A threatened groundwater source

Lenaide writes*

Imagine living in a city located on top of the largest groundwater source and longest river in France, but to also have both of these sources be under the threat of scarcity. That it is the current state of Beaugency, France.

Beaugency has two water sources: the Beauce aquifer, which I will focus on in this blogpost and the Loire river, which I will only briefly mention at the end.

The aquifer, covering about 10 000 km2, is referred to as the water tower of the department, as it provides water to about 1 million inhabitants. Since the beginning of the 1990s, special attention for its care and sustainable use has been given to it as there was a major drought, forcing regulations to be put in place. However, these did not last, and thirty years later here we are with falling water levels and deteriorating water quality .

The aquifer provides drinking water for citizens and water for irrigation (mostly) and industrial uses. (For more info on the extraction, specific uses, and historical regulations imposed check out this website.)

Climate and agriculture threaten the Beauce groundwater.

The region Centre-Val de Loire (where Beaugency is located) is known for its lack of rain. Since the aquifer recharges with winter rains, a lack of rain impedes replenishment. Strong winds also reduce water supply by increasing evapotranspiration (see this PDF for more details).

Climate change changed rainfall occurrence and intensity. Altered and unreliable rainfall makes replenishment inconsistent. Average temperatures have also increased, and in the summer, there have been droughts leading to strict regulations.

The second problem I will mention is linked with agriculture. There has been an increase in population, meaning that more production is needed to meet the demand and needs of the people. Because of this increase in demand on irrigation systems, more water is used, adding to pressures from increased domestic use from the aquifer.

Additionally, there is a major problem regarding pesticide/herbicide aquatic pollution. In 2015, over half of all the groundwater sources tested in the region surrounding Beaugency had traces of either pesticides or herbicides. Some levels are dangerous, especially from forbidden herbicides (see this PDF for more info).

Finally, the river Loire is also under stress due to the same reasons affecting  the aquifer. Climate change causing extreme heat events and reducing the amount of rain which leads to a reduction of the flow which can lead to future shortages, and reduces the efficiency of the nuclear powerplant relying on the river flow. Agricultural runoff laden with more pesticides and herbicides also pollutes the river, leading to health concerns.

Bottom line: The increased intensity of climate change impacts, ever-growing population demanding more food, and poor management of water resources puts both the aquifer and the river under major threat. Action is needed to protect them.


* Please help my Water Scarcity students by commenting on unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data sources, or maybe just saying something nice 🙂

The water crisis in Port au Prince

Helena writes*

Port au Prince is currently dealing with a serious water crisis due to poor management and unequal distribution of water. Several stakeholders, namely the private sector and La Direction Nationale de l’Eau Potable et de l’Assainissement, are involved in the development of water supplies. As there is enough water available in Haiti, there is a better future that can be achieved, but for that better governance, collaboration and improvement of water infrastructures will be needed.

Unequal distribution and poor management [pdf] are the main reasons why Haiti is facing a water crisis. After the 2010 earthquake and the recent cholera epidemic, an urgent improvement in water services was needed [pdf] to respond to the increasing demand for water.  Arising from the lack of action from the part of the government, the private sector had to take over the water supplies and sanitation [pdf] in the capital of the country, Port au Prince. As Port au Prince is going through unplanned urbanization and rapid growth, the private sector was facing quite a challenge regarding the organisation of water supplies in this city. However, even if the situation was tough, the private sector succeeded to meet the needs of a significant part of the population as it is currently providing water to 57% of the citizens of the capital.

There is not only the private sector that is involved in the water management of Port au Prince. La Direction Nationale de l’Eau Potable et de l’Assainissement (DINEPA), which was established by the Haitian government in 2009, also plays an important role in water management. The motives of DINEPA are assuring safely managed sanitation services, making sure that the private sector has the ability to meet the increasing demand and encourages collaboration with several authorities to establish the needed legal and regulatory framework [pdf].

