To 5G or not 5G?

We always want everything faster and faster, but as always we tend to ignore the costs. However, the faster you drive against a wall the more it will hurt. 5G is exactly this – driving against a wall with high frequency, literally. So what is at stake? Read on.

There are some benefits to 5G of course: governments receive revenue from auctioning off the frequences. The German government, for example, received 6.55€ billion in June 2019 from 5G auctions. Ten times more devices per square kilometer can be connected to a 5G network than a 4G one. And there are potential speed advantages for consumers.

Then there are costs. These are well-summarized in a recent appeal to the UN and WHO, currently already signed by over 100,000 scientists and concerned citizens. Here is a brief summary:

If the telecommunications industry’s plans for 5G come to fruition, no person, no animal, no bird, no insect and no plant on Earth will be able to avoid exposure, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to levels of RF radiation that are tens to hundreds of times greater than what exists today, without any possibility of escape anywhere on the planet. These 5G plans threaten to provoke serious, irreversible effects on humans and permanent damage to all of the Earth’s ecosystems.

[N]umerous recent scientific publications have shown that [electromagnetic fields] affect living organisms at levels well below most international and national guidelines”. More than 10,000 peer-reviewed scientific studies demonstrate harm to human health from RF radiation.

Effects in children include autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and asthma.

Damage goes well beyond the human race, as there is abundant evidence of harm to diverse plant- and wildlife and laboratory animals. Negative microbiological effects have also been recorded.

However, it must be said that, as of now, the position of the WHO is the following:

Considering the very low exposure levels and research results collected to date, there is no convincing scientific evidence that the weak RF signals from base stations and wireless networks cause adverse health effects.

A similar statement has been published by the WHO about mobile phones in 2014. The WHO wanted to undertake a formal risk assessment of this in 2016 but I could not find it anywhere. So we ought to view the official WHO position as being based on research up to the year 2014.

Recent evidence, as collected in the appeal to the UN and WHO, shows that there are significant negative consequences already from current mobile phone and wifi technology use, and that 5G is likely to amplify these. Furthermore, even though all mobile phones, wifi transmitters, bluetooth transmitters, wireless phones, TVs and so on individually adhere to the WHO safe standards for electromagnetic radiation exposure, we just don’t know the cumulative exposure that everyone of us is subjected to. In my office my laptop shows me 25 potential wifi connections, most with a very good signal. In addition, I have my mobile phone beside me, there are numerous bluetooth devices from collegues, etc. How large this cumulative exposure effectively is – nobody seemingly bothers to know.

5G is going to significantly increase our exposure to electromagnetic radiation. In fact, the world right now is running a huge experiment, and we and all living beings are the subjects on which governments and telecommunication companies are experimenting.

But do we really want to impose this risk onto ourselves? Do we really want to use an experiment on 8 billion people and all living beings in order to find out whether this new technology is really driving cancer rates much higher than e.g. Chernobyl and Fukushima did? Or are there better ways to obtain information that do not put everyone in harms way? Could we not simply say: yes we know that there is this technology, but waiting for a couple of years until we have more conclusively scientific evidence may be a less costly initiative than putting everyone and everything on this planet at risk.

My suggested steps to take:

  1. Immediately and substantially increase the funding to study the health impacts of electromagnetic fields. Focus also on the cumulative effects.
  2. Understand that 15 years of data, corresponding to the time span from when mobile phones/wifi started to be widely used, may not be enough to have conclusive evidence of a link between electromagnetic fields and cancer.
  3. Request that the WHO updates its position and recommendations on electromagnetic fields based on the current state of the art of the scientific research. (I have written to the WHO but have not received a response.)
  4. Be clear about the precise decision criterion that is used for the Cost Benefit Analysis to evaluate the usefulness of 5G, and also to evaluate the exposure to electromagnetic fields in general.

In some sense, this debate has close analogy to the public good problem of climate change, or even nuclear energy. While we all know what needs to be done to reduce harm, we follow the path of least resistance and do what everyone else does, which is go with the flow. But without knowing what is behind the next turn, going with the flow may be a terrible decision.

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