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

3.7  ·  Rating Details ·  464 Ratings  ·  91 Reviews
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 h ...more
Hardcover, 276 pages
Published October 1st 2008 by Beacon Press (first published February 25th 2008)
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Nov 30, 2008 Mary rated it liked it
Fred Pearce is well-intentioned and good hearted. He cares about the environment, and he cares about the third world citizens making all of the things he buys in order to maintain his cushy first world lifestyle. In the global economy, where does all that crap come from anyway, and can we trust greenwashed labeling, and has environmental fervor overshadowed concerns over ethical working conditions? These are important questions, and I’m glad this was written. But I’ll be happier when another wri ...more
Mark Newton
Jul 14, 2010 Mark Newton rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The neoliberal culture has led to our complete disconnection from the food we eat, or the clothes we wear. We merely consume, never thinking of where our goods come from, only that they’re in our hands.

With this in mind, Fred Pearce wanted to explore the paths of everyday items, the totems of every day life, from the gold in his wedding ring, to green beans, to our furniture, to the cotton from which his socks are made.

Without agenda, each territory is explored with gentle facts: a pint of mass
Jul 01, 2014 Jenny rated it liked it
There's plenty of fascinating behind-the-scenes material here about where everyday stuff comes from and how it's made.

I enjoyed the trivia in the book, about things from bananas (the Cavendish could soon go extinct, just as it's predecessor the Gros Michel did in the 1950s. If it does, it will be replaced with fungus resistant but less tasty varieties) and other fruits (the only wild apple woods in the world are in Kazakhstan, wild pomegranates only grow in Turkmenistan) to cotton (some of the
Jan 14, 2009 AJ rated it liked it
This book goes into great detail about the lifecycles of a handful of consumer products - food, clothing, electronics, metals, etc. While very interesting, I found this book lacking in the bigger picture of what is wrong with over consumption. The author paints a picture where our problems can be solved with the right mix of biofuels and ingenuity and doesn't take on the fact that the problem is that we live in a consumerist society where people buy too much crap that they don't need because com ...more
Dec 28, 2008 Gregory rated it liked it
A collection of journalistic pieces in which the author traces the origins of his "stuff" - the food he eats, the clothes he wears. Beyond his carbon footprint, the author takes a special interest in the social impact of his purchases, and I found him more compelling when he wrote about people than about things. His conclusions are often surprising. His jeans, for example, were made in a sweatshop in Bangladesh, under conditions that most Westerners would find appalling. But for the women who st ...more
Oct 16, 2008 Michelle rated it really liked it
A book I would recommend over "No Logo". Pearce travels around the world getting to see the facilities that produce the gold in our computers and your wedding bands, the cotton in his socks, his third world green beans. And what he sees is different than the major corporations who send their social responsibility inspectors see, particularly in Bangladesh. And he even traces organic cotton which had the best treated workers of all, I think, in India. I am so glad he stuck up for the fair-trade c ...more
Oct 21, 2008 Turi rated it really liked it
Shelves: green
At first glance, I wasn't sure if I was going to like Confessions of an Eco-sinner - the writing looked a little dry, and I thought I might have just read one too many "green" books recently. I was wrong - this is probably the best, most important one I've read. Fred Pearce tracks down the origin and final destinations of many of the things in his life, like his food, clothing, electronics and recycling. He discovers some surprising things, both good and bad, about where products come from and w ...more
Jan 24, 2013 Alice rated it really liked it
A good, balanced look at where our stuff (including food) comes from, where it goes, and the environmental & human impact it has. The author does not ignore the social good that sometimes comes with environmental bad, nor does he gloss over the horrors of international trade. The last few chapters are a little overly optimistic, as nothing has gotten better over the few years since this was written; but it does outline a potential path forward.
Jul 25, 2011 Ryan rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: environment
A collection of essays tracing the production chains of various essentials like food, clothing, energy, wastes etc. A tad optimistic in the final part without being convincing enough. I suppose one has to have almost blind faith in humanity finding a solution, since the alternative is too dark to contemplate.
Jan 27, 2009 Erica rated it liked it
An interesting book, but, formatting wise it felt like there should be large, over-saturated and sharp National Geographic style photographs accompanying every essay.

