Tag Archives: environment

E/M Waves – an invisible menace?

15 Jul

E/M Waves – an invisible menace? 

(Guest post by Chicago blogger Beth Michelle) 

As mobile phones spread ever further throughout the world and the “Internet of Things” comes to fruition, we’re being bombarded by more electromagnetic waves than previous generations would have been able to credit. Although the manufacturers of sophisticated devices assure us of their safety, we would do well to be skeptical of their claims. After all, the tobacco industry made similar pronouncements, which turned out to be false, for many decades before anybody realized the actual truth.emwavec

Electromagnetic radiation (EMR) refers to a type of energy possessing electrical and magnetic properties. Many of the sources of this radiation are natural – indeed, the light we get from the sun is a type of EMR. However, there are plenty of artificial sources of EMR, such as radio transmissions, television broadcasts, cell phone signals, power lines and X-ray machines.

The signals produced by modern electronic equipment are non-ionizing radiation, which means that they’re not strong enough to break chemical bonds between atoms. This is in contrast to dangerous nuclear radiation, for example, which can certainly disrupt chemical compounds within the human body. However, there may be other dangers inherent in prolonged exposure to EMR.

Our bodies have their own electrical and magnetic processes, many of which are not fully understood. It’s currently unknown what effect, if any, EM radiation has on these bodily systems. Because the devices that release these emissions have, in many cases, been around for only the past decade or two, there hasn’t been enough time for comprehensive, long-term scientific studies. There are nevertheless some indications that caution may be in order.

cell-phone-baby-CROPIn 1989, a study in Denver found that children living close to electrical distribution wires were at an increased risk of cancer, and these results were replicated by other researchers.

In 2007, a panel looked over the results of thousands of studies on the effects of EMR. They concluded that “chronic exposure” to this type of radiation is associated in some cases with health risks, including skin rashes, Alzheimer’s disease, headaches and tinnitus. The International Agency for Research on Cancer categorized wireless radiation as a potential carcinogen in 2011.

There are safety standards that the manufacturers of electronic equipment and power utility firms must adhere to. It is unknown how reliable these safeguards are, unfortunately, because the FCC and other regulatory bodies have no more idea of the true dangers of EMR than anyone else does, and have done little to stay up to date.

It may be the case that some of the limits are set too high and that they permit emissions to reach a dangerous level. They also don’t cover the fact that we’re exposed to a multitude of devices that emit EMR every day, often many at the same time. Cell phones, home security systems and even your hair dryer all emit this type of radiation, increasing our exposure tenfold given our dependence on all things electrical.

Despite the fact that more research is desperately needed on this topic in order to find out the truth, scientific progress has been slow. It may be the case that this is due to the fact that equipment manufacturers have no financial interest in pursuing this matter but every possible reason to keep things the way they are.

If it turns out that EMR is harmful to people, then many firms will have to change the way their devices operate. The economic pain will probably not be as bad as some people fear because there are probably currently-unexplored ways of reducing emissions that don’t cost too much. A useful analogy may be environmental regulations, which were initially lambasted by business people as being too expensive to comply with. Over the years, as new methods of production were discovered, companies learned how they could act in a green way without spending a fortune.

heads in sandThe longer the subject of harm from EMR goes without a resolution, the worse it will be if negative effects are eventually found. By acting now to get the answers the public deserves, governments, corporations and other entities could spare themselves a lot of future pain. As it is in most cases, it’s better to learn the truth about EMR and face the consequences now than bury our heads in the sand and just hope for the best.


Beth_KellyBeth Michelle is a Chicago-based blogger with a nasty film addiction. Her primary interests include pulp cinema, fashion photography and vintage Japanese film cameras.



Carbon Chaos: images of climate change in cinema

8 Jun

Carbon Chaos: images of climate change in cinema 

(Guest post by Chicago blogger Beth Michelle) 

Unless the economics of energy change drastically in coming years, we’re poised to find our planetary home both uninhabitable and unrecognizable as oceans rise and the atmosphere absorbs greater levels of carbon dioxide. This fact, however regrettable, has not been lost on Hollywood. While the industry itself might be somewhat hypocritical when it comes to taking action, man’s complicated relationship with the natural world has long been a topic in the sphere of cinema. At this pivotal time in the discussion of climate change, using the power of movies to better show the plight of the planet is crucial. Here are five films that present strong pro-environmental themes.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

star_trek_iv_1986The exiled crew of the USS Enterprise returns to Earth in 2286 to find that an alien probe is disrupting the weather and power grids. Spock discovers that the probe is attempting to communicate with the now-extinct humpback whale, and the director of an aquarium in 1986 California may be their only hope to restore order. That the inevitable destruction of the planet is tied to the extinction of one of its most majestic creatures is no accident. Whaling has been outlawed in most oceans, but some countries persist in hunting down creatures whose extinction would have a lasting effect on enormous ecosystems.

Planet of the Apes

planet of apesIt’s impossible to talk about this film’s environmental perspective without spoiling the ending, so if you’re one of the few who hasn’t seen it, skip to the next entry. An astronaut played by Charlton Heston crashes on what he believes to be an unknown planet ruled by apes, but it’s eventually revealed that he’s actually on Earth, with the planet having been radically changed by nuclear war in his absence. The movie posits the idea that even if we survive a nuclear holocaust, we may no longer be the dominant species. Indeed, the humans in the film are subjugated and enslaved by apes which have evolved the power of speech. In a future era, when our planet has gone on without us, who will be at the top of the food chain?

