An Electronic Silent Spring
August, 2016 Newsletter from Katie Singer
Priorities: Mobility or Survival?
Election season and starting a new school year have us clarifying priorities. In public and private discourse, we need to include that using technology has long-term consequences. We need to ask, what infrastructure does this device require? What natural resources go into manufacturing, operating and discarding this device? Does building this infrastructure or using this device endanger human health or abilities that we want to cultivate? As we introduce ourselves and our children to new devices, what activities balance tech use?
Say that our priorities include survival, biodiversity, democratic process and health. Each of these depends on reducing our use of natural resources. And yet, as consumers, we’ve (perhaps unconsciously) prioritized mobile telecommunications.
As technologies continue to implode, please join me in questioning our priorities, educating ourselves about the health and environmental effects of our choices, and creating policies by household and community that respect our goals.
Here, I’ll focus on questions about wireless tech’s electricity demands. While a household’s electricity bill may not show it, wireless tech requires much more energy than wired (DSL, cable, fiber optics) tech. Like emissions of electromagnetic energy (EMR), energy use is invisible.
What elements of the Internet require electricity?
* Data centers, which host the computers (aka “servers”) that store online information.
* Cloud-based services.
* End-use devices such as desktops, laptops, smartphones, tablets, pads.
* Network infrastructure that transmits digital information between servers and end-use devices.
* Manufacturing and shipping of microprocessors, servers, end-use devices and networking infrastructure.
What percentage of global electricity production does the global communications network consume?
In 2012, it consumed 8%, or 22,740 TeraWatt hours. By 2030, researchers predict that communications and information networks will consume between 20 and 50% of global electricity production.
Powering the 2012 Internet with pedal-powered generators, each producing 70 watts of electricity, would require how much pedaling?
8.2 billion people would need to pedal in three shifts of eight hours for the year’s 365 days.
What is the most energy efficient method of Internet access?
A wired connection (DSL, cable or fiber optics). Wireless access through a 3G cell tower uses 15 times more energy than a wired link. 4G consumes 23 times more energy than a wired link. Also, note: transmitting a video requires more energy than transmitting an image; which requires more energy than talk, which requires more energy than text.
Our devices are increasingly energy-efficient. We’ve got a (more or less) finite number of people and only 24 hours in a day. Still, researchers expect Internet’s energy use to double every two years. Why?
While energy efficiency is almost universally presented as a solution for the growing energy use of the internet, it’s actually the cause of it.
Internet traffic is also doubling every two years. Each Internet user is increasing his/her time online; and more users use multiple devices at once. Further, researchers from the School of Computing and Communications at Lancaster University in UK say that the newly developing Internet of Things (IoT) could cause unprecedented, almost unlimited rises in energy use.
What is the Internet of Things (IoT)?
The IoT allows machine-to-machine (thing-to-thing) communication. Chips embedded in pill bottles, “smart” refrigerators, diapers, clothing, heating and cooling systems can send a message to your smartphone: your pills or orange juice need replenishing; your baby’s diaper needs changing or your child has a fever. You can remotely adjust your thermostat via the IoT. Your phone can signal a friend’s chipped shirt to give them a squeeze.
6.4 billion IoT devices are currently on the planet (including the ones in the above paragraph). Marketers predict that by 2020, we’ll have 21 billion IoT devices.
Each of these devices and each transaction requires energy.
To curtail energy use, what limits have we imposed?
No country or manufacturer has created or imposed limits to the IoT. In the U.S., on July 14, 2016, the FCC mandated 5G, fifth generation of mobile operations, largely to support the IoT’s development (and the economic growth that the IoT will provide). Chair Tom Wheeler explained that “Autonomous vehicles will be controlled in the cloud. Smart-city energy grids, transportation networks and water systems will be controlled in the cloud. Immersive education and entertainment will come from the cloud.” He also named that “we” will not let regulators get in the way of technological developments. Essentially, at this time, the IoT has no limits.
What benefits can we expect from 5G?
Improvements will bring faster downloads and higher-definition movies and better quality videoconferencing.
