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27 April 2022

Letter of the week: The law of thermodynamics

Write to letters@newstatesman.co.uk to have your thoughts voiced in the New Statesman magazine.

By New Statesman

Simon Kuper’s review of Oded Galor’s book The Journey of Humanity (The Critics, 22 April) fails to recognise its fatal flaw: not acknowledging that the wealth created by the Industrial Revolution is built on power generated by the release of sequestered solar energy, mainly from hydrocarbons.

Work performed hitherto relied on muscle power (of humans and animals) using incident solar energy converted to photosynthesised carbohydrate fuels. Human cultures and economies are superstructures built on this energetic foundation. The conceit that the social sciences of human transformations can explain what is in reality a thermodynamic revolution lies at the heart of our current difficulty. The consequent release of around 300 years’ worth of sequestered solar energy per year, far exceeding the capability of natural systems to absorb the carbon dioxide released, is driving global heating. Any thesis that fails to recognise the underlying natural processes is doomed to irrelevance.
Dr John O’Dowd, Bothwell, Lanarkshire

Red reversion

Andrew Marr is right to point to the local elections as a possible determinant of Boris Johnson’s fate (“The people must decide”, 22 April), but wrong to see the Wakefield by-election in the same light. Imran Ahmad Khan was the first non-Labour MP for Wakefield in 87 years. The local voters will not have appreciated the scandal being associated with their city. This is not a seat that anyone expects the Tories to keep.
Andy White, York

A warning from history

As always, Richard J Evans (“Why Putin’s war in Ukraine turned into a military disaster”, 22 April) was compelling, but he failed to mention one sobering parallel. Russia has often begun wars with defeat. The German invasion of 1941 was one example, Napoleon’s of 1812 another. In both cases, the Russians regrouped to use overwhelming numbers, ruthlessness and synchronised attacks across vast battle fronts to win decisive victories.
Robert B Dear, London N14

Crimes of silence

I was impressed by Tanya Gold’s impassioned, astute analysis of the issues raised by the Netflix documentary Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Story (The Notebook, 22 April). The affair brings to mind the remark, attributed to Edmund Burke, that, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” My only cavil is that those who enable psychopaths are not necessarily “good” in the first place. Failure to act, in this country, is inexcusable.
Vera Lustig, Walton-on-Thames, Surrey

Justice for justices

Colin Kidd (“Watergate in the age of Trump”, 8 April) identifies the defeat of Ronald Reagan’s nominee Robert Bork as the moment the US Supreme Court nomination process changed from “a sedate pavane” to a “battleground in the culture wars”. This overlooks earlier contested nominations. The Senate denied Lyndon Johnson the chance to appoint the first Jewish chief justice in 1968, and the following year the Senate blocked two of Nixon’s nominees due to their racist views.
Dr Richard Johnson, lecturer in US politics and policy, Queen Mary University of London

Safe arbour

It may be that the history of forest schools is as short as 25 years in England, but in Scotland, Steiner schools and the Camphill organisation have a long history. In Dumfries and Galloway, Kilquhanity School, founded by John Aitkenhead in 1940, used an opt-in approach for formalised learning, plus a hands-on approach for learning about life – building dens, cooking, farming and adventuring. The latest addition to our alternatives is “The Usual Place” in Dumfries, and there are other equally valuable developments in Annan, Langholm and Stranraer.
Jennifer Wilson, Dunscore, Dumfries

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This article appears in the 27 Apr 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Sturgeon's Nuclear Dilemma