For The Atlantic, Bianca Bosker writes about the growing problem of noise pollution (because of our love of technology and hands-off governments) and why so few people take it seriously (because of our love of technology and hands-off governments).
Scientists have known for decades that noise — even at the seemingly innocuous volume of car traffic — is bad for us. “Calling noise a nuisance is like calling smog an inconvenience,” former U.S. Surgeon General William Stewart said in 1978. In the years since, numerous studies have only underscored his assertion that noise “must be considered a hazard to the health of people everywhere.” Say you’re trying to fall asleep. You may think you’ve tuned out the grumble of trucks downshifting outside, but your body has not: Your adrenal glands are pumping stress hormones, your blood pressure and heart rate are rising, your digestion is slowing down. Your brain continues to process sounds while you snooze, and your blood pressure spikes in response to clatter as low as 33 decibels-slightly louder than a purring cat.
Experts say your body does not adapt to noise. Large-scale studies show that if the din keeps up-over days, months, years-noise exposure increases your risk of high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, and heart attacks, as well as strokes, diabetes, dementia, and depression. Children suffer not only physically-18 months after a new airport opened in Munich, the blood pressure and stress-hormone levels of neighboring children soared-but also behaviorally and cognitively. A landmark study published in 1975 found that the reading scores of sixth graders whose classroom faced a clattering subway track lagged nearly a year behind those of students in quieter classrooms-a difference that disappeared once soundproofing materials were installed. Noise might also make us mean: A 1969 study suggested that test subjects exposed to noise, even the gentle fuzz of white noise, become more aggressive and more eager to zap fellow subjects with electric shocks.
Being pretty sensitive to noise, I read this piece with a great deal of interest. One of the benefits of living in the middle of nowhere in the country is that when I go outside, the sounds I hear are mostly natural: birds, streams, wind, frogs, and insects. In the winter, the quiet is sometimes so complete that you can only hear the sound of your own heart beating in your ears. But lately, some dipshit who owns a car with a deliberately loud after-market muffler has been driving through the surrounding hills, disrupting the peace. I can’t usually hear cars passing on the nearby road, but this muffler jackass you can hear literally miles away. It makes me want to smash things! I feel like a bit of a crank, but why does this person’s freedom to have a loud muffler override the freedom of the thousands of people within earshot to have quiet? (See also positive versus negative liberty and How Motorcyclists Think People React When They Drive By.)Tags: audio Bianca Bosker