Is 5G Bad for the Environment?

In the third of our four-part 5G mini-series, we're wondering: what impact will 5G have on wildlife?

The Full 5G Update: Part 3

In his 2005 review of scientific literature (1) surrounding the effects of electromagnetic pollution from phone masts on wildlife, biologist Alfonso Balmori concludes that microwave radiation can have a negative impact on animals’ “nervous, cardiovascular, immune and reproductive systems”, including: “disruption of circadian rhythms”, “changes in heart rate and blood pressure”, “impaired fertility”, “genetic and developmental problems” and “promotion of tumours”. 

Balmori’s review shows that as long as 15 years ago, leading scientists were saying that there was already enough evidence of the serious effects from mobile technology on wildlife to warrant taking “precautionary measures” and instigating an immediate “ban on installation of phone masts in protected natural areas”.

But it seems this warning was not heeded. 

In 2018, 13 years after Balmori’s review, and with the imminent 5G roll out looming large, an analysis of 97 studies (2) by the EU-funded body EKLIPSE reaffirmed that electromagnetic radiation from power lines, Wi-Fi, phone masts and broadcast transmitters poses a “credible” threat to wildlife; particularly to bird and insect health.

In response to EKLIPSE’s alarming report, Buglife(3) the charity dedicated to ‘saving the small things that run the planet’, expressed their concern that despite such clear evidence of threat, there was comparably little research happening to assess the true impact, or apply pollution limits. 

Matt Shardlow, CEO of Buglife said: “We apply limits to all types of pollution to protect the habitability of our environment, but as yet, even in Europe, the safe limits of electromagnetic radiation have not been determined, let alone applied”. 

Shardlow went on to say: “there is a credible risk that 5G could impact significantly on wildlife, and that placing transmitters on LED street lamps, which attract nocturnal insects such as moths increases exposure and thereby risk”.

He concluded: “therefore, we call for all 5G pilots to include detailed studies of their influence and impacts on wildlife, and for the results of those studies to be made public”. 

How does electromagnetic radiation actually affect animals, birds and insects?

The EKLIPSE (4) report, like many scientific reports before it, found that the magnetic orientation of birds, mammals and insects can be disrupted by electromagnetic radiation.

This is because birds, as well as a variety of other animals, are born with an inbuilt magnetic compass, which helps them to find their way when migrating. Bees similarly use their internal magnetic guide to steer them the often huge distances between their food sources and their hive.

Farmers have known for centuries (5) that herds of cattle have an uncanny ability to all point in the same direction, but in 2009, scientists were able to prove that too is down to their inherent magnetic compass needle, with cow and deer herds tending to point towards the magnetic north. 

If this incredible natural ability of all these creatures is disrupted by electromagnetic radiation, scientists are warning that it could pose (6) risks to species behaviour, habitats and even survival.

Just last year, as the 5G roll out got underway across Europe, a group of French cattle farmers sued the French state(7) over the deaths of hundreds of cattle which, they claimed, were due to electromagnetic radiation.

Farmer Stéphane Le Béchec lost 200 cows in three years, forcing him to close his business. He identified a number of potentially harmful sources, including mobile transmission towers and wind farms whose electric currents he felt had destroyed his land. 

Patrick Le Néchet, another farmer in nearby Prénessaye, lost 120 cows in similarly mysterious circumstances from 2014 - 2019. 

“This week, we found a dead calf by its mother. Sometimes we find three in one go. We also have had blind calves with holes in their heads and deformed limbs that end up going round in circles and banging their heads on the walls” he said. 

Patrick was referred to a geobiologist who noticed that the water on his farm carried high levels of electricity, potentially linked with a neighbour’s photovoltaic station.

With ten similar recent cases registered in Brittany alone, these deaths are unfortunately not unusual. And in two such cases, the cattle deaths started after the installation of wind farms. Others have been registered in the Sarthe and Normandy.

Are habitats and wider natural environments affected too?

Within the natural world, it seems it is not only animals that are affected by EMF radiation, with the EKLIPSE report and a number of other (8) independently funded scientific papers (9) also establishing that plant health and growth can be damaged too. 

And it appears that the skies above us could also be at risk.

Spearheaded by Italian astronomer Stefano Gallozi, the “Safeguarding the Astronomical Sky” (10) appeal has so far gathered over 1, 500 signatures.

The astronomers main concern? Specifically, the tens of thousands of 5G satellites being launched into space. 

With most of these satellites visible to the naked eye, campaigners are worried they could “ruin the night sky for all of humanity” as they begin to “outnumber” the stars we are able to see without the use of a telescope.

Voicing his fears on the matter, Executive Director of the International Dark Sky Association, Ruskin Hartley, said that such a large number of satellites “has the potential to change our relationship, and our connection, with the universe”.

And it’s not just astronomers who have felt compelled to issue such stark environmental warnings regarding the introduction of 5G mobile phone networks, as the world’s meteorologists join the call for action(11)

Forecasters are now worried that 5G will disrupt the delicate instruments they use to monitor changes in the atmosphere: thereby, seriously compromising their’ ability to predict weather patterns, hurricanes, major storms and, ultimately, climate change.

Tony McNally of the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts said that “in the end, it could make the difference between life and death”, adding: “we are very concerned about this”.

Because some 5G phone networks may transmit near a frequency similar to that naturally emitted by water vapour (23.8 GHz), forecasters would not be able to tell the difference between the two; affecting their ability to make accurate forecasts.

In 2018, the US Federal Communications Commission began auctioning off frequencies (12) close to 23.8 GHz to 5G network providers, along with other frequencies used to study rain, snow, clouds, ice and atmospheric temperature. 

“The more we lose, the greater the impact will be” states meteorologist Jordan Gerth, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in the current issue of Nature. “This is a global problem.”

Next up in our four-part 5G series: How serious is the security threat posed by 5G?

References

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19264463
(2) http://www.eklipse-mechanism.eu/documents/15803/0/EMR-WebConferenceReport_FINAL_27042018.pdf/b5117399-2231-473e-b25c-ee24e6b78342
(3) https://www.buglife.org.uk/
(4) http://www.eklipse-mechanism.eu/
(5) https://www.discovermagazine.com/planet-earth/power-lines-disrupt-the-magnetic-alignment-of-cows-and-deer
(6) https://www.emfsa.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/LegalOpinionOn5G.pdf
(7) https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/04/26/french-farmers-sue-state-mystery-cow-deaths-blame-electromagnetic/
(8) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27650031
(9) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27552133
(10) https://astronomersappeal.wordpress.com/
(11) https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/may/04/5g-mobile-networks-threat-to-world-weather-forecasting
(12) https://www.nationalgeographic.co.uk/science-and-technology/2019/11/could-your-next-mobile-phone-wreck-our-weather-forecasts

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