by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition
I have mixed emotions about Earth Day every year, and this year was similar–except it was quieter since each of us marked the 50th Earth Day in pandemic-induced solitude and isolation. But this year is different, too. We have been been thrust back two centuries to the astonishingly quiet, unpolluted time before the industrial age.
Amidst this pandemically induced silence, I continue to be exasperated that even now, the environmental movement ignores industrial noise pollution. Why is it that environmentalists avoid acknowledging two early successes of the environmental movement: the U.S. Noise Control Act (1972) and the U.S. Quiet Communities Act (1978)? It is exasperating that environmental leaders, year after year after year, avoid the environmental noise pollution issue as if they are somehow embarrassed by it.
Environmentalists simply fail to grasp two obvious facts:
1. Noise is a significant public health problem all by itself as clearly proven by abundant research.
2. Industrial noise—including jet engines, power plants, railway and roadway traffic noise, construction and landscape maintenance noise and even wind turbine noise are all sentinels, like “canaries in coal mines,” warning us all of dangerous industrial pollution in the air we breathe and the water we drink.
Why has no one ever been able to successfully make this case to environmentalists?
How can we make it now? Might they listen this time, now that we’ve all had our ears and eyes opened by the silence of COVID-19?
David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.