The lack of water management leading to poor water infrastructures resulted in severe degradation of water quality [pdf] over the past decades. When water quality decreases significantly, water becomes contaminated and can lead to the outbreak of infectious diseases such as an epidemic of cholera. In Port au Prince, the degradation of water quality was due to the contamination of the aquifer Plaine du Cul de Sac, which is providing up to 60% water to the city [pdf]. The situation got worse as the share of the population having access to water over the past 20 years has fallen by 4 percent. Now only 58% of the population has access to water services, and 30% of these water structures are in a poor state.

The World Bank is asking the government and more specifically DINEPA to take action.

In addition to the lack of water management, Port au Prince is facing serious inequalities when it comes to the distribution of water. DINEPA and the World Bank initiated in 2015 a project called “Budget Programme par Objectifs” to fight unequal distribution. This project aims to improve water sanitation and improve access to clean water for everybody. This initiative illustrates that collaboration amongst stakeholders will help to solve the crisis Port au Prince is currently experiencing. This will help to attain the aimed objectives namely a sustainable service, equal access and distribution and efficient governance. Finally, regular maintenance and daily supervising of water supplies [pdf] will also improve the situation by ensuring a better quality of the water.


* Please help my Water Scarcity students by commenting on unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data sources, or maybe just saying something nice 🙂

Flooding due to water scarcity

Eleonora writes*

Jakarta sits on a swamp, the Java sea is on the north shore, and thirteen rivers flow through it. Currently the news is swamped with images of a flooding even as the city suffers water scarcity. This man-made shortage of clean drinking water results from faulty infrastructure and contamination. Let’s break the paradox down.

The city has always been prone to flooding but the risk is increasing due to the fact that the city is sinking. North Jakarta has sunk 2,5 m in the last 10 years. The floods have become more severe due to both climate change, which results in heavier rain and sea level rise, and the sinking of the city. Jakarta is sinking due to excessive extraction of its underlying groundwater reserves. Over 60% of the city’s population relies on groundwater, especially in underdeveloped neighbourhoods.

The population relies on groundwater for two reasons: faulty infrastructure and contaminated rivers. The piped network of Jakarta only reaches 60% of the city, mainly in wealthier neighbourhoods. Even more so, the tap water in Jakarta is not drinkable due to contamination from bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms, heavy metals, pesticides, chemicals and microplastics. Richer citizens drink bottled water. Others boil their water or, even though they might have the rare access to pipes, use community groundwater wells. This explains how 40% of the city lacks the water infrastructure, but 60% depends on groundwater for their water. The remaining residents without piping depend on alternative water supplies. The lack of pipes results in people illegally obtaining their water.

The rivers flowing through the city are too contaminated to supply fresh water. Part of the problem of contamination is the absence of waste services, which means residents dumping their waste into rivers that are already contaminated. The city’s largest water source is the Jatiluhur dam on the Citarum river, which is often referred to as the most polluted river in the world. It is polluted due to locals dumping their household waste into the river and around 2000 industrial factories disposing their wastewater directly into the river. The river water causes diseases and rashes, making it an unsafe water source. Hence, people are pumping their water directly from the ground; indirectly causing the city to flood.

Table 1. The industry type contaminating the Citarum river

Bottom line: Polluted rivers and faulty infrastructure cause freshwater scarcity in Jakarta, making 60% of Jakarta residents rely on groundwater. This results in the groundwater reservoirs being depleted and therefore the city is sinking rapidly. The newly submerged city now endures more severe flooding as a consequence of human actions: climate change, faulty infrastructure and pollution.


* Please help my Water Scarcity students by commenting on unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data sources, or maybe just saying something nice 🙂

Sydney’s struggle: Water ore coal?

Amy writes*

Drought. Wildfires. Rising population. The future of Sydney’s water is at serious threat, so why has the Government extended a mining company’s contract to mine under Sydney’s ‘protected’ water catchment area? The recent wildfires that devastated an area of Australia the size of the US states of Vermont and New Hampshire combined showed the world the force that is climate change. The wildfires damaged 30% of the Warragamba Dam, which provides 80% of Greater Sydney’s drinking water. The threat to Greater Sydney’s water supply is clear, yet the Government and mining company continue to degrade and deplete water supplies through the practice of longwall mining.

