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Why Nature is Quiet and the Built Environment is Noisypublished Oct 15, 2009
This story highlights a profound difference between the built environment and the natural environment: We expect the built environment to be noisy, and we expect nature to be quiet. We expect airplanes to make noise when they fly, but we expect birds to fly silently. We expect cars and trucks and power boats to make a lot of noise, but we expect lions and snakes and fish to move silently.
The reason for this difference is that evolution selects for energy efficiency. Almost all that noise from the built environment is wasted energy, energy that is not contributing towards making the car move or the plane fly. In general, animals make sounds when they have something to communicate, and plants, fungi, protista, and prokaryotes don't make sounds at all. Waste noise, or noise-pollution, is very rare among non-human organisms.
Non-living parts of nature do make loud noises on occasion. Many, or perhaps most, natural loud noises contribute to maintaining the stability of Earth systems by dispersing and dissipating energy away from areas of excessively high energy concentration, in accordance with the second law of thermodynamics. When waves crash loudly on the beach, the waves have carried excess energy away from storm centers out at sea and are distributing it around the periphery of the ocean. When a rockslide roars down a hill slope, it tears down the overaccumulation of potential energy in a tectonically uplifted terrain. Thunder, along with lightning, serves to redistribute a build-up of static electricity, yet another form of energy.
Why Nature is Quiet and the Built Environment is Noisy --Discussion
My husband, Bruce Odland, and fellow sound artist Sam Auinger, have explored the disconnect between the urban visual environment (designed, or at least intentional) and it's unintended sonic consequences. They, too, conclude that noise is the waste stream of energy inefficiency, tolerated because it is linked to economic activity. We have learned to tune noise out - at great mental effort - because our hunter gatherer senses would have us run screaming from these sounds of danger and distress. Hence young urban families clamor to live in expensive, gentrified warehouses in Brooklyn's DUMBO (down under Manhattan Bridge Overpass) with decibel levels so high that parents must shout at their children to be heard.
CBS followed Bruce and Sam around Brooklyn for a short feature on The Future of Noise:
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