An Electronic Silent Spring – July 2018 Newsletter from Katie Singer

Statement for the United Nations’

July, 2018 High Level Political Forum

on Sustainable Development   

To be presented by Katie Singer

The Internet’s unintended consequences

Internet service has become necessary for family connectedness and educational and economic opportunities. The Internet is the largest thing that humanity has built, yet its impacts remain largely invisible and unregulated.

Consider each smartphone an Internet portal, a luxury item. Downloading one hour of video per week uses more electricity than two new refrigerators require in a year, yet not every household has a refrigerator. Because of increased video streaming and smart devices, e-technologies’ power demands increase 20% per year. Wireless Internet access uses 10 times as much energy as wired (i.e. fiber optics-to-the-premises with no wireless interface in the last mile). The Internet could generate 3.5% of greenhouse gas emissions (more than aviation and shipping industries) by 2020 and 14% by 2040. By 2025, with power-hungry servers storing data from billions of Internet-connected devices and an international array of access networks, the communications industry could consume 20% of the world’s electricity, straining grids and hampering climate change targets.

Globally, we generate more than 47 million tons of e-waste per year.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) now threatens half of all jobs, including in farming, medicine and teaching.

Peer-reviewed studies show that exposure to electromagnetic radiation (EMR) damages DNA, increases risk of behavioral problems, cancer and other diseases and disrupts bees’ navigation. In 2018, the World Health Organization classified gaming addiction as a mental health disorder.

Ineffective cybersecurity threatens every country’s power grid, elections and democracy and every citizen’s finances and privacy.

The Internet continues to expand

The Internet’s unintended consequences hamper our ability to achieve the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Still, it expands without regulation.

About three billion people are not yet online. They deserve access, even while this will exponentially increase extraction of natural resources and consumption of electricity and water. It will generate more CO2, EMR and e-waste. Since EMR exposures are direct genotoxins and co-factors with other pollutants, introducing wireless services where they do not exist will increase a region’s medical problems and costs.


How will the world address the Internet’s increasing CO2 emissions, e-waste and consumption of natural resources? To use the Precautionary Approach to safeguard human health and biodiversity, do we limit the Internet use of the four billion people already online? Do we require the industry to prove that new technologies are safe for pregnant women, children, wildlife and weather catastrophes before they are marketed? For people who do not yet have access, do we prioritize refrigerators, clean water and indoor plumbing over mobile phones? Who will decide these questions?

Would fiber optics to the premises provide Internet access that consumes less energy, water, and conflict minerals? Who has the resources to fund reliable answers to this question?

Could the UN collaborate with governments, manufacturers, banks, and schools to conduct educational campaigns about the Internet’s unintended consequences and the necessity of limiting Internet use and growth?

Could the UN create an agency to monitor consumption of natural resources (including conflict minerals), greenhouse gas emissions and e-waste as well as impacts on health and biodiversity made by access networks, data centers and the manufacture of every Internet-connected device? Could the UN’s agency enforce limits on Internet use?

To achieve the UN’s 17 SDGs, engineers trained in rigorous due diligence will need to generate solutions that make the Internet more sustainable, safe and secure. Who has the resources to fund such an agency?

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