How urban soundscapes affect humans and wildlife — and what may have changed in the hush of lockdown


Kurt Iveson, University of Sydney and Dieter Hochuli, University of SydneyThe dull roar of traffic, the barking of dogs in backyards and the screeching of cockatoos at dusk. The shattering of early morning quiet by the first plane overhead or the garbage truck on its rounds. The squealed delights and occasional fights of a children’s playground.

These sounds and many more create what Canadian composer R Murray Schafer famously called a “soundscape”. Schafer, who passed away last month, helped us realise we experience cities with our ears as well as our eyes.

In recent years, studies have confirmed these soundscapes affect the well-being of urban inhabitants — both human and non-human. But with much of the country back under lockdown, urban soundscapes have changed, sometimes bringing delight, but sometimes causing new distress.

So let’s take a moment to consider how soundscapes influence our lives, and the lives of urban wildlife.

When sounds become ‘noise’

Whether it’s housemates, traffic, or construction, we tend to respond to many urban sounds by defining them as “noise”, and try to shut them out. We do this using a range of techniques and technologies: building regulations on soundproofing, controls on the times for certain activities like construction, and planning measures.

But noise mapping efforts show such regulations tend to produce uneven urban soundscapes — some people are more exposed to loud or annoying sounds than others.

Housing quality is a major factor here, and noise problems are likely exacerbated under lockdown. A recent study of pandemic housing inequality in Sydney found increased exposure to noise during lockdown is significantly contributing to poor well-being.

For example, sounds travelling across internal and external walls of apartments were frequently a source of tension in pre-pandemic times. Now, with so many more people spending more time at home, these domestic sounds inevitably increase.




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Coronavirus reminds us how liveable neighbourhoods matter for our well-being


It’s not just humans whose lives are disrupted by city noise, as many animals use sound to communicate.

The ever-vigilant New Holland honeyeaters of Australian cities use their alarm calls to warn their friends and neighbours of danger, while the iconic chorus of banjo frogs in wetlands are the hopeful calls of males seeking mates.

This is the sound a banjo frog makes.

Noisy environments can dramatically change how these animals behave. In some cases, animals adapt to their noisy environment. Some frogs, for example, overcome traffic noise disrupting their sex lives by calling at a higher pitch. Likewise, populations of bow-winged grasshoppers in Germany exposed to road noise sing at higher frequencies than those living in quieter areas.

For other animals, such as microbats in England, disruptive noise changes how they forage and move around their environments.




Read more:
How noise pollution is changing animal behaviour


In extreme cases, these human-associated noises can drive animals away from their homes, as the disruptions to their lives becomes untenable.

Urban black-tufted marmosets in Brazil have been shown to avoid areas with abundant food where noise may interfere with their vocal communication. And research shows intruding noise in stopovers for migratory birds in the United States reduces their diversity by 25%, with some species avoiding the stopovers altogether.

Black-tufted marmosets in Brazil avoid noisy habitats even when there’s plenty of food.
Shutterstock

A new quiet?

The soundscape of cities in lockdown can be dramatically different from what we have come to accept as normal.

First, there are new noises. For example, in Sydney’s areas of concern subject to tighter lockdown restrictions, people are living with the frequent intrusive noise of police helicopters patrolling their neighbourhoods, making announcements over loudspeakers about compliance.

But in other cases, as our movements and activities are restricted, some city sounds associated with a negative impact on well-being are significantly reduced. People who live near major roads, aircraft flight paths, or construction sites will certainly be noticing the quiet as road traffic is greatly reduced and non-essential construction is paused.

But of course, while this silence might be golden for some, for others the sound of silence is the sound of lost work and income. This quietude may even be considered as unwelcome or even eerie — the sonic signature of isolation, confinement and loss.

The bow-winged grasshopper adapts to noisy soundscapes by singing at higher frequencies.
Quartl/Wikimedia, CC BY-SA

Just as many animals adapt to or avoid noisy urban environments, there is a chance many will respond to this natural experiment playing out. Quieter urban environments may see the return of some of our more noise sensitive species, but this depends on the species.

The Brazilian marmosets mentioned earlier didn’t return to those locations even during quieter times, suggesting the noise left a disruptive legacy on their habitat choice, well after it was experienced. On the other hand, other experiments show some species of birds rapidly returned to sites after noise was removed from the landscape.




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While it’s too early to confirm any early speculation about nature returning to quieter urban environments during lockdown, there is compelling evidence many people will benefit from engaging with local nature more actively than they did before.

