5G (and existing wireless radiation) and the environment
5G may have been advertised and promoted as ‘green tech’ for unsubstantiated reasons and which may be outweighed by serious environmental concerns.
The cumulative effect of thousands (or millions and even tens of millions globally) of antennas transmitting microwaves simultaneously is unknown. Safety standards and testing do not appear to be being applied. It was reported in March of this year that ICNIRP are due to vote on relaxing their guidelines around radio frequency emissions so as to accommodate 5G. Permitted levels of wireless radiation are already far higher in the UK than in most other countries (see graph, below).
Satellites: with Elon Musk’s advertised launch of 12000 5G satellites into the atmosphere and a further 8000 from three other private companies, if this occurs there will be nowhere left on the planet without 5G radiation. Currently several international appeals from scientists, doctors and environmentalists are underway to stop this enterprise. Astronomers and weather forecasters are also calling for a ban to Musk’s ‘Starlink’ plan as it will interfere with their work and create ‘space junk’ in Earth’s orbit as well as obstructing stargazing.
Carbon footprint: data use increases
An article by environment correspondent John Vidal entitled ‘A Tsunami of Data’ looks at an update to a 2016 report from a Huawei analyst. The report contains these key points:
- The industry has encouraged the idea that the digital transformation of economies and large scale energy efficiencies will slash global emissions by 20% or more, but the scale and speed of the revolution has been a surprise.
- 5G will result in vastly increased data transfer which requires huge fuel use. By 2025 the ICT industry could be using up to 20% of the world’s electricity, hampering global attempts to meet climate change targets.
- Global computing power demand from the projected billions of devices is increasing 20% a year, consuming roughly 3-5% of the world’s electricity in 2015. US researchers expect power consumption to triple in the next five years as one billion more people come online in developing countries, and the “internet of things”, driverless cars, robots, video surveillance and artificial intelligence grows exponentially in rich countries.
- The report’s author expects industry power demand to increase from 2-300Twh (Terawatts) of electricity a year now, to 1,200 or even 3,000Twh by 2025. Data centres on their own could produce 1.9Gt (or 3.2% of the global total) carbon emissions.
- The report author is quoted thus: The situation is alarming. We have a tsunami of data Everything which can be is being digitalised. It is a perfect storm.
- A 2016 Berkeley laboratory report for the US government estimated the country’s data centres, which held about 350 million terabytes of data in 2015, could together need over 100TWh of electricity a year by 2020. This is the equivalent of about 10 large nuclear power stations. Greenpeace IT analyst Gary Cook says only about 20% of the electricity used in the world’s data centres is so far renewable.“The good news is that some companies have certainly embraced their responsibility [to use renewables], and are moving quite aggressively to meet their rapid growth with renewable energy. Others are just growing aggressively.”
- Architect David Hughes, who has challenged Apple’s new centre in Ireland, says the government should not be taken in by the promises.“Using renewable energy sounds good but no-one else benefits from what will be generated, and it skews national attempts to reduce emissions. Data centres… have eaten into any progress we made to achieving Ireland’s 40% carbon emissions reduction target. They are just adding to demand and reducing our percentage. They are getting a free ride at the Irish citizens’ expense,” says Hughes.
- Eirgrid estimates indicate that by 2025, one in every 3kWh generated in Ireland could be going to a data centre, he added. “We have sleepwalked our way into a 10% increase in electricity consumption.” Fossil fuel plants may have to be kept open longer to power other parts of the country and the costs will fall on the consumer, he says. “We will have to upgrade our grid and build more power generation both wind and backup generation for when the wind isn’t there and this all goes onto people’s bills.”
Data use is set to have a bigger carbon footprint than the entire aviation industry, with a tripling in power use over the next ten years, according to reports.
- Satellites require huge amounts of rocket fuel to launch and Elon Musk’s ‘Starlink’ programme satellites plus those from other private companies totalling around 20K satellites would need to be relaunched every five years due to expiry. Satellites may also deplete the ozone layer. Read more…
- The ‘Things’ required for the Internet of Things: this requires the disposal of old gadgets and appliances, creating waste which has a major environmental impact, and the purchase of new ‘smart’ replacements which require raw materials to be extracted and made into consumer items before being transported around the world, all of which uses vast amounts of fossil fuels.
Interference with planetary climate systems
A 2018 Lancet article stated that: “The potential effects of these anthropogenic electromagnetic fields on natural electromagnetic fields, such as the Schumann Resonance that controls the weather and climate, have not been properly studied”.
Wireless radiation is being increasingly recognised as an environmental pollutant. See Science Direct article.
Millions of new transmitters will need to be deployed, including 25 m high towers for rural coverage, medium-sized small cells on lamp posts, buildings and under manhole covers, and tiny micro-transmitters embedded in domestic objects. These transmitters contain metals including gold, copper, silver and lithium all of which have to be mined. Mining is a highly-polluting industry which often takes place in conflict zones such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and which is a cause of child mortality.