Tragedy of the Commons Revisited: The High Tech-High Risk Wireless World
Cindy Sage, MA, Sage Associates, Santa Barbara, CA, USA
Reviews on Environmental Health, Volume 25, No. 4, 2010, pp 319-324
Freund Publishing House Ltd.
Keywords: Commons, overuse of environmental capacity, wireless,
technology, public health, finite resources
The October-December 2010 issue of Reviews on Environmental Health will carry this article by Cindy Sage, MA, Sage Associates, and co-editor of the BioInitiative Report. It is a perspective on the need to recognize "the air as commons". It addresses our diminishing capacity to deploy unlimited radiofrequency and microwave radiation burden into the environment. What is 'the wireless commons'? Who owns it? Who is monitoring it's carrying capacity, and who is preventing overuse with respect to public health and environmental impacts?
Tragedy of the Commons Revisited: The New Wireless Commons
In 1968, Garrett Hardin, an eminent population ecologist from Santa Barbara, CA published an article in Science titled ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ (1). It was immediately hailed as a landmark piece of thinking. It reshaped prevailing views about our place in the ecological network of the planet. It was pivotal in defining how pursuit of our individual actions to maximize self-interest will, across populations all doing the same thing, result in diminished and overused environmental resources.
Hardin focused our attention like never before on three things. Resources are finite. The actions of each of us, acting in our own self-interest, collectively degrades and depletes them over the long-term. And, the inevitable result is diminished quality of life. He saw that where individuals seek to maximize their own use of finite resources at the expense of the common good (i.e. the commons) it’s at the expense of everyone’s ultimate self-interest to do so.
Before sustainability was a even buzzword, Hardin created a way of seeing the world that emphasized how individuals must learn to recognize and to act with more in mind than squeezing one more cow onto the common pasture. He gave us new ways to think about how we might better manage our resources in the face of new technologies. He was not a believer in the technological fix. Those lessons are highly relevant today.
‘The Air as Commons’ and Wireless Technologies
Where wireless is concerned, the new ‘commons’ is the air all around us. The air is an essential part of our common heritage. Decades of traditional air pollution control efforts have validated the need to protect this ‘commons of the air’ from chemical and particulate contaminants (2). Today, the new threat is emissions from wireless technologies.
All wireless technologies impact this ‘commons’ and every one adds to the burden of radiofrequency and microwave radiation that is transmitted through the air, into buildings and into all living things. Wireless transmissions drive electromagnetic energy through our air, into and through virtually all indoor and outdoor living environments. The protective air cushion around our planet holds breathable air, buffers us from space radiation, and supports and sustains life in tandem with the natural electromagnetic signature of the earth itself. We are changing this ‘commons of the air’ in major ways. Wireless signals from broadcast and communications technologies are crowding out and overpowering the natural background. The ‘commons of the air’ is being altered in unprecedented ways that have enormous consequences for life on earth.
Who owns the the new ‘commons’? Who should be allowed to pollute it? What are the limits? On what basis should carrying capacity be defined? Who defines the limits? Do these limits conserve the resource for the future? Do they protect public health and welfare, and the health and well-being of other living things on earth? Who bears the burden of proof of safety or of harm? How should the ‘new commons’ be managed for the greater good? Do we know enough to act responsibly? Who decides? When should limits be placed on utilization?
Societies must now define carrying capacity for chronic electromagnetic and wireless exposures. Taking into account there is large individual variability to withstand it, new limits must conserve and sustain the ‘commons of the air’ so that is sustainable for all – and this includes sensitive populations, the young, the elderly, and those with existing sensitivity.
Correspondence: Cindy Sage, MA, Sage Associates,Santa Barbara, CA USA email@example.com
Informant: Iris Atzmon