South32 is the mining company in question. Their longwall mining machines cut away at a wall of coal one row at a time. The process creates a pressure differential causing land to twist, warp and buckle. Water flows down through cracks into aquifers, often draining creeks, swamps and other waterways. Even if water returns for a short period, the presence of many hard metals severely reduces its quality, never mind the fall in quantity.

Unsurprisingly, Water NSW (responsible for supplying the state’s water) as well as local environmental groups such as Protect Our Water Alliance (POWA) oppose mining underneath the protected catchment area, yet this has not prevented the Government from extending contracts. The Subsistence Environmental Management Plan (SEMP) requires monitoring for a minimum of one year prior to mining in order to establish a base-line of environmental values in the area but scientists say this time frame is too small whilst the negative consequences continue for many years after mining has stopped. In this face-off between coal and water, it is concerning to watch the Government favour the former, though perhaps not surprising when the country’s Prime Minister advocates ‘hazard prevention’, otherwise known as deforestation.

South32’s response to criticisms are comical. Through offsetting potential subsidence-related impacts to upland swamps, using remediation techniques which have continually failed to rehabilitate, and proposing water quality improvement actions like fire management (i.e. deforestation), the company claims that the project will actually have a net beneficial effect on water quality. Unbelievable!

Ironically, mining companies may be able to exploit coal reserves underneath the catchment area but individuals are prohibited from entering the protected region, meaning that the true impact of longwall mining is  unknown to outsiders. Even so, experience abroad provides no grounds for optimism. Impacts of subsidence are long-lasting and cases in the United States have seen both surface and groundwater hydrology permanently affected. Contrary to the belief held by some of those in favour of mining, streams rarely heal naturally.

As South32 waits for approval for a contract extension until 2048, it is vital that water is valued as it should be, especially in a nation frequently overwhelmed by drought. While costs to the colliery are obvious in terms of lost production, surely there is no comparison when compared to the value of water and ecological integrity for Greater Sydney.

Bottom line: Sydney’s water scarcity issues might have been accelerated by consequences of climate change, but it is puzzling that mining’s harmful impacts on scarcity are not more strongly considered. Whilst residents and businesses face Level 2 water restrictions, there is no justification for allowing longwall mining to continue under the ‘protected’ water catchment.


* Please help my Water Scarcity students by commenting on unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data sources, or maybe just saying something nice 🙂

Surviving LA’s heat without AC

Frank Butterworth emailed me an interesting story. I asked if he could make it into a blog post, so here’s Frank…

If you think one can live (in Los Angeles or other semiarid places) without air conditioning, you’ve got to be crazy. Right? Actually, you can and we did.

I. The unplanned experiment

Our AC (air-conditioning) broke and it was 104F (40C). And the next day was also going to be 104. I figured we’d have to move to a motel or fry. But something miraculous happened. We opened the widows around 8 PM and with the help of fans, we sucked cool air into the house all night and early morning. [The outside temperature dropped to 68F (20C).] And when we arose at 6 AM, it was cool inside, about 75F (24C). We quickly shut the windows, pulled the drapes and closed the shutters. Voila — it stayed cool in the house until about noon when the temperature started creeping up to a max of about 82F (28C) at 4 PM in the warmest room — my office! On the first floor it was still cool even though it reached a high outside of 104. Not bad! I knew we could make it, and productivity would not suffer. There would be no motel, no misery. This cycle of opening and closing went on for 18 days (27 Jul to 13 Aug) with the average maximum temperature at 96F (36C).1 And we did not fry. We got our work done. And we did it without air conditioning. Yee hah! An ancient Mediterranean might say “meh,” but I was elated. 

