E-lephants in Our Hands:
How Electronics Impact Climate Change

A Talk By Katie Singer
March 4, 2016
The University of Oregon/Eugene
Environmental Law Conference


Would everyone kindly turn their mobile device to airplane mode?

This talk is dedicated to the memory of Doug Tompkins,
founder of the North Face, creator of national parks
throughout South America–and he never owned a cell phone.


Every baby in the developed world is now born to an electronic ecosystem, a society that values technology more than nature.

We humans quickly learn to expect electric lights, baby monitors, refrigerators, washing machines, air conditioners, TVs, mobile phones, iPads, iPods, wireless Internet access, video games, online education, dental and medical care diagnosed and often delivered by electronic devices. computerized cars and global positioning systems and electronic banking,

Few of us know how to survive for more than a few days without electronic appliances or computers. From an early age, we give eye contact more to screens than to people, plants or animals. We treasure our devices. We give our money to electronics manufacturers and to corporations that provide electric power, Internet service and movies.

We expect electricity and electronics without consequences to our health or to wildlife or to Mother Earth. We see the natural ecosystem–electromagnetic energy, the seas, sun, wind, topsoil and raw materials beneath the Earth’s surface–as commodities that keep our electronic ecosystem going, We have no Great Mystery here: if we can pay for it, then we should get what we want.

This is not a sustainable civilization. Human and wildlife health are increasingly challenged. Species are going extinct at an unprecedented rate. Sea levels and global temperatures are rising drastically. We each struggle to deal with our daily lives. We can hardly give attention to climate change.

So I’m quite humbled to report on how our electronic ecosystem contributes to climate change. For nearly two decades, I have known about the detrimental impacts of electronic technologies on human health and wildlife. Their impacts on climate change have remained even more invisible.

Facing these issues is complicated by the fact that the Information-Communications-Technologies ecosystem (ICT) changes and grows faster than anyone can comprehend. For examples, hourly Internet traffic now exceeds the total annual Internet traffic from year 2000. From 2003 to 2013, our economy’s transportation sector grew 15%. The information economy grew 45%. Manufacturers now produce “far more transmitters than the world’s farmers grow grains of wheat or rice.”

Here’s the deal: Turning on a light requires electricity, powerlines, wires within your home and the lightbulb. Turning on a light does not require dozens of lights turned on elsewhere. But watching a video on an iPad requires powering up a vast network of computers and infrastructure all over the country, even all over the world. Watching a video starts with mining for lead, tin, coltan and petroleum. It depends on factories that produce semiconductors, the building blocks of computers. It needs hundreds of chemical compounds per computer, factories that assemble and box each device; international shipping; electricity so you can charge your tablet; hundreds of thousands of base stations that form broadband networks; data centers that store the video, and air conditioning systems that cool the data centers.

Every station in the sequence requires electricity. One click on Google uses about 11-watt hours of energy–the same amount it takes to run a compact fluorescent light bulb for an hour. According to some estimates, each search emits just under seven grams of Co2. Multiply that by the number of searches you do in one day, multiply that by 365 days and then by four or five billion people with a computer in their hands, and we begin to see just how much electricity we’re talking about.

Burned coal generates carbon dioxide, which covers the Earth, similar to the roof of a greenhouse. Heat gets trapped. It stays within our atmosphere, and so global temperatures rise, Arctic ice melts and sea levels rise. In short, our revered electronics accelerate climate change.

Alas, that is just one problem with our electronic ecosystem.


To address any problem, we need a full picture. Today, I’ll name part of the herd of electronic elephants (e-lephants) that we rarely notice when we text, email, skype, monitor babies, watch videos, design new products, shop online, use global positioning systems or search for an old friend on facebook.

I’ll also name some realistic solutions, e-lephants in their own right.

I should say that I am not an electrical engineer. I aim to explain our electronic ecosystem at an introductory level. I’ve learned well that this stuff cannot be simplified without making gross errors. Please bear with me.


Here are some of the e-lephants.

* Over billions of years, living creatures have evolved in relation to the Earth‘s electromagnetic environment. As nature would have it, every cell in our bodies function by electro-chemical signals: to function, our bodies depend on electromagnetic cues from our natural environment.

* About 150 years ago, our species figured out how to generate, store and transmit electrical energy. Since then, we have deployed a massive amount of electrical infrastructure and electronics that operate at frequencies and amplitudes that are not found in nature.

