By Joshua Hart MSc
We send out a lot of press releases here at Stop Smart Meters! Some of them get picked up by the mainstream media. Most undoubtedly get relegated to the trash bins of reporters. But it is rare to get a request from them to actually remove their e-mail address from our list. They are the media, after all; part of their job is to receive press releases from a variety of sources and then–using a complex formula of political and economic interests, combined with the need to appear ‘objective’—decide which they will report on.
That is why we were so surprised to receive such a request last September from none other than Paul Rauber, the Editor of Sierra Magazine, the official magazine of the Sierra Club:
On Tue, Sep 7, 2010 at 8:16 PM, Paul Rauber Paul.Rauber@sierraclub.org wrote:
Please take me off your list. PR
We replied to Paul, a bit taken aback that the Sierra Club was not even interested in hearing about mounting evidence that ‘smart’ meters are harming human as well as animal and plant health:
From: Stop Smart Meters! <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 09/07/2010 08:21PM
More than happy to oblige, but isn’t this something that the Sierra Club should be concerned with? People are getting sick from these new meters and being forced from their homes. There’s also evidence that EMF’s harm wildlife and trees.
Josh: What hurts wildlife, trees, and humans more: climate change or barely measurable EMFs? These are serious times, and nothing I have read about supposed health claims regarding these meters convinces me that this is a serious issue. Best, PR
This response really should surprise no one. The “big three” corporate environmental organizations in the US- the Sierra Club, NRDC, and EDF- have all been cheerleaders for the ‘smart’ grid for years. It’s not surprising that the national Sierra Club would rather not hear about how the lovechild of their technological obsession and corporate ‘partnerships’- the ‘smart’ meter- is unleashing significant damage to the natural environment. If you listen to some ‘smart’ grid proponents and their ‘environmentalist’ supporters, it’s a little like they are worshipping an idol the way they refer to “Smart Grid” without an article. As in, ‘Smart Grid’ will save the planet. “Smart Grid” will solve homelessness. “Smart Grid” will save the polar bear. Bow down before “Smart Grid.”
Yes these are serious times, Mr. Rauber. The seriousness of our predicament makes it all the more important that we find real climate solutions rather than getting distracted by false climate solutions- especially ones that carry their own steep ecological pricetag. Perhaps it helps your organization to have an idol to give people hope, keep calm, and carry on- even if that idol is made of straw, empty promises, carbon pollution and lots of corporate cash.
These are the same groups that are still suffering fallout from the publication of “The Wrong Kind of Green” in The Nation last year, an article that revealed how mainstream ‘environmental’ organizations are increasingly behaving like ‘satellite PR offices for the corporations who support them.’
Let’s take a look at how that article reports that the Sierra Club uses its political muscle to “solve” climate change:
“In 2009 the EPA moved to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, which requires the agency to ensure that the levels of pollutants in the air are “compatible with human safety”–a change the Sierra Club supported. But the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) petitioned the EPA to take this commitment seriously and do what the climate science says really is “compatible with human safety”: restore us to 350 parts per million (CO2 concentration in the atmosphere). (Kieran) Suckling (of CBD) explains, “I was amazed to discover the Sierra Club opposed us bitterly. They said it should not be done. In fact, they said that if we filed a lawsuit to make EPA do it, they would probably intervene on EPA’s side. They threw climate science out the window.”
In other words, there was something that made the Sierra Club and the other environmental organizations oppose what the science is telling us we need to do, and instead push for what is ‘politically feasible’ at the moment. Since reaching the 350ppm goal would necessitate cultural and lifestyle changes that would be considered unimaginable in the current political context, the Sierra Club made the decision to push for ‘realistic’ cuts that- according to the science- will likely doom us to runaway climate change and environmental catastrophe. But at least the organization wouldn’t be marginalized.
“By pretending the broken system can work–and will work, in just a moment, after just one more Democratic win, or another, or another–the big green groups are preventing the appropriate response from concerned citizens, which is fury at the system itself. They are offering placebos to calm us down when they should be conducting and amplifying our anger at this betrayal of our safety by our politicians. The US climate bills are long-term plans: they lock us into a woefully inadequate schedule of carbon cuts all the way to 2050. So when green groups cheer them on, they are giving their approval to a path to destruction–and calling it progress.
