Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Dumb stuff about smart meters

Pop Rocket readers will recall I covered this subject at length in Muggs, and I'd have thought that since PR is a Courier subsidiary, the editors might have considered what I'd sold them in the mix, but there's no evidence of it here.

Starting with this op-news piece (meaning pseudo-news based on non-facts) on Sunday and carrying through to today's editorial, the Courier editors fall for the manufactured controversy around smart meters and conclude that since no one knows the real story, the technology is a real cause for concern. This is utter hooey, it just gets people stirred up over nothing, and worse, it leads people to slow down on a technology that will be important in moving forward on critically necessary energy infrastructure, as the unnamed editor advocates.

Talk about the possible dangers of RF radiation all you like, the source still has to be powerful enough and chronic enough to make a measurable difference. The smart meters that APS is installing put out very very very small amounts of energy in very very very short bursts just once an hour. These are just facts, they're not subject to interpretation. You get more RF radiation from five minutes in the sun than from these guys in a week.

There's no way this signal can carry any useful information about what you're doing in your house other than how much power you used in the last hour. The Big Brother scenario is neither plausible nor even possible with this technology. (Get over yourself, you're really not that interesting to The Man.)

But papers sell on controversy and journalists aren't expected to know anything about the real world, so from the editor's desk the unsubstantiated 'concerns' of people with no scientific or even mechanical skills rank as high as the clear assurances of scientists, medical professionals, engineers and everyone in Europe.

The reason that the press gets special dispensation in our Constitution is that we recognize the need for good information on which voters can base public policy. By playing the if-someone-disagrees-then-no-one-knows-anything game, the editors neglect this mandate and the community in favor of making a few bucks.

More egregious is the concatenation of the smart-meter issue with the larger issue of high-yield EM radiation from things like high-tension power lines and cellphone towers. This stuff is in a different part of the spectrum and orders of magnitude higher in power, making it a different beast altogether. But the Courier's editing makes them all the same. The WHO director talks about cellphones, and Dr Zieve talks about EM in general. Neither mentions smart meters (or baby monitors, or satellite clocks, or any of the other myriad tiny sources of RF and other radiation in a given home), but the article puts them all on the same footing as hazards. This is just wrong, and grossly misleads people who are unfamiliar with basic physics like the inverse-square law. A continuous video feed via wi-fi in your lap is massively different from a pokey little meter on the outside of your house, I don't care whether it's adjacent to your bedroom. (If it is, you should be far more worried about the EM field generated constantly by the wires in the wall, and at that it's not much.)

Please, readers, we can no longer afford to be ignorant about the complexities of the issues we have to deal with as voters. The future is arriving ever faster, our problems are more complex than ever, and we haven't got time to screw around with superstition. We have to learn to sniff out unexamined assumptions and do our homework.