The Guardian 14 February, 2007

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Letters to the Editor

Action must follow awareness

Even the most diehard of the deniers are now admitting that the question of climate change and greenhouse gases cannot be ignored. Whether it is political opportunism or a genuine recognition that our planet and the human species are running out of time, these issues are now very much on the political agenda and no politician serious about being elected to office can ignore them.

The public are more aware than ever of the importance of addressing these issues as a matter of urgency. Big business has for some years recognised the importance of environmental questions, initially as a new source of profit-making and giving themselves a clean image to appease shareholders and counter environmental groups campaigning for them to clean up their act. More recently some of them are beginning to see environmental issues as a question of long-term survival.

The environment is very much part of the school curriculum with, for example text books looking at such developments as rising sea levels and sinking islands in the Pacific, alternative energy sources, pollution, conditions in third world countries — but not for much longer if Howard gets his way.

Despite all of all of this and the growing mass movements around these issues, action falls far short of what is required.

Under the Kyoto Protocol which came into force two years ago, industrialised nations are committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-2012.

Australia, the US and Canada have failed to even freeze the level of emissions, let alone reduce them. The US which under the Bush administration refused to ratify the Kyoto Treaty (despite signing in 1998).

In the US emissions have risen by about 16 percent since 1990 and continue to rise. The US is responsible for around 25 percent of all global carbon dioxide emissions.

Canada did ratify the treaty, but has failed to act in a convincing manner — its emissions have risen nearly 30 percent since 1990!

Australia sadly lags behind with governments still hell bent on coal as our emissions continue to rise — the highest per capita of population in the world. The Coalition government refuses to sign onto Kyoto, fails to fund the necessary research and development of renewal, environmentally sustainable energy sources such as wind and solar.

Climate change is evident with changing weather patterns — record rains, record droughts, record high temperatures, river systems drying up, depending which part of the country you look at.

The warning bells ring louder and louder and what does the PM want to do? Retain unsustainable, water guzzling cotton and rice farming; leave it to the markets for energy distribution and production methods; privatise power and water creating a conflict of interest between profit generating and reducing consumption. It is looking for ways to use the present crisis to generate new sources of revenue and profit-generation.

We have a huge job ahead of us to turn awareness to action, to see that Australia ratifies Kyoto and plays its part in developing clean, safe, sustainable and renewal energy sources. One step towards this would be removing the Howard government in the federal elections and voting for candidates and parties with genuine environmental credentials.

Julie Messenger

European Commission fine cartel over AU$1 bn

I thought Guardian readers might be interested in a recent news story out of Europe. I work in the electrical industry and have been following the story while it was going through the courts. I haven’t seen the EC’s decision picked up by the mass media yet and even if they do I’m sure it will probably only get trivial coverage for the massive corporate scandal that it is.

Recently the European Com­mission handed down the largest set of fines ever imposed on a single cartel. Eleven groups of companies including ABB, Alstom, Fuji, Hitachi, Japan AE Power, Mitsubishi Electric Corporation, Siemens and Toshiba were slugged a total of EUR750,712,500 (over AU$1.18bn) for participating in a GIS (Gas Insulated Switchgear) cartel for more than 16 years.

ABB (who came initially came forward and was thus granted immunity) provided evidence that from at least 1988, when a written agreement was adopted, the suppliers informed each other of calls for tenders and bid in such a way as to share projects according to each members’ quota. The European and Japanese companies agreed that they would not interfere in each others respective markets.

Clandestine meetings and communications between the cartel members took place regularly to coordinate the division of projects and, to give the impression of competition, they prepared phoney bids for the companies not supposed to win a tender. Members (both companies and individuals) were also given code names and, in the last years, relied on anonymous email accounts, not to be accessed from home or work computers, to keep their corporate crimes secret.


Disappearing cash

I believe the USA justice system still has the "three strikes you are out" policy when poor buggers can get several years behind bars in the most democratic and free country of the world for stealing a couple of dollars.

It is heartening to know that the same principle does not apply to the government itself. The reason I am so happy about it is that perhaps there will be nobody left to rule the country if it did apply (maybe it’s a drawback, though).

Think of the recent revelations about the disappearing cash. Evidently a year after Iraq was "liberated" from Saddam Hussein the USA (who was in charge of the country of the time) sent plane-loads of cash — US12 billion dollars, to be precise — to Iraq. It amounted to 363 tonnes of banknotes.

Now comes the best part — the money has disappeared without a trace! Paul Brenner cannot provide any explanation though he was in effect the ruler of Iraq at the time. The only thing he could come up with was that Iraq was in a dire situation. I wonder who had created that dire situation there.

The money belonged to the previous Iraqi government and was held in the Federal Reserve Bank in New York. The bulk of the money was Iraq’s payment for the UN "Oil for Food" program. So in effect Iraqi’s own money was not spent on Iraqi people but on a bunch of corrupted officials (I suspect on both sides).

So, how many strikes those responsible for this financial crime have received? Or have they taken it in cash?

Mati English

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