COLUMN: Green Party gets lost in the static

The election of Elizabeth May as Canada’s first-ever Green Party MP was supposed to be a breakthrough for environmental issues.

The election of Elizabeth May as Canada’s first-ever Green Party MP was supposed to be a breakthrough for environmental issues.

Finally embraced by voters in the organic farming region of Saanich-Gulf Islands, May was given a mandate to change the political conversation about sustainable development, climate change and pollution. The breakthrough might even translate to the provincial level, where Jane Sterk is the latest of a line of B.C. Green leaders to toil in obscurity.

It’s too bad they both threw away their scientific credibility last week, by chiming in with the tiny tinfoil-hat movement and its trumped-up opposition to BC Hydro’s transition to wireless meters.

May got the tinfoil ball rolling by decrying the use of wireless Internet. It might be contributing to bee colony collapse, she mused on Twitter, to much ridicule. Apparently she believes that using a computer connected by a wire keeps her free from the radio waves that surround us all. They are generated not only by computers, cell phones and smart meters but all sources of light, including the infrared that accompanies body heat.

May then cited the much-hyped revelation that the World Health Organization has listed radio-frequency waves as a possible carcinogen. Radio waves such as those generated by cell phones and wireless routers were moved to a classification called 2B, which also includes such volatile substances as pickled vegetables.

What this actually means is that health effects can’t be ruled out. It’s impossible to prove that something’s impossible. But after many years of study, the evidence that cell phones and such devices cause illness remains at precisely zero.

With May alongside, Sterk called a news conference last week to demand a halt to BC Hydro’s smart meter program. The first question from a reporter was, why are you reversing the BC Greens’ 2009 election platform, which called for installation of smart meters by 2012, followed by imposition of time-of-use electricity pricing to reduce consumption?

Sterk expressed surprise, apparently having forgotten her own position from only two years ago. Political credibility takes years to build but only seconds to destroy.

I attended the B.C. Green Party’s 2007 leadership convention at which Sterk was elected. It came after a long and divisive debate over whether cell phones could be used at the meeting. They were finally allowed, but this “issue” apparently took up more time than any policy discussion.

Why is BC Hydro putting in smart meters? First, mechanical meters are obsolete and soon won’t be available. Second, B.C. is about twice as big as Germany. Finding, let alone fixing damaged power lines is a monumental task. A smart grid (much more than just digital meters) is not only self-assessing, it can be made self-healing, rerouting power to blacked-out areas when weather, transformer failure or vehicle accidents cut power.

Do smart meters continuously communicate with a “mother ship,” as some claim? Do they record when you get up at night to pee? No and no. These are the kinds of nonsense claims that surround the smart meter issue.

BC Hydro says four to six transmissions from a smart meter to a local hub each day amount to about a minute in total. Radio wave exposure is equivalent to a half-hour cell phone call every 20 years.

The British National Cancer Institute just published an extensive study of children with brain tumours and exposure to cell phones. Like previous studies, it found no correlation.

Somebody should send a postcard to the Green Party and tell them about it.

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com

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