The study has led one of Britain’s leading environmental activists to call for an end to cell phone health risk protests, saying that protesters are “chasing phantoms.”
The new study finds that:
- Laboratory studies have detected “no convincing evidence that RF [radiofrequency] fields cause genetic damage or increase the likelihood of cells becoming malignant.”
- Animal studies find no evidence that the levels of microwave radiation produced by cell phones “affect the initiation and development of cancer” and no consistent evidence that they harm the brain, the nervous system, hearing or fertility.
- Studies on humans suggest no cognitive effects and no acute symptoms of any kind.
- Evidence from epidemiological studies “does not suggest that use of cell phones causes brain tumours or any other type of cancer.”
- Overall, the evidence “has not demonstrated any adverse health effects” in either adults or children.
Reacting to the new study, one of Britain’s most well known environmental campaigners and political activist, George Monbiot, has called for campaigning around cell phone safety, such as protests against towers, to ‘wind up.’
He does not want the science and gathering of evidence to end but points out that “there is no shortage of large, demonstrable and urgent hazards to the environment and public health … we cannot afford to squander precious time and energy chasing phantoms.”
For one thing, “there are real issues to do with the resources used to manufacture cellphones — eg columbite tantalite (coltan). If people want to campaign on phones, that, I think, is what they should concentrate on,” Monbiot wrote.
Monbiot believes that, as he has also argued about those who demonize vaccines, such campaigners might also have inflicted damage to the reputation of the environment movement.
“There’s a further issue, which should be of concern to those who hope to make a world a better place. By campaigning against what appears to be a non-existent threat, they have spread unnecessary fear and distress, subtracting from the sum of human happiness,” he says.
I would add that cell phones are of central importance to the development of ‘human happiness’ in the Global South. I know from Africa how, in a wide range of areas, cell phones have been central to organizing, democratizing information, tackling problems in practical ways and organizing people.
“The challenges brought about by bad governance, poverty, low bandwidth (all the negative things you associate with Africa) also provide an incredible opportunity,” says the co-founder of the amazing Ushahidi platform, Erik Hersman. “The developers who are coming up with solutions in the continent, the ones who are writing software or hacking hardware, are creating for some of the harshest environments and use-cases in the world. If it works in Africa, it will work anywhere.”
There are a number of ideas and technologies which have been developed in Africa — such as micro-payments by cell phone and tracking of disasters by cell phone — which started there and are only now being picked up in the ‘developed’ countries.
“We should ask ourselves whether this [cell phone health risk protesting] is the best possible use to which our time can be put. In other words, can we please stop wasting our lives doing battle with imaginary foes?” says Monbiot.
Picture of cell phone showing the screen when you want to report an incident to Ushahidi, courtesy of Erik (HASH) Hersman