Please in my backyard

Last week I came across an item on the Journal Facebook page about a proposed cell phone tower in Alameda Park. Cell phone towers in urban or scenic rural areas tend to be controversial because a fair number of people find them aesthetically objectionable. Fair enough. If you don’t want a cell phone tower in your backyard you have every right to that opinion. I’m betting that you probably own a cellphone and like having it work, but I get the concept of “not in my backyard” even if I don’t always agree with it.

Here’s the rub. One of the objections raised by opponents of the tower in question concerned claimed harmful effects of radiation. I may be OK with NIMBY, but I’m not OK with fantasy. To date science has not substantiated any harmful effects associated with cellular communications – and not for lack of trying. The alleged dangers of electromagnetic radiation emanating from cellphones and other consumer electronic devices may be traced with little effort to an attorney in Florida looking for a way to gin up some business. The data that ostensibly supports a link between cellular use and cancer is Bigfoot-level stuff.

If you don’t want a cellphone tower that’s fine. But using radiation danger as an excuse indicates that you don’t know what you are talking about. The hazard posed by electromagnetic waves in consumer devices is so minuscule as to be nearly the last health risk any well-informed person ought to be concerned with. Worry about a car accident, worry about heart disease or stroke, worry about diet and exercise – but don’t worry about a link between cell phones, electric blankets and cancer. That’s just nonsense. Worse, it’s symptomatic of a larger issue.

As good as we are at a lot of things in this country were are generally not very good at discerning between what we ought and ought not be worried about when it comes to health, happiness and shedding our mortal coils. The greatest dangers we face in life and death are things over which we have almost complete control. Yet instead of concerning ourselves with things completely within our power to change we seem to have a predilection for worrying about things that we can’t do much about – and that wouldn’t matter if we could.

We’ve allowed, for instance, gaping intrusions into privacy and civil liberties under the guise of thwarting terrorism – something that is way down on the list of things that are going to be responsible for your demise (or that of anyone that you know). Our response to terrorism is particularly appalling in light of the fact that the terrorism is predicated on leverage. When you can get inside the head of a much stronger entity using small-scale tactics to force them to make big changes, you win. Every time we trade civil liberties for protection against terrorism, terrorism wins. There is little evidence that we are made any safer in the process either, just less free. Even a modest diversion of the annual Homeland Security budget to addressing heart disease, cancer and highway safety would be a much better way to spend the money – at least if living a long and happy life is your priority.

Snap out of it. You are not going to die of brain cancer caused by cell phone towers – something about as likely as a zombie apocalypse. You are probably not going to die from an act of terrorism, or from GMOs, or from chemicals in your food and water (unless you live in Flint, MI) either. Outside of an unfortunate accident, probably associated with your car, you are likely to die in bed surrounded by your loved ones at a ripe old age.

You want to improve your quality of life and longevity? Eat right, exercise, drive like you are not completely stupid, see a doctor every once in a while, don’t leave a handgun laying around where you can be shot by your toddler (or puppy), eschew tobacco, drugs and excessive drink. Try not to make people want to kill you either. Do all of that and you’ll be just fine.

Finally – I have 5 acres of mountainside land right outside of town that would make a great site for a cellphone tower. I’m sure that we can come to terms on a lease. Please in my backyard.

Retired physicist Martin Hackworth of Pocatello is a writer, climber, motorcyclist, musician and the publisher of