters above graveyards, from many houses and shops. It's the Albanian flag. Although it may not be exactly at the top of people's minds, the hunt for a flag for Kosovo will be an interesting one.

Proposed Kosovo flag
The stars and stripes, minus stars
In one sense, the logical thing to do would be to adopt something like this in different colours: a black eagle on a green field for instance (perhaps munching a few black birds). Former American Congressman Joe DioGuardi, of the Albanian American Civic League and a central figure in the struggle for Kosovo's independence, has a version of the stars and stripes, with the eagle replacing the stars.

But the Ahtisaari plan quite specifically states that the flag, along with the anthem, must reflect the multi-ethnic nature of the country. Many international diplomats would be in favour of something abstract with no historical or symbolic connotations. Any suggestions?

WELCOMING THE FUTURE

I just hope that the American communications "expert" who advised the Kosovo government on its latest advertising campaign stays away from the flag, or goodness knows what we'd end up with.

Pristina poster
Nearly one o'clock?
The fruit of his last labour was the poster that is now up all around Pristina, showing a digital clock at 12.45, with the words underneath "Kosovo welcomes the future."

The idea is that Resolution 1244, which gave the UN the job of ruling Kosovo, is now in the past. But this is a bit cack-handed. Even those who get the reference are likely to think, "That means resolution 1246, 1247 1248 will follow before we get anywhere." Many more probably think "Hmmm, nearly time for lunch."

And Pristina is not a bad place for lunch.

Your comments:


It's a bit ironic, I think, to see the same debate play out in the EU that Americans have seen for decades: is a car with a foreign badge really foreign? Not in our global economy, no. To this day, most politicians are horrified at the prospect of living up to their promises and "not" supporting their homeland - here, it is almost as if the US government is the only entity still supporting our rapidly decaying domestic auto industry. But frankly, whoever makes the best product wins, and Toyota seems to be making by far the best autos from an environmentally correct standpoint. Driving more efficient autos is the least we as a society can do to combat the warming of our planet. More radical changes should be in store.
Ben Darche, New York, NY USA

It's amusing to hear the howls of pain in Europe when real, useful measures are proposed on climate change. For years, EU countries have been smugly signed up to Kyoto and yet done very little about implementing it. Spain is the worst offender in this regard. All of this makes the criticism of the United States the ultimate in hypocrisy: if you don't want to take action, don't sign the protocol. That's called honesty, I believe.
David Pritchard, Madrid, Spain

The difference between anthropogenic climate change and anthropogenic extinctions and natural climate change and natural extinctions is like the difference between cancer and normal cell reproduction. A cancerous growth is, after all, just cells that reproduce over and over and high speed. The rate of extinction over the past 100 years is comparable to that around the CT boundary (i.e. when the dinosaurs died out).
andrew, paris

I think that the author has written in too cynical a tone. Whether HE feels that the polar bear is cuter than some insect is not of major concern. What is of concern is the fact that the rate of climate change is increasing exponentially (see An Inconvenient Truth) and that using hybrid cars is still far from reducing our impact sufficiently. EU and all other countries should invest in bettering public transport, so that we are not forced to use four wheels and hulking steel far heavier than the body/bodies they are carrying. Cars are an extremely inefficient (and dangerous) means of personal transportation. Think out of the box and have courage, author and politicians!
Stuart Rothgiesser, Cape Town, South Africa

Global warming baloney in this column too ? If only more people would check the propaganda put out by those who gain from the climate of fear - scientists on the receiving end of multi-million budgets, leaders of so-called non-profit organisations, bandwagonning politicos et al.

It was hotter in Roman times and the sea level was higher, then got cold again; it was at least as warm during the medieval and then got cold again; we're still coming out of that last cold period. Animals adapted before and will this time too, humans have it even easier as we know it's happening. Facts: the total amount of polar ice is stable and glaciers are receding to the levels they had a few centuries ago; total polar bear (penguin, eagle, butterfly etc.) populations are not declining. The report published last week was a political summary - the scientists now have a few months to make sure their results match what the pressure groups have decided. Doesn't anyone else think that sounds back-to-front ?
David Macdonald, Lake Garda, Italy

Capping emissions? Are these people serious? I think not. Go the whole hog please: a ban on all petrol engined cars from January 1st 2010. Nothing less will do. Clean technologies for cars have existed for many years. There is NO excuse any longer. Economic growth can WAIT, even if it means some years of economic decline to make an impact on the damage already caused, it will be a small price to pay in the long run.
Guy Stevens, London, UK