Improvements will not bring energy efficiency or reduce energy demand. More users, more devices, faster speeds, more infrastructure, more manufacturing of more microprocessors… results in more electricity used.
While the Internet can save energy in particular cases, “the overwhelming trend is toward even-higher energy use.” Blue-ray and 3D movies provide superior viewing experience–and they require more energy.
What is the worst offender of energy demand?
According to Cisco Visual Networking Index, in 2019, what percentage of total mobile data traffic will be dedicated to video streaming?
What can stop the Internet’s energy use from growing?
* Energy sources run out.
* Governments and manufacturers limit the speed of wireless connections. (Already, to save fuel, we dress differently and lower thermostats; we impose speed limits, carpool or bike. We wear seatbelts to minimize dangers if we crash.)
* We outlaw online video and return to the Internet as a medium for text and images.
* Governments create an energy budget for the Internet.
* We replace unlimited data taxes with volume quotas or differential pricing for services of various importance.
* Utilities raise energy prices.
What can individuals and communities do to reduce their electronic footprint?
Kris De Decker, author of “Why We Need a Speed Limit for the Internet,” proposes that public libraries carry ample DVD collections, and that patrons bike or take public transportation to rent them from the library.
We might also ban cute cat videos (the most popular category on YouTube).
For more info, please read Kris De Decker’s paper and also “Are there limits to growth in data traffic?: On time use, data generation and speed” by Mike Hazas et al from Lancaster University.
Check out “E-lephants in Our Hands: How Electronics Impact Climate Change,” a talk I gave last March at the Environmental Law Conference at the University of Oregon.
Last, please consider sending a Comment to the FCC about its proposal to expand spectrum already allocated for 5G. (More info about this is below.)
As school begins, commit to balancing tech use with non-electronic activities. Cris Rowan, CEO of Zone In Programs, recommends not giving children electronic devices until foundational skills in reading, printing and doing math on paper are established.
** Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, former clinical professor at Stony Brook Medicine and author of Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction is Hijacking Our Kids–and How to Break the Trance (St. Martin’s), has found treating heroin and crystal meth addicts easier than “lost-in-the-matrix video gamers or Facebook-dependent social media addicts.”
In a recent NY Post article, he reports that one out of three children now uses a tablet or smartphone before they can talk.
Instead of Minecraft, Dr. Kandaras recommends Lego.
Instead of iPads, he recommends books.
Instead of TV, he encourages sports and nature.
Dr. Kandaras suggests that parents ensure that every child has healthy outlets, no electronics in the bedroom and nightly tech-free dinners.
** Lakeview High School in Battle Creek, Michigan has banned cell phones and cell phone-sized electronic devices from classes and hallways.
Scientific papers and videos
Brain Tumor Rates Are Rising in the US: The Role of Cell Phone & Cordless Phone Use Read Dr. Joel Moskowitz’s synopsis of recent research and reports about brain tumors. Dr. Moskowitz, a public health analyst at UC/Berkeley, reports that brain tumors are the most common cancer among those age 0-19 (leukemia is the second). Nearly 78,000 new cases of primary brain tumors are expected to be diagnosed this year. This figure includes nearly 25,00 primary malignant and 53,000 non-malignant brain tumors.
Check out Dr. Moskowitz’s ten most popular posts, including iPhone 6 radiation levels.
A nine-year (2006-2015) study of trees in two German cities found that electromagnetic radiation emitted by cell towers harms trees. Damage to trees from cell towers usually starts on the side facing the tower and extends to the whole tree over time.
“The Health Argument Against Cell Phones and Cell Towers” by applied physicist Ronald M. Powell, PhD. This is an excellent report to distribute throughout your community before any landowner contracts with a telecom corporation. See my cartoon about one family’s challenges after leasing land to a telecom corporation.
See videos and radio from the Environmental Health Trust about:
–prenatal exposure to cell phone radiation;
-the National Toxicology Program’s study showing that cell phone radiation causes brain and heart cancer;
-Telecom corporations’ liabilities and risks. (Lloyds of London and other underwriters will NOT cover damages caused by EMR exposure; most telecoms are therefore self-insured.)
-A 5-minute video from the Cyprus government informing parents of precautions to take with kids re wireless tech.
