- A Song to Save the Salish Sea: Musical Performance as Environmental Activism by Mark Pedelty
Communication studies scholar Mark Pedelty has been one of the loudest voices in ecomusicological scholarship over the past several years, writing extensively about the ways that popular musicians respond to environmental crises on a local, regional, national, and global scale. His previously-published book, Ecomusicology: Rock, Folk, and the Environment (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2012), outlined the myriad ways that musicians are bound by the limitations of our carbon-oriented transportation and communications infrastructures and the West's consumerist tendencies. In his latest book, A Song to Save the Salish Sea, Pedelty turns his attention to a specific ecosystem, the Salish Sea region stretching from Washington to British Columbia. A major international waterway with deep connections to the region's indigenous peoples, the Salish Sea has been under threat for decades as fossil fuel companies have sought to use the waterway as an export pathway, and the U.S. military-industrial complex has treated it as a significant strategic resource. In this book, Pedelty, who has been summering in the area for more than fifteen years, presents an ethnographically grounded study of the overlapping community of musicians who have been involved in environmental activism in the region for the past five decades or more.
Pedelty's study focuses on seven individual musicians and groups who call the Salish Sea region home; he conducted extensive interviews with them, and joined protests and concerts as a participant observer as well. To varying degrees, these musicians have engaged with a variety of key environmental issues that have both direct and indirect impacts on life in the region. For instance, Dana Lyons, a songwriter from Bellingham, Washington, mounted a multi-city tour along a proposed coal haul route to draw attention to the potential impacts of a proposed coal terminal at Cherry Point, Washington. The Irthlingz, a duo from Orcas Island, conducted interviews with people who are living with the impacts of coal extraction and consumption in their Coal Monologues project. And Vancouver musicians Bobs & Lolo created original music to develop environmental awareness among the young children who visit the Vancouver Aquarium. Larger organizations, such as the Raging Grannies "gaggle" in Victoria and the Idle No More protestors of Turtle Island, demonstrated the important roles that women's and indigenous peoples' voices, respectively, have played in environmental activism around the Salish Sea.
Each figure or group receives a chapter-length treatment that documents its history; discusses the musical, political, and organizational strategies that govern its actions; and considers the lessons that each case study might offer for other musicians who wish to engage meaningfully with environmental issues. As a communication studies specialist, Pedelty is primarily concerned with the ways that these musicians communicate their environmentally oriented messages to their audiences. Detailed discussions of specific rhetorical strategies heard in songs, onstage banter, and personal narratives constitute much of each chapter. At the same time, Pedelty also offers insights into the economic and organizational challenges that each research consultant [End Page 418] has faced as they have undertaken this work. For instance, he observes that, for the most part, environmentally oriented musicians often struggle for their voices to be heard among the din of global commerce (including the music industry). As a consequence, some of the musicians profiled here have chosen to work locally to mobilize their friends and neighbors toward greater ecological consciousness. Moreover, these musicians have recognized the value of coordinating their efforts with those of other organizations that share their mission. As such, the musicians profiled in Pedelty's work might be seen as part of a broader ecosystem of individuals and groups working to develop policy, to foster greater social justice, and to educate the community about the world in which it functions.
Pedelty's efforts in A Song to Save the Salish Sea are shaped by his...