Noise pollution is an environmental and public health crisis. Here are some simple steps to fight back
The modern world is too loud. Noise pollution wreaks havoc on the behavioral patterns and stress levels of wildlife. Ecosystems shift in the wake of chronic noise: seed dispersers, pollinators and their predators avoid the clamor, thus changing the landscape of plants and trees. And, as the New Yorker reported earlier this month, all this human-made noise is responsible for a public health crisis for humans, too – causing hearing damage, high blood pressure, heart disease, low birth weight, and disrupted sleep on a mass scale.
The takeaway? We are literally killing ourselves with noise.
Yet, while we talk a lot about reducing our carbon footprint, the notion of reducing one’s “noise footprint” is rarely discussed. Why? Perhaps noise pollution – whose loudest offenders are powerful entities like the shipping, logging and manufacturing industries – just feels too pervasive to tackle. But environmentally conscious citizens should work to improve their communities’ soundscapes – and lowering your individual noise output is a great way to start.
Here are several ideas on how to minimize your noise footprint:
Expand your awareness of noise pollution
Garret Keizer, author of The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want, suggests sitting down, closing your eyes, and making a list of every noise you can hear, from macro noises (ie ambulance sirens) to micro (ie the refrigerator running). Those living in urban and suburban areas will probably rack up a long list.
Yet even people in rural or protected natural areas may notice the presence of distant traffic, aircraft and industrial noise. Freedom from unwanted and unnatural sound is increasingly elusive. As explorer Erling Kagge put it in his book Silence: In the Age of Noise, wherever you are in the world, silence is “almost extinct”.
Ditch loud outdoor activities for quieter choices
After becoming more sensitive to the noise around you, try cutting back on your most raucous activities. Some of the loudest culprits are motorcycles and sports cars with ear-splitting exhausts. Other common noise offenders include recreational vehicles like snowmobiles, ATVs and motorboats. Even at legal decibel levels, these vehicles have detrimental effects on humans and nature.
Given the sonic disturbance to fish and birds, many parks across the US have banned gas-powered vehicles altogether. Even if they’re permitted in your area, however, consider switching to mellower forms of outdoor fun and transportation. Canoeing or kayaking get you out on to the water without harming or masking the natural acoustic environment. Biking instead of driving helps reduce traffic noise. And choosing an eco-friendly vehicle – as measured by decibel levels, as well as carbon emissions – is an effective way to minimize your noise footprint.
Of course, if you remain a diehard motor vehicle enthusiast despite the sound interference, please make sure to follow noise laws, keep your machine running smoothly, and don’t blast the radio.
Lower the volume of yard work
Anyone who has been awakened by a power lawnmower, leaf blower, hedge trimmer, or snowblower knows that “quiet” suburban living is a myth. Tools used in lawn care are a surprisingly disruptive source of ambient noise. Unfortunately, human dwellers aren’t the only ones suffering the consequences – songbirds and other wildlife are also silenced or scared away by the clamor.
If physically possible, opt for a rake and shovel instead of a gas-powered machine. Also consider switching to an electric or manual lawnmower. Better yet, ditch the mower altogether and transform your grass lawn into a biodiverse meadow. Your neighbors – as well as the local flora and fauna – will thank you.
Be mindful of domestic noise
According to R Murray Schafer, author of The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World, the “domestic” noise complaints most received by police are about music, fireworks, barking dogs and parties. Of course, when this localized noise pollution occurs at night, the potential harm rises exponentially. According to the World Health Organization, disrupted sleep leads to anxiety and depression, an increase in medical visits, and the use of prescription sleeping pills.
The solution? Pipe down!
Furthermore, even if a noise isn’t as obviously disruptive as, say, shrieking and laughing teenagers, it can still be damaging. For instance, the constant drone of window air conditioners or exhaust fans may be causing your human and animal neighbors underlying stress. Purchasing newer, sleeker machines can help, as can using an indoor ceiling fan and properly insulating your home.
Become active in the fight against noise pollution
Any truly effective strategy to reduce noise footprint must also contain an element of activism. As urban areas grow in population and noise pollution expands its reach into remote places, more noise-abating policies are needed. Advances in sound engineering and architecture can also help lower decibel levels – that is, if they’re installed and used.
The social implications of noise pollution deserve attention. Even before the deafening rise of the Industrial Revolution, poor communities were often denied the privilege of quiet. Railways, interstates, airports and factories – as well as cheap housing with no consideration for soundproofing – all bulldoze their way through underserved areas of the city. Fighting noise pollution is a political act in more ways than one.
It may seem overwhelming to try to fix what you can’t see, but go outside and sit awhile. Close your eyes. Listen. A human-made cacophony is all around us, and it’s time that we minimize our own contribution to it, one decibel at a time.
Paige Towers, a writer based in Milwaukee, is at work on a book about sound
Read more: www.theguardian.com