For Now, the Issue Is Awareness

by Peter Donnelly

September 1996

This past Labour Day weekend my family and I travelled to a rustic resort on one of the Gulf Islands--let's call it Paradise Island. The resort is on a lovely piece of waterfront property right next to a public day-use park. Apart from the inevitable drone of airplanes and boats, it's a wonderfully quiet place. So I was surprised when the peace of Sunday afternoon was shattered by a very loud, persistent engine from somewhere in the park.

Curious and more than a little annoyed, I investigated, found a generator set up in the open, followed the power cord, and found--a coffee urn. Yes, some of the good people of Paradise Island, staging a community picnic, had decided that their right to hot coffee overrode the right of the dozens of people nearby to enjoy a quiet afternoon on the beach.

This incident seems emblematic of what we are up against in the struggle against noise pollution. The Paradise Islanders presumably have chosen to live on that lovely isle to escape some of the nuisances the rest of us have to put up with every day--yet the consciousness of at least some of them does not embrace the Right to Quiet.

Sadly, sometimes even the environmental movement seems indifferent to noise pollution. This spring we saw another Earth Day marked by overamplified speeches and music that intruded on the lives of people (and nesting birds) over many city blocks. In the evening I attended an Earth Day dance at a night club where, to signal its support for a healthy environment, the management had taken the unprecedented step of banning tobacco-smoking on the premises. Yet when the band was playing I measured 110 dB of sound at the edge of the dance floor--enough, according to the Workers' Compensation Board, to risk permanent hearing damage after two minutes.

In the campaign for quiet, our lines are still being pushed back. Every year the noise gets worse. Leaf blowers are now used year-round as substitutes for brooms. Traffic continues to increase by land, sea, and sky. More and more radios and TV sets are nattering away at us in public places ranging from shoe stores to corporate cafeterias. We live in the most overstimulated society in history, and as the effect of each individual stimulus weakens, we are bombarded with more and louder messages wherever we go.

What can we do? Each one of us has to stand up for the Right to Quiet. The opportunities are many. Ask store clerks to turn off the music or TV, and walk out if they don't. Contact your municipal councillors, MLA, and MP, and let them know your feelings about what jet skis, unmuffled motorcycles, and midnight sirens are doing to our quality of life. Write letters. Make phone calls. And if it does seem that the lines are not advancing yet, remember the non-smokers' rights movement, which started out as a tiny group of activists and within a decade or two brought about a mass change in consciousness.

We are in stage one of the Right to Quiet movement: raising awareness. We have to invalidate the excuses that we've all heard: "No one has ever complained before." "Most people like it." "If you don't like noise, you shouldn't be living where you are." If change is to come about, it will not happen just through the work of our executive. All of us, as individuals, have to make our voices heard through the din.

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