Actually, we rediscovered our forebearer’s technology, using cold desert nights to cool the house to 68F/20C. With drapes (even see-through gauzy types) and shutters to block/reflect the daytime light and a few fans, the warmest parts of our house never went above 80 (even though the average, maximum external temp was 96 – three days in triple digits, three days at 99, and just a few 80 deg days gave that average). My office, the warmest room in the house, only once reached 90, when outside temps were in triple digits. (We probably did not open the house long enough at night or close it up soon enough in the morning.) On that day, we went out for an early dinner. Ha!

True, we suffered at night, sleeping under blankets, but this is nothing new vis-a-vis ancient Mediterranean technology. So I believe the modern world can save a lot of energy without fear.2 

Of course, folks living with high humidity may still have need fans and sweat, but my guess is that the night air can be harnessed to avoid suffering. I recall my life in miserable heat waves on the East Coast sleeping in a ‘pool of sweat’… yet the nights were cooler… people would sleep on the roof or on a back porch. We just have not yet figured out how to use night air to cool a house without massive amounts of electricity (see Greek anecdote below).

II. Several more points

  1. Not one of the few people I talked with was interested in my re-discovery. In fact, they were hostile. They were not going to let some academic nerd steal their comfort. I guess there would have to be huge incentives — or a catastrophe — for them to listen.
  2. ‘Ancient’ cooling technology is amazing and needs another look. My direct experience was in Greece, 40 years ago. Athens in July and August is hot and humid. Yet, when I went to an outdoor café in the shadow of a tall, fairly modern building on Syntagma Square, I was hit by a downdraft of cool air. No fans. No AC. It was the building’s structure, someone explained. Somehow, the coolness of the previous night was trapped somewhere… and it slowly escaped during the day.
  3. Before they proudly modernized to AC, the Greeks used the siesta to cope, eating a large meal at noon and napping until the air cooled. Then Athens became alive and a ‘second day’ began. The ‘new day’ meant a second shift of work and/or play in the cool, cool, cool of the evening. It was confusing to me at first because it seemed to give more time to life — plus another set of dreams. 🙂

III. A few caveats

  1. Knowing there would be no AC for the next day, extra alertness was required to open windows when the external temperature began to drop around 8 PM. A large portable fan was used in upstairs hallway to speed the process. Because the walls and roof had reached thermal equilibrium with the outside it was important to cool down the inside walls quickly. This could be a problem for those needing sleep in a noisy neighborhood.
  2. Also, wooden internal shutters, opaque drapes, and even gauzy window treatments prevented direct sunshine from entering the house and slowed  radiant heat transfer from windows where there was no direct sunshine. R factors lose their meaning (R1 for single pane and R2 for double pane glass). I think it applies to insulation from the cold, not heat. All our windows are double pane, but they still were warm to the touch. So, even a gauzy window treatment reflected light and slowed internal air convection.
  3. California construction codes (particularly those of 30 years ago, when our house was built) were not big on insulation. And California architecture of that time was big on windows. So, I was pleased and surprised by our experience. After the first day, I knew we were going to make it. And I knew this could be a viable solution to excess energy demand.

IV. A thought on individual energy savings

Our solar panels cut our annual energy use by about 2/3rds. That is, our annual electric bill two years ago was $1,500 without panels. Our bill for the past two years with panels was $500 per year. I know that when the AC is on during the peak sun, the panels’ electricity production is not enough, and we have to use electricity from the grid. So, it is likely that much of the $500 reflected the cost of AC.

Frank Butterworth, former professor of genetics and cell biology, is now a writer and author. His claim to fame was the discovery of the first pheromone (cis-vaccinyl acetate) in the fruit fly, which resulted in three papers in Science. Frank’s Twitter is @resource643.


1 Day-after-day for 18 days, the needed AC part was not available. But this made me so happy to use this inefficiency to do something I never would have planned.

2 In 2018, Los Angeles County used 67,850 GWh. The average California house used 7,000 kWh per year. [Note from David: We used 1,440 kWh in the past 12 months.] What proportion of that goes to AC? In Texas, peak loads reached 70,000 megawatts in July compared to 44,000 mw in April, so the difference (26,000 mw, or 37%) is probably used for AC.

