Monday, March 29, 2010

Chocolate and Cell Phones - You Don't Want to Know

It's interesting to me how information disseminates.  Years ago my daughter was doing a project on chocolate in about grade 3, so I told her that a lot of chocolate comes from plantations that use child slave labour.  She told her teacher who refused to listen to such nonsense.  Slavery's been over for decades!  Even after I sent 30 pages of information from reputable sources, she wouldn't be swayed.  A couple of years later, a few books were published on it, it hit the papers, and now it's almost common knowledge.  At the very least people aren't as confident taking up the opposition to what is largely accepted as fact:  Much of our chocolate, Nestle, Hershey's, M&M/Mars, Cadbury... comes from places that buy or steal children, some as young as ten, who are beaten if they don't work fast enough.  Cadbury and Mars have made some chocolate bars fair trade, but don't get those few token bars confused with the majority, which aren't.  Look for the fair trade label on each bar.  This Easter, if you do the rabbit thing, please buy fair trade chocolate:  Cocoa Camino, Divine, Green and Black's...  

Now the most recent issue of GQ has an article on cell phonesFinally someone is making problems more public....

Chocolate being slave-produced is a much easier sell now that it's out there. There's a collective knowledge that people seem to absorb. I'm willing to bet nobody will argue about the problems with chocolate production, and I'm hoping a reminder at this time of year will help people make a better choice when buying Easter chocolate.  But we love our cell phones!  People really don't want to hear anything bad about a product they're absolutely obsessed with.  It's the umbilical cord to all social networks.  You can't go for a hike in the woods without hearing someone's cell phone go off.  But this isn't about how they affect me, but how they affect people who actually own one.

Devra Davis took them on for a few pages of her book The Secret History of the War on Cancer.  She found that cell phones are connected to brain cancers. Several poorly conducted studies show no connection by monitoring only light-use clients. Tumors of the auditory nerve are three times more frequent in people who have used cell phones for more than a decade, and always on the side they favour.

The GQ article indicates that doctors are seeing more cases of brain cancer particularly in young professionals, and they think the industry has been discrediting studies showing a risk.  Many reports out of Europe link cell phones to brain aging, early-onset Alzheimer's, DNA damage and sperm die-off from the phones being kept in guy's front pockets.  According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, after a decade of cell-phone use, the chance of getting a brain tumor goes up 40%.  It gets worse:  People who started using a cell phone before the age of 20 - like the entire population of my school - were five times as likely to develop a brain tumor.

I love the article because it gets at human behaviour questions:  "...much of the comfort of our modern lives depends on not caring, on refusing to recognize the dangers of microwave radiation."  Short term comfort outweighs the potential of tumors many years from now.  The article explains the hows and whys in detail.  Yes we get radiation from the sun, and it's all around us, but we're exposing ourselves to excessive directed radiation which is harming us.

So what do we do?  Unlike the fair trade option for chocolate lovers, there's no radiation-free cell phone option.  According to Devra Davis, quoted in the article, "The most important thing you can do is use a speakerphone and an earpiece."  Okay, that's not going to happen.  It looks too dorky for teenagers to do.  It helps that most teens text instead of talking.  However, instead of brain problems, this can lead to serious reproductive problems.  And nobody's going to wear a lead-lined fanny pack.  We can encourage them to keep their phones in their knapsacks furthest from their bodies, and stop hiding it under the desk to text during class!  Get them out of their laps!  Every inch away from the body reduces the risk dramatically.  They need to be taught to text at arm's length.       

Another concern raised by all this - one that affect me directly - is wireless signals.  We have wireless everything in my house, and I'm going to try, deep breath, to convince my guy to plug back in.  The little cord that runs to the wall, or from the mouse to the computer, is not as big a hassle as cancer will be.  They also suggest, "If you can't bring yourself to plug back in, at least place the hub far away from your head."  Now I just have to figure out what a hub is.  

Here's a trailer for a film about one man who had himself prosecuted for buying slave-made chocolate: Tony and the Chocolate Factory  

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