Earth Notes - Vanishing Silence

Flagstaff, AZ – Earth Notes: Vanishing Silence

Have you noticed the world getting noisier? Even in wild places the sound of silence is becoming scarce.

People who record natural environments for a living lament the intrusion of noise from airplanes, gunfire, all-terrain vehicles, and distant highway traffic. The result, says recordist Gordon Hempton, is that "quiet is going extinct."

Hempton notes that some of the noisiest outdoor spots in the United States are its national parks, including the Grand Canyon. The main culprits are machines that take tourists over and through scenic areas, from snowmobiles to helicopters. But even the beep and chatter of cellphones is having an impact.

Besides negative effects on wildlife, Hempton says unnatural noise upsets what he calls "the music of the soul." He and other advocates argue that sanctuaries where you can hear your own pulse can reduce stress, expand insight, and promote happiness.

Some noisy places have quieted down. A few years ago the managers of Zion National Park banned private vehicles from Zion Canyon during busy months, forcing visitors to take free park-run shuttle buses. Visitors soon commented they appreciated hearing the sounds of birdsong, running water, and rustling leaves rather than the constant growl of cars and campers.

Gordon Hempton and others point out that quiet is as valuable a resource as scenery, wildlife habitat, or recreation. In a noisy time, it appears those who value nature's pool of silence are going to have to speak up, so it doesn't evaporate.

-Richard Mahler