Peter Knight believes in car pooling, but not electromagnetic hypersensitivity

Peter Knight believes in car pooling, but not electromagnetic hypersensitivityYou’re perfect: no allergies, good weight, balanced disposition. You feel neither over-served nor under-served.

Perhaps this leaves you feeling disadvantaged for having no disadvantages? If so, we have just the right affliction for you – technology-based and impossible to prove. It’s called electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS).

This condition has no scientific basis but afflicts many who are convinced that the signals from mobile phones and other radio communications devices, including smart electricity meters, make them dizzy. It’s an iAffliction.

EHS joins the long list of subjective, phantom health conditions that people use to fight change in personal behaviour. This is bad news because it gives people excuses – despite scientific evidence to the contrary – to maintain lifestyles that damage the environment.

Luddite behaviour is not new, but what makes this rejection of science so frightening is the fact that it is taking place in a country that put a man on the moon and an iPod in your ear.

Rational scientific thought plays a terrifyingly diminishing role in this country’s political decision making. This is leading to the widespread rejection of technologies, regulation and behavioural change needed to preserve one of the most beautiful and diverse environments known to man.

Take two examples recently in the news: smart meters and car sharing.

Smart meters are electricity meters that monitor use and charge householders differing rates according to the timing of their consumption. The meters are part of a bid to make electricity grids “smarter” – more efficient – by inserting some intelligence into distribution.

Electricity supply through smart grids has a reduced impact on the environment. But that’s not how some influential consumers see it.

Reaction to smart meters, which communicate with HQ via radio waves, ranges from the suspicion (a spy in your cellar) to health fears centred on electromagnetic radiation. This has led to open hostility from consumers, including suffragette-style demonstrations where protestors have tried to physically prevent utility contractors from doing their jobs.

The ignorant rich?

Don’t for one minute think that it’s the uneducated trailer trash who are baulking at the new technologies. The main outpost of resistance is in super-posh Marin County outside San Francisco.

Recently, it was here that a participant in a hostile meeting about smart meters asked for everyone to turn off their mobile phones. Not to prevent disturbance but to “respect” electro-sensitive souls in the room.

Marin County has put a hold on the installation of the meters until the controversy dies down. That means energy-strapped California will have to wait a bit longer for the efficiencies that are needed to reduce environmental impacts.

Shift now to car sharing. It seems nothing can be more sacrosanct than the cabin of the vehicle that transports you and your coffee mug to work. The desire to protect this private space is so strong that car sharing has gone the same way as hitch-hiking.

Car pooling blossomed during the energy crisis of the 1970s when Opec restricted oil supplies and the US reacted with low speed limits and a rash of car pools. Special highway lanes were designated for those sharing a vehicle.

Despite car sharing remaining high on the list of priorities when companies encourage their employees to green their lifestyles, carpool lanes remain deserts in the lakes of tangled traffic. The percentage of workers who are part of car pools has halved since 1980, according the US government.

Drivers much prefer to dawdle alone in the slow, congested lanes rather than invite their neighbour to sit next to them. Such decisions are probably driven by good old fashioned self-centred behaviour – the same sentiment that keeps people from, it seems, having a smart meter.

There are many theories about why people are “hot wired” to use their emotions rather than science in determining behaviour. But it is rather alarming for the environment as the US lurches to the Tea Party nirvana envisioned by Sarah Palin.

Such a nation is a place where you can buy as many Glock automatics as you please, rescind environmental regulations that make industry uncomfortable, and happily label the science of climate change a hoax. In this emotion-driven world you can tell the utilities to go to hell with their smart meters because you’re having an electro-sensitive moment.

I feel a dizzy spell coming on.

Peter Knight is president of Context America.

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