* Man-made electricity and electronics emit electromagnetic radiation (EMR). Our EMR emissions nearly saturate our environment.

* Man-made EMR harms human and wildlife health. Thousands of studies back this up. In fact, underwriters will not ensure for health damages caused by wireless technologies.

* Manufacturing and powering electronics requires energy. Every electronic device requires semiconductors, transmitting and receiving antennae, factory assembly, shipping, broadband networks and data storage. To satisfy our electronic desires, we ravage the Earth for fossil fuels and rare minerals. Burning fossil fuels generates gasses that trap heat within our atmosphere, thus raising our global temperature.

* To date, our aims to curtail global warming and increase our energy efficiency–i.e. solar power, hybrid cars and the “smart” grid–mainly allow people with money to continue using electronics as much as we want. Like our laws, many of our solutions serve corporations and electronic technologies. Our solutions do not protect our natural ecosystem or our health. They deny our dependence on the Earth, our own hands and each other.

* We are all addicted to electronics. Like any addict, we’ll take from our Mother to feed our habit.


In his book, Limits to Growth, climatologist Dennis Meadows warned that if we didn’t immediately and drastically curtail our use of natural resources, we could expect significant increases in drought, famine, floods and war. That was 1971. Instead of heeding the warning, we grew our population with expectations of instant communication, rapid transit and immediate gratification. We bought refrigerators, TVs, stereos, microwave ovens and air conditioners. In the last 15 years, we bought cell phones and iPads and iPods and routers and made everything wireless.

But the Internet is not sustainable. Watching one hour of video per week wirelessly consumes annually more electricity than two new refrigerators use in a year.

Our species still aims to have one fridge per household–but throughout the world, people expect several mobile devices per person. And the average American watches four hours of on-screen entertainment per day.

I’m a concerned citizen with deep love for all living creatures. Without man-made electricity and communications, I could not have traveled to this conference, nor had this talk recorded or broadcast. Like other privileged humans, I’ve enjoyed trucked-in food, electric lights, a telephone, a refrigerator, a car and a word processor most of my life. I don’t know how to live without any of these for more than a few days. I run three websites. I have no cell phone or computer, but I depend on people who have them. I need to live with less, and I don’t know how.

I am humbled, daily, by my own attempts to admit my contributions to this mess and to find realistic solutions that reduce my energy use. I live with deep respect for everyone who faces these issues.


First, An Overview of Electromagnetic Energy

A few billion years ago, before humans created TVs or phones or the Federal Communications Commission, this planet was a mass of gasses, water, dust and rock. The sun heated the water, making clouds. Wind pushed clouds, generating static electricity. After a buildup of charge, lightning began to strike. A bombardment of lightning storms led to nucleic and amino acids, the building blocks of life. Early plants made oxygen and paved the way for animals.

Within the Earth’s electro-chemical environment, plants and animals have evolved.

Studies indicate that land and sea animals as well as insects have an electrical sense. For example, bees are positively charged, and flowers are negatively charged. These charges help pollen stick to bees’ hair while they visit a flower. Bees also use their electrical sense to determine whether or not a flower has recently been visited by another bee–and to decide whether the flower is worth visiting.

To navigate, animals as diverse as migrating geese, sea turtles and wolves use the Earth’s magnetic field. Worms’ brains include a sensor–C. elegans–a microscopic structure at the end of a neuron, It looks like a nano-scale TV antenna, and it helps worms navigate underground. Other animals probably have similar sensors; scientists are still learning how they work.

All human organs, including our brains and hearts, function by electro-chemical signals. Even at rest, all of our cells have measurable voltage. In other words, without electromagnetic energy, none of us would be here.


Building the First E-lephant

The ancient Greeks figured out how to generate electricity, but not how to store or transmit it. Around 1800, the observation that frog legs twitch in response to an electrical impulse led to the creation of electro-chemical battery storage. By 1840, we could transmit electric signals over telegraph wire.

The electromagnet’s invention, in 1844, charged up the industrial revolution. By 1880, we could transmit electric power over long distances with alternating current electricity. We transitioned from visible, mechanical technologies powered by horse and mule and human muscle, then steam and hydropower, to electromagnetic technologies, whose power is mostly invisible.

