Confessions of an Eco-Sinner: Tracking Down the Sources of My Stuff

Confessions of an Eco-Sinner: Tracking Down the Sources of My Stuff

Confessions of an Eco-Sinner: Tracking Down the Sources of My Stuff

Confessions of an Eco-Sinner: Tracking Down the Sources of My Stuff


Where does everything in our daily lives come from? The clothes on our backs, the computers on our desks, the cabinets in our kitchens, and the food behind their doors? Under what conditions-environmental and social-are they harvested or manufactured? Veteran science journalist Fred Pearce set off to find out, and the resulting 100,000-mile journey took him to the end of his street and across the planet to more than twenty countries.

Pearce deftly shows us the hidden worlds that sustain a Western lifestyle, and he does it by examining the sources of everything in his own life; as an ordinary citizen of the Western world, he, like all of us, is an "eco-sinner."

In Confessions of an Eco-Sinner, Pearce surveys his home and then launches on a global tour to track down, among other things, the Tanzanians who grow and harvest his fair-trade coffee (which isn't as fair as one might hope), the Central American plantations that grow his daily banana (a treat that may disappear forever), the women in the Bangladeshi sweatshops who sew his jeans, the Chinese factory cities where the world's computers are made, and the African afterlife for old cell phones. It's a fascinating portrait, by turns sobering and hopeful, of the effects the world's more than 6 billion inhabitants-all eating, consuming, making-have on our planet, and of the working and living conditions of the people who produce most of these goods.


We live in a charmed world. If we have money we can buy literally anything. And the majority of us live lifestyles undreamed of only a generation or two ago. One scientist I met recently told me he reckoned that the average household in Europe or North America has so many devices and such a variety of food and clothing that to produce the same lifestyle in Roman times would have required six thousand slaves—cooks, maids, minstrels, ice-house keepers, woodcutters, nubile women with fans, and many more.

I started thinking about that statistic. The scientist’s point was that we now rely on machines and cheap energy to do the things that servants would once have done for an élite, while the rest of us went without. But of course it is not that simple. For one thing there are ecological consequences. We gouge out the earth to find the mate rials to make those machines; and the cheap energy to run them is polluting our planet and warming our climate. And yet many of the servants are still there. Though now, rather than occupying the attics of grand houses, they are spread across the world, growing our food, making our machines, and stitching our clothes.

People talk a lot about carbon footprints. But our personal footprints are much bigger than that. And they are social as well as ecological. The trouble is that in our charmed world we know little about what our footprints are. It all happens so far away. The people and the pollution that sustain us are invisible to us.

I want to change that. My purpose in writing this book was to discover the hidden world that keeps us in the state we have become accustomed to. I have done that by exploring my own personal footprint. I have traveled the world to find out where the cotton in my shirt comes from, the coffee in my mug and the prawns in my curry . . .

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