For a century, urban commotion has been treated as a moral failing of individuals. Fixing it will require systemic changes to environmental noise.
What are your ears hearing right now? Maybe the bustling sounds of a busy office, or your partner cooking dinner in the next room. Whatever the texture of the sonic landscape of your life may be, beneath it all is the same omnipresent din: the sound of cars.
That might seem benign, or perhaps even endearing—the sound of the bustle of the big city. But the din of vehicles, along with transit and industrial activity, is making people sick. People forget that noise pollution is still pollution. And noise pollution is everywhere.
Unlike many other injuries, hearing damage is irreparable. It also functions differently. People tend to assume that hearing loss is akin to turning down the volume in one’s head—that everything just sounds quieter. But it’s more complex than that. Sound at certain frequencies just vanishes—birdsong, intelligible human speech, the gentle rustling of leaves, the crispy highs of brushes on jazz cymbals. People can avoid using earbuds excessively or attending loud concerts. But people do not necessarily have the ability to avoid high levels of environmental noise—it’s in their neighborhoods, near their schools, at their workplaces. That makes noise pollution a matter of bodily autonomy.