We built power plants, powerlines, transformers and motors. We electrified lights. We electrified tools for cooking, washing clothes, diagnosing and treating illnesses; for transporting goods; for constructing roads and buildings; for communicating, entertaining and educating. We transmitted talk, music and sitcoms over radio waves. We electrified everything, and then we went wireless. We created mobile devices, Wi-Fi, baby monitors and smart utility meters. To support our 350 million mobile phones in the U.S., we installed about 300,000 cell towers. We began to believe that we had control of nature. We congratulated ourselves for making our lives easier.

In 2016, about 135 years after we began laying out an electric power grid, we have nearly saturated our environment with electromagnetic fields at frequencies and amplitudes that do not exist in nature. We’ve changed the Earth’s electromagnetic environment significantly. Most of this change comes from our power grid, from radio and TV broadcasting antennas, and, more recently, from cellular antennas, mobile devices and Wi-Fi networks.

To operate, each of these devices emits electromagnetic radiation (EMR). Each of them requires electricity.


E-lephant #2: EMR Exposure Harms Wildlife

In 2010, Spanish biologist Alfonso Balmori studied a common frog habitat about 450 feet from a cell tower. He placed metal screens–shields–around some frogs. Two months later (frogs require two months to develop from the egg phase to the advanced stage of tadpole), the shielded frogs had a mortality of 4.2%. The unshielded frogs had a mortality of 90%.

German scientist Ulrich Warnke reports that after cellular antennas were erected near beehives, longtime beekeepers observed “pronounced restlessness” and “a greatly increased urge to swarm” in their bee colonies. After nearby antennas went live, 65% of bee colonies abandoned their hives. GMOs, pesticides and monocultures likely also play roles in colony collapse. But ill bees typically die in or near their hives. In most cases of colony collapse, no ill or dead bees are found.

To help them navigate, bees and other creatures use cryptochromes, magnetically sensitive proteins in their eyes. Cryptochromes can sense the Earth’s magnetic fields. Exposure to EMR emitted by cell towers disrupts cryptochrome-based navigation.

For more studies about how EMR exposure harms wildlife, check out www.bioinitiative.com or www.electronicsilentspring.com.


E-lephant #3: EMR Exposure Harms Human Health

To consider how human health is affected by EMR exposure, let’s first look at how the FCC determined that mobile devices are safe: In the mid-1990s, engineers filled the head of a 200 pound mannequin with salty fluid, then took his temperature. This mannequin is called SAM–for standard anthropomorphic man. Engineers gave SAM a cell phone for six minutes, then they took his temperature again. Because SAM’s temperature did not change by more than two degrees celsius in those six minutes, the FCC still considers mobile devices safe.

Note that this cell phone’s effects were tested alone. Most of us are exposed to multiple devices at a time. Most of us are exposed to wireless devices and services 24/7.

But engineers at the FCC only recognize immediate, thermal effects. They do not recognize non-thermal, long-term, cumulative or combined effects of EMR exposure. The FCC does not consider that pregnant women, children or people with medical implants might be affected by EMR exposure differently than 200-pound mannequins.

And of course, most diseases take more than six minutes to develop.

If you’re curious, there are thousands of studies about non-thermal effects of EMR exposure. You can find them at BioInitiative.org and saferemr.com. DNA is affected. The blood-brain barrier is weakened. Voltage-gated calcium channels are weakened. Studies show that using cell phones and living or working near cell towers have increased risk of behavioral problems, rashes, brain cancer, memory issues, neurological disorders, reproductive health damage and male infertility, insomnia, blurred vision and on and on.

Swedish studies have found that for every one hundred hours of cell phone use, the risk of brain cancer increases by 5%. Using a digital cell phone as a teenager or younger increases risk of brain cancer by 420%.

Meanwhile, no U.S. telecom corporation will give its subscribers’ usage data to epidemiologists. That’s why most studies about EMR exposure come from Europe, the Middle East and China.

Underwriters consider health damages caused by wireless technologies the leading risk to human health, greater than risk caused by GMOs, pesticides, asbestos, fracking or nanotechnology.

