Photo credit: Scott Webb

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Today is Earth Day. This year’s theme, “Planet vs. Plastics,” isn’t particularly relevant to noise but the idea of protecting the environment by working towards a quieter world is an ecologically sound one, too (Pun intended!) That’s the mission of The Quiet Coalition and its parent organization, Quiet Communities, Inc

A quieter world will be better for people. Noise is stressful and stress is bad for people. Most doctors and certainly most members of the public and their elected representatives still aren’t aware that noise has non-auditory health effects, including hypertension, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and increased mortality. Despite being a board-certified internist, I didn’t know about these non-auditory health effects until I became a noise activist ten years ago, and found this study.

Subsequent research has increased our understanding of exactly how noise, especially from transportation, causes adverse health effects — down to the molecular and genetic levels. As I recently wrote, increasing electric vehicle sales will reduce both noise and air pollution. 

A quieter world will also be better for animals, as Quiet Coalition co-founder Arline Bronzaft often writes about. I can’t find a review article that summarizes all the adverse effects of noise on birds, small mammals, fish and marine mammals, but there is extensive scientific literature documenting how noise affects them. Stress has been measured in animals exposed to noise, including marine mammals, by collecting their waste products and measuring hormone levels. And of course, the natural experiment that occurred when transportation noise decreased during COVID lockdowns showed that animal behavior changed dramatically when cities became quieter.

A quieter world will even be better for plants. I’m still not convinced that plants can hear, but noise affects birds and small mammals that disperse seeds. Research out of New Mexico showed that noise from natural gas compressors affected pinyon pine seed dispersion by scrub jays, decreasing pinyon pine populations.

As I often write, a quieter world will be a better and healthier world for all. Happy Earth Day.

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