5G and the Myth of a Green Transition

rethinking security

Far from absurd conspiracy theories about spreading coronavirus, Jo Baker argues that the rapid and seemingly unstoppable spread of 5G is happening without consultation or due consideration of the economic, environmental and climatic impact of such technologies.

5G infrastructure is currently being rolled out in many of our towns and cities. In Bristol, where I live, there has been a spate of planning applications from telecom companies for 20-metre-high monopoles in just a few weeks. A local campaign has resulted in hundreds of objections and Bristol City Council has so far refused sixteen applications on grounds of unsuitable siting and dominant appearance. There is a sense that something is being imposed from above without consultation or consent.

Bristol is well-known for its status as a ‘green’ and ‘smart’ city. It was the European Green Capital in 2015; in 2017 it overtook London as the leading smart city in the Huawei Smart City index; and it was one of the 100 Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Cities. Bristol was the first city in the UK to declare a climate emergency, followed, earlier this year, by an ecological emergency. And herein lies the conundrum. Can a city be both green and smart? Will wireless technology deliver a green transition or will it push us further towards ecological disaster?

A Fourth Industrial Revolution

According to the World Economic Forum, 5G is a necessary expansion of wireless technologies which will underpin the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It goes far beyond telecommunications – enabling the digitalisation of the global economy, energy systems, manufacturing, health, education, security, food production, and so on. It is expected to add £13.2 trillion to the global economy by 2025. It will pave the way for autonomous vehicles, remote surgery, 3D printing and military applications such as hypersonic weapons and drone targeting.

Although this digital high-tech future is sold to us as a means to a socially just and sustainable world (smart cities, energy efficiency), it is essentially about economic growth and is already having a devastating environmental impact. The fact is that digital technologies demand unprecedented amounts of mineral extraction, create large amounts of toxic waste, and

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