‘At Copenhagen, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” says Kevin Koenig of Amazon Watch, an organization that sides with indigenous peoples in the Amazon basin to preserve their land. “These groups are positioning themselves to be the middlemen in a carbon market. They are helping to set up, in effect, a global system of carbon laundering…that will give the impression of action, but no substance. You have to ask–are these conservation groups at all? They look much more like industry front groups to me.’”
We are seeing the same pattern in the way that the “big three” are behaving with respect to the ‘smart’ grid debacle. EDF has lately been acting as a propaganda machine dismissing widening reports of health damage without investigation, and making unsupported claims about the green credentials of their beloved idol. The organization (together with NRDC) is also taking thousands of dollars of public money from the California Public Utilities Commission- as well as the utilities themselves- for smart grid “consultation.”
SF Sierra Club Group Defects; Calls for Smart Meter Criminalization
Thankfully, it appears that local chapters of even corporate environmental organizations like the Sierra Club have the ability to think for themselves. In March 2011, the Executive Committee of the Sierra Club San Francisco group voted unanimously to send a letter to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors requesting an ordinance prohibiting any further “smart” meter installations.
Their letter states:
“The concerns of the San Francisco group are:
• The increase in electromagnetic frequency radiation (EMF), in the absence of FCC standards for long-term exposure or exposure from multiple sources, that these wireless meters will add to the environment;
•The possibility that wireless meters will not save energy and may, in fact, require more energy for production, operation, and disposal; (and)
•The unknown impact that an increase in EMF could have on migrating birds and other wildlife……”
This is a courageous act. The group should be recognized for their independent thinking, leadership, and rejection of false, groupthink-led climate ‘solutions.’ Sierra Club members and the general public should now exert pressure on the national organization to reconsider its blind support of the “smart” grid, given mounting evidence of harm to ecosystems. Refusing to change their stance will further erode an already damaged reputation as having been co-opted by the corporate interests they are meant to defend against.
Real vs. False Climate Solutions
We’ve been down this road before. It’s easy to fall for the false techno-solutions we are offered. Compact fluorescent bulbs- promoted widely by these same environmental groups, are now being condemned for their mercury contamination and high EMF pollution. Catalytic converters in California’s cars have reduced smog- but at the cost of reducing fuel efficiency and increasing carbon emissions. Biofuels, promoted by industry as a way to cut fossil fuel consumption, have ended up causing skyrocketing food prices and riots in many countries, as calories bypass hungry mouths on their way to our gas tanks. Electric cars- often cited as justification for the “smart” grid, will simply relocate the pollution from the tailpipe to the smokestack.
There is no doubt that our society is facing serious times and that we cannot continue polluting like we have been- it is absolutely critical that we dramatically cut our carbon emissions, avoid widespread nuclear contamination and start closing down coal and nuclear power plants. This will necessarily involve major changes to our consumption and travel habits, an end to wasteful lifestyles, and an equitable agreement with the global south, who have barely contributed to climate change- yet are faced with most of the hardships. The industrialized economies of the north must make deep cuts to emissions – and soon- if we are to avoid unacceptable risks to the stability of life-support systems of the planet.
The problem is that governments and industry- using corporate environmental organizations as cover- are using the climate emergency to push forward an agenda that will likely fail to cut carbon emissions or benefit the environment, but will erode our privacy and civil rights, hurt our health, and strengthen corporate profits and power over governments. Just saying that something is green does not make it so- but people are so worried about the environmental crisis that they are willing to accept just about anything if there is even a vague promise that it will solve the problem. These so-called ‘false climate solutions’ are- in our opinion- a worse threat than maintaining the status quo- because they drain energy, money and political will from the real solutions that we’ll eventually be forced to adopt out of necessity by external events – specifically a re-localization of our economies and lives in response to a decline in global oil supplies and an unstable concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
“Smart Grid” — Is it Safe? Is it Green?
