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A couple of days ago the World Health Organization announced that cell phone radiation may increase the risk of cancer. They didn’t do any new research or gather any new data. A team of 31 scientists from 14 countries reviewed peer-reviewed studies on cell phone safety and made their decision based on this old data. They concluded that cell phone use could possibly increase the risk of getting cancer. I realize that the public has the right to know what is and is not a possible carcinogen, but after I watched the video accompanying this article I couldn’t help but be a little angry. A ‘senior medical correspondent’ was brought in to explain WHO’s findings and she said that cell phone use is a possible carcinogen and then to give an idea of what kind of risk she was talking about, she explained that cell phone use is in the same category as lead, engine exhaust, and chloroform. What she failed to mention is that so are a lot of other not so dangerous sounding things. According to the American Cancer Society, alcoholic drinks are on the “Known to be Human Carcinogens” list on the National Toxicology Program’s 11th Report on Carcinogens, but I don’t think I remember anyone giving a serious news report on that. Alcohol is known to be a carcinogen and cell phones are only a possibility, yet it seems people are making a much bigger deal about this than alcohol. I guess this all comes back to Heise’s idea that voluntarily selected risks are seen as more hazardous than involuntary ones. Cell phone use is voluntary of course, but the effects of its use were unknown until recently while most everyone is aware of the risks of drinking alcohol. Cell phone radiation is also a new, unfamiliar, and imperceptible risk which makes it seem much more dangerous than alcohol, a well known and familiar one.

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Along with the article I found this interesting interactive table. It’s a chart that tells you how much radiation your phone is emitting. The numbers represent the rate of radiofrequency energy your body absorbs from the phone. Mine is 1.03 watts per kilogram. The maximum level allowable by the government is around 1.59, but what does that even mean?  Does it mean I’m going to use my phone less, or put my phone in my purse/hold it away from my body and attach a wireless set to it every time i want to talk to someone like the medical correspondent recommends ? Probably not. Thinking about what will maybe possibly increase my risk of getting cancer somewhere down the line is probably just another thing that’s going to stress me out, which in the end may be more detrimental to my health than the minimal amount of radiation coming out of my phone.  Then again maybe I’ll think differently when it’s not the week before finals. In any case, as much as the public deserves to hear important announcements about their health, I’m sure this could have been presented in such a way that does not cause people to worry that they’re constantly exposing their kids to cancer by allowing them to talk on their cell phones.

It’s been nine weeks since this course has begun and after countless hours of reading about and discussing the present state of our world, there’s no denying that the world we live in is a toxic one. For the most part we’ve brought this upon ourselves through environmental degradation, overconsumption, pollution, and our general lack of respect for our environment. Many still believe the Earth and its resources to be the property of humans to be extracted and utilized for our own benefit. We haven’t always seen the Earth as simply a resource to be dominated and exploited, however. Years ago, we didn’t have this mechanistic view of our environment. Where did this worldview come from? When did it become commonplace to constantly pour toxins into our environment without a second thought?

I recently read a book called Nature’s Economy in which the author discussed the significant influence religion has had on our attitudes toward the natural environment. Before I get into it though, I just want to say that I don’t necessarily believe in all of this, and if it offends anyone I’m really sorry. I just thought it was an interesting idea and that it would be something to blog about. Historically, Christianity has held an anti-natural stance, and over the years it has maintained an indifferent, if not antagonistic view towards nature. The Christian faith, some scholars argue, has served to emotionally sever man from nature. Before our current mechanistic view of the environment was established, humans lived with an organic worldview of the Earth. In this organic worldview, the Earth was seen as a nurturing female deity that needed to be placated before extracting any of her resources. Guardian spirits were thought be inhabit trees, streams, and hills among other things, and because these deities lived in the material world along with humans, their presence helped humans feel closer to nature and the wilderness.

By overthrowing this pagan animism, in which man and nature had a close bond, Christianity allowed for the creation of a detached, external view of nature and wilderness. Worster, the author of Nature’s Economy posits that to take the place of this animism, the Church created the cult of saints.  The saints did not inhabit natural objects as the spirits did, however, and their rightful place was in heaven. God was also removed from the material world and placed in an intangible space in the sky, which further created a divide between humans and the natural world. By increasingly emphasizing the separation of man from nature, Christianity also amplified the idea that natural world existed to meet man’s needs. Nature became something that needed to be controlled and dominated to become a useful resource for mankind. Some scholars call for a new sort of religion in order to undo the damage that Christianity has apparently caused, but religion was definitely not the only factor in the change in how we viewed the environment, and it definitely cannot be the only solution.