If we're serious about responding to climate change, big posh cars have got to become a thing of the past. Spain and Portugal are already facing severe droughts, floods are more common in other parts of Europe, and much of Holland is at risk as more of Greenland melts. Smart cars for politicians would be a smart move, but a well publicised shift to video-conferencing to reduce the need for distance travel would be better still.
Chris Johnstone, Bristol, UK

Nope - change is now inevitable, as are extinctions and climate refugees in their millions. There is a lot of 'smoke and mirrors' stuff going on here eg. carbon offsetting, hybrid cars etc. Only by changing our behaviour, or waiting till the oil and gas runs out(which isn't far off), will we achieve a reduction in CO2, and it may be out of control by then. At the moment we urgently need to reduce our OWN CO2 contribution, and pressure governments and industry to follow suit. Only with the public support will any policy change happen, we all know politicians are a load of spineless idiots who won't do anything meaningfull incase it's unpopular.
D. Bamford, Machynlleth, Wales

Quote: "It is quite clear the planet is doing quite nicely, thank you, and would continue to revolve on its axis if temperatures doubled tomorrow." It is not doing ok at all. Because of the positive feedback of global warming we are in danger of letting the temperature spiral completely out of control, into a state where no life can exist. For an example of positive feedback: the world gets hotter -> forests and jungles burn up -> less CO2 is absorbed by the planet -> the temperature keeps on rising -> more forests die -> etc. etc. This is not an issue that should be dealt with next year, or even tomorrow; it needs a solution now.
Alex Lee, Manchester

People, I've heard plenty of talk about cars and I haven't come across a single person who has suggested the idea of "bikes". Why not spend less time talking about how to adapt cars and think of ways in which they don't have to be used. I mean, how many people do you know who use their car to make trips of less than 4 miles which for the majority of people is thorughly bikeable. Laziness is a masisve factor in environmental degradation. Probably gonna take some stick for this comment, Duncan
Duncan Walsh, Matsuyama, Japan

All it will take is for someone to come up with a way of making an obnoxious amount of money from 'being green' and human driven climate change will be a thing of the past overnight. Then human greed would solve the problem!
Stephen Watson, Leyland, UK

If climate change is taking place and if this can be attributed to human activity, then clearly we are not addressing the real problem which is overpopulation of the world. The more the world population grows, the more the demand for power, material goods and hence atmospheric pollution.What should be happening is that all the countries of the world should be putting in place measures to slow and eventually reverse population growth.Britain would be a much better place with half the current population- perhaps an exaggeration but a valid one.
W.Duncan, ARBROATH,SCOTLAND

Mother Nature - Mother Earth - Gaia... the Earth behaves as a complex living organism. Within it, as within the human body for example, are other living organisms engaged in a constant struggle for survival. When the body is healthy, the internal competition is producing balance. So it is with the Earth. One of its component living organisms has become too dominant and the balance has been severely disrupted. It must therefore find a way of dealing with the problem and somehow purge itself of the trouble-maker. Perhaps it has begun that process already?
David Reynolds, Aberystwyth, Wales

Why not change to smaller or less powerful cars? We would not lose anything except our ability to flaunt our wealth. I like driving but if everyone's cars had limited CO2 output then I would not mind driving one. Having a blanket ban on all cars with high CO2 output is the only fair way to do it. Given the option, people will always choose to pay extra for a more wasteful car.
Brian, Bath

Investing in technology to stop the natural process? Impossible - we'd never be able to create a static environment, and that's fine because it's not what we're trying to do. Surely current aims are about decreasing the effect that humans (not nature) are having on climate change? Look at the data and you'll see what's happening now is not natural. And maybe in a few thousand years, it would be, but I'd rather wait a few thousand years and find out... However, the situation in Kosovo is in no way as simple to solve. And definitely not as easy to 'comment' on, but I feel that I can't just say nothing about it. It would be like ignoring it. I want to say something, to express the emotions that suffocate me at stories like this, but I don't know what to say. In that same way that I want to do something, anything, but I don't know what... What can we do??
Ceri, Durham, UK