There are two questions raised by Mr. Rauber’s e-mail response. First, to what extent does non-ionizing microwave radiation (used for cell phones, wifi, and now ‘smart’ meters) negatively impact the health of living plants and animals? Second, will the “smart grid” as it’s currently being implemented move us in any significant way toward the low carbon future critical for sustaining life on Earth as we know it? And if it can, is it necessary that we utilize wireless technology and violate individual privacy to harness these alleged benefits? It appears that mainstream environmental groups are vastly underestimating the potential damage from wireless technology and overestimating the potential energy savings from techno-fixes like the ‘smart’ grid.
Let’s take a closer look at these questions.
Are ‘Smart’ Meters Really Safe?
One of forty public comments- all opposing “smart” meters at Santa Barbara County’s recent “smart” meter town hall forum. Is this what “environmental” organizations had in mind when they backed the smart grid, with its huge increase in microwave radiation exposure in our communities? We certainly hope not.
The truth- if the Sierra Club leadership would care to look past utility misrepresentations- is that ‘smart’ meters emit a whole lot more than ‘barely measurable EMF’s.’ According to an analysis by UC Nuclear Policy Lecturer Daniel Hirsch, the meters emit approximately 100-150 times the cumulative, full body microwave radiation exposure of a cell phone. And there is increasing evidence that cell phones are causing brain tumors. On May 31st the World Health Organization placed wireless non-ionizing radiation into carcinogen category 2B- shattering any notion of the safety of wireless tech (WHO press release pdf).
A study carried out by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that cell phones increased glucose metabolism in the brain, adding more evidence that microwaves can disrupt biological systems even at sub-thermal levels. There is also evidence that the series of microwave spikes emitted by “smart” meters are more harmful than continuous exposure.
There are growing rumblings that the sudden proliferation of radiation in our environment is opening up a Pandora’s box of unknown- and in some cases terrifying- health effects, such as television personalities like Judge Judy suddenly suffering severe speech impediments around areas of strong wireless signals.
It appears that thousands of people are being sickened by strong pulses of microwave radiation from ‘smart’ meters, as well as radiation from cell towers, wifi base stations, and other sources. There are hundreds of firsthand reports of increasing electro-sensitivity from ‘smart’ meters– potentially from both the microwave radiation and from the powerful high-frequency currents that the meters’ switching mode power supply add onto the wiring of our homes.
But what about animals and plants who can’t voice their agony or tell us they are being injured? From severe systemic stress response from tomato plants exposed to sub-thermal levels of microwaves, to evidence that tadpoles suffer high mortality when exposed to cell phone tower radiation, the evidence of harm is as extensive as it is disturbing. Many species (including humans) have a substance called magnetite in their brain to navigate using the Earth’s natural magnetic field. There is growing evidence that artificial EMFs can interfere with this ability and disorient species like birds, bats and bees. Combined with climate disruptions and chemical pollution, the cumulative impact is likely to devastate many species. A study by researcher Alfonso Balmori of Spain found that:
“microwave and radiofrequency pollution constitutes a potential cause for the decline of animal populations and deterioration of health of plants living near phone masts.”
You would think that this would be of some concern to those organizations who purport to defend nature. But apparently access to iPhone wildlife apps is more of a priority than preserving the real thing.
Why are mainstream environmental organizations turning a blind eye to the impacts of wireless? A lot of it is that- like much of the population- they are simply not informed about the science. You can blame the mainstream media for that. They are also probably afraid of being labelled as ‘tin foil hat eccentrics.’ In addition, many of their corporate partners make a lot of money from so-called ‘clean tech’ and they’re reluctant to put those profits- some of which flow to these organizations- in jeopardy. On a personal level, it’s often easier to stay in denial and believe the technology we have become addicted to will not hurt us despite the growing evidence to the contrary. Add wireless electrosmog to already severe air, water, noise and climate pollution, and it’s a lot for anyone to take in.