Birdwatching increased tenfold in lockdown last year.
Matthew Willimott/Unsplash

Many more Australians are acting as urban field naturalists. Birdwatching, for example, increased tenfold in lockdown last year.

It’s clear people are seeing novelty and wonder in animals and plants that have survived and even thrived in our cities right beneath our noses the whole time. Our increased use of local greenspace during the pandemic has created new opportunities to find the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Rethinking post-pandemic soundscapes

What might we learn from this natural experiment about the soundscapes we take for granted and the soundscapes we actually want?

This is an invitation to think about whether we ought to do more to control sounds we consider “noise”. Yes, decibel levels of activities like car and air traffic matter. But it’s also an opportunity to think beyond controlling sounds, and consider how we might create soundscapes to enhance human and non-human well-being. This is easier said than done, given there’s no universal measure of what sounds give pleasure and what sounds are perceived as noise.

This aligns with the growing body of evidence on the need to reduce noise pollution and protect biodiversity when planning and managing our cities.

Like just about every other dimension of urban life, envisioning and creating an improved urban soundscape requires careful attention to spatial inequality and diversity – including of species – and a capacity to work through our differences in a fair and just way.




Read more:
Where the wild things are: how nature might respond as coronavirus keeps humans indoors


The Conversation


Kurt Iveson, Associate Professor of Urban Geography and Research Lead, Sydney Policy Lab, University of Sydney and Dieter Hochuli, Professor, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Nationals have changed their leader but kept the same climate story


Marc Hudson, University of Manchester

After Barnaby Joyce’s demise as Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader, and his replacement by Michael McCormack, we might wonder what the junior Coalition partner’s leadership change means for Australia’s climate policy.

Perhaps the answer is “not a great deal”, given the apparent similarity between the two men’s outlooks. But then again, confident predictions about the future of Australian climate policy are a mug’s game.




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Joyce joined the Senate back in July 2005, as part of the tranche that gave the Liberal and National Coalition absolute control. At the time, another new senator, the Greens’ Christine Milne, was ready to talk with the likes of Joyce, arguing that both of their parties should share common concerns about climate change, drought, salinity, loss of native vegetation, and more.

Joyce evidently didn’t see it that way. When federal Liberals Brendan Nelson and Alexander Downer tried to get a debate going about the purported climate benefits of nuclear power, Joyce joined with Queensland’s Labor Premier Peter Beattie in arguing that nuclear power should not be on the agenda while Australia’s coal resources remained plentiful (although he opted against echoing Beattie’s “clean coal” push).

A year later, however, Joyce was more attuned to Milne’s concerns. In the context of the seemingly never-ending Millennium drought, and with Nationals leader Mark Vaile urging his cabinet colleagues to spend at least another A$750 million on drought relief, Joyce fearfully noted that:

The drought really has to be seen to be believed. It’s a case of creeks that haven’t run for months, sometimes years, (and) bores that are going dry. There is a real concern amongst a lot that maybe there is a final change in the climate. That’s really starting to worry people.

Six months later, with the “first climate change election” looming, Joyce used some leaping logic to describe proposed rail spending as a climate measure:

We can go up to every mother and father and ask them if they can drive their tree to work and see how they go… I think that rail is greenhouse friendly. It is going to be taking all prime-movers off the road.

Roast boast

Of course, this support for rural industry didn’t mean that Joyce supported any form of emissions trading put forward by either Liberal or Labor. He instead voiced fears that Australia “could soon resemble communism” unless farmers are paid properly for the carbon stored in their land.

In 2011 Joyce voted against Julia Gillard’s voluntary Carbon Farming Initiative, which in 2014 was absorbed into Tony Abbott’s Direct Action program. A 2017 report argues that it is now helping farmers, but not reducing emissions.

Perhaps his most (in)famous claim came in 2009, as Kevin Rudd’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme staggered towards its demise, bleeding credibility and support at every lobbyist-inspired softening. Joyce predicted that with the advent of carbon trading, the Sunday roast would cost A$150 (a figure that was later downgraded to a far more measured and believable 100 bucks).

The same year, Joyce told political journalist Laurie Oakes:

Everywhere there is a power point in your house, there is access to a new tax for the Labor Government – a new tax on ironing, a new tax on watching television, a new tax on vacuuming.

In November 2009, the Nationals told the Liberals that support for carbon pricing could lead to a split in the Coalition. The then Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull was challenged by Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott, the latter winning by a single vote. The rest is history.