Soylent Green

soylent greenAnother Heston sci-fi classic that jumps into the future, the world of Soylent Green is a chaotic one. Overcrowding has led to people being packed into buildings like sardines, trees and clean water are very limited and expensive resources, and of course there’s no food aside from that manufactured by the Soylent Corporation (the less said about its contents, the better). The greenhouse effect has taken over the world due to rampant pollution and consumption of energy. An interesting thing to note is the absence of any sort of recycling program for garbage – they weren’t in place yet when the film was released, and the film manages to act as a critique in favor of a program that had yet to be implemented. “Food” for thought.

Logan’s Run

logans runThis futuristic action flick gives us a similar scenario to Soylent, only the powers that be have worked out a nifty solution to the planet’s overcrowding – kill everyone when they turn 30. Logan’s job is to locate a colony of “runners”, or those who have successfully escaped their fate. Given the abuse of power and lack of respect for human life we’ve seen by leaders throughout history, this horrifying premise could be possible if overcrowding becomes a problem and world governments continue to consolidate their power. Perhaps one of the “biggest unspoken issues” on today’s political agenda, it’s a matter that will become increasingly pressing – literally and figuratively – if we continue to ignore it.  

Mad Max 2 – The Road Warrior

mad max 2 the-road-warriorLike all the Mad Max films, this one takes place in a future where oil shortages have brought about a gigantic, resource-guzzling world war. In this post-apocalyptic world, the price of fuel is at a premium, and those who control it wield the most power – as Max quickly finds when he crosses paths with the barbaric Lord Humungus. Of course, as anyone on the side of science will tell you, the movie’s premise isn’t outside the realm of possibility – even the most optimistic energy providers predict that the Earth will be depleted of oil in less than a century. While the ending of Road Warrior leaves us with few answers as to the ultimate fate of our planet, it’s clear that a smarter, greener approach to fuel is needed immediately.

The dystopian futures in these films may seem outlandish, but they are all based around the very real problems that have arisen as a result of an exploding population, worsening pollution, oil depletion, and rampant deforestation. Even as we race to develop renewable resources, it’s still not too late to commit to other programs which will help preserve the planet for future generations.


Beth_KellyBeth Michelle is a Chicago-based blogger with a nasty film addiction. Her primary interests include pulp cinema, fashion photography and vintage Japanese film cameras.


Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson: Who’s the real King of the Cosmos?

3 Apr

Guest post: Chicago blogger Beth Michelle


They started and ended in the same place: born in New York a generation apart, astronomers Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson would both go on to host a show called Cosmos. Sagan’s Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, aired in 1980 on PBS and broke documentary viewership records for nearly a decade; Tyson’s sequel, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, debuted in 2014 on Fox.

Their passion for knowledge and their desire to share the wonder of the universe with everyone drove both men, but their careers, personalities, and approaches are unique.

saganSagan indulged in the speculative, and he focused his career on the exploration of extraterrestrial life. He was inspired early on by the Miller-Urey experiment which sought to pinpoint the chemical origin of life on earth. After his acquaintance Stanley Miller demonstrated that amino acids, a fundamental building block of life, could have been formed by chemical reactions in Earth’s early days, Sagan became engrossed in the near-certainty of extraterrestrial life.

His seemingly outlandish ideas, from musing about possibility of life under the surface of the moon to terraforming Venus, captured the popular imagination, though they were regarded as reckless by some of his peers. Harold Urey, a part of the experiment that inspired him early on, wrote a letter to the Harvard tenure committee in 1968 expressing his concerns.

Sagan’s tendency to dream may have cost him tenure at Harvard, but he moved quickly to Cornell University, where he would consult with NASA on a life-detecting mission to Mars, and also had a hand in designing the Pioneer plaques and Voyager Golden Record, messages to any extraterrestrials those missions might encounter.

He believed that the public was more interested in and more capable of understanding science than his peers did. Just over a decade later, Cosmos appeared on PBS for the first time.

Sagan drew people to science with his sense of wonder and possibility. Tyson brings science closer to people on a cultural level, using social media to share his passion.

tysonNine-year-old Tyson’s love of the stars was ignited when he first visited the Hayden Planetarium in New York. After studying at Harvard and Columbia, he eventually went on to become director of the Planetarium. He dedicated himself to making sure inquisitive minds, like his own, would find the same enlightenment there that he had.

Tyson posts regularly to Twitter, where he (@neiltyson) has more than three million followers. He certainly engages people with interesting factoids, and he’s also at least partly responsible for one of the most popularly contentious decisions in recent astronomy: the demotion of Pluto. Most of his work focuses on stars, but his reclassification of Pluto as a dwarf planet was confirmed by the International Astronomical Union in 2006.

plutoNothing gets people riled up – gets them as engaged in astronomy – as the “debate” about Pluto’s planet-hood. Except perhaps for debates about the legitimacy of astrology — and both Sagan and Tyson have been outspoken about their disbelief.

Both men also served as advisors to NASA. He has served on two separate commissions, one in 2001 and the Moon, Mars, and Beyond commission of 2004, to guide the future of NASA’s research. In 2006 he was appointed to the Advisory Council to help NASA prioritize projects with its limited budget.

Another significant similarity is that both men publicly expressed their concern for the welfare of the environment. Sagan had published about the looming dangers of climate change in the early eighties, and Tyson has repeatedly spoken out in favor of a diversified energy market (which is the very sort of advocacy that has helped to improve Toledo gas prices and diversify renewable energy options throughout Texas).

Both Sagan and Tyson racked up plenty of accomplishments. Both were instrumental in bridging the gap between esoteric sciences and the popular imagination. They started their lives in the same place and achieved many similar things, though their methods, and their personalities, are quite different.


Beth_KellyBeth Michelle is a Chicago-based blogger with a nasty film addiction. Her primary interests include pulp cinema, fashion photography and vintage Japanese film cameras.

%d bloggers like this: