It’s time to speak out loudly about noise pollution
Opinion: Being deprived of the right to daydream before being swallowed by work would be a bitter loss
Last month’s news that the Iveragh Peninsula in Co Kerry had received the northern hemisphere’s first dark skies designation was a rare victory in a very low-profile battle: that over light pollution, which is blamed for playing havoc with wildlife, reducing the quality of life and interfering with young lovers’ romantic moments beneath the stars.
But just as Kerry took a step forward, Dublin took one back in a closely related field. If you’ve been on certain Dublin Bus routes recently, you may have noticed that each stop is now announced in English and as Gaeilge, on Luas-style loudspeakers.
Just as the Plough and Orion are tough to spot amid the orange smudge of a light-polluted horizon, so it can be hard to concentrate on the sentence you’re reading, or the thought you’re pondering, when someone is nagging you about the approach of an Chearnóg or the advisability of holding on to the rail when you’re standing in a moving bus.
Noise pollution, like light pollution, is one of the side effects of living in a busy and exciting city. It’s a trade-off: you can’t expect peace and quiet to reign everywhere in a city with a catchment area of more than a million people. And in fairness, announcements are useful for tourists and passengers new to the route, and for those with certain disabilities. But having them bleating away all the time is unnecessary when they could be activated by request.
“Unnecessary” is a significant word, because among the first activists in this field were the members of the Society for the Suppression of Unnecessary Noise. Founded in New York in the early 1900s and counting Mark Twain as a supporter, the society campaigned against – what else? – noisy transport, in particular the incessant horns of tugboats on the Hudson river, which they regarded as debilitating and an oppression of the poor.
They were on to something, because noise pollution is a particularly unhealthy phenomenon. Depression, sleeplessness, heart problems and hearing difficulties can result. And, as with too much light, it torments wildlife. Perhaps it’s at its most invidious when it’s subconscious: computer fan noise, the mood music of many an office, is often not noticed until it suddenly stops.
The World Health Organisation has been active on the issue. A 2011 report calculated that more than a million “disability-adjusted life-years”, or years of healthy life expectancy, are lost in Europe every year because of noise. At night-time, one in five Europeans tries to sleep through sound levels that could damage health.