One of the most pervasive sources of noise pollution in suburban neighborhoods is lawn equipment. The Noise Pollution Clearinghouse (NPC), a nonprofit agency providing access to a variety of materials on controlling noise pollution, has chosen lawn equipment as one of its primary focuses.
“The average life of the lawn mowers and weed trimmers in the United States today is about seven years,” says NPC executive director Les Blomberg. “By 2011 most of today’s stock will be in the recycle heap. There is a tremendous opportunity to reshape our neighborhood soundscapes by reshaping the lawn and garden marketplace.”
According to data provided by the NPC’s annual “Quiet Lawns” report, which rates various brands of lawn mowers on noisiness, a typical two-stroke gas-powered lawn mower subjects the operator to 85–90 dBA and should be operated only while wearing hearing protection. The latest (2004 model year) gas mowers employ four-stroke engines producing as little as 82 dBA. Electric-powered lawn mowers are quieter still, with the best model emitting only 68 dBA and not requiring the use of hearing protection. For small, evenly contoured lawns, consumers may want to purchase an old-fashioned reel lawn mower, used by golf courses because of their better cut. Some models produce as little as 63 dBA.
The NPC will be adding ratings for weed trimmers and chain saws to its annual report. “Our motto is ‘good neighbors keep their noise to themselves,’” Blomberg says.
As awareness is raised about the effects of noise on human health and well-being, public demand for controlling that noise will increase. In the not-too-distant future, technologies for developing machines that generate excessive sound may also incorporate the technology to suppress it. For societies seeking to cope with sensory overload, devices and innovations to reduce the sounds of modern life—and thus noise pollution—are good news indeed.
We prize silence, or do we? Don't we really prize the sounds that give us pleasure?
When bread is scarce, a protruding belly counts as beauty; when garbage dumpsters stink with wasted food, slenderness is prized. Small wonder that in our noisy civilization we often speak so longingly of silence.
But most of us, most of the time, do not really desire silence. Something in us recoils from an utter absence of sound. The composer John Cage famously spent some time in a sensory deprivation chamber; he did not enjoy himself. Silence and noise have both been used as interrogation techniques. Both can amount to torture.
This is not to suggest that silence and noise are equivalent. Silence doesn't elevate blood pressure or stimulate stress hormones or retard children's learning the way that noise does. In terms of acoustical impact, noise will always hold the whip hand. Your noise can destroy my silence, but my silence is powerless against your noise.
The composer R. Murray Schafer, who gave us the word "soundscape," referred to the dominance of noise as "sound imperialism." Though noise may wrap itself in the mantle of diversity — if you don't like vuvuzelas, you must not be multicultural — diversity is always the first casualty of noise.
Still, silence is hardly the answer to noise, and rarely its most attractive alternative. People who complain about noise are likely to be heard as silencers — and perhaps just as likely to fancy themselves as lovers of silence and therefore, in the minds of their antagonists, as haters of music, joyousness, the human race itself. An unfortunate mistake all around. The acoustic zone most of us wish to inhabit is not silence but quietness (a few sounds) or conviviality (an ecology of many sounds).
Picture a small lake in summertime, then close your mind's eye and listen to the sounds belonging to your picture: children laughing in the shallow water, mothers calling "That's far enough," laughter at the ice cream stand, ducks quacking in the reeds beside the beach, oars dipping into the water, a dog barking after a Frisbee, a radio playing softly next to two lovers cuddling in the sand, the aha of an old man who's just caught a fish, the soft psst of an unscrewed bottle cap — all the diverse sounds of a diverse company of human beings enjoying their leisure.
Implicit in this soundscape are some choices. Set your blanket near the water if you like your soundscape spicy; walk a ways beyond the beach if you prefer it plain, understated, still.
Excerpted from an article in the LA Times by Garret Keizer