An Experiment in Noise Pollution Reduction

I’ve been trying an experiment over the past year. It includes trying to reduce the amount of noise pollution I endure during the day. No, I haven’t buried myself in an anechoic chamber. What I have done is consciously reduced the noise around me, including the sound levels of all sorts of sources. As I’m able, I’m reducing the sound levels of my music and of the television (for example) or turning them off completely. What I’m finding is that the sound levels I listened to when I started sound absurdly loud to me now. I don’t have enough medical knowledge to know whether someone’s hearing can repair itself, but I do know that turning down the sound has forced me to pay attention better when I want to hear something. The difference in focus has had a profound effect.

Reducing sound levels has both health and monetary benefits. The health benefits, at the least, are improved hearing. The monetary benefit is that I find I’m using less electricity to produce sound that I didn’t really want to hear in the first place. In addition, because I’m able to focus on a task with all of my energy, I complete tasks faster and with fewer errors, which usually has a positive monetary impact (or, at least gives me more time to do something else). These are the effects that I thought I would achieve when I started my experiment and they have proven to be quite easy to justify. Most importantly, I now find that I can hear things that I would have missed in the past. For example, if my wife requires aid, I can actually hear her more often (she’s incredibly soft spoken).

I’m finding a few surprise changes as the result of my experiment. For one thing, my blood pressure is less on days where I have fewer noise sources to contend with (as much as 15 mmHg), which bodes well for my long term health. I’m also finding that I suffer fewer headaches and that I appear to have more energy. So far, I haven’t seen much difference in my heart rate, which is something I had expected given the other changes I’ve noted. I wish there were some way to quantify how much of this effect is due to sound reduction and how much is due to overall health improvement due to our self-sufficient lifestyle, but I have to think that the sound reduction has a significant effect.

There are a few negative effects to the sound reduction experiment. The first is that I find that I wake easier at night. Sounds that I didn’t notice before are quite obvious now. So, when an animal is killing a rabbit outside, I wake now, rather than sleep through it. The disruption of my sleep does have a negative health effect, but I think the consistent positive health benefits I’ve received outweigh this somewhat negative effect (given that I fall back to sleep quite easily). The second is that I sometimes find myself straining to hear a sound that isn’t there. This psychological effect will likely become less pronounced as time goes on, but for now, it causes some level of stress when it occurs, which is only occasionally.

I haven’t completely cut out sound sources. For most of us, the complete loss of sound sources isn’t obtainable, desired, wanted, or even needed. What I have done is made a conscious effort to reduce the loudness of sound sources when I can. For example, instead of listening to the television at the 35 level, I’ll listen at the 25 or 20 level instead. I’ve cut music sources down to half their previous levels and I turn the music off completely in the afternoon when I’m focused most on writing. I also use hearing protection now even if the sound source isn’t what most people would consider absurdly loud (when using the lawn mower, for example).

Noise pollution poses serious health risks to people today. It isn’t just annoying, it causes all sorts of health, environmental, and monetary problems. While I have always advocated the use of hearing protection when working around loud equipment (wood chippers, weed whacker, chainsaw, blower, circular saw, and so on), this is my first foray into reducing sound levels from all other sources. The effects have been pronounced and I’m now beginning to wonder just how far I can take this and still maintain quality of life. There is a balance to things, after all. Have you considered the effects of noise pollution in your life? What can you do to reduce it? Let me know your thoughts on noise pollution at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Green Doesn’t Mean Pollution Free

There is a misconception about green technologies that I hear more and more often. The idea that a green technology is necessarily pollution free simply isn’t correct. I’ve been giving the notion a great deal of thought and haven’t been able to come up with a single green technology that is free of pollution of some sort. In fact, I have come to wonder whether some supposedly green technologies may actually produce more pollution than the technologies they’re supposed to replace. Yes, I realize that this is a radical position, but hear me out before you make a decision for yourself (and I would welcome discussion on this particular issue).

