Whenever I come back from a holiday or camping weekend spent in nature, I always immediately feel the stress of everyday noise in a city. It’s not a specific sound, just the accumulated sound of traffic, cars honking, planes, and everything associated with it. Why do we consider every day noise so little when it comes to living more sustainably?
Types of noise
There are a lot of types of noises: White noise (which I quite like in form of a radio or TV running in the background), environmental noise perceptible for animals and/ or perceptible for us, and nature’s noises like the crashing sound of the ocean against the shoreline in a storm. Strangely those natural sounds don’t seem to stress us although sometimes louder than man-made ones. For example, the average traffic noise was measured as 73.4 dBA in Manhattan, whereas a thunderclap measures 120dBA; in comparison the ambient sound in rural areas measures 30dBA. Hearing loss commences from continued exposure to noise levels above 85dBA.
We probably all try to live more sustainably by reducing our use of natural ressources, reducing packaging, and maybe switching to public transport or cycling. But I never really hear about people trying to reduce environmental noise. Why? All our focus seems to be on infrastructure projects like motorways, windfarms, or new airports/ airport expansions. All of these of course have a huge impact and such projects can galvanise public anger, but should we not all take some responsibility within our own remit also?
Impact of environmental noise pollution
The impact of noise on animals has made quite a few headlines recently (deep sea oil and gas exploration, seismic surveys, and the like), not least in Blue Planet II but there is a lot less talk about the impact on ourselves.
Noise is associated with hypertension, and even cases of coronary heart disease and stroke. The European Environmental Protection Agency estimates related deaths in the EU at 16.600 each year, which is a huge number. There seems to be a lack of scientific data available although a newer EU study is in progress, could this be a reason why there is so little focus noise pollution?
Can we contribute to change?
There are many possible noise stressors. Aside from traffic, it could be a party at a neighbour’s house or apartment, a loud radio on a balcony, a burglar alarm, a domestic. We can all make a difference by being more conscious of others. Leaving the car behind and switching to cycling or walking clearly is one option to help contribute to change. Or maybe just considering the impact of honking goodbye or out of impatience, and obviously road rage of any form.
After spending some time in nature, the sudden change from silence (or maybe better nature’s stillness) to city background noise is so noticeable. We are a lot more sensitive then, our senses somewhat sharpened. It just does make one wonder how unnatural it is to live surrounded by man-made sound and how important it is to get away from this constant stressor. We become so used to it that we only perceive its presence when we were exposed to its absence.
Isn’t it curious that electric cars are manufactured to artificially make car noises to avoid crashes? What if there was a general shift to electric vehicles? If they were more common, would it then be possible to drive without (or only little noise) without endangering pedestrians not used to silent cars approaching? Wouldn’t this be a wonderful idea, not just for the environment but for our own health also?