We should also consider the health of workers in the semiconductor industry. Semiconductors are the building blocks of computers. In the “clean rooms” where semiconductors are made, workers wear special garb that covers them from head-to-toe. These suits do not protect human workers. They keep impurities from contaminating the semiconductors. The filters that workers wear trap dust, not chemical fumes. Workers routinely breathe or contact known or suspected carcinogens, including toltuene, cadmium, arsenic, benzene and trichloroethylene. As one worker diagnosed with breast cancer noted, “Clean has nothing to do with safe.”


E-lephant #4: Children Absorb More Radiation than Adults

For our offspring, EMR exposure now begins in utero from cell phones, tablets, cell towers, Wi-Fi and smart meters. On arrival, our children grow in close proximity to baby monitors and cordless phones. School districts around the country begin passing out tablets in kindergarten.

Children’s skulls are thinner than adult skulls, their bodies are smaller with smaller surface areas; and so they absorb more radiation. The FCC does not have different standards for children. In July, 2015, electrical engineer Dr. Om Gandhi published a paper about this in the IEEE’s journal, Spectrum. It’s called “Yes the children are more exposed to radio-frequency energy from mobile telephones than adults.”

Dr. Hugh Taylor, the head of obstetrics at Yale Medical School, warns pregnant women and children to keep away from cell phones and Wi-Fi.


Let me interrupt these sobering reports with stories of families who reduced their EMR exposure. The first story starts with a ten-year-old boy who lives with his family on a military base. He had no speech. He screamed every night from 10pm until 3am. His parents took him to a pediatrician with a protocol that reduces EMR exposure. This physician didn’t think her protocol would do any good, since the military base’s background radiation levels would be so high. But the family was desperate.

The doctor advises turning Wi-Fi off for at least 12 hours at night. Don’t let the child within eight feet of a cordless phone or a mobile device. And turn electricity off to the child’s bedroom at the breaker box.

The boy’s parents only turned off their Wi-Fi at night. Three days later, this child spoke a complete sentence.

Motivated, the parents reduced as much of their EMR exposure as they could. The pediatrician put the boy on a therapeutic-grade fish oil. Within three weeks, he slept through the night. No more screaming.

We don’t say that reduced EMR exposure calmed this boy and improved his sleep. We say that the protocol is free, and anyone can try it.


E-lephant #5: Electronics Need Electricity

Our electronic ecosystem includes personally-owned devices like mobile phones and pcs; business-owned computers and hand-held devices; broadband wired communications networks, broadband wireless networks; factories that produce semiconductors, factories that assemble computers; data centers, which have become “warehouse-scale supercomputers” that store data; and distribution warehouses like amazon.

Each part of this ecosystem requires electricity. In 1999 and 2013, the National Mining Association and the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity sponsored reports written by Mark Mills. Much of the information I share today about how electronics impact climate change comes from this report, “The Cloud Begins With Coal.” The industry sponsored this paper to prepare for increasing electricity demands.

Most of our demand–for electronics, electronic infrastructure, and electricity–started in the 1990s with the rise of the Internet and mobile services.

We now expect Internet access and cellular communication everywhere. Between 2010 and 2013, US. mobile traffic rose 400%. It continues to rise. Between 2007 and 2013, China Mobile claimed a 50% improvement in their energy efficiency. But because of its increase in subscribers and base stations, China Mobile’s overall electricity use still increased.

4G networks consume 60 times more energy than 2G networks.

At the University of Melbourne, The Centre for Energy Efficient Telecommunications (CEET) reports that as of 2014, communications infrastructure was expanding at over 20% annually. CEET calculated that in 2012, worldwide energy consumption by the wireless cloud was 9.2 terawatt hours. By 2015, CEET’s estimates show the wireless cloud consuming up to 43 terawatt hours. That’s a 460% increase in three years.

According to CEET, most of this consumption comes from wireless access networks like WiFi and 4G. In other words, most of the cloud’s energy use goes to the infrastructure between your device and data centers.

As for data centers, they are filled with computers and cooling systems. The average square foot of a data center uses 100 to 200 times more electricity than the average square foot of a modern office building. Put another way, a tiny data room of a few thousand square feet uses more electricity than it takes to light a 100,000 square foot shopping mall.

In April, 2012, Greenpeace senior policy analyst Gary Cook reported that if data centers were a country, they’d rank fifth in use of energy.

Also in 2012, James Glanz reported in the NY Times that data centers require the equivalent of 30 nuclear power plants.

