Ten things you won’t hear about while everyone discusses Kate Middleton’s pregnancy

News keeps happening, although it might not seem like it at the moment.

  1. Syrian foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi has reportedly defected from Assad’s regime. Makdissi, who is part of Syria’s Christian minority, had previously staunchly defended the regime’s crackdown, but is now said to have “left the country”. There are also reports that the UN is pulling its staff out of Syria, meaning that aid missions outside the city of Damascus will be suspended.
     
  2. There’s a pretty important economic event happening in the UK on Wednesday, when George Osborne will deliver his Autumn Statement (yes, it is December, but he doesn’t seem to know that). The FT have a handy outline of what you can expect if you like tax, rather than cooing over the possibility of twins, here.
     
  3. Five EU states have summoned their respective Israeli ambassadors to protest against Israel’s authorisation of 3,000 new settler homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
     
  4. Spain has requested a €39.5bn bailout from the EU for its struggling banking sector. The Telegraph reports that “€37bn of that will go to the four big banks, while €2.5bn will be dropped into the ‘bad bank’ which is soaking up much of the country's toxic property assets”.
     
  5. Kim Jong-Un is probably going to start testing missiles again quite soon.
     
  6. Paul McCartney will appear in the final print edition of The Dandy, before it goes online-only. Apparently, he’s a big fan.
     
  7. Despite the so-called “shareholder spring” earlier this year, where shareholders voted against remuneration packages for FTSE100 bosses, executive pay is still up 12 per cent in the last 12 months.
     
  8. The DRC government has regained control over Goma, but the M23 rebels are still only a few kilometres away, according to Reuters.
     
  9. It looks like Italy is going to have a centre-left prime minister come the spring – Pier Luigi Bersani has retained control of his party, which is ahead in the polls. The BBC says he’s a a slow-talking cigar-smoking former-communist, in case you were wondering.
     
  10. Some people think the world is going to end on 21 December, so French authorities are going to pre-emptively close a mountain just in case. Apparently, the doomsday cultists “believe the Pic de Bugarach is an ‘alien garage’ and that extraterrestrials are quietly waiting in a massive cavity beneath the rock for the world to end”.
     
Pic de Bugarach, aka Mayan doomsday mountain. Photograph: WikiCommons

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.