The FCC seeks Comments regarding the addition of yet more frequencies to the 5G spectrum.
On July 14, 2016, the FCC enacted the Spectrum Frontiers Proceeding, 5th generation (5G) mobile operations. 5G will use millimeter wave bands including 24-25 GHz, 32 GHz, 42 GHz, 48 GHz and 51 GHz. Trials of these bands may begin this year in Mountain View, Palo Alto and San Jose. Commercial deployments will begin in 2020.
Until September 30, the FCC seeks Comments regarding the use of additional frequencies to 5G operations, including 71-76 GHz, 81-86 GHz and 95 GHz.
Kevin Mottus, a lobbyist with the California Brain Tumor Association, has written instructions for submitting a Comment.
For an introduction to 5G, please read my FAQs. To read submissions from the FCC’s last call for Comments about 5G, check out Blake Levitt and Starling Childs’ Comment. See also Dr. Ronald M. Powell’s Comment.
In your Comment, please consider addressing 5G’s energy demands, cybersecurity risks, and risks to the public health. We cannot afford to deploy 5G until and unless it is proven energy efficient, secure and safe.
PNM, New Mexico’s largest utility, has temporarily suspended hearings on its proposal to install “smart” meters. Originally scheduled for August, the utility has decided to focus on appealing a decision to increase rates. The utility expects to announce its decision to re-open or close the “smart” meter case in December.
Meanwhile, PNM has already deployed digital meters to some of its ratepayers. While these meters do not transmit data to “smart” collectors or cellular antennas, they generate (unhealthy) dirty power and are made of combustible plastic (a fire hazard).
It’s also worth noting that like other utilities, PNM generates income for shareholders by spending money on infrastructure. As infrastructure depreciates, shareholders receive return on investment income at, roughly, 10%. If an analog-mechanical meter costs $35 and lasts 30 years or more, shareholders won’t receive significant rate-of-return–even if the utility buys half a million meters. But if a “smart” meter costs $620 and needs replacing every 5-7 years…shareholders’ income could rise.
Are utilities’ goals to deliver electricity safely and efficiently compatible with their goal to profit?
While utilities and consumers aim for energy efficiency and reduced extraction of natural resources, no utility has reported energy savings from “smart” technology or time-of-use billing.
We all have so much to learn.
Gretchen Bakke’s new book, The Grid: The Fraying Wires, explains why our current, centralized, alternating current (AC) electrical grid needs to be replaced by localized, direct current (DC) electric power generators. Alas, Bakke also perceives benefits in “smart” technologies.
For a historical picture about utility company motives, check out Power Struggle: The Hundred-Year War Over Electricity by Richard Rudolph and Scott Ridley (Harper & Row, 1986). See a review of this book from Dr. Tim Schoechle, author of “Getting Smarter About the Smart Grid.”
Natural history, natural security
Natural security depends on understanding natural sources of electromagnetic radiation: On May 23, 1967, the Air Force found its surveillance radars at three ballistic missile early warning system sites in polar regions jammed. Air Force officers figured that the Soviet Union was behind this, and they prepared planes for war.
Just in time, military space weather forecasters explained that solar flares (brief, intense eruptions of radiation from the sun’s atmosphere) had disrupted the surveillance radars.
War was prevented.
The May, 1967 geomagnetic storm went on to disrupt U.S. radio communications for almost a week.
When Baton Rouge, Louisiana flooded August 14-15, cellular communication died, and people without landlines could not reach each other.
For a list of states that have passed legislation that moves telecoms toward the “elimination” of landlines, see Sherry Lichtenberg, PhD’s paper.
Want to read An Electronic Silent Spring? If you’d like ten or more copies, I can pass on the discount that my publisher extends to me. This translates to a 30 – 35% discount from the cover price ($18), including shipping. To order, please contact me directly: katie @ katiesinger. com
To keep this newsletter (and other writing projects) going, please contribute! Katie Singer is currently working on a paper about safer school policies and another about the causes of “smart” meter fires.
Thanks to everyone who uses electronics as safely as possible, reduces their electronics usage and EMR-emissions.
To healthier ecosystems and communities,