Long gone are the days of pumping Metallica through my skull. To me, silence is golden these days. Not necessarily total silence, but an environment free of mechanical, electrical and other forms of human generated noise. It’s something I greatly cherish on the rare occasions I experience it. Noise pollution is a growing environmental problem and it’s far from just being an annoyance as it has very real negative effects on humans and animals.
In the days when I was a fisherman, I experienced what would possibly be the closest thing I’ll ever experience to total silence. We were about 30 miles out to sea, so there was no land in sight. It’s hard to tell exactly how far out we were as the radar couldn’t pick up any land. We we just drifting along with our lines. It was a flat calm day, the rest of the crew were sleeping; engines and other equipment was shut down and there wasn’t even a sound of water lapping on the hull. No insects, no birds. It was quite an experience, one that gives the term “the silence was deafening” real meaning. I could hear my heart beating and every breath I took sounded like a shout.
I’ve often wondered how much quieter the world would be if every single combustion engine was switched off and all electrical equipment shut down for a few minutes simultaneously. After all, noise doesn’t really disappear, it just dissipates. Like shining a torch at the moon, the light does hit it, but just so widely spread it’s hardly detectable.
Even if you’re out in the middle of nowhere, does the sum total of all the noise in the world still affect that area? I suspect it does, even if it’s only to a small degree.
We are very noisy creatures and the cacophony we create in its various forms is just another layer between us and fully appreciating the beauty of the natural world. When I had my block of land in the outback, I could still hear the sounds of trucks even if they were many miles away. Finding easily accessible quiet places, really quiet places, where the only noises are those of nature, is becoming increasingly difficult.
Perhaps if all combustion engines were silenced briefly we may all fling ourselves off cliffs in blind panic? It’s certainly something that most of the humans living on the planet today wouldn’t be accustomed to.
Noise pollution does negatively affect us and the environment. In humans, aside from annoyance, it’s been shown that exposure to moderately high levels of noise for an eight hour period can increase blood pressure and cause other cardiac issues – even if the person is not particularly consciously disturbed. Noise pollution can also cause gastric problems. Sometimes a person doesn’t even realize their body is stressed by noise until the noise is no longer present – they just feel a sudden sense of relief.
Exposure to excessively loud noise over long periods can also lead to partial deafness. Approximately 10 percent of people living in industrialized areas have substantial hearing loss and youngsters in the USA have an impaired hearing rate 250% higher than their parents and grandparents.
In nature, it’s been shown that birds in a city need to call longer and louder than their country counterparts. Noise also disturbs feeding and breeding patterns of some animals and has been identified as a contributing factor of the extinction of some species. Military sonar has been responsible for the deaths of possibly thousands of dolphins and whales.
Unfortunately, most people don’t know what quiet is. We don’t teach our children what real quiet is, so they can never appreciate the concept of human silence. We simply don’t know what we’re blocking out, and what we don’t know, we don’t miss. I’ve been privileged to experience the glorious sounds of nature and I very much miss them in suburbia.
If you have children, please take them out into the woods, forests, as far away from human activity as possible and get them to sit and just listen for a while. It may not have much effect on them immediately, but it’s something they may remember and cherish years later – a point of reference for what a more environmentally harmonious life should be. Also do it just for yourself from time to time – it can be a very soothing balm in what’s becoming an increasingly complicated existence.