After California’s utility PG&E was firmly smacked down with the defeat of Prop. 16 last month- an attempt by the corporate behemoth to extend their monopoly over the electricity market, while preventing local cities and counties from selling renewable energy to customers at lower prices- you would think the company would have learned a lesson about shoving things down the throat of the public. Predictably, the opposite appears to be the case, as PG&E attempts to install their so-called “Smart” Meters on every home and business in their service area, which encompasses most of California.
The new meters use wireless technology- short, high intensity bursts of microwave radiation that communicates your energy use data to the utility. With very little public input, or even advance notice, PG&E has already installed over six million of the meters. It began in the Central Valley, where reports of inaccurate bills and even spontaneously combusting meters typically followed wherever they were installed.
When I first heard the scare stories about smart meters, I have to admit I was sceptical. Surely the government wouldn’t allow the widespread installation of a technology with uncertain health effects in places where we live, work and sleep? Surely any reported illnesses related to cell phones, wifi, or indeed the new smart meters were simply paranoid delusions. Surely the smart meter scare belonged in the dusty file next to UFO’s and reptilian shapeshifters running the government.
Not so fast. The more I looked into the issue, the more concerned I became. The industry says that the electromagnetic radiation emitted by cell phones, wifi, and smart meters is absolutely safe. They point to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations that place an upper limit on the amount of radiation that can be absorbed by human beings over the course of a half hour (the so-called Specific Absorption Rate). Essentially this is a measurement of how much human flesh heats up in response to a given amount of radiation. ‘If it doesn’t heat you, it doesn’t hurt you,’ as the saying goes. Mary Beth Brangan, an activist who has been fighting wireless expansion in Bolinas, says:
“PG&E claims that smart meter emissions are below FCC standards, which are completely irrelevant since the outmoded FCC standard is based on preventing a 6 ft. 185 lb. male from being cooked like a hot dog in a microwave oven from a single 30 min. exposure. So you can imagine how high that level would have to be. There are no FCC standards or tests done for constant, chronic exposure from multiple sources or for effects other than heating. And many studies have proven double strand DNA breaks are caused by chronic exposure to relatively low levels of radiation – such as that from cell phones. Double strand breaks mean that the body can’t repair them and that may cause many ill effects such as tumors, etc. Also, the electrical system of the body is affected. Smart meter mesh networks mean we’ll be exposed to criss-crossing pulses of radiation constantly from meters everywhere.”
Having a regular smart meter on your house is bad enough. But it gets worse. You may not even be aware that you have a ‘repeater’ meter on your house that collects data from up to 1000 adjacent houses, and sends it to PG&E, emitting higher levels of electromagnetic radiation nearly constantly.
The wireless industry tells us that EMF is perfectly safe (based on industry funded studies) and that this justifies an unlimited expansion of electromagnetic radiation throughout our communities. Other voices (who aren’t profiting from the expansion of cell phone technology) argue that this uncertainty is reason to tread cautiously. They point out that the government once insisted that asbestos and smoking were safe, leading to the suffering and deaths of thousands.
Since PG&E began rolling out their “SmartMeter” program, the health risks of wireless technology have become more widely known to the public. In June, San Francisco passed the nation’s first “right to know law” requiring that cell phones sold in the city include their radiation levels. This has generated something of an earthquake within the wireless industry, who have covered up the health risks of their product for many years – and, like a child throwing a tantrum when you take away their toys, the industry has pulled its annual conference out of the City, as reported by Maureen Dowd in the NY Times.
While countries like the US, Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Japan, and others (presumably where industry has significant influence over government policy) do not consider any potential effects beyond the heating of our flesh, other countries such as Russia, Switzerland, Italy and Hungary take a more precautionary approach- setting permitted levels of electromagnetic radiation far lower. These countries agree that the jury is still out on the question of electromagnetic health impacts, and that our cell phones might very well might be having serious impacts on our the living cells within our bodies.