I’ll start with the simplest green technology that I could come up with. Years ago my wife gave up her drier for a clothesline. Not only do our clothes last longer and smell better, but she gained some important space in the laundry room, our costs for drying the clothes are smaller, and using a clothesline is definitely green. However, is a clothesline pollution free? It isn’t for several reasons.

 

  • The clothesline we use is plastic covered metal wire, which means that manufacturing it generated several kinds of industrial waste and hydrocarbons.
  • The hooks used to support the clothesline are made of metal, which means yet more industrial waste.
  • The posts used to support the hooks are made of treated lumber, so they contain toxic chemicals.
  • The posts are also painted, which means more toxic chemicals, along with industrial waste and potential hydrocarbons.


Using the sun to dry your clothing is a green technology. There are few continuing pollution sources when using this approach, yet, it can be easily argued that the clothesline will eventually require replacement, as will the posts and the hooks. The posts will last longer if I continue to paint them, but that means continued pollution in the form of toxic chemicals as well. So, this green approach to drying clothing does generate a small amount of pollution—it isn’t pollution free as advocates would have you believe. (However, it is demonstrably better than using a drier.)

After thinking this issue through for a while, I did come up with some ways to reduce the pollution generated by drying clothing outside, but never have created a solution that is completely pollution free and still provides the desired result. Here are some of the changes I considered:

 

  • Use black locust posts and cross beams that require no painting and are naturally resistant to decay.
  • Use natural fiber clotheslines that don’t generate as many pollutants during production.
  • Avoid the use of hooks by tying the clotheslines directly to the cross beams.


Even with these changes, however, the simple act of drying clothing generates pollution. For example, I have no source of natural fiber strong enough to support the clothes on my property and even if I did, I have no way of turning the fibers into clotheslines. In short, drying clothing generates some amount of pollution in the form of industrial waste even with the best planning. I’ve been able to use this same approach to consider the pollution generated by burning wood instead of propane to heat the house (despite my replacement of the trees I burn to maintain the size of the woods) and other ways we try to be green. Humans simply generate pollution for every given activity no matter how benign or well considered.

So, now you need to consider how this information translates into other green technologies. When you look carefully at my arguments against calling a green technology pollution free (as has been done in the hype generated in the news lately), you quickly see that many green technologies generate considerable pollution. Most of the articles I read on the topic are woefully inadequate and some are downright inaccurate. For example, I read an article from Scientific American that tries to paint solar cells as relatively pollution free. The article does consider the burden of fossil fuels used to construct the solar cells, but doesn’t consider the content of the cells themselves. For example, when you talk about the silicon used to create a solar cell, you must consider the heavy metals used to dope the silicon in order to make it into a semiconductor.

Unfortunately, while I do know that toxic industrial waste is produced when creating solar cells, there is a terrible lack of material on just how much. It’s a dark secret that you won’t read about anywhere. The article also doesn’t consider the emissions produced by the manufacture of plastic housings and metal castings used for solar panels. So, while using a solar panel does reduce locally produced pollution, I have to wonder whether the technology doesn’t simply move the pollution to another location—the place of manufacture. It makes me wonder whether our grandchildren might not consider solar technology as an ill conceived maneuver designed to make everyone feel better at the expense of toxic output that is even worse than the technology it replaced. In fact, I have read an article or two about this particular issue already—we may be making some places in China uninhabitable in order to clean up our own country.

Of course, these are simply musings of mine that I’m choosing the share with you. My point is that we need to consider the potential ramifications of theoretically green technologies that we embrace and consider the full cost of each. There are many technologies, such as the use of ethanol in gasoline, that many people have already questioned as being reckless. You can find a lot of articles questioning the use of ethanol in places such as the New York Times, Scientific American, and Environmental Working Group that say ethanol is a wash at best and potentially worse than simply using unadulterated gasoline from a health perspective. I have an open mind when it comes to green technologies, but I’m also cautious in saying that we’re making progress because so far, I’m not seeing much real progress. Let me know your thoughts on the green revolution at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.