Joyce joined in the ultimately fatal attack on Gillard’s carbon pricing scheme by upping the ante on his Sunday roast claims. Using some impressively creative reasoning, he argued that the A$23-a-tonne carbon price could lead abattoirs to end up being slugged A$575,000 for slaughtering a single cow.

A party of one mind

Of course, Joyce is far from alone among Nationals for baiting the greenies. Fellow backbencher George Christensen’s dangerous and lamentable Facebook post is just the latest in a long line of provocations.

Back in 1997 Tim Fischer, then Deputy Prime Minister, spoke at a conference in Canberra organised by climate denialists called Countdown to Kyoto. Years later, at about the same time that Joyce first entered the Senate, his party colleague Julian McGauran reportedly flipped the bird at Greens leader Bob Brown after the Coalition voted down a Senate motion criticising the government on climate change.

More recently still, the Nationals have joined in many Liberals’ hatred of renewable energy, despite the fact that it would make a lot of money for farmers.

Will anything change except the climate?

Joyce is gone, but the Nationals don’t exactly have hordes of tree-huggers waiting in the wings. The efforts of Farmers for Climate Action to influence the Nationals’ leadership succession seems to have amounted to nothing.

Michael McCormack (who was interviewed by Michelle Grattan for the Conversation) is already under Twitter scrutiny over his maiden speech in 2010, when he said:

When it does not rain for years on end, it does not mean it will not rain again. It does not mean we all need to listen to a government grant-seeking academic sprouting doom and gloom about climate changing irreversibly.

The journalist Paddy Manning has given an overview of his positions since then. It seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same (unlike the climate).




Read more:
Under McCormack, the Nationals need to accept they are a minority and preserve their independence


It is impossible to predict how and when the Nationals’ policies might change, especially in places where One Nation is waiting with open arms for any wavering voters.

The ConversationBut as ever, it is the voters who hold the key. If enough of Barnaby’s “weatherboard and iron” rural base decide that climate change is a serious, vote-deciding issue, that will be the day when the Nationals finally give up their cast-iron opposition to climate action.

Marc Hudson, PhD Candidate, Sustainable Consumption Institute, University of Manchester

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Hissstory: how the science of snake bite treatments has changed


Peter Hobbins, University of Sydney

Summer is traditionally Australia’s snake bite season, when both snakes and people become more active. The human death toll is now admirably low, but it wasn’t always so.

Although colonial statistics are highly unreliable, in 1882-1892 about 11 people died from snake bites across Australia a year. Since then, the continent’s population has grown from 2.2 million to 24.3 million, yet on average just two people died from snake bites a year in 2001–2013. While improved transport, communications and ambulance services have all contributed, so have the first aid and medical measures used to counteract snake venom.

Complex colonial remedies

A typical case from 1868 suggests the complexity – and desperation – of colonial remedies. When Victorian railway workers killed a brown snake at Elsternwick Station, they threw its body to stationmaster John Brown. Either the serpent was still alive, or Brown brushed its fangs, when he struck it “with an angry gesture”. The usual signs of envenomation (venom injected into the skin) soon appeared: vomiting, physical weakness then creeping paralysis followed by “coma”. Death, seemingly, was inevitable.

The stationmaster was rushed to nearby Balaclava, where surgeon George Arnold tied a ligature (tourniquet) around Brown’s arm before slicing out the bite site, hoping to remove the venom. He then poured ammonia (a hazardous chemical used today in cleaning) onto the wound to neutralise any remaining venom before urging Brown to drink six ounces (175mL) of brandy to stimulate his circulation.

He waved pungent smelling salts under Brown’s nose then applied a paste-like poultice of mustard to his patient’s hands, feet and abdomen to alleviate internal congestion. Further stimulation followed via electric shocks before the staggering, semi-conscious stationmaster was marched up and down to keep him awake – and alive. Brown, nevertheless, kept deteriorating.

Arnold urgently summoned the colony’s only medical professor, George Halford at Melbourne University, who reluctantly agreed to apply his new snake bite remedy. He opened a vein in Brown’s arm and injected ammonia directly into the bloodstream. The stationmaster revived almost immediately, leading another doctor to assert “the injection of Ammonia saved the man’s life” (do not try this at home).

Name your poison

John Brown’s treatment followed a pattern familiar across Australia from 1800 into the 1960s. While many of the 1868 interventions now seem bizarre – or downright dangerous – they made sense in historical context. Until well into the 20th century, snake bite treatments alternated between three fundamental approaches.

