Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Noise Pollution: Can you hear it?

When was the last time you heard a cell phone go off? What about a car with bass you could feel? How would you feel if these weren't just annoying, but were actually impacting your health?

Many people assume that yes, noise can cause deafness due to extended exposure, but what about coronary artery disease? High blood pressure? Ulcers? (See a more complete list of health problems here)

Noise has long been esteemed as the bane of true intelligence. Arthur Schopenhauer stated, "The amount of noise which anyone can bear undisturbed stands in inverse proportion to his mental capacity, and may therefore be regarded as a pretty fair measure of it... Noise is a torture to all intellectual people." Kurt Vonnegut used loud noise as a means of repressing high-level thought in his short story Harrison Bergeron.

Noise is a devastating force, and we're just getting used to it.

That may not last much longer. Research performed in 1970 by James L. Hildebrand* predicted that noise levels could eventually become lethal. Currently, exposure to city traffic noise damages hearing after only 8 hours of exposure. That's bad news for anyone who has a commute to work. The more time you spend in the noisy, bustling world, the more at risk you become to the problems associated with noise pollution.

Now, no one is suggesting you lock yourself in a soundproofed room and meditate--although if you meditate, you might want to lock yourself away to escape the noise. You may need to soundproof your home first, but in the long run, that may be worth serious consideration.

The news isn't all bad though. There are a plethora of programs and businesses out there to reduce noise, and you can help promote them. Participate in city council discussions, write to your local and regional authorities. Help identify ways to build a healthier, happier, and safer community by cutting down the noise.

*Noise Pollution: An Introduction to the Problem and an Outline for Future Legal Research, Columbia Law Review

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Milky Way: How can I see it?

In the 1990's, a blackout in Los Angeles resulted in a massive influx of 911 emergency calls about "strange clouds," with residents wondering if they were somehow responsible for the widespread blackout. The unknown mist—the Milky Way—was new to many. Estimates of those living in the United States who have never seen the Milky Way galaxy range from 60-80%

If you're lucky, or if you were born before 1950, perhaps you've seen the Milky Way. Many rumors now say that it can't be seen from earth—which to a point, is true. The number of locations where you can look up and see the Milky Way is quickly dwindling, and without action, the rumors will be fact. 

Here are some things you can do to see the Milky Way from your own home:

1. It starts with you--Flip the switch. Unnecessary use of lighting is a major contributor to light pollution. Install motion-sensors for outdoor lighting: your friends and neighbors won't be offended if you don't leave the porch light on for them. Motion-sensors work just fine.

2. Join the movement for dark skies. Visit the International Dark Sky Association home page to see how you can get involved. 

3. Push for becoming a "Dark Sky City." Flagstaff, AZ started a trend for what the night sky can look like--the Milky Way and all. Write your senator, attend city council meetings--never underestimate what a few passionate individuals have the power to change.

4. Share the news! Awareness of the issue is the first step toward removing it. The resources to reduce light pollution are out there, from dark-sky friendly light fixtures to building design models which reduce light pollution. When people know, people do. Restore the night. Pass it on.