Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Slipping down the silentless slope
In New Paltz, N.Y., 80 miles north of Manhattan, Richard Parisio laments the disturbance of the "sweet pure song of the white-throated sparrow." The culprit? Hydraulic fracturing, Parisio writes in the New Paltz Times -- "noise, night and day, from droning compressors, clanging drilling rigs, roaring gas flares."
Parisio worries that not just sparrows, nor their human appreciators, will be left the lesser for this state of affairs. There are the hermit and wood thrush, who could be "driven from their breeding grounds, unable to hear each other's songs, so crucial to courtship and the establishment of territory." And what about the bats? Will they manage to "find their food by echolocation amid all the background noise?" Parisio fears the answer may be no, which could trigger unknown consequences such as a rise in the population of mosquitoes when their bat predators are fewer.
The new age of energy is making our lives less tranquil. Writer Robert Bryce has discussed the whoop-whooping of wind turbines, the "headaches, ear pain, nausea, blurred vision, anxiety, memory loss, and an overall unsettledness" suffered by those who live near them, not to mention the "fatigue, apathy, and depression, pressure in the ears, loss of concentration (and) drowsiness." This is a global phenomenon, says Bryce in the National Review, a malady in "Missouri, Oregon, New York, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Britain, Australia, Canada, Taiwan and New Zealand."
One can shake one's fist at windmills, but business is generally a cacophonous thing. Going back as far as one would like, merchants have probably always barked out the virtues of their wares, and some economic activities have been noisier than others. As we know, for instance, the racket of horse-drawn wagons in 18th and 19th century London was so ear-splitting that one simply could not speak audibly on the street.
Alas, the horses are gone, but the din remains. Across the globe, we are subject to disrespect of tender ears. At the Economist, there is gnashing over the defiant rustling of papers and cell-calling in the quiet cars of commuter trains across the Commonwealth, from Great Britain to Australia. Even in the joyfully raucous bazaars of Istanbul, there is a feeling the shouting of merchants may have gone too far, reports the Wall Street Journal.
I grew up in a voluble house in which the persuasiveness of an argument among brothers could be gauged by how loud one could make it, or so we thought. Yet when I returned to the United States from a long stint abroad, I was startled by how much noisier the United States seemed when compared with memory. In cafes, in supermarkets, and in boutiques, there seemed no evading music at a decibel level that I associated with boyhood Saturday evenings at the Whiskey a Go Go.
In Foreign Policy, I protested this degradation. We seemed to have become unfavourably like the Soviet Union, where public places were generally inundated with intrusive music, which many of us perceived as yet another instrument of political control -- if plotters could not hear one another, how could they co-conspire?
But what was our excuse? There was none. We simply seemed to have drifted down a slippery, silentless slope without taking account of it.
Some feel the answer is the pocketbook -- that the loudness-challenged among us will muffle up only if it hurts in the wallet. So it is that Istanbul has instituted fines on traders who cannot keep to a reasonable yowl, the Journal writes.
Yet one can go only so far -- how would one measure excessively loud paper-rustling on the train, for example? For that reason, the Economist suggests charging more for quiet car tickets, which seems unjust in that victims are then paying for the crime of the miscreants, but it still may come to that.
And what of the din of energy-production? Vestas, the wind-turbine manufacturer, has griped that its business is subject to unfair noise restrictions in windy Denmark, which is something of a laboratory and trend-setter for wind-power. It says it is trying to make its products quieter, and that communities must be reasonable. Given their own tortoise-paced approach to community management, shale gas and oil drillers, one suspects, will move no faster, and probably slower, than turbine-makers in addressing the racket they produce. And then will come mosquito season in New Paltz.
Steve LeVine covers energy for Foreign Policy.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 19, 2012 J11
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