You care about your health and you probably spend a fair amount of time on a computer, a mobile phone, and possibly a wireless network in your home or work. So a smart meter is simply one more device in the age of wireless devices – right? Don’t know what a smart meter is? Okay, let’s start there: A smart meter is an electrical meter that records consumption of electric energy and communicates that information back to the utility (usually wirelessly) for energy monitoring and billing purposes.
Some of the major environmental groups consider smart meters as an important new technology to counter climate change, claiming they will result in greater efficiency and dismiss concerns about the potential harm of RFR (radio frequency radiation), deferring to industry assurances that the risks are far less than those presented by cell phones.
Let’s examine that claim. First – yes, climate change is here. Close to 99% of independent scientists say it is happening and we should be doing all we can as a society to reduce consumption resulting in climate heating carbon gas release. Building new coal ports or tar sands pipelines, natural gas fracking, more oil exploration are all steps in the wrong direction. But will creating a smart meter infrastructure on the power grid result in significant energy efficiency? I have found no data to suggest this is anything more than a feel-good industry claim justifying a hefty charge to every rate payer for new equipment and which will leave us all with potentially serious health and privacy risks. Here in Seattle, of course, City Light is a public utility, so while rate increases may or may not be as much of an issue, given the non-conclusive science on the safety of smart meters, one would hope our elected officials will exercise great caution with regard for public health before jumping on the smart meter bandwagon.
Second – regarding comparisons of the health effects between cell phones and smart meters – the assumptions being made by industry and the FCC are based on limited, cherry picked, outdated, and in some cases sloppy science. RFR (radio frequency radiation) safety regulations revolve around how much tissue heating is created by a powered device (e.g. cell phone, cordless phone, cell tower), measured as the specific absorption rate (SAR). For cell phones, the FCC regulations require hand-held devices to be at or below 1.6 w/kg (watts per kilogram) measured over 1.0 gram of tissue. (Lai)
Okay – I confess, I do not have an advanced degree in bioengineering and you probably don’t either. So let’s trust the experts, right? Well, the people in the FCC have no medical training and – no big surprise here – another industry crony – Tom Wheeler – is poised to be the next Commissioner of the FCC pending Senate confirmation hearings. Given the increasing influence of industry lobbyists and the revolving door between industry and top level government posts, why should we trust the FCC to make responsible decisions about the health of the human body-mind? We are bio-electric living beings first and foremost, not mere consumers.
Then, let’s trust groups like the Sierra Club, EDF (Environmental Defense Fund), and NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council)– they have our best interests in mind, right? Notwithstanding the good these groups do in protecting the environment, there’s increasing evidence of ethical compromises in their funding sources which then exercise undue influence over their public policy. For example, as recently as a few years ago, Sierra Club accepted $23 million from the gas industry. Sierra Club specifically has shown a lack of openness to considering any conclusion which doesn’t support their policy platform. NRDC and EDF have both accepted thousands of dollars in smart-grid consultation fees from the California Public Utilities Commission in California. Underlying their cozy relationship with industry is the assumption that greening the economy and green consumerism will save our planet. In other words, business as usual – dressed up in a “green” marketing strategy. Many people – especially in the third world who bear the brunt of first world consumptive excess – aren’t buying it.
I’ve also heard arguments advanced that climate change will end up killing far more humans than the increased incidence of leukemia and cancer brought on by living in a world with elevated levels of electro-smog, so we shouldn’t worry about the trade-off. While this argument is ethically troubling to begin with, it is further damaged by the lack of clear data that smart meters will help reduce power consumption. Again, this seems to imply an unproven assertion originating with the industries which stand to profit from the new “smart” grid upgrade.
Furthermore, there is a growing body of literature which suggests that the very limited and outdated standards of the FCC ignore the effects of RFRs which may also cause non-tissue heating effects – in other words, more subtle effects that might not show up immediately as measureable heat, but due to chronic low level exposure.
As a licensed acupuncturist over the past 15 years, I’ve seen a marked increase in patients with unexplainable neurological complaints, sleep disorders, anxiety, and so forth. It seems possible that the implementation of smart meters will push many more people over the threshold of electromagnetic sensitivity, whereby their nervous and immune systems can no longer function properly.
There are also serious questions regarding privacy – a timely topic given the recent revelations from whistleblower Edward Snowden on how the NSA (National Security Agency) functions – the import of which is that basically all of our activity online, all of our cell phone records – are being stored forever in newly created massive data centers which is justified as necessary to protect us from terrorists, all of it overseen by secret judges who rubber stamp the whims of the State Department. As former President Jimmy Carter recently remarked, we’ve lost a functional democracy. I don’t relish being spied on through the usage patterns of my toaster (industry is gearing up to install wireless devices in all appliances to communicate with smart meters). Furthermore, there is the very real possibility of hackers discovering when you are home or not, in order to target burglaries, home-invasions, etc. and the more sobering possibility of evil-doers (I don’t like to use the word terrorist as too often it is employed as a racist code word for people of Middle Eastern descent) taking over the power grid.
On Wednesday, April 28 at 930am, the Energy Committee of the Seattle City Council meeting will hold a briefing on smart meters (they call it AMI – the Advanced Metering Initiative). This is your chance to keep participatory democracy alive and advocate for policies which adhere to the precautionary principle, investigating health issues utilizing independent (non-biased) scientific research and making decisions impacting public health based on safety first instead of corporate profits.
If you can’t attend the meeting, please contact Kshama Sawant, the Chair of the Committee, and other members of the City Council, and Mayor. Contact information can be found here. I’ve also started an online petition to the City Council asking for a moratorium on smart meters until their health risks can be better understood by independent scientific review. The public can register comments and sign up for updates from City Light’s website here: http://www.seattle.gov/light/ami/.
References and Resources:
Science 101: Cherry Picking and Black Swans – a clear and succinct explanation of the Scientific Method and how it is being ignored by industry and government.
Dr. Henry Lai, Research Professor at University of Washington’s Bioengineering Department. At one point in Dr. Lai’s career, Motorola tried to get him fired from his post at UW after the damning results of his research on the dangers of RFR. Although they were unsuccessful, the corporate attack on his credibility did impact his ability to continue his research.
Impacts of smart meters on local wildlife: There are also negative effects being observed relating to negative impacts to wildlife – birds leaving areas (just a few months ago in Renton) where smart meters have been installed. It seems probable that the increased EMF smog from smart meters will not assist with the deepening crisis of bee colony collapse disorder.
Washington Smart Meter Response is on Facebook