Photo credit: Levent Tatli

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition, and Honorary Chair, Quiet American Skies

While we understand that sound connects each of us to other people, especially through the sounds of speech, we are also connected to other species through sound. This was especially true when many people living near airports found that with fewer planes during the early stages of COVID, they were able to hear more birds in their backyards. However, they were not only hearing birds, but recognizing more strongly the existence of another species that shares our earth space. This is also true when we listen to the sounds of frogs or crickets-–we become more aware of other living things. The sounds of animals, like those of humans, enable them to communicate with each other.

David George Haskell in his article in Yale Environment 360 states that as certain species travelled to other parts of the world, their sounds changed as they adapted to their new surroundings. They needed to do this to survive, but Haskell writes there was a loss of animal sounds and adaptation became more difficult. The cause–-human actions. Millions of singing whales have been lost and with this loss, their sounds, and in their place, we now have the “drone of ship engines and the crack of seismic air guns in search of buried oil.” Those members of a species that still live within our oceans must sing louder and higher to be heard by other members of their own species. Their survival depends on communication and interaction. But for how long will singing louder allow them to survive?

Haskell also acknowledges that noise affects humans both physically and mentally. The literature linking loud sounds and noise to physiological disorders, loss of sleep and disruption of learning is plentiful as we have so often noted on this site. He goes on to say that the blocking out of important sounds by noise may have caused individuals, in general, to listen less to others, leading to inattentiveness.

Humans have not only turned away from recognizing the importance of the sounds of other individuals but also of other species. According to Haskell, we have ignored the “voices of living Earth.” He believes our educational system as well as our corporations and government agencies, and even environmental organizations, make decisions about the environment, including our forests and rivers, without really listening to the very species who need to be heard. The question, says Haskell, is can we really build a more vital world if we fail to really listen to the sounds of Earth’s living organisms?

I fully agree with Haskell that tuning in to our Earth on a sonic level enhances our ability to improve and save Earth. I would also add that truly listening to other members of our human species would also benefit our existence.