Photo credit: Gustavo Fring from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

When I sent one of my noise colleagues a draft post about the Discover article on how human noise overwhelms natural sea soundscapes for comment and correction, mentioning quiet places in the ocean as acoustic refuges, he read my email on his cell phone and misread what I had typed as “acoustic refugees.”

His misreading of what I had typed, quickly corrected in a return email, made me think about the similarities between climate refugees–those who will have to uproot their lives and move elsewhere because of climate change, often (as with the fires here in California or the flooding in Louisiana) after losing everything–and people facing too much noise.

As I presented at the Acoustical Society of America and published in Proceedings of Meetings on Acoustics with coauthor Jan Mayes, noise levels encountered in everyday life in the U.S. and most developed countries are high enough to cause hearing loss.

There is a strong correlation between noise levels and the use of internal combustion engines because most urban noise is caused by transportation noise coming from internal combustion engines in vehicles, trains, and aircraft. Internal combustion engines contribute about 30% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

Those people who can flee noisy environments for quieter places. They indeed are acoustic refugees.

Those who can’t flee–largely the poor and minority groups–are stuck in place, disproportionately suffering the adverse auditory and non-auditory health effects of unwanted noise.

But noise doesn’t always care about socioeconomic status, and the quiet of even the most remote luxury ranch can be disturbed by helicopter or military jet flights or noisy off-road vehicles.

Unless steps are taken to make the world a quieter place, we will all become both climate refugees and acoustic refugees, with no place safe to go.