This is not really that radical an idea, after all. Considering that each part of the human body- particularly the heart- emits electromagnetic radiation throughout the body as a way of regulating basic life support systems, doesn’t it make sense to tread a little cautiously here? Some like author Stephen Buhner have even suggested that subtle electromagnetic impulses form the basis of an ancient, subtle means of communication between living things. It sounds a little bit far fetched, but can we dismiss this idea entirely? In experiments, plants hooked up to lie detector equipment register a reaction when an experimenter simply thinks about cutting or burning it. Is this the reputed sixth sense- the language of the heart? And if it is, how is the electrosmog of wifi, cell transmissions, and various radio communications affecting this sense among not just humans but the rest of the natural world as well?
Could this be what has gone so wrong with our societies? Could we have been unknowingly robbed of our innate empathy for living things? Our internal biological compasses gone haywire from millions of smart meters, cell phones, and EMF spewing satellites in orbit?
As we know, the government has been spectacularly bad at regulating industry to ensure our safety- and when they have- usually dragged kicking and screaming to sensible precaution by public figures like Ralph Nader- the half measures enacted seem more geared toward ensuring the profits keep rolling in than protecting the public.
As a result, at the start of the 2nd decade of the 21st century, we have become simians constantly bombarded by electrosmog. Drinking in tap water of pharmaceutical traces, subject to lead, mercury, asbestos, as well as millions of chemical combinations we don’t even know about, electrosmog from wifi and cell phone towers, toxic air pollution, and petrochemical residues on our food and in our water. I knew something wasn’t quite right with everything- I just couldn’t put my finger on it. That sense of dread. That sense that something is deeply awry.
According to Nathaniel Rich of Harper’s Magazine:
The existence of killer waves would, however, explain a lot. We’d have a much more comprehensive understanding of how and why we get cancer, for starters. We’d also understand why we sometimes get headaches after using a cell phone for a long period of time; why it seems like we know a surprisingly large number of young people with unusual cancers; why we struggle to remember incidental facts; why we used to be able to do the Sunday crossword but can now make it only through Friday; why our children have so much difficulty sitting still and reading books and speaking in complete sentences; why we get sad for no reason; why sometimes, when we look at our loved ones, for a bizarre split second we don’t recognize them; why it can seem that our lives are guided by some dark, implacable force; and why, when we sit up straight in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep, we feel a dizzying sense of panic at the hopelessness of it all.
I began to think about the times I was on my cell phone- (especially when I was on the train when the cell emits high levels of radiation in order to find the next tower) when I felt a warming, and a sort of pressure building behind my temple. Things started to fall into place.
Enough is enough. How could I have been so blind?
Four months ago, I gave up my cell phone, and when it came time to order internet service at my new house, AT&T asked if I wanted a free wireless router and I said ‘no thanks.’
The smart meter scandal- and it is a scandal- is proving to be an eminently teachable moment, much to the dismay of the wireless industry. The arrogance of PG&E in assuming that since most people have wifi and cell phones these days, that no one would mind a little extra radiation in their home- has proven to be a spectacular misjudgment. And no doubt there are recriminations happening in corporate boardrooms as we speak, wondering whether perhaps they have overreached, shedding light on the dirty little secret of the cell phone/ wifi cash cow.
Now we have started campaigning in Scotts Valley against smart meters. And even in this conservative town, people are angry about the mandatory radiation that PG&E wants to inflict on our homes, backed by the Schwarzenegger appointed industry hacks at the CPUC.
PG&E’s reckless, unilateral decision to install ‘smart meters’ throughout the places we live and work is not an isolated incident. It is one facet of a worldview that says that the environment, and human health and safety is expendable but the bottom line is not.
We delay action on climate change because we don’t know all the effects of spewing five billion tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every year.
We fail to adequately regulate deepwater drilling, pacified by industry reassurances that they have safety and incident response plans worked out (I imagine that the cocaine and sex probably helped).
I am not one to reject technology just because it’s technology. But the burden to prove new technologies are safe must be placed on the companies or institutions who introduce them into our lives, not on members of the public or the government.
We need to make the precautionary principle the bedrock of our regulatory agencies.
Just because we can doesn’t mean we should.
The ‘smart’ meter debate is heating up. To find out when PG&E will be bathing your neighborhood in radiation, click here. For information on how to resist, click here. For more information about the health impacts of EMF, visit the EMF Safety Network.