• Noise Pollutes

    Yesterday was wonderfully warm and sunny at Ohiwa Beach where we live in the Eastern Bay of Plenty. Our enjoyment of the winter sunshine, as we sat on our deck overlooking the beach, was however ruined by the noise made by a small motor cycle as it roared up and down the beach for a couple of hours.

    The bike was ridden by a boy of school age who obviously relished the sense of freedom and speed produced by riding at full throttle. He would no doubt have been surprised to be asked to desist, on the ground that he was spoiling the enjoyment of many others (and not least that of a seal sunning itself on the beach); and in today’s selfish age, he would not have thought for a moment of doing so.

    The incident brought home to me, however, a truth that can easily be overlooked. At a time when we are becoming more conscious of our environment, we may not always recognise that one of the most pervasive forms of pollution is noise pollution.

    There is of course growing evidence that high levels of persistent noise pollution can be very bad for one’s health, but I do not go so far as to suggest that yesterday’s young motorcyclist and his joyriding were a threat to our health or to the wider environment. But I am very much aware that there are others in our society for whom incessant high levels of noise are a real obstacle to the quiet enjoyment of their living space.

    Those who live close to Auckland airport, for example, put up with the sound of aircraft landing and taking off every few minutes throughout the daylight hours and beyond. Many would no doubt say – “what do you expect if you live near to an airport?” But the affected residents reply that the noise levels have, over recent years, risen to intolerable levels and frequency, and that, since no one seems concerned to do anything about it, the prospects are that it will get even worse.

    The general reaction to complaints about this phenomenon is that it is the price “we” (or at least “they”) must pay for the boom in tourism and for the greater efficiencies achieved by our airlines, and by Air New Zealand in particular – and there is no doubt that these factors have played an important part in creating a greater noise nuisance for those living under the flight paths.

    There are now many more aircraft in the air, but there are other factors that have – the residents say unnecessarily – made the problem worse than it need be. The planes themselves are bigger and, in order to save fuel (and fuel costs), they fly lower and slower – and therefore more noisily) as they come in to land.

    The technology that enables them to fly safely as they land has also developed and changed. New navigational systems (such as Next Gen) allow the incoming planes to fly more precisely so that they can land in greater numbers in a shorter time; the residents find the increase in the number of aircraft movements an additional burden to bear.

    It is not hard to identify those who benefit from such developments. Air New Zealand has been able to produce record profits, and has been congratulated and thanked for doing so by its principal shareholder, the government.

    And so, the issue resolves itself in the end into a familiar trade-off – on the one hand, the ordinary citizen and the environment in which he or she attempts to live a good and enjoyable life and, on the other, the interests and profitability of big business and the willingness of the wider public to see the one sacrificed for the other.

    Our fellow-citizens are surely entitled to expect from the government they have elected to represent their interests, not least against the rich and powerful, (isn’t that the point of democracy?) that a better and fairer balance will be struck. To shrug the shoulders and say “too bad” or “that’s the way it is” is not good enough.

    It’s time we understood that the argument that “it’s good for business” is not and should not be the last word, and leads us into a dead end.

    Bryan Gould
    13 July 2018