The most threatened sound in the world
“When we look at the healthiest ecosystems that exist on our planet today, we find that they are also the quietest places,” Hempton said. “These are the places that extract carbon from the environment, produce oxygen so that we can breathe and where endangered species are not.” When Hempton says that by saving silence you end up saving everything else, that’s exactly what he means – healthy soundscapes support healthy environments, and if we were to start treating noise like tape origin of climate change and noise pollution as pollution, it would have resounding effects on all living things, including ourselves.
Quiet has long helped humans find their voice. Like nature, it soothes us, anchors and even heals us. But despite the heaps of evidence that calm makes us healthier and nature makes us happier, Hempton warns that the number of naturally quiet places is “on the way to extinction that far exceeds the extinction of species.” Consider this: Over the past 50 years, the global population more than doubled, air traffic nearly six-fold between 1980 and 2019, the increase in shipping has effectively drowned out the ocean soundscape, and it is estimated that there will be more than 2 billion cars on the road by 2030.
“In 1900, you had a good chance of finding peace and quiet in about 75% of the continental United States. In 2010, that number was 2%, and it’s a similar phenomenon almost everywhere, ”said Les Blomberg, executive director of the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, a Vermont-based organization that studies and educates about the negative effects of unwanted noise. “What really worries me is that in the 21st century we’re going to do to the air what we did to the land in the 20th century and turn every neighborhood into an airport and every street into a runway for our drones. The threat of noise is coming from above us, and it is not God. “
Without an act of God, Hempton says he may never have learned to listen. While driving from his Seattle home to his university in Wisconsin one summer, the 27-year-old graduate student pulled up on a rural road somewhere in Iowa. Too broke to afford a motel, Hempton parked the car, stepped into a cornfield, and lay down to rest. As a thunderstorm rolled in, Hempton stayed put and listened – really listened – for the first time in his life. “I could hear the crickets singing to the beat, and with each thunderclap that echoed, it revealed to me a clear picture of the whole valley,” he said. “I was so upset by this experience that I got up, went to college, and quit.”