In the words of Carrie Bradshaw (YES I love Sex and the City, bugger off), I am “a bona fide city girl.” I feel most at home in crowded, fast paced, concrete and steel behemoths. Although I love the countryside and the peace (and the greenery), few things lull me to sleep quite like the sounds of streetcars flowing along tracks. I grew up in the east end of Toronto near the 506 route along Gerrard, and heard them running all night throughout my whole childhood.
However, although I was born and bred in a city, I consider myself philosophically (and, in some respects, professionally) to be a naturalist. I tend to look to nature, not humans, for wisdom and inspiration. And I believe that in general, we need to be guided by our evolutionary past to find the keys to good living (i.e. commonsense things like exercising frequently, not sitting down for 6 hours a day in front of the TV, not eating synthetic chemicals, etc.).
Which is why this study from the WHO makes so much sense. Noise pollution – traffic, construction, noisy neighbours – is responsible for a significant chunk of cases of heart disease, annoyance, tinnitus and sleep disturbance in Europeans due to stress. The authors describe noise as “the Cinderella form of pollution, people haven’t been aware that it has an impact on their health.” For example, they calculate that of the 101,000 deaths from heart disease in the UK in 2006, about 3,030 cases could be attributed to noise.
Although it’s certainly difficult – probably impossible – to pin down such precise numbers like that, the authors quite wisely point out that the additive effect of noise with other stress factors can also contribute:
“Some people find noise pollution more stressful to live with than others do. Noise cannot directly kill us, but it may add to our stress. Occasionally, stressful events can trigger a heart attack in someone with underlying heart disease. We know that stressed people are more likely to eat unhealthily, exercise less and smoke more, and these can increase the risk of developing heart disease in the first place.”
This makes perfect sense to me. In particular, lately, I’ve noticed that the noise in London is really starting to get to me – it’s making me irritable. I’m finding myself more and more sensitive to the perpetual sounds of construction (renovations take FOREVER in this country – ask any ex-pat), the foul-tempered pit bulls and rotweillers in the gardens nearby, and my insufferable downstairs neighbours, a couple who have been fighting viciously for the past six months, and who work odd hours for the fire brigade so they frequently war at four in the morning. (Every night I pray will be the night that the noise stops because they have done each other in, War of the Roses style.)
One more piece of evidence that the way we live today, so far removed from the way we lived when humans adapted to life on earth, is just no good for us.