Although noise pollution is the first cause of unhappiness, less than 1 percent of France's budget 2002 is allocated to solving this nuisance and given the fair number of places to fix (sound-proofing highways, airports etc.) the situation is nearly hopeless. And France is far from being an exception.

Poor people and the unwealthy are the first to be struck by this sort of pollution, resulting in an aggravation of stress and violence among the population. Weak people, such as the elderly are the ones who suffer the most, helpless to deal with this problem they have to endure their noisy neighbours. Noise pollution destroys society. The landscape of public places is transformed by noise into unregulated zones where, on the one hand polluters unconsciously or consciously harm others, and on the other hand others suffer from this barbarity in silence. Overall this phenomenon triggers an increase in violence.

Not only is it a pain to be surrounded by an endless list of city noises, music, people talking or shouting, airplanes, factories etc. but some noises are virtually disappearing from the surface of earth because the cannot be heard anymore. The faint bliss of snowflakes, the glittering of fresh water, the criss of wind blowing through dead leaves...

If noise pollution is unbareable to human beings, it has catastrophic effects on animals. Nature is of course noisy, still the spectrum of natural noises is very different from that of human made mechanical noises. Many animals depend on noises to find their way, to multiply and socialize. The situation is probably worse in oceans than anywhere else. Boat trafic and offshore drill platforms fill the sea with a constant background noise around 500 Hz. Low Frequency Active sonars are also in cause. These devices send low frequency signals at about 230 dB able to travel hundreds of miles. Whales for example rely on low frequency signals to communicate and noise pollution has a huge impact on their behavior.

Below 35 dB the environment is said to be calm. Recording studios have a noise level of about 10-20 dB. Most noises we hear are below 60 dB. Those above 100 dB are hardly bareable (a pneumatic drill is typically around 90 dB) and hearing those above 120 dB hurts. Determining whether a noise is polluting or not is very difficult because basically every noise pollutes. The importance of this pollution does not only depend on the number of dB the source emits, but on factors linked to the environment. For example to preserve a correct biological cycle our nights must be silent. Therefore a noise of 40 dB all night is way more harmful than the same noise during daytime. In France the noise pollution threshold is 70 dB during the day and 65 dB during the night. Remember that the decibell scale is logarithmic so yes, 5 dB does make a difference.

Fortunately the government can help things change. Everyone could be made aware of this new sort of pollution thanks to a mass campaign which would entice local administrations to take steps against noise pollution. And above all, people should not be afraid anymore of asking noise makers to shut up.

This is all about teaching people to behave.

Sources : Le Monde 7 November 2002 - Le bruit barbare
Aujourd'hui en France - 3 February 1999

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