Five case studies of water scarcity

I began teaching (!) water scarcity this year. The main assignment for the course was a case study explaining water scarcity (from physical to political) affecting a city of the student’s choosing. 

Although this was the first time I gave this assignment (it draws on my 2014 Water Smarts calendar), I was very pleased with some of the results and asked the students if I could share their work. So here are their PDFs!

Please leave feedback on these cases and/or additional information that would improve the treatment of scarcity. I will be using this format again next (school) year!

Moving home — a climate vision

A few years ago, I grew alarmed (and continue to be alarmed) about the increasing risks we face due to climate change disruption. In response, I called for short stories describing how we might (not) adapt to climate disruption. I released 60+ of these CliFi stories in two volumes of Life Plus 2 Meters (free to download).

This year, I asked my environmental economics students to write their own CliFi visions. They did a great job, and I asked if they wanted their stories “published.” Here’s the second, from Marieke.


Moving home

Dear Lorenzo,

You have no idea how happy I am with your letter! It scared me – your plan to walk to Tadzhikistan. I started hearing stories from the news (yes, there are newspapers again – they are delivered per boat, once a month). I realized how fucked up the world is right now. And the idea that my son is out there… But I know you did it for us, thank you so much for that, thank you for being courageous. And for the map (with all the warnings – for both water and political tensions), it’s very useful. It makes me sad to hear that Turkey has closed its borders, but the route via Russia indeed seems doable (luckily it is not that cold anymore). I think we will walk like this (see map), I hope we will make it within a year.

I will talk to the council asap and we will make the final arrangements to come your way. We don’t want to take too much with us, but we have made some old-style covered wagons, we have tents and even some horses. We are taking as much food as possible, and dad is very excited about taking the portable garden wagons.

Life here is quite good actually, I am happy (although I miss you a lot). Right now, we have 272 members (a few babies are coming). We have created such a beautiful place. I know everyone complains about life being so much better before the flood, but I honestly don’t think it is. We have gone back to living with nature again. Dad and Jan-Thijs are managing the gardens, we have built houses from driftwood and earthships from all kind of waste that has stranded on our island. We have over 50 students in our school, I teach them about life before the flood, we make art together and they learn to work on the land. Almost every week another refugee arrives, they all integrate in the community very quickly, we have the kids teaching them.

I am sad to leave, but we really can’t stay. The weather is getting more extreme, last year the drought had destroyed almost all dad’s crops. And I am worried about the diseases. We’ve only had a few minor issues, but Janna has been taking care of the patients with herbal medicine. I don’t want to risk staying here though.

And honestly, the best thing about our community is the people right now. They are amazing. We sing together every morning, there is a fire in the night (helps in keeping away the mosquitoes). We make art, we learn so much from each other, there is love again and so much hope! The place you describe sounds perfect to continue our work.

The journey will be challenging, but worth it. I love you, see you soon,

Mom 

p.s. I’ll try to get hold of a telegram machine – but they are extremely expensive, so don’t count on it.

Wealthy — a climate vision

A few years ago, I grew alarmed (and continue to be alarmed) about the increasing risks we face due to climate change disruption. In response, I called for short stories describing how we might (not) adapt to climate disruption. I released 60+ of these CliFi stories in two volumes of Life Plus 2 Meters (free to download).

This year, I asked my environmental economics students to write their own CliFi visions. They did a great job, and I asked if they wanted their stories “published.” Here’s the first, from Jacinta.


Wealthy

It’s only 4 am; I dread midday… Summer is unforgiving. I feel the sweat catch as it pools along the strap of my mask – I’ve let it dangle round my neck; risky, I know. But I’m in the depths of the forest. The air might not be clean but it’s the closest I’ll get. Each day I reckon; it’s worth the risk. To feel the unconstrained movement of my face. The gentle breeze that caresses my cheek. The touch of my calloused fingers against my weathering lips… Ah yes, the lower half of my face is becoming increasingly lifeless. A fleeting feeling of anxiety sweeps through my body, but I don’t latch on to it. Even the concerns of my mind can’t take away from this moment; here in my mansion of peace.