This might explain Mother Jones magazine’s inexplicably bad journalism when it came to covering the ‘smart’ meter revolt in January. Our sources tell us that writer Kiera Butler is a heavy user of her ‘smart’ phone. It must be hard for people like her to believe that a device that has become such a cornerstone of their lives is inflicting great harm on themselves and others. No wonder it was so appealing and comforting to digest and regurgitate PG&E’s talking points. The real Mother Jones- who fought for the rights and health of workers and communities- is no doubt turning over in her grave, as her namesake is being used in this context as a shill for corporate interests.
Are ‘Smart’ Meters Really Green?
A tree in Berkeley just before (on the left) and about a month after (on the right) a bank of 120 “smart” meters was installed behind it.
So what is the truth? Will ‘smart’ meters actually reduce our carbon emissions? Will the ‘smart’ grid really be a net benefit to the environment? Must we diminish our quality of life – suffering health impacts, ecological damage, privacy violations, and a significant financial hit — just so we can “save the planet?”
The phrase “Smart Grid” is in fact an oxymoron; a contradiction in terms. There is nothing “smart” about our national electrical grid. Generating power from coal burning, nuclear fission, and large dams exacts a huge toll on the environment and human health. Transmitting that electricity thousands of miles along high tension power lines- resulting in clearcuts, childhood leukemia and other diseases- with a significant loss of energy along the way- just adds to the list of problems. The sane response to the emergency of climate change and nuclear disasters- a so-called “wise grid”- would re-localize energy supplies, take the power out of the hands of energy monopolies and put it back under control of local communities, enabling low impact, renewable generation and more affordable power. The current ecological nightmare of the electrical grid is only made more hellish with the addition of millions of pulsing, cancer causing wireless devices on every building in America. Not “smart” and definitely not wise. If the public had been given a chance to decide whether to implement the “smart grid” there is no doubt they would have put the brakes on, as evidenced by the 45 local governments in California who have demanded that this boondoggle be stopped.
What’s the Footprint?
Unfortunately there is no way of knowing for certain how the “smart grid” will affect our overall carbon footprint. To date, there has not been an independent, exhaustive, cradle to grave analysis investigating the energy savings or loss from the ‘smart’ grid. This fact is truly shocking given that utilities around the country have used climate change as a pretext to tap billions of taxpayer and ratepayer funds to pay for the development of the ‘smart’ grid. If there is a full independent analysis that considers both the energy costs and benefits of the “smart grid” please post it here. Without that evidence, it’s simply not factual to claim that “smart” meters or the “smart” grid will save energy or reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That hasn’t stopped the utilities for making outlandish, unsupported claims, inferring that if you oppose “smart” meters then you are not “green.” The real climate criminals of course are the utility companies who continue to dump millions of tons of greenhouse gases into an already fragile atmosphere, and the corrupt governments that enable them to laugh all the way to the bank while screwing future generations.
There are already troubling signs that ‘smart’ meters are likely to increase overall carbon emissions. There is a significant energy cost to the new meters’ manufacturing and transportation, their installation and continuous operation, as well as for the transportation and ultimate disposal of perfectly functional analog meters, and the startling amount of energy needed to keep ever increasing acres of server farms humming to store our second by second private home energy use data.
What’s more, energy usage data on the internet (that PG&E claims will help households reduce energy usage) will only be for periods at least 20-30 minutes earlier–not very helpful in analyzing the impact of using specific household devices in “real-time.” To obtain closer-to-real-time data, the customer would have to buy (both financially and environmentally) expensive new appliances that will constantly transmit data (and additional radiation). These too would be running 24/7 consuming substantial additional energy. The unproven conservation claims of “smart” meter boosters conveniently disregard all these additional drains on the energy supply, which a more honest accounting would require. Overall, the technology sector is one of the fastest growing sources of carbon emissions, and ‘smart’ meters are a significant contributor to that.
Another rationale given for the new meters is that they can enable time-of-use pricing (i.e. charging more for electricity when it is most in demand). In theory this could reduce both peak-time electricity use and the use of dirty ‘peaker’ power plants (that are only fired up when regular production falls short). Here too, no evidence exists that smart-meter-produced data would be any more valuable for the retail customer than simply increasing direct education efforts and electricity rebate incentives. Mindy Spatt of Northern California’s Utility Reform Network (TURN) says:
“Smart meters are energy measuring devices- they are not energy saving devices. People save energy- not meters. PG&E might have had more luck if they sent out fridge magnets encouraging conservation at peak times, along with a clothesline and clothespins. Thusfar TURN is not aware of any energy savings justifying the obscenely high costs of these meters.”
