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May 15, 2021

Guest editorial: 5G and the bigger picture

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Helena Norberg-Hodge

For more than four decades, I’ve been studying the impacts of the global techno-economic system on different cultures and societies around the world.

From Ladakh and Bhutan to Sweden and Australia, a clear pattern has emerged: as people are pushed into deepening dependence on large-scale, technological systems to meet their basic needs, ecological and social crises escalate.

I am by no means the only one to have seen this. In the International Forum on Globalisation, which I co-founded in 1992, I worked with forty environmental leaders from around the world to identify the way that ‘free-trade’ treaties – the principal vehicles of globalisation – lead to a loss of democracy, a loss of livelihoods, and an increase in resource extraction. This,  in turn, leads to community breakdown, fierce competition for jobs and resources, and epidemics of depression, addiction and divisiveness.

A simple question: as the global economy has grown, do you feel greater security or greater stress? Have all the investments in big tech and big infrastructure made the world a better place? As social media has come to dominate our personal lives, do you feel more connected to others, or more isolated? Significantly, quite a few people who have got to the very top of the consumerist ladder (Russell Brand is a good example) have found it empty, and sought instead to recover their spiritual connections to community and to the natural world.

There is a clear cultural turning, visible now even in the mainstream. People are rejecting the posturing of consumer culture, and wanting instead to slow down, spend less time on screens, cultivate deeper relationships and engage in more community-oriented and nature-based activities.

When viewed from a big-picture perspective, rejecting the imposition of 5G – a technology that embodies a giant leap on the globalising techno-economic path – is a no-brainer. Why on Earth should we accept an energy-and mineral-intensive technological infrastructure that is fundamentally about speeding life up, increasing our screen-time, automating our jobs, and tightening the grip of the one per cent over the rest of us?

At a time when we urgently need to be investing in economies that minimise our use of energy and resources while increasing meaningful employment, we don’t need to be conspiracy theorists to see that adopting 5G is not in the interest of people or planet. We don’t even need to prove the negative health effects of 5G on humans and other lifeforms (although I certainly believe there is serious reason for concern). We simply need to reject the top-down pressure to pursue an ever more speedy, competitive race to the bottom. Let’s work instead to strengthen the other world that’s trying to be born at the grassroots on every continent, every day. Let’s unite in support of a vision of a truly democratic, just and ecological future.

Helena Norberg-Hodge is the founder and director of Local Futures.

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  1. I’m sorry, Helen but I’m in love with my iPad and totally addicted to it. I can no longer imagine life without it. It brings me newspapers, literature, interesting podcasts, instant communication – like right now writing this – even now medical appointments. Rather than complicating and speeding up my life it lets me do all sorts of transactions without trawling Byron Bay’s streets for a park or waiting for 30 minutes at Clifford Street to get out.

    With so much family, including my 97-year-old mum, and long-term friends in Victoria I can’t imagine how disconnected we all would have felt without video calling. I have Melbourne friends who FaceTime us almost nightly to keep sane. Not all ‘progress’ is indeed progress but I can’t help but enjoy the positives.

      • No one is making you or anyone else use 5G technologies. Other Australians do want to access the technology. You are not qualified to advise on the safety of 5G and the independent advice from the qualified cross disciplinary team ARPANSA is that it is safe.


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