I’m acutely aware of the time. 30 more minutes before the Early Walkers swarm this place; I’m not the only genius to find daily refuge amongst the trees. Though they make it redundant, in their masses this place becomes as suffocating as the outside. I need to relish every second I have. Here my breath is free, and with it; me.

Navigating the crowd, I grudgingly fasten my mask back on my face. It’s always a bitter-sweet moment. I know I’m fortunate; my mask is light yet robust, with strong filters and is one of the best on the market. I could never have afforded it. I won it in a card game against a Roldie. I cheated, but he doesn’t need to know that. 145 years old and none the wiser. Unsurprising, since he sees nothing beyond himself.

Past me might have felt guilty, but there’s no room in my new world for feelings like that. Plus, a Roldie doesn’t need it. He could easily afford another. Not to mention, he lives basically mask free; shielded in his fortress, with air so filtered I’m surprised there’s any oxygen left.

A feeling of fury flows through me, as I contemplate the unjustness of it all.

I exhale and let it pass; holding on to it gains me nothing. The Roldies might live in luxury, medicated to absurd ages, but I’ve never meet one that was filled with happiness. They are so obsessed with staying alive, they forgot what it means to live. Maybe that’s why they come and play cards, to experience the occasional thrill of not having control.

I let them win regularly enough to not grow suspicious. Sure, even if they do (my morning flashes in my mind’s eye) it would make little difference, since I’m on my way out soon. Maybe I’ll make it to 40, surpass the average age. Who knows? All I do know; my death doesn’t scare me. Death has always been too present to shy away from. From the famines and droughts, to diseases and WWIII. To find peace and happiness in this world I long ago realised; even life isn’t something I can afford to feel attached to.

A local ecosystem in Pakistan

In response to my post last week, Danial Khan (from Zarobi village, near Swabi city, KPK province, Pakistan) sent the following write up “to discuss what’s going on in my village and the water issues our rural community is about to face. It’s worse than I thought. I was born and raised in small rural community. Throughout my childhood there weren’t serious water issues, but things are now changing so rapidly…” Danial is working on his master’s degree in environmental economics.

Introduction

The following project will look at some of the issues about bore wells and the environmental and geological impact that these have on local towns and villages.

What is a bore well?

An example of a bore well

A deep, narrow well for water that is drilled into the ground and has a pipe fitted as a casing in the upper part of the borehole. This is typically equipped with a pump to draw water to the surface. Water belonging to a bore well used to be considered purer and cleaner but this was found to no longer be the case if built on areas that they are not supposed to be built on.

Difference between a bore well and a well

A borehole is usually drilled by machinery and is relatively small in diameter. In contrast, a well is usually sunk by hand and is relatively larger in diameter.

Environment and geological disadvantages

Throughout my research, I have come across the following:

  • There are too many bore wells being constructed throughout our village. It seems to be commonplace in most households.
  • Since they are costly as compared to normal wells, a house that is not as affluent or are earning under certain thresholds are unable to afford one.
  • There are too many bore wells built for public and personal use, and as a result, the water level of normal wells have decreased excessively which is major problem faced by those who are unable to afford a bore well. This decrease in water levels has left many people without water.
  • Construction of bore wells leads to a lot of noise pollution which can lead to a lot of disruption to locals.
  • Bore wells are being built in unsuitable places therefore causing the water wastage. For example, many of the bore wells are built on the edge of dirty open sewer lines and the people using the water get diseases because the water is contaminated.
  • The sewer lines contain all kinds of diseases because not only the drain water comes to it but also the wastes from toilets from many homes goes directly to the sewer lines, which goes unnoticed.
  • Contaminated water can cause many types of diseases, including cholera, Guinea worm disease, typhoid, and dysentery. Water-related diseases cause 3.4 million deaths each year.
  • Since the availability of water is scarce in summer many people head towards the bore wells built near sewer line in their neighborhood to get water to drink.

