The Soundscapes of the Anthropocene

The Anthropocene is a suggested period that commences when human activities began to have a significant worldwide impact on Earth’s features and ecosystems (Gisli 2013:3).

Key Propositions of the Anthropocene

Human survival is dependent on the well being of our ecosystem (Alonzo 2016:[sp]). Humans threaten ecosystems by generating large amounts of waste, exploiting habitats and eliminating too many species without allowing the ecosystem time to naturally regenerate and reestablish itself (Alonzo 2016:[sp]).

The following are examples of human activities that threaten the fauna and flora as well as various ecosystems :

Overhunting

When humans over-hunt essential predators, they eliminate animals that maintain the number of plant consumers and prevent overgrazing (Alonzo 2016:[sp]). In addition, the food industry practices commercial overfishing, where large fishing nets result in “bycatch,” in which nonessential fish are caught in nets and then discarded (Alonzo 2016:[sp]). Bulky metal rollers that are used with the commercial fishing nets also destroy the bottom of the ocean, ruining anything in their way  including delicate coral reefs (Alonzo 2016: [sp]).

Deforestation

Mankind now has the resources that accelerates the rate at which trees are removed (Alonzo 2016:[sp]). The increase in deforestation has resulted in vegetation degeneration, nutrient shortcomings, flooding and animal displacement (Alonzo 2016:[sp]).

Pollution

Different means of transport discharge harmful gases creating air pollution (Alonzo 2016:[sp]). Humans have also apply large quantities of pesticides onto crops that move into nearby water bodies, contaminating ecosystems(Alonzo 2016:[sp]). Plants and animals die from taking in large amounts of nutrients from chemical fertilisers (Alonzo 2016:[sp]). Pollution is accelerating around the planet and the the loss of biodiversity causes harm to self-sustaining ecosystems (Alonzo 2016:[sp]).

Land Conversion

Through urban advancement , the Earth’s natural surface has been altered, eradicating soil nutrients, natural vegetation and trees that cleanse the air (Alonzo 2016:[sp]). Urbanisation endangers animals and accelerates environmental pollution from vehicles and factories (Alonzo 2016:[sp]). Road constructs such as highways also result in migratory interferences (Alonzo 2016:[sp]). In addition, the concrete is impenetrable and it does not allow for water to drain through, resulting in increased chances of flooding (Alonzo 2016:[sp]). The increased volumes of concrete mankind uses and the quantity of plastic discarded in the oceans has  resulted in the Earth entering a new geological period (Alonzo 2016:[sp]). There is a change from a nature-dominated environment to a human-dominated global environment (Gisli 2013:3). The advancement in human technology has allowed people to control the way in which the world functions (Gisli 2013:3). During the Great Acceleration, environmental issues were not a great concern, resulting in the degradation of the environment (Gisli 2013:3). The Industrial Revolution has allowed mankind to replace the way  in which things were completed in the past with the up-to date and contemporary way (Gisli 2013:3).

Soundscape of the anthropocene

People residing in the urban environment can hear different sounds in many locations, including shopping malls,universities, recreational institutions and their homes. In fact, whilst undergoing this particular project which involved keeping a sound journal, I found it  difficult to entirely escape sound. Existing in this electronic age, which utilises many electronics; the large number of vehicles on the roads; busier airports, transportation such as vehicles, trains, buses, motorcycles, medium and heavy trucks, and aircraft—as one of the most dominant outdoor noise sources. In addition, if a person resides in a city or town , they are exposed to noise sources from traffic near their homes, car stereos, drag races, and lawn mowers . The dominance of soundscapes comes from a human-dominated environment instead of a nature-dominated environment (Gisli 2013:3). The Great Acceleration takes over the soundscape because there is an increase in urban development and technological consumption and a decline in ecological sounds because of the level of destruction in the ecosystem(Steffen 2011:842).

Sounds of birds

During the course of this week, I have been carefully listening to the chirping and singing of  birds. I have investigated the impact of human activity on soundscapes throughout our local environment. Throughout these investigations, I have realised that human activities cause ecological disruptions that result in a world silent of animal sounds. For instance, whilst visiting a local conservation park, I observed that an environment that is is good condition can be heard, in a plentiful soundscape that has transformed over millions of years.

•Listening to birds in the Anthropocene is ambiguous because soundscapes in urban areas is different from nature reserves (Whitehouse 2015:53). Urban and developed spaces have few sounds of birds because the technological and advanced nature of  our living has dominated our environment (Whitehouse 2015:53). The soundscapes in nature reserves are more apparent because there is a distinct separation between nature and the rest of the urban society (Whitehouse 2015:53). One is able to acknowledge the sounds of birds in nature because they are insufficient in the urban environment that no longer has suitable living conditions for them.

