Can you still hear yourself thinking?Do you live in a sea of noise, bathed in the hum of car engines, HVAC air flows, construction ruckus, elevator music, the thump-thumps of subwoofers, jet engine noises from above, etc? Or do you live where it's still possible to hear the wind in the trees, bird songs, the sound of water flowing, crickets chirping, etc?
Noise pollution is just as real as other forms of pollutions, and we run the risk of losing something very precious if we're not careful: Quiet, restorative silence, as well as the subtle sounds of nature that we've evolved to like.
The map above was created by the U.S. National Park Service, taking sound recording in hundreds of locations, from the quietest national parks to the noisiest urban areas, and all kinds of places in between (including places that are naturally noisier, more on that below). The darker blue areas are the quietest, and the yellow ones the loudest.
Not surprisingly, the noise follows population fairly closely, but what's alarming is that noise pollution grows faster than the human population, and in fact is more than doubling every 30 years. If the trend continues, and nothing is done to bring some level of quiet back, our children will live in a much noisier country than we do (though things like electric cars and more bike infrastructure can help reduce some of the biggest sources of noise in urban environments).
The second map shows us what the U.S. sounded like before the industrial revolution. The brown areas are the quietest at less than 20 decibels, and the darkest green regions go up to 40 decibels.
but is the noisy, modern world robbing us of our natural hearing?
“This learned deafness is a real issue,” Fristrup told the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in San Jose. “We are conditioning ourselves to ignore the information coming into our ears.”
“This gift that we are born with – to reach out and hear things hundreds of metres away, all these incredible sounds – is in danger of being lost through a generational amnesia,” he said.
“There is a real danger, both of loss of auditory acuity, where we are exposed to noise for so long that we stop listening, but also a loss of listening habits, where we lose the ability to engage with the environment the way we were built to,” he added.