Political Stance

  • Political parties are building bore wells just to put their names on it and make themselves look good and give the impression that they’ve done something for the sake of poor people, and more importantly for votes without any regard for consequences
  • Bore wells are commonly placed in the center of sewer lines, which shows that they don’t care about the people who are going to drink from the public bore wells.
  • It is difficult to make sense of the thoughts locals have with regard to these issues and contamination as the majority of people living here are uneducated and not affluent.

Below are examples of bore well that I came across during my research:

Although the wall reads “save water safe future,” I find it becomes increasingly hard to imagine a future with water quality such as the one shown above. As seen here, the main sewer line of the village is so close to this bore well, also causing water pollution for the passing by people:

Note from DZ: The water is flowing from the well towards the sewer, but the sewer can pollute the well by percolating into the groundwater below.

Solutions

  • Bore wells should be built on clean ground away from sewer lines.
  • People should not make garbage dumps near drinking water.
  • The number of bore wells should be reduced significantly, and government should take action against vote grabbers who are building these bore wells in inadequate places.
  • People with no access to the bore wells in the village should have no problems when the water level decreases naturally or the number of wells increase.
  • Most importantly it’s upon us to raise awareness against such harmful activities that go unchecked and the common problems that exist.

True costs of 5G

Marieke writes*

The wireless network has become an indispensable part of our society, the 5th generation will soon be implemented. The implementation of the 5G network in the Netherlands is planned in Amsterdam by 2020, and from 2025 onwards all European cities have to be covered according to the Dutch news provider.

What does 5G actually entail? Technically speaking, 5G enables a much faster connection (up until 20 Gbps, which means 20 times faster Wi-Fi and 30 times faster data) and it used a much bigger bandwidth of the mobile broadband, which will generate a bigger capacity and coverage for all network-users. Next to providing the possibility of using the wireless network with a massively increased speed, the 5G network will also enable the following possibilities:

  • Internet of things, e.g., smart heating-systems, self-ordering fridges, etc.
  • Self-driving cars
  • Smart cities, e.g., parking lots with sensors or automatic streetlamps
  • Industrialized automation, e.g., scheduling maintenance from a distance
  • Voice commands via devices such as Siri, Alexa and Google

For 5G internet many more, but smaller antennas are needed than for 4G. Volkskrant says that to cover an entire city with internet, an antenna is needed on every corner of the street.

When reading into the literature (both academic, peer reviewed sources, newspaper articles and websites of pro-5G stakeholders), it becomes clear that 5G is mainly presented as economically profitable, firstly because of the insane number of new products that can be brought onto the market or other uses of products that can be optimized, but also because it is said to be more energy efficient than 4G networks. T-mobile for example emphasizes that industrialized automation will save a lot of costs that are a result of current inefficiencies in the production process of many products and services.

However, what remains undiscussed in these sources, are the negative  externalities. For example:

  • Energy costs: even though 5G uses less energy per operation, the overall use of internet will increase, because more devices will be connected to the wireless system. Next to this, 5G requires the production of new devices and infrastructure to replace 4G devices and systems, increasing energy consumption and CO2 emissions [pdf].
  • Impact of radiation on mental health: it is argued that the addition of the high frequency 5G radiation to an already complex mix of lower frequencies (prior generations), will contribute to a negative public health outcome. It is stressed that the effects are still too unclear to draw any long-term conclusions. Additionally, the effects are hard to measure, since there is no control group anymore (everyone is exposed to the radiation). It is emphasized that these effects need to be studied before 5G is brought to the market
  • Lastly, the current generation of wireless connection, is already proven to negatively impact mental health, when assessing the impact of smartphone and social media use. The question arises if this would increase with the introduction to 5G.

Bottom line: For my essay I want to research the costs of these externalities and compare them to the economic benefits of the implementation of the 5G network.


* Please help my Environmental Economics students by commenting on unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data sources, or maybe just saying something nice :).