Climate change does happen naturally over THOUSANDS of years, giving species a chance to evolve and adapt. What we are doing is forcing a change within a century, which I doubt will result in a healthy well adapted biosphere.
Andrew Slaughter, Lancaster, Lancaster University Biology Dept, UK

No one is suggesting investing in technology to stop "natural" climate change. The idea is to invest in technology that reduces or minimizes humanity's impact on global climate. If the ice caps melt anyway in thousands of years, that is still better than if they melt in the next 50 years because we sped up the process.
Sandor, Kitchener, Canada

Climate change is not the acceleration of a natural cycle. Researching past global temperatures, the earth's natural cycle would be getting colder about now.
Gemma, Birmingham

Surely, our car industry needs to shape up and face the environmental challenges. They are certainly able to be better than the Japanese whose hybrids are a big scam: They are only more fuel efficient if you have a mixed driving cycle. In countries with longer driving distances like the US they are pretty useless.
Ronald Grünebaum, Brussels, Belgium

It is true that in a static environment evolution would slow down in terms of the emergence of novel organisms, but it would not stop. This is however, beside the point. We do not want to keep the environment constant but should wish to cease the human caused changes to it - as these are occuring too rapidly for organisms to adapt. Climate change adds to a naturally variable system, but it is taking us very rapidly to places where the Earth has never been before. It is also untrue that "what is threatened is higher life forms in general". There are two main types of plant on the earth - one adapted to a high CO2, low temperature climate; and the second adapted to a low CO2, high temperature climate. Climate change is taking us to a high CO2, high temperature climate, which means that the basis of every ecosystem is under threat, it is simply the big furry animals that people are worried about, as well as the short-term picture in general.
Robert, York, UK

What we need is a focus of our will, effort and resources akin to that in the Second World War. If nations collectively pull out all the stops, we might just make it through, "bankrupt" perhaps, but alive and with a future. And we can't afford to wait for other countries to agree, or for the USA to join in, we have to stand alone and get into action.
Chris Knight, Barnet, UK

"If the polar ice caps are going to melt anyway, in thousands of years, should we be investing in technology to stop that natural process? Presumably keeping the environment static would put the brakes on evolution." Actually, what scientists tend to be concerned about is not that climate change is *happening*, but that it seems to be happening *so rapidly*. The biggest concern is that evolution (or migration in many cases - insects and coniferous trees, for example, have tended to move to higher and lower latitudes in response to climate change) cannot 'keep up' with current rates of anthropogenic change. Life is fairly robust, so we can expect that the world's ecosystems would catch up eventually and recover, but whether we'd be around to see it is another matter....
Sally Outen, Oxford, UK

The main point about efforts to combat climate change which does not emerge very strongly from Mark Mardell's article is that life will certainly become very uncomfortable for everyone. This is perhaps a rather selfish attitude on my (and many other people's) part, as it is the disadvantaged of this world who live in areas where they can barely scrape a living. But the fact of the matter is that the planet cannot sustain the population it already carries. Undoubtedly the next great (from our point of view) extinction will be that of the human race
Maria Allsopp, Onderstepoort South Africa

The only thing that is inevitable that as India and China expand their economies, building coal-fired power stations at the rate of one every ten days, so the handwringing about trying to control the uncontrollable by bureaucrats will only increase with the carbon dioxide. You see, it's all our fault and we should sacrifice our civilization to save the polar bears whose populations are not in decline.
John A, UK

Environmentally friendly cars are old cars... Making a new car releases as much carbon dioxide as it will use in the rest of it's life, depending on how you factor in ore mining, metal production, component manufature, final assembly, sales process and delivery. If you run a car putting out 270g, then it is still better to run it into the ground than replace it. Make and mend was a wartime necessity - it still is today.
Jeremy Kenyon, Sheffield, England

With regard to the energy cost of a new car vs continuing to drive old models, when I did some cursory research on the internet, the figure I found was that the average manufacturing energy cost of a modern car (including its raw materials) is about 1 - 1.5 times its annual energy usage. This means that changing to a new car that uses 25% less fuel than the old one will have saved energy in 4-6 years. New cars should be aspiring to at least this level of efficiency improvement (if they don't, shift down to a smaller car), so the return could be swifter. Final comment ... most people do not drive for economy - you can have that 25% right now by driving sensibly.
Paul Bright-Thomas, Wokingham, UK