I think a new ecological ethic and a new way to view the environment are needed if any significant change is ever to come about, but I’m starting to doubt it’s ever really going to happen. It’s probably going to be next to impossible to get everyone to accept the idea that humans are not the only species that must be considered when making decisions about the environment, let alone get them to understand that they need to view the Earth in a whole new way than they have been their entire life. Historically, we haven’t been too kind to our environment and haven’t looked upon it with the appropriate attitudes or viewpoints, but hopefully I’ll be wrong and people will start to see that real change is needed and start to alter the way they view the environment.

I know we talked about Chernobyl weeks ago, but I just saw this video and thought it was pretty interesting. Recently, the government of Ukraine announced that it is now offering official tours of Chernobyl which can cost anywhere from about 100 to 200 dollars. Tourists are strictly limited to certain areas of the site and are ordered to avoid hot spots such as the concrete shelter that seals off the damaged reactor. Despite this official announcement, tourism to Chernobyl is nothing new. Trips have been going there for about a decade, and about seven to eight thousand tourists have been taking unofficial private tours of the area every year. After the explosions, it was unclear how contaminated the surroundings were, so the authorities declared an arbitrary 30-kilometer distance from the reactor as an off- limits ‘exclusionary zone,’ and apparently this zone was possibly safe for tourism about five years after the accident.

In many of the pictures I saw of tourists at Chernobyl, the subject of the picture is standing front of a monument honoring those who died and smiling, or holding some kind of device that measures radioactivity and smiling as if to say ‘look how much radiation I’m exposing myself to.’ To me, it all seems like the history of the area is taken a little too lightly. I’m not quite sure how I feel about Chernobyl becoming some sort of tourist hotspot. It’s certainly a historic area that can be used as an educational tool to teach people about the dangers of radiation and the history of nuclear power, but at the same time, would touring Chernobyl normalize radiation? If people believe that the site of the biggest nuclear meltdown in history is completely safe after only 25 years, they may not be as opposed to further nuclear tests, or as sympathetic to those who live near the Nevada Test Site. I’m not saying I want everyone to fear radiation, but maybe allowing millions of tourists into Chernobyl may reduce the amount of apprehension people feel about radiation and nuclear power/tests which may not necessarily be a good thing.

Another factor to consider is the wildlife of the area.  If humans come back into the picture, the exclusionary zone, in which many different rare species have been thriving, may be drastically changed. In the lecture on Chernobyl given in class, the Chernobyl area was presented as a distinctive habitat in which plants and rare animals are thriving, probably because of the lack of humans in the area. Although tourism may not totally destroy this unique ecosystem, tourism generally brings development, which usually has negative ramifications for the natural environment of the area. I realize that many unofficial private trips have already been made into Chernobyl in the past, but now that the government is officially allowing tours, people will feel safer venturing into the area and more tourists than ever before may want to take a walk around Chernobyl and see the historical site.


After talking about acceptable doses of radiation in class today I remembered a chart I had seen a couple months ago. It shows how much radiation we’re exposed to when engaging in certain tasks like eating a banana or getting an x-ray. It starts off with relatively low risk activities like using a CRT monitor and progresses to higher risk activities like spending an hour at Chernobyl.  The unit this chart uses to measure for absorbed doses of radiation is a ‘sievert’ and it measures the effect a dose of radiation will have on the cells of a body. I’m not really too sure how reliable this information is, but I thought it was pretty interesting anyway.

These used to be really popular when I was a kid. There are several different kinds of toxic waste candies that the company puts out, but the most popular seems to be the Sour Candy Drums which are containers shaped like overflowing barrels of toxic waste packed with sour candy. These are definitely an example of how toxicity has become commoditized in today’s society, and in today’s somewhat environmentally aware society, a candy that glorifies toxic waste and makes it seem appealing to kids may not be the best idea for business. The Candy Dynamics Company seems to have realized this in the past few years, and have taken steps in order to portray themselves as an environmentally aware and responsible corporation.

The Toxic Waste Candy website, which is clearly designed to appeal to children, has an ‘environment’ section which “provides words of environmental wisdom in a way kids will relate to.” This section includes actions kids can take in order to help the environment and links to where they can go to learn more. One of these actions includes taking part in the company’s annual Toxic Takedown Challenge which promotes kids of all ages to be as environmentally conscious as they can. The environment section also includes a game called ‘The Landfill of Doom’ in which players try to reverse the ecological harm done to the candy mascot’s home by picking up garbage and cleaning up the environment to gain more points. Though the company claims they’re striving to use the candy and the characters associated with it to entertain children while prompting environmental responsibility, I wonder if all the environmental tips and games can counteract the fact that kids will be playing with and eating  “toxic waste.” Will this have any sort of effect on how they view actual toxic waste and the effect it has on the environment or is this just a harmless candy?