Clinton condemns 9/11 Quran burning

US secretary of state joins General Petraeus in condemning plans by a small Florida church to burn c

Hillary Clinton has added her name to a long list of those who have condemned plans by a Florida church to burn copies of the Quran on the anniversary of 9/11 as "a warning to radical Islam".

The burning is planned to take place at the Dove World Outreach Centre, a 50-member evangelical Christian church in Gainesville, Florida. Its pastor, Rev Terry Jones, told CNN that he is taking the widespread criticism "seriously", but refused to say whether the event would be cancelled.

He reiterated once more that the burning was intended to send a message to radical Islam that "if you attack us, we will attack you". More than 9,000 people have now joined the Facebook group "International Burn a Koran Day".

The US secretary of state expressed her disapproval at a dinner last night to celebrate the breaking of the Ramadan fast, calling the proposed burning a "disrespectful, disgraceful act". She went on to say:

I am heartened by the clear, unequivocal condemnation of this disrespectful, disgraceful act that has come from American religious leaders of all faiths, from evangelical Christians to Jewish rabbis, as well as secular US leaders and opinion-makers.

Chief among these fellow critics is the US and Nato commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, who yesterday warned that the burning could endanger US troops abroad. He said:

It is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses, and could cause significant problems. Even the rumour that it might take place has sparked demonstrations such as the one that took place in Kabul yesterday. Were the actual burning to take place, the safety of our soldiers and civilians would be put in jeopardy and accomplishment of the mission would be made more difficult.

As well as Clinton and Petraeus, the White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, the attorney general, Eric Holder, the archbishop emeritus of Washington, Cardinal Theodore E McCarrick, and dozens of other faith leaders have all condemned the burning.

The same Florida church hit the headlines last year for selling T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan "Islam Is of the Devil".

This latest incident marks a growing trend of anti-Muslim sentiment in the US, most notably demonstrated by the furore over the building of a mosque and community centre two blogs away from the Ground Zero site.

With the US midterm elections fast approaching, a certain faction of the Republican right seems to have succeeded in incorporating this kind of extremist reaction to Islam into legitimate political debate, with figures such as Clinton and Petraeus forced to address what might previously have gone unnoticed as a ridiculous and disgusting act by a tiny minority.

Now that the Democrats are in danger of losing both the Senate and the House, they must find a way to counter the effects of this strategy before it makes a lasting and regrettable impact on November's vote.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

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Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.