In common with today’s understanding, most European settlers, and many Indigenous cultures, considered venom to be an external “poison” that moved through the body. Physical measures such as ligature or suction were thus common to expel venom or limit its circulation.

A second strand of remedies, from mustard poultices to injected ammonia, sought to counteract its ill effects in the body, often by stimulating heart function and blood flow.

The third approach was to directly neutralise venom itself, for instance, pouring ammonia onto the bite.

Until the 1850s, physical measures dominated, while the next 50 years were the heyday of opposing-action treatments. When Halford’s intravenous ammonia fell from favour (as it didn’t seem to work), it was replaced in the 1890s by injections of another notorious poison: strychnine. At first even more popular than ammonia, this highly toxic plant-based poison was blamed for killing more patients than it saved. Yet by far the most popular colonial remedy, both with practitioners and patients, was drinking copious quantities of alcohol, especially brandy.

The slow premiere of antivenoms

The third approach, directly neutralising venom, underlay both Australia’s hugely popular folk “cures” and the novel “antivenene” technology developed in the 1890s. Now they are known as antivenoms and are created by injecting venom into (generally) horses, prompting an immune response, then purifying antibodies from their blood to inject into snake-bitten patients.

But antivenenes suffered a slow gestation in Australia. The first, targeting black snake venom, was developed in 1897; experimental tiger snake antivenene followed in 1902. But antivenenes are tricky to produce, distribute and store. They also proved difficult to administer, sometimes provoking life-threatening anaphylactic reactions (a severe allergic response).

It wasn’t until 1930 that commercial tiger snake antivenene came onto the Australian market.

Other injections targeting a wider range of serpents. “Polyvalent” antivenene, which is effective against multiple venoms, only emerged from the mid-1950s. Meanwhile, patients continued to undergo various first-aid measures, particularly ligatures and Condy’s crystals (potassium permanganate, used to clean wounds) applied to the bite in the hope of inactivating venom.

Two eternal questions

Current snake bite management only stabilised in the 1980s. Two developments were key: rapid tests to identify the injected venom and a new first-aid strategy.

Scientist Struan Sutherland pioneered the “pressure immobilisation technique”. This recommends tightly wrapping a bandage around the bitten region, adding a splint and minimising movement to slow venom spread.

Not washing or cutting the bite site leaves a venom sample to aid identification and so choose the most appropriate antivenom.

But today’s management is still being evaluated because both venoms and treatments still pose clinical challenges, including severe reactions and long-term damage.

And just as in 1868, two eternal questions remain critical: was it truly a deadly serpent, and did it inject enough venom to kill?

The Conversation

Peter Hobbins, ARC DECRA Fellow, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australia: Western Australia – Ocean Heatwave Changed Environment


The link below is to an interesting article concerning an ocean heatwave off the Western Australian coast. It changed the ecology of the area dramatically.

For more visit:
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn22090-heatwave-transformed-australian-marine-life.html

Queensland’s Wild Rivers Legislation Looks Safe


It seems likely that legislation to protect Queensland’s rivers is safe from being overturned by the federal parliament after a deal with Family First senator Steve Fielding. He has changed his position following consultation with the the Queensland government and other interested parties.

For more visit:
http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/a-push-to-wind-back-queenslands-wild-rivers-legislation-will-likely-fail-in-parliament-today/story-fn59niix-1226054549408

 

Holiday Planning: All out the Window


As my holiday draws closer my plans have changed yet again. Back in November 2009 I rolled my right ankle badly and it has not yet recovered to the extent that it would allow me to do a lot of bushwalking – especially on slopes. So this has meant a complete rethink of my upcoming 2 week holiday.

The theory of travelling to Wagga Wagga before heading to the New South Wales south coast has now been scrapped. I simply won’t be able to do the walking I had hoped to do.

Now I am looking at a road trip – and I’m not too sure just where the roads will actually take me. I will be on the road for 7 days and had thought that a quick trip to Kakadu was a possibility – but it would have to be a very quick trip (and probably without stopping). So that isn’t going to happen.

So what will happen? Not completely sure on that. I do plan to do the following however:

Day One – Dubbo

Day Two – Wagga Wagga

OK, so the above two days are still very similar to the original plan. It is after these two days that things have changed. Instead of turning to the east, I’ll be turning to the west. I just haven’t yet decided as to where.