Noise — It’s Pollution
. . . (And I’m not going to take it anymore!)
By Robert Ross

Have you been to your local convenience store lately . . . or the supermarket . . . or a department store . . . or the dentist . . . or the gym  . . . or  an elevator . . . or a campground . . . or a ski slope
. . . or been stopped at a traffic signal, or . . . (you fill in the blanks), only to find that you’re being assaulted? Assaulted by something that is uninvited and unwanted?  Bombarded by a pollution that can negatively affect human health and well-being? It’s called noise.  A word derived from the Latin word “nausea,” meaning seasickness.  In this case, the offender is unsolicited and unappreciated  music.

This invasion of music pollution, if you will, has not happened overnight, but rather incrementally. It was innocent enough when it first appeared in a store here, or a fast food restaurant there. Innocent enough then, but at this point in time, it is all pervasive — it’s crept into every aspect of our lives.

I first became aware of the phenomena of uninvited music some twenty-five years ago, while camping in the Big Sur area of California. Big Sur is one of the more scenic areas of California, known for its pristine coastline where jagged cliffs bring pine trees down to the surf’s edge. I was excited about camping there, expecting to be surrounded by beauty, expecting to listen to the wind as it shooshed through the pines trees.

After setting up my tent, my solitude was immediately interrupted by the sound of rock music being played from a radio a couple of campsites down from me. I shrugged it off, hoping that it was just a momentary thing. Then, the campsite next to me pulled out their boom box and turned it up to a high volume. Soon, it was the battle of the boom boxes. So much for peace and solitude. For me that was an omen of things to come. 

More recently I went to the beach in San Diego.  While walking through the parking lot toward the surf, I passed a car with the hatchback open, facing me. Two large speakers were blasting out a rap song.  This particular song consisted of a four-letter expletive repeated over and over again. So much for the sound of waves.

A trip to the wilderness, ski slope, beach, national park, state park, medical facility or any store means you will more than likely be forced to listen to music that is put into the environment by others, without our consent.

This “second-hand” music pollution has become so pervasive, that the thought of fighting back is overwhelming. It appears to be permanently embedded in our culture.  Like the laugh track in a T.V. sitcom, you’ve got to listen to it and accept it, period.  Also, because of the passive acceptance by society, fighting back would involve more than a letter here and a letter there. It would have to involve some type of organized  effort.  But where do you begin?

As luck would have it, after plugging  “noise pollution” into a couple of different search engines, I found more than enough resources and information to realize that I am not the only one out there who has a problem with uninvited noise. NPC at  is a resource clearing house for those interested in noise pollution. Their description of noise put into the air by others, was a welcome relief.  Not only is it well stated, but actually makes the case in legalese, to empower individuals; individuals who don’t appreciate this ever-present  noise intrusion.

According to “We experience noise in a number of ways. On some occasions, we can be both the cause and the victim of noise, such as when we are operating noisy appliances or equipment. There are also instances when we experience noise generated by others just as people experience second-hand smoke. While in both instances, noises are equally damaging, second-hand noise is more troubling because it has negative impacts on us and is put into the environment by others, without our consent.

The air into which second-hand noise is emitted and on which it travels is a ‘commons,’ a public good. It belongs to no one person or group, but to everyone. People, businesses, and organizations, therefore, do not have unlimited rights to broadcast noise as they please, as if the effects of noise were limited only to their private property. On the contrary, they have an obligation to use the commons in ways that are compatible with, or do not detract from, other uses.

People, businesses, and organizations that disregard the obligation to not interfere with others’ use and enjoyment of the commons by producing noise pollution are, in many ways, acting like a bully in a school yard. Although perhaps unknowingly, they nevertheless disregard the rights of others and claim for themselves rights that are not theirs.”

It looks like there are some legal possibilities here. This is “common air,” not owned by any individual or company. The problem is, now what? What can I do to make my voice heard?  Write a few letters? Contact my Congressman?  He’s still scratching his head over the impeachment issue!

This is not going to be an easy task, but I am willing to do something. What that something is, is still in the formative stages.

If you have any ideas or had some success in the area of curtailing music that is “put into the ‘commons’ without our consent,” I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at:

Copyright 1999 by Robert Ross, all rights reserved

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