An analysis by Oxford University shows that ‘smart’ meters alone do not result in net energy savings. And a study of smart meters in actual operation- from Toronto Hydro- showed no significant increase in energy conservation, but a considerable increase in energy bills for customers. Still, the promise of the smart grid was that it would send price signals that would support conservation and make people more aware of their energy usage, and many people bought into the hype. The terms “clean tech” and “smart grid” sound great- especially when backed by multi-billion dollar marketing campaigns. The reality of course isn’t so pretty.
You often hear that the “smart” grid will facilitate renewable energy integration. Yet that seems to be the furthest thing from the minds of utility executives. For example, Southern California Edison (SCE) has not even developed a “smart” meter that is compatible with household solar arrays, and has the ability to run backwards. It seems that at the end of the day, they don’t really want the competition.
Official PG&E Report: Zero Energy Savings
PG&E is required to submit an annual report on the energy and cost savings from the “smart” grid to the CA Public Utilities Commission. Given that between 8 and 9 million of 10 million “smart” meters have been installed in California, you would expect that some of the promised benefits of the “smart” grid would start materializing. However, in Tables I and II of PG&E’s 2010 Program Year Demand Response and Energy Conservation Annual Report, an energy savings figure rather embarrassing to PG&E and “smart” grid proponents is revealed: Zero. Zip. Nada. Zilch. We hear lots of promises of future savings, but after billions of dollars in expenditures and nearly 90% of the system in place there are no energy savings to demonstrate. So much for the “green” legacy of CPUC President Michael Peevey. And the “smart” grid’s large manufacturing and operational carbon footprint grows bigger every day….
Nevertheless, groups like Environmental Defense Fund continue to back the ill-fated project, ignoring the widespread reports of human health impacts, privacy violations, and increasing evidence of excess carbon emissions being generated. They (along with similar groups) also benefit from payouts of public funds from the CA Public Utilities Commission through cozy contractual relationships and smart grid demonstration projects like those in Austin and Charlotte.
Despite all this documented harm, PG&E and other California utilities failed to complete an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to assess potential environmental impact from their wireless systems. In fact the utility initially submitted a plan for wired (broadband over powerline or “BPL”) data transmission and based their environmental review documents on that system. After receiving an environmental exemption, they then pulled a bait and switch, adopting a wireless communication system without any additional environmental review, a tactic that has led CPUC administrative law judge Steven Weissman to declare that the utilities are vulnerable to CEQA lawsuits. Because of the widespread nature of the system, even minor damage may be exponentially magnified by the millions of meters and wireless antennae that are being installed rapidly. And the anecdotal health effects already visible are tiny compared to the longer term effects that the scientific evidence brings into the realm of possibility.
EDF’s response to the ‘smart’ meter health crisis has been schizophrenic at best. They say they support PG&E’s ‘cop out’ opt out plan in which customers will be double charged but urge utility customers to keep their microwave transmitters switched on and say that ‘key benefits will be lost’ if many people opt out.
What’s going on here? It turns out that EDF’s conflicts of interest run deep. John Doerr of Woodside CA is one of the main venture capitalists backing Silver Spring Networks- the company responsible for the health damaging wireless technology in “smart” meters. He is on President Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board and is the 540th richest man in the world- worth approximately $2.2 billion- ironically the same amount as PG&E’s initial costs of smart meter deployment. When Obama visited the Bay Area in February, he (drove past our protests) and dined at Doerr’s house in Woodside. This guy has connections. His wife Ann Doerr- is on the board of directors of Environmental Defense Fund. Beginning to catch on? The trail leads to the most powerful people in the country. The advisory board of Silver Spring Networks includes none other than Al Gore. The growing debacle of the “smart grid” must be quite an inconvenient truth.
