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Confessions of an Eco-Sinner: Tracking Down the Sources of My Stuff Hardcover – October 1, 2008

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press (October 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080708588X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807085882
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.1 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,087,328 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Pearce's quest to discover the hidden world sustaining Western consumption habits is fulfilled with varying degrees of success in this, his third book. Tracking the routes taken by the items in his home—his coffee, cellphone, computer, green beans, chocolate, socks—from raw ingredient to finished product, the author presents fascinating firsthand investigations, as when he visits a group of fair-trade coffee farmers, follows the trail of his donated shirts to markets in Africa, visits Uzbek communities whose health, infrastructure and environment have been devastated by the cotton industry, and interviews female sweatshop workers who view their factory jobs as empowering. When Pearce strays from these journalistic portraits, however, he is prone to flaccid opining about the greenest fuel sources and simplistic boosting for urban planners designing small-footprint cities. The most effective chapters puncture the feel-good myths surrounding fair trade and recycling and introduce unique characters, such as the farmers and middlemen responsible for getting prawns from Bangladesh to a London curry shop. Although a timely effort, Pearce's diffusion of his reportorial mission with green-pleading mires his refreshing discoveries in moralizing and familiar cant. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

After addressing climate change in With Speed and Violence (2007), London-based journalist Pearce joins the growing ranks of the curious and intrepid who are determined to dispel the fog of globalization and find out exactly where our food and belongings come from, where our trash goes, and how this complicated cycle impacts the planet. Vitally interested in the lives of the people who extract, process, and cultivate the materials, plants, and animals that clothe, shelter, and feed us, Pearce begins his far-ranging inquiry by tracing his gold wedding band to an immense South African gold mine. Unsettling conversations with coffee and cocoa farmers, an up-close view of the fish crisis, and exposés of the environmental havoc wrought by the surging palm-oil industry and the high human and natural costs of cotton and aluminum––everywhere his favorite foods, clothes, and gadgets lead him, Pearce is confronted by imbalance and waste, tyranny and greed. And yet the “sheer ingenuity of people” infuses him with optimism. An uneven yet engaging and informative report on the consequences of overconsumption. --Donna Seaman

More About the Author

Fred Pearce, author of "The Land Grabbers: The New Fight over Who Owns the Earth" (Beacon Press, 2012), is an award-winning former news editor at New Scientist. Currently its environmental and development consultant, he has also written for Audubon, Popular Science, Time, the Boston Globe, and Natural History and writes a regular column for the Guardian. He has been honored as UK environmental journalist of the year, among other awards. His many books include When the Rivers Run Dry, With Speed and Violence, Confessions of an Eco-Sinner, and The Coming Population Crash.

Photo Copyright Photographer Name: Fred Pearce, 2012.

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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See all 13 customer reviews
A very entertaining and educational book.
There will be surprises in here for well-meaning eco-types who want to do the right thing, they should definitely inform themselves better with this book.
If you ever wondered where the stuff you use comes from, the next best thing to you getting on the plane and tracing them is reading this book.
Agni P. Kyprianou

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Daniel B. Clendenin on December 14, 2008
Format: Hardcover
By now we've all heard of our "carbon" footprint. Fred Pearce is interested in his "personal" footprint. Just how much was that Tanzanian farmer paid in so-called "fair trade" wages for his pound of coffee that Starbucks sells for $12 (answer: about $1.46)? What little girl in Bangladesh sewed your socks? Sure, you sort your garbage for curbside pickup and recycle as best you can, but where does your garbage ultimately end up? It all sounds ominous and guilt-inducing, but maybe I'm actually helping the subsistence farmer in Kenya by air-freighting his green beans to Britain so that people can enjoy that luxury in the winter months?

The British science writer Fred Pearce traveled over 100,000 miles in 20 countries to track down the sources of his stuff. His resulting book reads like a personal case study in globalization. He starts off by descending three miles into the earth to learn how a South African mine extracts the gold for his wedding ring. He wonders about fair trade coffee -- "why should feeling virtuous come so cheap when it still leaves farmers so poor?" He tracks down supply chains and examines the environmental consequences of goods and services. He identifies various trade-offs, some of which we can choose and others that are forced upon us. Child labor, government subsidies, market inequities, technological innovations, Wal-Mart and the World Wildlife Fund all collide.

Pearce's personal case study reads like a travelogue that specializes in the economic, environmental, and ethical dimensions of virtually every aspect of your material life. What's not clear is how an "eco-sinner" might go beyond token gestures and genuinely "repent," whether that's even possible, and even if it is, whether it would make much of a difference for the Malaysian fish farmer or the Chinese factory girl who make subsistence wages to support my Western lifestyle.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on November 22, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is one of those books you don't really appreciate until the end. It is basically a collection of fairly short annecdotes about the author traveling around the world to find out where the stuff he uses comes from and the stuff he discards goes to. At first they seem kind of sketchy and underdeveloped, but as you continue to read, you realize that it's an informative and intersting collection of stories that are both memorable and build into a bigger picture of the global chain of consumption. Of course some stories are dissappointing in that they suggest abusive or undesirable practices, but many others do show some hope. I think many first-world consumers probably don't have a very clear picture of where stuff comes from or where it goes after they get done using it. Among the positive things I took away from this book were the scale of recycling that goes on worldwide, the potential for smart businesses that really give people hope in poor countries, and the positive sides of China's boom. Among the negative things were poor and abusive working conditions in many places, the unsustainability of some types of consumption, and the waste that takes place in some industries. In any case, this is the kind of book that will fill your head with lots of interesting images and give you lots of little examples to quite when talking about issues like manufacturing, importing of goods or recycling. Pearce's previous work on things like water usage and climate change help inform this book, and the extensive traveling he apparently did for this book makes for many interesting examples.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Edward Durney VINE VOICE on June 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The title "Confessions of an Eco-Sinner" had me expecting a different kind of book. I thought Fred Pearce would deliver a sermon about sustainability. But I was wrong. Instead of ecological fire and brimstone, Fred Pearce lets the facts make his argument. And they do, forcefully. This book leaves an impression much more lasting than a sermon.

Fred Pearce tells his tales from traveling the world to track down the sources of his "stuff." Food (his green beans from Kenya), clothing, computer equipment, soft drink cans, cars, oil. He finds out where it all comes from, and once used, where it goes as garbage. These are not happy stories.

The story of the cotton in his blue jeans sticks with me the most. The cotton likely came from near the Aral Sea. Once the world's fourth largest lake, the Aral Sea is now dying. The story, which can be seen in pictures and maps of the region, is heartbreaking.

Starved of the waters of the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya rivers, the Aral Sea has been shrinking for the last 40 years. From the 1930s, the Soviet Union started building huge diversion canals to irrigate vast cotton fields. The plan -- to make cotton a great export earner. This was achieved, and even today Uzbekistan is still a large exporter of cotton.

But the cost in ecological and human terms has been astronomical. The area now suffers constant toxic duststorms. Desert encroaches further daily. The area's people have 9 times the world average rate of throat cancer. Infant and maternity mortality tops all of the former Soviet Union's republics. Respiratory complications, tuberculosis and eye diseases, already high, are still rising sharply.

The book has no pictures, but my interest caught, I found some pictures of the region on the Internet.
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