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Smart Meters, Dumb Resistance

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyFebruary 4, 2011 1:19 AM


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Okay, so this is annoying: People are resisting smart meters in California because they don't understand electromagnetism and think they're going to be hurt in some way by a device that sends a wireless signal. Here's the New York Times:

The health concerns about the smart meters focus on the phenomenon known as “electromagnetic hypersensitivity,” or E.H.S., in which people claim that radiation from cellphones, WiFi systems or smart meters causes them to suffer dizziness, fatigue, headaches, sleeplessness or heart palpitations. (At a recent Public Utilities Commission hearing on smart meters, an audience member requested that all cellphones be turned off as a gesture to the electrosensitive people in the audience.) The two most recent government reviews of available research found no link between health problems and common levels of electromagnetic radiation. Both reports indicated that more research would be welcome; on that basis, opponents say the meters should not be installed until they are proved safe.

Proved safe? I like the precautionary principle, applied reasonably. But because you can never vanquish all uncertainty in science, it's not applied reasonably in cases where there's 1) no evidence of harm, 2) no plausible theory about why harm ought to occur, 3) substantial benefits to be sacrificed if the PP gets applied. And in this case, smart meters are a revolutionary technology that will go a long way towards greening our energy system and saving us money. They have a ton of benefits. Grist has much more about why alleged "health" complaints about smart meters don't add up. And the article ends with a reasonable solution: People who really think their smart meter is damaging them ought to be able to opt out. But they shouldn't be able to hold everyone else back.

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