Quiet Down: A Few Tips on Controlling Noise Pollution

Years ago Enviro Girl lived in town and on a hot spring evening she was trying to grade a stack of papers for her English students.  She had the windows open to catch the breeze.  She was also catching the boisterous noise of a house party a few doors down the street.  The stereo blasted, kids shouted and try as she might, Enviro Girl could not concentrate.  It was 10 on a week night and Enviro Girl felt like she should have to right to keep her windows open and work in relative quiet.  After another half hour of sputtering her irritation, she called the local police department to inquire about a city noise ordinance.  The dispatcher assured her that the noise ordinance was in effect for over an hour now, so Enviro Girl filed a complaint about the party.  About fifteen minutes later the police busted an underage beer party and Enviro Girl was able to finish grading her papers in relative peace and quiet.

Noise pollution–it’s everywhere, wrecking the quality of life.  The effects range from  irreparable hearing loss to increased stress levels and disrupted sleep patterns.  Noise pollution causes environmental damage as well.  In the ocean, many dolphins and whales cannot communicate with each other because of all the racket from ships and sonar blasts.  Noise pollution in our seas creates havoc for migrating fish and is considered to be a major cause of beached whales.  Frogs, birds, insects and bats cannot compete with noise pollution, resulting in depleted populations.   Noise pollution means animals and birds cannot hear their mates, cannot warn of danger and cannot hear predators.  The effects of noise pollution on wildlife are similar to the effects of noise pollution in humans, including raised blood pressure, low body weight and hearing loss.  Noise pollution can mess up migration patterns, disrupt food supplies and destroy nesting habitats.

While these effects are expected in urban areas, human encroachment is destructive even in “protected areas” like state and national parks.  In Zion National Park, most of which was designated as wilderness in 2009, visitation doubled between 1982 and 1997 to more than 2.6 million visitors per year, most of whom lined up to drive through the park’s famous canyon. In 2000, however, the park banned vehicles during the its busiest times and created a mandatory shuttle system. The ban has improved the area’s sound quality for visitors and wildlife in the wilderness and non-wilderness portions of the park. Before the ban, several wildlife species had moved further and further from the main roads to avoid the sound of vehicles. Today, visitors have reported seeing mountain lions from the shuttle buses.

What can Eco Warriors do to combat this form of pollution?  The obvious answer is to quiet down. Restrict your use of motorized vehicles and appliances, turn down your stereos and television sets, participate in “silent sports” and employ manual tools for outdoor and indoor work.  Enviro Girl uses a rake and broom instead of a leaf blower.  She uses a broom instead of a vacuum for daily cleaning.  She rides a bicycle and cross-country skis instead of motorboating or riding a snowmobile.  Trees help muffle sound, and Enviro Girl has planted many.  When you reduce the distance your food and other goods travel, you reduce noise pollution.

You can also support policies that control noise pollution. You can call in violations of noise ordinances (like Enviro Girl did on that night long ago) or get involved at the state and local level by supporting quiet public spaces, like advocating for bans on motorized vehicles on park & recreation trails.

To learn more about noise pollution and what you can do to muffle the chatter, check out these links:  Shhh! 10 Ways to Quiet Noisy National Parks and The Quiet Use Coalition.