I feel that ultimately we have no-one to blame for global warming except ourselves, the citizens of our respective countries. If we really, really cared enough or were motivated enough we would have banded together by now to put pressure on governments and multinational companies to make the changes that need to be made to avoid this catastrophe. The sad truth is that we haven't and it doesn't look likely that we will anytime soon.
Geraint Jones, Cardiff, Wales

Climate change is the current media hysteria, but the confusion around the real issues is total, and the politicians aren't helping. Nobody seems to know whether reducing at all carbon emissions is going to make a difference anyway. Cars are only responsible for around 15% of emissions so it's hard to see how reducing them a little, over almost a decade, in Europe, is going to impact on this globally.
Nicolai, Brussels

I'll be interested in your progress reports on the car emissions story. I think, for good or bad, global solutions have to come from pan-national bodies like the EU, UN etc. As to whether technology will solve the problem, not on its own it won't. Annually we burn a million years worth of fossil fuels (i.e. it took a million years to create the deposits). That level of per capita energy use is difficult to replace especially with a growing population. And for most species the planet is definitely not doing very nicely. We are dismantling ecosystems all over the planet which is creating a new global mass extinction and I think that is very, very sad. But the point that mother nature doesn't care if homo sapiens disappear is well put.
Roly, Chesham, UK

It seems to me that car manufacturers and car owners who complain about the potential high costs of engineering cars to meet the proposed new standards don't really understand the problems of environmental change. What is a few thousand euros extra compared to the cost of an environmental catastrophe? Both of these could occur in our lifetimes; which one is worse? It's a no-brainer in my opinion.
Doug Larsen

"What is a few thousand euros extra compared to the cost of an environmental catastrophe ...It's a no-brainer in my opinion. Doug Larsen" More a question of "If you're going to spend x amount to benefit the environment, how best to do it?" Do you make cleaner cars, or invest in renewable energy, or plant trees, or subsidise energy-efficient industry, or... Not such a no-brainer.
Chris, London, UK

It is great that Europe is changing and on the whole for the better, so fast and at last without bloodshed. Climate chane is another matter. The climate has always be changing and will continue to do so. Ther have always been hot and cold cycles and drier & moist periods. The problem is two fold. Firstly Chaos was discovered by Edward Lorenz in the mid 1970 showing that long range weather forcasting was not just difficult but impossible. If fact 4/5 days is about the limit after that it is an art not science. Secondly polution of the land, sea and air is a bad thing and all reasonable steps should be taken for its reduction.
Mike Dixon, Barcelona, Spain

On the car question , if our leaders are not prepared to downsize their gas-guzzling cars, why should anyone else bother? If the world's population is reduced by say one third by flood, famine, disease etc, would that not solve the climate change problem?
antony butcher, uk Ok, this has got to stop. Nope, not global warming (climate swings have been happening for hundreds of millions of years), but the belief that hybrid cars are eco-friendly. What's more efficient? Converting fossil fuels to mechanical energy (a normal car) or converting fossil fuels to electricity and then to mechanical energy (electric car). Energy production is highly inefficient as is converting one form to another. Electricity isn't magical, it still comes mainly from the burning of fossil fuels. Anyway, coconut oil works just as well as diesel. Global Economics are the root of the problem, not us taxpayers!
Aircool, cumbria

With a German Presidency of the EU, a German President of the Parliament from the largest political group, a German in control of the second largest political group in the EP and Germany itself producing middle to high end cars, isn't the law you're about to track a foregone conclusion?
Chris, Brussels

Humans are like rats or cockroaches (or crows) - an incredibly adaptive species which can flourish in a remarkably wide range of environments. We are also capable of technological adaptation, which no other species is. We will therefore persist (although millions or billions may perish) whatever happens to the climate or biosphere, of that I am sure. However the question is: what sort of world will we leave to our descendents? A world which we share only with rats, cockroaches, crows and our domestic creations like cows and dogs will be a poor and desolate place. If we leave a world where the animals are all slaves or vermin we will be damned by our descendents. We currently mourn the dodo, the passenger pidgeon, and the Tasmanian wolf; but imagine a world where our great-great-grandchildren mourn almost everything but Wilbur the rat. In its natural course evolution will replace the species we destroy with new species, however that is by human standards an agonizingly slow process measured in millions of years, and therefore any meaningful consideration of the welfare of our descendents will ignore it. They will have the biosphere we leave them. I think we simply must make sacrifices, and probably significant sacrifices, to try to leave them a world which contains at least some significant fraction of the biological richness which was given to us. Otherwise we will be like a parent snatching all the food from the mouths of our own children. Would any of us want that to be our legacy?
Dave, Oxford, UK

