Many of us don’t even notice how much noise pollution is in our daily life. We habituate to the constant flow of noise and we aren’t aware of how much damage noise pollution is causing to ourselves and the natural world around us.
And according to the World Health Organization, the threshold for humans is about 35 decibels. “So when you are experiencing more than 35 decibels, you’re actually creating a stress level on yourself and you’re building up stress hormones,” says Gordon Hempton, founding partner of Quiet Parks International, a non-profit committed to the preservation of quiet for the benefit of all life.
This is why the recommendation for places of healing and restoration—like bedrooms and hospital rooms—is less than 35 decibels. (However, Hempton has measured 90 decibels in some hospitals in the United States.) The effects of noise past a certain decibel creates cortisol in our bloodstream and we are, essentially, shortening our lives (e.g. increasing our likelihood of having cardiovascular disorders).
And non-human animals are affected by noise pollution, too.
“Noise pollution does damage ecological communities. And all the birds, for example, if there is highway noise, they can’t send their messages. They can’t live their life,” Hempton tells us. “Another example is that other animals can’t hear their predators.”
The good news is, that seeking out a quiet place in the natural environment is the antidote. However, the bad news is, that finding a truly quiet place is not too easy.
“This is extremely difficult when you consider 80 percent of the land surface area of the United States for example, is within a quarter mile of a road,” says Hempton. “And road traffic at the time of sunrise, can travel up to 20 miles. So when you actually start looking at the map and say, ‘Where are these quiet places that are 20 miles from a road?,’ you’ll find that there aren’t very many. And ground traffic is not the number one polluter of wilderness areas. Air traffic is.”
Luckily for us, Hempton’s mission with Quiet Parks is to “create a set of classifications, standards, testing methods, and management guidelines for the certification of the world’s pristine and endangered quiet places.” Identifying and verifying these quiet areas helps to keep them preserved.
However, these places aren’t silent. In fact they are richly filled with natural sounds, beautiful subtle sounds, which Hempton challenges us to hear. “I think, the defining trait of a true adventure is the uncertainty. You aren’t completely safe and the outcome of your experience might change you forever. And that’s exactly what listening is. If you are not willing to change, you cannot listen.”
Here, Hempton walks us through some of the quietest parks in North America to truly escape the unnatural noise pollution of the world.
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