Woody Guthrie used his guitar to kill fascists. Arthur Firstenberg used his to show how the fascists are killing you. The local author and activist kicked off his May 14 lecture on the health effects of wireless Internet, "Wi-Fi," at the Santa Fe Women's Club with a song about wireless technology that features ***image1***the chorus, "We're getting fried, we're getting microwaved."
Approximately 75 people soaked up the good vibrations as Firstenberg finished his tune and promptly informed them how radiation emitted by Wi-Fi and cell phones can cause everything from nausea and memory loss to cancer and Parkinson's disease.
"How many people here own a cell phone?" Firstenberg asked the crowd. "When you go home tonight, throw away your cell phones. And those of you with cell phones, please turn them off so you're not irradiating everyone else in the room."
Firstenberg has been radiating opposition to Wi-Fi in Santa Fe ever since the city began contemplating installing wireless Internet in city facilities more than a year ago. That effort was stalled after opponents voiced their concerns.
Firstenberg-who wrote the 1996 book Microwaving Our Planet: The Environmental Impact of the Wireless Revolution-is one of two citizen representatives offering input on the wireless plan to a city steering committee from the city's Information Technology and Telecommunications Department (ITT).
Richard Lowenberg-the other citizen representative for the ITT committee-was loudly denounced by the crowd when he stood up at the end of the two-hour lecture to express concern with Firstenberg's scientific documentation.
"I agree with Arthur that we ought to be concerned about the potential health impacts, but I feel that he's relying too much on inaccurate information," Lowenberg tells SFR.
Lowenberg works as a "tele-community" planner-and will deliver his own lecture at 2:30 pm Monday, May 21 at Cloud Cliff Bakery-and advocates fiber-optic broadband Internet as a Wi-Fi alternative. But he says his interest has more to do with "economic issues."
The scientific community is largely split about what, if any, health consequences come as a result of Wi-Fi and even cellular phones.
Steve Ross-a trained physicist, editor of Broadband Properties Magazine and a professor who has taught at Columbia University and Harvard-says many of the radiation studies are problematic.
"I do not dismiss the potential for health effects," Ross says. "We literally don't know the health effects. I do dismiss almost all of the studies that I've seen, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't keep doing them."
Ross says that the likely health effects of Wi-Fi-and, to a lesser extent, cell phones-are relatively minimal.
"In the pantheon of potential risks, this is an extremely small one," Ross says. Such analysis hasn't stopped Firstenberg from warning about the prospect of far more dire consequences, although he acknowledges that finding a receptive audience can be difficult.
"Society hasn't been ready to hear this and because of that the general public doesn't even know that there's a controversy," he says. "The public just assumes that [Wi-Fi] is safe."
Not Rebekah Azen. She worked as a librarian at Southwestern College for little more than a month before resigning last December upon discovering there was Wi-Fi in the college library.
"I felt like the decision to have wireless without really examining the consequences is ludicrous," Azen says. "I just think it's sad that our society accepts new technologies without even considering the possible ill effects."