In the second paragraph under the sub-heading "A threat to us" you state "What is threatened are higher life forms in general, and us in particular." This is not entirely accurate. Changes in temperature can affect microscopic organisms just as or even more severely than what you call "higher life forms". For example, warming of the surface layers of the oceans can affect the size and composition of plankton populations which form the base of the marine food web and a large proportion of the global primary production. You state that "Presumably keeping the environment static would put the brakes on evolution". This is an erroneous presumption. Evolution does not require a constantly shifting environment. As a matter of fact it is the most stable environments around the globe that have the highest biodiversity: the tropics, whether they be terrestrial or marine ecosystems. A changing environment will exert selection pressure on living organisms. However, natural selection is not synonymous with evolution.
Christos Theophilou, Brussels, Belgium

It is within our power to make the neccessary changes, as always what is lacking is enough political will at the moment, although thankfully things appear now to be changing rapidly. Let us hope that even with drastic changes it is still enough, because if it isn't, the future of our species may well be at stake from this due to the even greater world instability that such huge climate change will cause. There is no question that we must and should make real changes to our lifestyle as soon as possible to combat this.
Duncan, Southampton

It is indeed well known that the Earth's climate has varied thoughout history and, as you say, this has probably helped to drive evolution. What is happening now though is unprecedented. We are, in the space of a few hundred years, returning enormous quantities of carbon to the atmosphere that was laid down underground over many millions of years, and so giving our climate system an almighty shove. The danger is that this shove, reinforced by positive feedback effects, may be enough to push our unstable climate system into a very different state. This has already happened naturally a number of times in the past, invariably in tandem with mass extinctions. Now, mass extinctions are certainly part of evolution too, but I really don't thing we should be trying to provoke one. We should rather be reducing our greenhouse gas emissions to lessen the chances of triggering a catastrophe, at least until we understand better the consequences of our actions.
David Willett, Aachen, Germany

As David Willett succintly wrote "..mass extinctions are certainly part of evolution..." Our skills in fields such as nutrition and medicine have lead to an ever increasing population. At some point the planet will no longer be able to sustain these increases, whatever we do. I am afraid a 'correction' is inevitable. That is not to say that we should not do all that we can to minimise our pollution, but we have to be realistic.
Paul, Glasgow, UK

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is not about stopping all change - your suggestion that we might impede evolution is both bizarre and misguided - but about reducing negative change. Now to our friend the Brazilian earwig. It is true that though most people would not long lament its loss, its ghost may well return to haunt us. In our current state of knowledge we can not be sure which elements of the biosphere our continued survival depends on. Extinction rates are notably elevated in the 10-20 million years following mass extinction events, presumably as a result of an altered set of relationships within the biosphere. So, the loss of even our lowly earwig may, one day, lead to the collapse of the house of cards on which we presently perch.
Dave Wooster, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

And there will be the most beautifull silence never heard born out of that. the sun still hidden there awaiting the next chapter. last lines from 'Dinosauria we' by Charles Bukowski and yes I am part of the green eco-nomy you know choice is part of evolution too.
willem van ekeren, den haag netherlands

Instead of a flag with a double headed eagle, how about one with a double headed dove? In white, on a halved field of black and red.
Kev, London, England

The Kosovo flag issue brings to mind the complicated situation of the region. A substantial number of Muslim Albanians living in neighbouring Macedonia, next to the border with Albania proper. A future scenario could well include a push by the Kosovo and Macedonia Albanians to join their territories with Albania. I'm afraid we will hear more from this area before long.
Dan Uneken, Jerez, Spain

Interesting comments on Kosovo,. Since the place is not going to be independent, strictly speaking, I would suggest not mucking about with flags at all. This, of course, is the least practical suggestion possible. I predict, quite confidently, that the Albanians will use the Albanian flag... end of story. The whole UN plan is really a brave attempt to create order out of a shambles. It won't work, I'm afraid. The two sides are not going to co-exist now. That is all in the past. All the international community can do is try to prevent more murder and bloodshed. Sorry situation at best!
D. Fear, Heidelberg, Germany




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