The remainder of EDF’s board of trustees reads like a who’s who in the U.S. corporate power structure. The organization promotes ‘market-based climate solutions’ such as California’s cap and trade program, which allows companies to purchase ‘carbon offsets’ rather than make cuts in their own emissions. Just like the ‘smart’ meter false climate solution, CA’s market-based cap and trade program is also coming under increasing attack, with a San Francisco Superior Court Judge recently ruling that the plan violates the state’s environmental quality act. Those in favor of the carbon trading/ offset approach argue that it doesn’t matter to the atmosphere where reductions in carbon emissions take place as long as they take place. However, in practice some offsets have been found to double- or even triple emissions, and are subject to all sorts of accounting tricks and shenanigans. The bottom line is that climate destabilization has been caused by unconstrained market forces. Do we really believe that the market can fix what the market created in the first place? As Albert Einstein once said, “Problems cannot be solved using the same level of thinking that created them in the first place.”
Corporate “Environmentalism” and the “Smart Grid” Must be Put Down
So what’s going on? We have seen that ‘smart’ meters are likely to increase climate damage rather than reduce it. And to make matters worse, they are creating new problems related to EMF illnesses, wildlife impacts, privacy violations, and fire safety risks. Yet organizations that are supposed to be fighting for a safe and sustainable future are strangely silent, sitting on their hands while electrosensitive people are being thrown out of their homes and elderly people are being threatened. Perhaps they don’t want to admit they were wrong, or even consider that possibility. Perhaps they don’t want to admit that they didn’t do their homework, instead relying on industry reassurances. But I believe it goes deeper. If they were to admit that we cannot blindly rely on technological false solutions to solve these massive, looming environmental threats, that would mean that we must begin considering real solutions, such as a shift away from personal car travel and aviation, smaller, denser walkable communities, locally controlled power generation, a more equitable distribution of wealth, and a stigmatization of overconsumption. All anathema to a philosophy that says if we don’t force economic growth to continue- by whatever means necessary- then we are all doomed. Of course, we can’t have infinite economic growth on a finite planet with finite resources. Everybody knows that, right?
The particularly scary thing about all this is the extent to which corporate interests seem willing to go in the name of achieving even unproven, tiny reductions in our carbon footprint. If governments, industry, and ‘environmental’ organizations are willing to accept people being thrown out of their homes and forced to live in their cars or in the woods as the price we have to pay for even unproven climate mitigations, what violation of our personal or civil rights is coming next? Re-location camps? Forced sterilization? Dangerous geoengineering experiments? The time to draw the line is now.
Over the past year we’ve spoken directly to a number of employees and directors of these corporate environmental organizations, presenting to them evidence of how people are suffering because of the “smart” grid. Often, their eyes will glaze over, and they will mutter something about how climate change is such an emergency and how there are so many people on the planet anyway, and how perhaps a little harm is justified if we can cut emissions. EXCUSE me? So it’s not moral to urge people to only have one child, but it is acceptable to essentially cull the population with powerful microwave emitting devices? That cell phone must really be frying your moral compass. From where I’m sitting, this is truly a dangerous trend that we all must confront and nip in the bud before it evolves into something truly terrible.
Another World is Possible
The sad thing about this is that another world is possible- one where quality of life comes before profit and power, where we achieve previously unimaginable carbon cuts AND enjoy life more. Real climate solutions are grassroots, inherently local, bottom up, equitable, and beneficial to quality of life. False climate solutions concentrate money and power, violate privacy and civil rights, and often increase carbon emissions. This is the choice we’re going to have to make. Without local leadership, we’re left with a vacuum that corrupt government, industry and “green” groups are happy to fill.
Real climate solutions have ancillary benefits that go beyond carbon reduction- improvements in social capital, cleaner air and water, and healthier happier fitter people. But for a culture run by an elite whose goal is to promote individualism, consumerism, and accumulation of wealth at the expense of almost everything else, to admit we need to pursue such a shift is the acceptance of the failure of an entire worldview. That worldview- the one that sees the Earth and all the sentient beings upon it as a machine to be manipulated, extracted, and bought and sold- along with its technocratic “smart” grid- cannot fail soon enough.
Copyright 2011 Joshua Hart Stop Smart Meters! All Rights Reserved
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