The problem here is that for the average device user, electricity is cheap. The real cost of the cloud keeps as invisible to us as electromagnetic radiation. In 2008, the anthropologist and Community Rights leader Jane Anne Morris calculated that if eight billion people each pedaled six hours each day, we could keep the cloud going by bike-powered generators. That estimate is way out of date, of course. But perhaps if we pedaled six hours a day for it, we’d decrease our use of wireless tech.


E-lephant #6: Electronics are Toxic

In 1997, the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition reported that the production of an eight-inch wafer (a semiconductor necessary to every computer) used the following resources:

* 4,267 cubic feet of bulk gasses

* 3,787 gallons of waste water

* 27 pounds of chemicals

* 29 cubic feet of hazardous gasses

* 9 pounds of hazardous waste

* 3,023 gallons of de-ionized water

In 1997, Intel estimated that each of its new plants produced 5000 wafers per week. These figures are two decades old.

Also in 1997, the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition reported that one computer work station required 700 chemical compounds.

Of course, most electricity comes from coal. Besides coal’s emissions trapping heat within the Earth’s atmosphere, coal-fired power plants generate mercury, also known as acid rain. It goes into the air, settles in seas and rivers and gets consumed by fish, wreaking havoc on our food chain.


Here’s another encouraging story. A couple in Silicon Valley had two boys, both diagnosed with autism by toddlerhood. The oldest one was kicked out of pre-school. The parents tried special diets and mercury chelation, with minimal results. One day, the father unplugged a few wires under his desk and felt something ease up. This dude was very attached to his electronics. But he and his wife cared more about their health. They eliminated their wireless tech. Their boys are now teenagers, and neither has autism.


E-lephant #7: Coltan

Most electronics contain coltan. Short for Columbite-tantalite, coltan is a black, tar-like mineral. Refining makes it a heat-resistant powder that can hold a high electric charge. Refined coltan is crucial to devices that store energy, including mobile phones, laptops, tablets, digital still cameras, video cameras, ink jet printers, hearing aids, pacemakers, jet engines, X-ray film and pagers.

The Congo holds 64% of the world’s coltan. Mining for coltan has contributed to mass rapes and more loss of life than any other single situation since World War II. To get coltan and satisfy our hunger for wireless devices, corporations have nearly destroyed Congo.

Every new device requires coltan.

To learn more, check out Consuming the Congo: War and Conflict Minerals in the World’s Deadliest Place by Peter Eichstaedt.


E-lephant #8: Electronic Waste

One computer can contain hundreds of toxic elements and chemicals, including lead, mercury, cadmium, brominated flame retardants and polyvinyl chloride. Many of these chemicals are known to cause cancer, respiratory illnesses and reproductive problems.

When you dispose of an electronic device, its chemicals can migrate into our soil, water and air. The chemicals can accumulate in our bodies and our environment.

Meanwhile: the lifespan of each mobile device, computer and cell tower grows shorter, generating more e-waste more rapidly.

In 2003, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality found that in the course of two years, 350 million computers are disposed of in landfills, containing four billion pounds of lead, two million pounds of cadmium and 400,000 pounds of mercury.

Because data centers require constant upgrading of equipment, they constantly produce massive electronic waste.

On average, every Westerner now discards 66 pounds of electronic waste per year. We export most of this waste to India, China and Nigeria. Children routinely comb these dumps for useful bits they can sell, exposing themselves to hazards with no protection whatsoever. Some of our e-waste is sent to U.S. prisons, where inmates “recycle” it, again without protection.


E-lephant #9: Our Solutions Mainly Give Us the Idea that We Can Keep Using Electronics

Let’s start with compact fluorescent lightbulbs, which use less energy than incandescent bulbs. Most CFLs contain mercury. Eventually, these bulbs and their mercury end up in landfills and migrate to waterways. If a CFL breaks on your floor, you’ve got a mercury hazard to clean up.

Fluorescent lights also create harmonics, also known as “dirty” power on 60 Hz wires: they chop the electric current, creating electromagnetic radiation on your wires. Generally, incandescents–which have been banned in some cases, are still the safest alternative. Making them with linear power supplies would make them energy efficient and keep them safe.