•According to Lorimer, “The recent diagnosis of the Anthropocene symbolises the public death of the contemporary understanding of Nature removed from society”(Whitehouse 2015:53). Mankind and nature can not be conceived as existing in different realms, and nature, in the sense of that which is separate from society, battles to be persuasive as an idea (Whitehouse 2015:53). In addition, the Anthropocene seems to place humans as the only species in the history of the planet strong enough to be regarded as the key Earth transforming force (Whitehouse 2015:53)

• The bird sounds originate from only a few number of species because the environment and the climate no longer allow different species to reside in urban areas. There is the concern that everyday experiences of birds and other wildlife will soon be eradicated from everyday human activities (Whitehouse 2015:53). There is also the fact that local activities can have a universal impact (Whitehouse 2015:53). Finally, there is the concern that although the environment appears alright at the moment,the future might not be (Whitehouse 2015:53). The Anthropocene is a term that corresponds to the actual changes in the local worlds people see around them (Whitehouse 2015:53).

 I conducted interviews with my parents and I asked them to account for the animals and bird life that existed in their neighbourhood when they were growing up. Growing up in KwaZulu Natal, they were surrounded by an abundance of plant and animal life such as wild pigs and a variety of bucks. KwaZulu Natal is known to have plentiful plant and animal life.

However, due to the great acceleration and the over-exploitation of species , there has been a reduction in the biodiversity. Direct habitat destruction is  the greatest threat to Durban’s biodiversity (Environmental Planning and Climate Protection 2015:[sp]). For example, construction at the new international airport site has abolished the primary breeding site of the Black Coucal in Durban (Environmental Planning and Climate Protection 2015:[sp]). This was the southernmost breeding locality of the species in Africa.

Other examples of include a reduction in marine life such as mussels and crayfish due to over-exploitation of species due to over-fishing and excessive harvesting (Environmental Planning and Climate Protection 2015:[sp]). In addition, plant life is also at risk. One of the most serious threats to biodiversity in the city of `durban is the reduction of open spaces through habitat destruction (Environmental Planning and Climate Protection 2015:[sp]).

An example of the destruction of plant life includes the exploitation and over-harvesting of the root of Wild Ginger. This plant is used to treat malaria, fever, headaches, colds and respiratory infections (Environmental Planning and Climate Protection 2015:[sp]). Because of this, the plant has received interest from commercial pharmaceutical companies, but is now locally extinct due to over-harvesting (Environmental Planning and Climate Protection 2015:[sp]). This creates an increased awareness of how humans have transformed the environment (Environmental Planning and Climate Protection 2015:[sp]).

The development of infrastructure throughout the city destroys open spaces and natural ecosystems have deteriorated because of the short-term advantages of development (Environmental Planning and Climate Protection 2015:[sp]). When open spaces are destroyed, they are unable to supply environmental goods and services decline  or are eliminated (Environmental Planning and Climate Protection 2015:[sp]).

Conclusion

Our soundscape is dominated by man-made sounds and the urban environment reveals that we are living in the anthropocene. The anthropocene is evidenced by the loss of ecosystems and biodiversity.  This evidence includes accelerating extinction rates of flora and fauna far above the long-term average, increased  concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere, plastic in our waterways and oceans that cannot be completely decomposed and an increase in the nitrogen and phosphorous in our soils in the past century with our fertiliser use.

Sources consulted

Alonzo, B. 2016. Human activities that affect the Ecosystem. [O]. Available:
http;//classroom.synonym.com/human-activities-affect-ecosystem-9189.html
Accessed 10 April 2016

Environmental Planning and Climate Protection. 2015. [O]. Available:
http://www.durban.gov.za/City_Services/development_planning_management/environmental_planning_climate_protection/Publications/Documents/Our%20Biodiverse%20City.pdf

Accessed 10 April 2016

Gisli, P et al.2013. “Reconceptualizing the ‘Anthropos’ in the Anthropocene: integrating the social sciences and humanities in global environmental change research.” Environmental Science and Policy 28:3-18.

Steffen, W et al.  2011. The Anthropocene: conceptual and historical perspectives. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 369:842-867.

Waters, CN et al. 2016. The Anthropocene is functionally and stratigraphically distinct from the Holocene. Science 351 (6269):[sp].

Whitehouse, A. 2015. Listening to birds in the Anthropocene: the anxious semiotics of sound in a human-dominated world. Environmental Humanities 6:53-54.

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