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British Columbia

Column: Noise smothers sound – Richmond News

Noise is essential to life, noise is pollution.

The sun won’t rise for over an hour. I’m sitting on the deck with my morning coffee, looking north towards Vancouver International Airport. Between me and the airport are other houses, the Fraser River, the No. 2 road bridge and lots of roads. Everything crammed into a few kilometers.

It should be dark outside, but it’s not, thanks to glare from LED streetlights and exterior house lights. It should also be quiet, but it isn’t. There is a distinct buzz. It’s like a dense fog hovering over the ground, a fog made not of water droplets but of noise.

When the sun is up and I’m active, my hearing no longer has an advantage because other senses have come into play. Still, I remain very aware of the buzz. In fact, it’s gotten more intense than before because there’s more contributing now – more cars and trucks rumbling along the streets, more air traffic, more construction activity with machines creaking and whining. The noise is overwhelming.

Linguists disagree on the etymology of noise. Some say its root lies in the Latin “nausea,” literally seasickness, and by extension disgust, anger. Others claim that noise derives from the Latin noxia, meaning crime, offense, guilt. As an aside, the Italian word for noise is ‘rumore’, which comes from the Latin ‘rumor’, muffled sound, hearsay – and yes, you guessed it, the Latin ‘rumor’ is also the root for our English word rumour.

A few years ago we happened to witness something significant and unprecedented in the lives of most of us. As the pandemic began to rage around the world in spring 2020, people were urged to avoid travel and avoid contact with others whenever possible. Human activity slowed down or even stopped, a situation scientists coined the word Anthropaus for. The environmental impact, which also includes noise and light, has decreased noticeably. People benefited from the decline, but above all animals, from the smallest to the largest, whether in the air or in the water.

Marine life depends on sound (from the Latin “sonus”, sound) for communication, hunting and navigation, using signals that can travel thousands of kilometers through water. Now, however, these signals encounter obstacles created by human noise pollution. “Marine life…lives in a noise hitherto unknown…the cracks of airguns, the needles and stabs of sonars, and the roar of engines are new and, in most places, much louder than they were a few decades ago.” Also, there’s in addition to noise pollution, there is also the problem of traffic – more ships mean more potential collisions with whales. Countless articles are written on this subject, but so far little progress has been made in finding even partial solutions. An exception is our Salish Sea, where BC’s Whale Conservation Unit patrols the area to ensure people stay out of ‘no-go zones’.

Birds make noises—signals, calls, songs—to find mates, assess danger, and defend their territory. For them, survival depends on hearing and being heard. When the ambient noise level is high, their sounds need to increase to compensate. In addition, human-made noise can distort or disrupt important information conveyed by birds. It can negatively affect their normal social behavior.

Noise pollution is particularly devastating during the birds’ breeding season as it can affect the number of eggs they lay and the size of the chicks that hatch. Spring and early summer are critical times for them and, unfortunately, also the time when landscapers employ an arsenal of deafening tools – gas-powered lawn mowers, weed killers, leaf blowers. From nature’s point of view, these tools are weapons of mass destruction.

Richmond, you are ruthless about raising our taxes, why can’t you be just as ruthless about banning gas lawn care equipment?

Sabine Eiche is a local author and art historian with a PhD from Princeton University. She is passionate about preserving the environment and protecting nature. Her columns cover a wide range of topics and often include the history (etymology) of words to shed additional light on the subject.

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