With the election only weeks away, lawn signs sprinkle many of my neighbors’ homes. Surprisingly, in the last week a new species of sign has popped up all over: “Refuse PG&E Smart Meter Installation.” These now represent, I believe, the single most popular slogan in my neighborhood. And they have nothing to do with the election.
PG&E is our local power utility, and it wants to change to “smart” meters that electronically measure and broadcast each home’s power use. These save money because they require fewer meter readers, and the hour-by-hour data can someday be used to change rate structures so we pay less in periods (like 2:00 a.m.) when power use is low.
The vociferous opposition represented by the lawn signs is based on two claims: that the meters are inaccurate and that they are dangerous. The first is based on a number of complaints about overbilling in areas where the meters have been installed. That should be easy to sort out. The second, however, is not. It is based on fears of electromagnetic signals, buttressed by the usual combination of internet “science,” anecdotal horror stories, and the precautionary principle, which says that nothing new should be tried unless we know for an absolute certainty that it won’t do harm. Of course, “absolute certainty” is a difficult target to hit.
This three-cornered Bermuda Triangle of refusal—“studies,” anecdotal evidence, and the precautionary principle—operates for a variety of causes, of both the right and the left. Global warming doesn’t exist, vaccines cause autism, genetically-modified food should be banned, cell phones cause cancer (as do power lines), and smart meters are dangerous (in unknown ways, which is why we need more studies).
I’m all for citizens watching their back. But there’s something more going on here when a cause (Refuse PG&E Smart Meters) that sits somewhere between the silly and the paranoid can generate more honest emotion than an election to choose our representatives.
I’m afraid the spirit of our times is becoming, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more.”
“Mad” never built anything.