Let’s look at solar power, which aims to decrease use of fossil fuels. Photo voltaic solar panels collect sunlight and convert it to direct current (DC) electricity. To provide alternating current (AC) electricity at outlets (since most electronic devices and appliances ultimately require AC), the collected DC goes through an inverter. Most inverters generate magnetic fields, also known as extremely low frequency/electromagnetic radiation.

An inverter’s EMR emissions can exceed safety standards for workers (set by OSHA), people with medical implants (set by the FDA and implant manufacturers), and the public health (set by several European countries and the World Health Organization).

Inverters also “chop” the current on electric wiring, distorting the smooth, 60-cycle sine wave. This is sometimes called “dirty” power. Prevention Magazine has reported that dirty power can be carcinogenic.

A net meter connects a solar system to the grid. It tracks surplus electricity sent to the utility and what you draw when you have none stored. Like a smart meter, it emits pulsed radiofrequency radiation. You don’t want a meter like this on the other side of a bedroom wall. You don’t want a neighbor with a pulsing meter pointing toward your bedroom.

Significantly, most solar systems are now installed without a battery–without a place to store extra electricity–leaving users dependent on corporate electricity at night and on cloudy days.

To create safer solar power, you can keep the system DC, using 12-volt batteries to charge your appliances–which will also need to be DC.

You can create a safer AC system by filtering the panels and the inverter, and keeping the inverter and the net meter far from frequented areas, especially bedrooms.

Fyi, filtering requires power and reduces energy efficiency.

You also need an electro-mechanical meter to track electricity sent to your utility company.

I do not know of a safe way to generate electricity from wind turbines.


For people who don’t go off-grid, utility corporations have designed a “smart” grid in order to increase energy efficiency. Every household gets a “smart” meter that transmits data about your gas, water or electric usage to your utility. Some meters transmit thousands of times each day. Typically, they work like a cell phone transmitting data by a text message. They can transmit for a half mile or more.

Most transmissions last a fraction of a second, which sounds inoccuous. But these spikes operate at amplitudes and frequencies that are not found in nature. One meter can transmit thousands of times per day. PG&E, our country’s largest utility, has received more than 10,000 health complaints since they installed smart meters. If you live in a state where you can “opt out” (and perhaps pay) to keep and “self-read” an analog meter, you’d still be subject to transmissions from neighbors’ meters.

The smart grid operates with the idea that delvering electricity smoothly is most efficient. So if we all do laundry and watch movies and use electronic medical equipment in the evenings and on weekends, that smoothes out the delivery of electricity, which businesses demand primarily on weekdays. With smart meters, a utility can identify exactly when you use electricity. Eventually, they’ll charge more for weekday use in order to motivate people to prefer evening and weekend use.

Besides disturbing many peoples’ health, many smart meters have caught fire when they’re installed. (If you have homeowners’ or renters’ insurance, check your insurance policy to see if it covers fire damage caused by a “smart” meter installation.)


Hybrid and electric car manufacturers offer another solution to consumers who want to do the right thing. Alas. These cars each have about eight magnetic-field-emitting computers. In a Prius, for example, at every stop, computers signal the battery to recharge. The magnetic fields at each stop can shut off a deep brain stimulator, a medical implant commonly given to people with Parkinson’s and other nervous system disorders.

How are pregnant women or children affected by riding in a Prius? These are good questions. I know of no federal agency or car manufacturer that has considered these questions.


The bottom line here is that we can’t just ask about energy efficiency and curtailing fossil fuel use. With every electronic device, we also need to ask about its’ EMR emissions and its biological effects.


E-lephant #10: Our legal frame

When I was a child, a rabbi told me, “If you honor the Sabbath, the rest of the Commandments will take care of themselves.” Shabbat, the Hebrew word for Sabbath, means “not to strike:” Jewish law dictates to leave nature as it is on Shabbat. You can’t light a fire, touch money or carry anything outside of your house. You’ve got to rest. In modern times, you can’t turn on an electric switch, ride in a car or use the Internet.

Likewise, every seventh year, the Bible encourages farmers to rest their land in order to replenish the soil’s nutrients.

Now, we have no rest. The Internet stays lit 24/7.

Let me name a few of the laws and regulations that frame our modern lives:

* In 1934, Congress established the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC defined the term “harmful interference:” anything that interferes with existing radio or TV broadcasts. Since the mid-90s, this definition has included cellular and Internet services. According to the FCC, “harmful interference” has never included harm to human health or the environment.

* In 1996, Congress passed the Telecommunications Act. Its Section 704 states that no health or environmental concern may interfere with the placement of a cell tower.

* There’s that six-minute test of SAM to prove cell phone safety.

* Specific Absorption Rates (SARs), established in 1996, allow the head and trunk to absorb 1.6 w/kg of radiation over one gram of tissue. Extremities such as the hands and feet can absorb 4.0 w/kg of radiation over ten grams of tissue.

In September, 2013, the FCC decided to maintain these standards.

They also reclassified the pinna (the outer parts) of our ears as extremities.

Effectively, the FCC now allows the head to absorb three times as much radiation as it could when the outer ears were not classified as extremities. FYI, children, pregnant women, people with medical implants and healthy 200-pound mannequins all have the same SAR.

For a more comprehensive description of rules and regulations around electricity and telecommunications, please visit www.EMRPI.org; please read the legal chapter in An Electronic Silent Spring.


#11 We deploy new technologies all the time: Li-Fi, driverless cars, wireless chargers.

Driverless cars could be on the road by 2019. These cars require eight or more computers to function. Each computer emits electric and magnetic fields. Will any manufacturer or government agency test the effects of exposure to these fields on passengers before they market the car? Will they study how children, pregnant women and people with medical implants are affected by exposure to EMR from driverless cars? Probably not.

LiFi is a light-based wireless Internet transmitter. It’s fiber optics without the cables.

Google and Facebook and a half dozen other corporations also plan to blanket the Earth in Wi-Fi with thousands of satellites and ballons. Launching these will require fuel which, of course, will generate CO2.

None of these technologies has been proven harmless. And no agency regulates the energy use of new deployments.


#12: Most of us, including children, are addicted to electronics.

I’ve got another story here, a study actually. In the 1970s, at Stanford University’s pre-school, researchers offered 52 four-year-olds a marshmallow in a private room. Then, the researcher told the child that he or she had to go somewhere for 15 minutes. If the marshmallow was uneaten when they returned, the child would get another marshmallow.

Ten years later, the children who’d had self-control to wait 15 minutes to eat that first marshmallow were more able to cope with frustration and resist temptation. These kids had sung songs, napped or thought of other things while waiting. As teenagers, the researchers found that they could concentrate and think ahead. They were competent and skillful and more self-assured than the teens who, in pre-school, could not delay gratification for 15 minutes.

This study tells me that whenever anyone has an electronic device, they need skills in self-regulation. We need to strengthen our abilities to sing songs, nap and use our imagination.


#13 Real Solutions Will Require Every Person Changing Their Expectations and Habits

Every one of us participates in this mess. No one gets off the hook. We need to declare ourselves students of energy efficiency and safety and commit to getting informed. Then, we get our questions rolling.

Before we power up an electronic device, we need to ask:

How did the FCC determine that this device is safe?

How did the FCC determine that the infrastructure this device requires is safe?

How are pregnant women, children, people with implants, non-users and wildlife affected by electromagnetic signals emitted by this device, including from second-hand exposure?

In the event of harm caused by this device and/or infrastructure, who’ll be liable?

How much energy went into manufacturing this device? How much energy is used to operate the infrastructure it requires?

Then, we need to get personal: Could EMR exposure be a factor in my insomnia and memory issues? Could EMR exposure be a factor in my child’s autism or ADHD, my friends’ and neighbors’ brain tumors? Could my electronics use contribute to our ecosystem’s loss of biodiversity?

How/do we educate children for power outages? for decreased use of technology?

Blaming corporations and government agencies has so far failed to create the awareness or change that we need.

Here’s the biggest e-lephant in the room: real solutions means reducing our use of electronics, which will reduce our EMR emissions, EMR exposure and our energy use.


Start with your bedroom: turn Wi-Fi off for at least twelve hours every night while you sleep…until you get wired Internet access. Unplug everything you can in your bedroom while you sleep. Don’t just turn it off. Unplug it.

If you sleep with your head on the other side of a wall from your refrigerator or breaker box, move your bed.

Next, you’ve got to re-think your mobile devices. When a mobile device is on, depending on how it’s programmed, it’ll check every five minutes or every minute or constantly to see if you’ve got a message. Each time your device asks the nearest cell tower this question, it zaps you. If you’re thinking of shielding your phone with a protective case, beware: The Environmental Working Group studied protective cases and found that they can actually increase the user’s EMR exposure by 70%.

Instead: Think of your phone as a message taker. Turn it off. Set its alarm to let you know, say, every two hours that you’ve got a message.

Limit yourself to, say, no more than ten minutes per day on the phone. Never hold it to your head. Use the speakerphone.

Don’t use mobiles in moving vehicles. At every mile, when your device connects to a new cell tower, it goes to maximum power. Much of this radiation gets trapped in the car–or bus or train–and bounces around, since vehicles are metal boxes.

Protect children. Speaking about screen-time, not EMR exposure, interactive screen-time (that’s using a keyboard, a mouse or touch to manipulate a screen) is much more hazardous to children’s brain development than looking passively at a TV. So: video games are more detrimental than passive TV.

Child psychiatrist Dr. Victoria Dunckley has created an excellent program that has helped hundreds of children to end meltdowns, raise grades and boost social skills. Here’s how it works: give your child a three week electronic fast. If you’re intimidated by that prospect, Dr. Dunckley suggests you compare it to another meltdown. After the fast, you re-introduce electronics, starting, say, with a half-hour of use per day. If the child starts demonstrating erratic behavior after 45 minutes of screen-time, then you go back to a half-hour limit per day.

I should clarify here that you don’t need to be a child to try an electronic fast or to reduce your EMR exposure.

It helps children when their parents and teachers limit their use.

As for saving energy, transmitting a movie takes more energy than transmitting a photograph. Transmitting a picture takes more than a voice message, which takes more than a text. To conserve energy, watch videos selectively. Do not download videos or pictures on mobile devices. Limit downloads to wired devices.


Schools, churches and businesses also need to give attention to these issues. Here’s another family in an affluent urban area. In school, in first grade, the younger boy had intense headaches. He pulled out his hair. He was so restless that he couldn’t sit in a chair. He had to have a bouncy ball. At home, he didn’t have these problems. Then, at a basketball game in second grade, he told his mom, “My heart’s beeping really fast and it won’t stop.”

A children’s heart specialist found no problems with his heart.

An enviromental toxicologist suggested that attending school with routers in every classroom, wireless microphones on every teacher, smart boards and iPads could disturb this child’s heart. This pre-school to 8th grade school in fact has multiple defibrilators.

Using Austrian Medical Guidelines, a doctor found that this boy’s problems came from exposure to radiofrequency radiation.

The parents transferred their boy to the school with the least amount of EMR exposure in town. He’s now a healthy seventh grader. He’s one of two in his class without a mobile device. He considers himself lucky not to have to deal with one.

I’d love to know the difference in students and teachers’ health and students’ test scores in schools that are wired and schools that are wireless.

I’d love to know the difference in electric bills.

We need to start tracking this.


We need plenty

We need people who can admit that we are powerless over technology and that our lives have become unmanageable.

We need people who can get sober.

Health and sustainability still require respecting nature’s messages and honoring our limitations. The idea that we can do anything we want because we have the money and the technology is not sustainable.

We need contests between neighbors, schools and businesses to reduce EMR emissions and energy use.

We need parents and teachers who care about their children enough to reduce their electronic habits.

We need investors who’ll manufacture safer electronics.

Electricians who can replace wireless access with wired access.

Accountants who can show us the true cost of wireless tech.

We need lawyers who’ll work for public health and the environment.

We need legislation that requires manufacturers to label cell phones so that users are alert about keeping distance between the phone and their bodies–as Berkeley California has done.

We need telecom corporations to maintain landline infrastructure.

We need safe and energy-efficient power systems, on and off-grid.

We need citizens who can get Congress to fund the EPA and the FDA to bring regulations up to date with the pace of invention.

We need public libraries to buy meters that measure magnetic and radiofrequency fields and to offer workshops about using them. A wiring error can expose a park or backyard to AC magnetic fields; the first step in canceling such electromagnetic radiation is detecting it.

Every person has something to contribute.

We need forums. Cultural change takes place in groups of seven. We need neighbors, parents and colleagues to support each other as they learn to reduce EMR exposure and energy use.

Is anyone here open to forming an alliance with six others who aim to reduce EMR exposure, screen-time and energy use?

Would you stand up?


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