Letter to Mr. Dan Langdon, New Technologies Coordinator, Seattle City Light

Hi Dan,

I was at the open house last night and agree completely with Sandra. I asked Dr. Asher about the precautionary principle and why SCL isn’t following that. His answer was that “the U.S. isn’t using that model any more.” So the ethical justification for dropping this important principle is essentially based on where our corporate-capitalist American model has taken us – the dollar comes first and people’s lives come second? Everyone’s doing it, so therefore it is okay? These are not valid moral justifications but a sidestepping of ethical responsibility based upon expediency and corporate groupthink which establishes goals based not on the greatest good, but a predetermined decision which has never been fully debated in Seattle in public.

Yes, I’m told that the City Council held some hearings. I missed them, as did most people. Very few people can attend City Council hearings in the middle of the afternoon during the working week. Do you really believe that is a transparent and inclusive decision process accessible to the public stakeholders who will be affected?

When I asked you last night about what the benefit is for this smart meter implementation, the first thing you mentioned was helping shorten power outages. I understand there are many safety issues involved with power outages, but to expose the entire city to another (some would say dramatically more powerful) source of RFR seems an unacceptable tradeoff.

You also mentioned more accurate billing. Seriously, there are plenty of ways around this problem without simply jumping on the smart meter bandwagon. Besides Sandra’s suggestion, you could teach people to read their own meters and send out a meter reader once every six months or even year to verify the accuracy and assess a penalty if there is evidence they are abusing the system. That would save tons of carbon and labor costs and not require smart meters.

You also mentioned more accurate power information. Seriously, Dan, I think most people are swamped in information in our world today and I sincerely doubt more than a small fraction of folks – maybe 5% at best – are going to look at this information more than briefly. Even if they do look at the information, whether they fundamentally change their consumption patterns is an entirely different question. Have you done any studies or looked at any studies which would indicate that this hypothetical benefit will truly translate into carbon savings – the end goal if I’m not mistaken.

Please take another look at all of these concerns and be willing to set aside the tendency to see solutions in shiny new technology despite the widespread safety concerns, not to mention privacy and cost concerns. Opt out is not a viable option as you know – the new smart meter grid will saturate Seattle’s energy field that life must occur in, with a huge new RFR input. There is no opt out short of becoming a refugee and trying to survive off the grid on the fringe of the modern world.

I was disappointed with the format of last night’s meeting with separate tables which effectively isolated and fragmented the conversation into reductionist boxes. Furthermore, the city employees were all sitting at tables and the public was forced to stand, creating an oppositional and polarized atmosphere from the outset. How about a circle discussion where we can all talk and listen together as equal human beings as we look at this issue from a whole systems perspective?

Thanks for listening,

Jordan Van Voast

2 Responses to “Letter to Mr. Dan Langdon, New Technologies Coordinator, Seattle City Light”
  1. Elaine Livengood

    Very well put, Jordan. The recent fascination with all things new and “shiny” is a foolhardy path, at best. New does not always mean better, despite marketing slogans such as “new and improved.” We’re not buying soap here, this is a life impacting decision. Turning the entire City of Seattle into a lethal RF zone is insidious. Putting the citizenry low on the Totem Pole of decision making is wrong.

  2. George Draffan

    Despite Seattle’s reputation for being green and liberal, City Light’s approach is, unfortunately, all too typical of public participation and impact analysis these days. The U.S. long ago adopted a “risk management” approach to new technologies: for every new chemical or technology, a certain number of cancers per million people is deemed acceptable.

    Europe has long had a “precautionary principle”, which shifts the burden of proof back to those who introduce new technologies: they must show the product will not cause harm. Even in Europe, the precautionary principle is losing ground to money and its realpolitik, yet Europe has managed to ban genetically modified foods, is way ahead of the U.S. on many areas including shutting down coal and nuclear plants and relying on conservation and green energy.

    Americans know very little about their industrial history, or how policy gets made. I highly recommend the book “Deceit and Denial: The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution” by Markowitz and Rosner.

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