Adaptability is widely considered one of the trademarks of our race. However, if we were perfectly good at adapting, then the artificiality of our lives would not affect us as poorly as it does. Living in today’s society, with all of its flashing, blaring distractions, has never been more destructive to our personal well-being and to the natural world around us. This stems mainly from pollution. Yes, chemicals and widespread waste muddying our natural expanses are problems which require attention—however, two under-recognized contributors are light pollution and noise pollution.

If you didn’t know, these forms of pollution—though less tangible than the common perceptions of pollutants—are no less disruptive dangerous. Light pollution is termed when the light involved is “inefficient, annoying, and unnecessary,” and noise pollution is termed similarly: when the level and constancy of noise (such as from transportation vehicles, construction work, large machinery, etc.) begins to cause negative effects from excessive presence (NLM). Too much of either, too often, is damaging immediately and long-term. 

 According to Harvard Medicine, noise ranks second to air pollution in terms of its detriment to humans, contributing to poor sleep and heart diseases that may lead to premature death. In Europe, long-term exposure to obtrusive noise causes “48,000 new cases of heart disease […] each year and disrupts the sleep of 6.5 million people.” Most of these same negative effects manifest from light pollution as well, due to the disruption of our natural circadian clocks: poor sleep (and potentially insomnia), depression, and others, as well as elevated risks of developing cardiovascular disease or even cancer (NLM). In regard to this last point, a paper on the National Library of Medicine has this to say: “Women living in neighborhoods where it was bright enough to read a book outside at midnight had a 73% higher risk of developing breast cancer than those residing in areas with the least outdoor artificial lighting.” The presence of melatonin, a hormone produced at night which is related to our internal clocks, decreases the risk of developing cancer and slows tumor growths as well; however, “melatonin levels drop precipitously in the presence of artificial or natural light,” putting individuals at greater risk when in high-light environments at night. (NLM).

            This is not okay. Though light intake can be regulated with relative ease by using blackout curtains, sunglasses at night, or other technologies, noise is an entirely separate problem that is nearly impossible to get away from. Until the negative effects of these pollutants are investigated thoroughly enough to begin to influence policies, there is little we can do for ourselves to negate the strains put upon us by these constant, harmful disruptions.

            Or is there?

            I grew up living in the woods, surrounded by old green trees, walking barefoot outside on leaves and sticks and rocks, enclosed all around by life—birds, deer, squirrels, buzzing insects. In the summer, wind would blow through the leaves, rocking the trunks and canopies, branches gently rubbing against each other as the sun pushed lightly through each gap onto the leaf-covered floor. I always felt so at peace outside. However, after moving into a large town miles away, a tension began to grow inside me. The empty sky and concrete buildings were stifling, and that tension and longing for expansive greenery has continued and grown even more intense since moving to Evansville to live on-campus. Turns out, this phenomenon, the desire to exist in nature, has a name: the biophilia hypothesis. It is described as a biological dependency and affinity towards the natural world.

            That the light and sound of our daily, artificial lives distresses us proves that we are not perfectly adaptable to our environments. This implies the existence of surroundings that we are more predisposed to—nature. Like complementary opposites, spending time in nature and green spaces is proven to undo many of the stresses put upon us by daily life and by pollutants such as noise and light. According to another paper from the National Library of Medicine, spending time in nature helps to improve sleep, brain activity, and blood pressure, while decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Doing so also promotes cognitive function, physical activity, and positive mental health. Other listed benefits of being in or around nature include a decrease in stress and anxiety, improved attention, and improved immune function (NLM). It’s impressive but not unexpected how much nature does for us.


Cars. Highways. Overhead planes. Electronic billboards. Construction machines a few streets over. Screens at night. Earbuds playing music in our ears. Friends joking around. Phones playing colorful, flashing videos. All the world, breathing in harmony. Though neither noise nor light are themselves dangerous, obtrusive excesses of each are known to cause dangerous problems for our individual well-being. Light—artificial or natural—can upset our internal cycles, and noise can put undue stress on our systems and psyches. However, the green world is our friend, as it has ever been. Spending time in nature with any frequency actively counteracts the physical and mental stresses thrust upon us by these pollutants and more. Even if you don’t consciously feel it, do yourself a favor: once spring has come, go to a park or a forest. Sit with the grass; walk with the trees; breathe with the wind; and let yourself feel at peace.

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