My favorite factoid from the book; Asustek employs 85,000 people at its main plant by Shanghai. Crazy.
Emily Stanford
Feb 22, 2017 Emily Stanford rated it liked it
Poorly written, not very detailed.
Dec 15, 2008 Maya rated it liked it
Fred Pearce chooses some of the "things" in his life and tracks down their source, exploring the people and places affected for him to get his stuff. It's truly fascinating to learn where things from gold to shrimp to cotton come from and what it takes to get them to us. It's also truly horrifying, for the most part.

I don't know anyone who is willing to trade someone else's misery or destroyed land for the ability to buy food or clothes cheap ... but it seems that is what most of us are doing.
Jul 29, 2010 James rated it liked it
Shelves: reviewed
“What does chocolate taste like?"

An unexpected question, and one that’s all the more poignant
coming from a little boy whose father works on a West African
cocoa plantation. It's one of many revelations uncovered by Fred Pearce as he tracks the lifecycle of his belongings, from the shirt on his back to the coffee in his cup.

Much of what he finds is grim. The prawns in his takeaway come
from Bangladeshi farms, cultivated by poor villagers and controlled
by gangsters. His t-shirt is made of cotton, th
Jul 15, 2014 Katie rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Pearce picks various items in his home (from broad categories such as clothing, food, technology) and tracks the items through their life cycle. The book begins a bit vague but slowly builds in focus. He includes a variety of items, some of which have positive footprints and others which do not. He draws some surprising conclusions at times (green beans are more ecological if shipped from Africa than grown in heated hot houses in Britain). Sometimes he doesn't even proclaim an item positive or n ...more
Jan 11, 2014 Liz rated it liked it
Fred Pearce wants to know where his “stuff” comes from, and where it goes when he is done with it. He sets off to find out, actually traveling to places around the world where the cotton for his socks is grown, and the metals from his discarded computer are reclaimed. It’s a noble effort, and I appreciate the concept. We ARE too disconnected from what we eat, what we use. It’s far too easy, for example, to buy cheap clothing without a thought about why it costs us so little – perhaps sweatshop l ...more
Mar 30, 2010 Loralee rated it really liked it
I never knew it was possible to learn so much about the stuff we use. This author has done it, tracking computers, gold, diamonds, socks, and even green beans back to the sites of their production--and to where they end up. He made many sobering discoveries, including the warlords fighting over rare metals all of us use but have never heard of; the ecosystems destroyed by prawn farming in Bangladesh; the desertification of the Aral Sea, whose water is being diverted to cotton fields; and the ten ...more
Feb 11, 2014 Benjamin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The author isn't some new convert to the green religion, he's been writing about the environment in mags like New Scientist since I was a kid. Taking each aspect of his life in turn, Pearce knows he's going to find that things are more complicated than they seem and that much of what is 'green' is just 'greenwashing.' He also doesn't shy away from related social issues, and the best parts are when he describes the lives of the ordinary workers who produce and recycle what he consumes, or the peo ...more
Oct 26, 2016 NoBeatenPath rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010
This is a rather strange book. Posited as an environment tome, with the author endeavouring to find out where they things he uses come from, it ends up coming off as a bit of a 'I am a middle-class person who can afford lots of nice stuff and gee I care, hence the fact I am going to do a lot of environment-destroying flying around the world to prove my point'. Pearce gets angry at the way a lot of things are done, and does a bit of soul-searching, yet the end result seems to be he thinks that it ...more
Aug 22, 2012 Gill rated it liked it
Reading this book is like trying not to scratch a particularly annoying itch, and then doing it anyway - and finding it just makes it worse.

Part of me really wants to know the truth behind the riduculously cheap jeans and the veges flown in from half way around the world, but when I do find out it makes me so depressed I wish I didn't know. I actually couldn't finish the book because it was really starting to get me down. And I did already know a lot about what he was talking about anyway. I kn
Feb 05, 2013 Michael rated it really liked it
Superb: relevant, readable, stimulating, thought-provoking, funny. The tone is that of 'honest journalist ventures into environmentalism jungle', and he brings it off well. A mixture of fact, investigation, hard-headed realism and confessional - Pearce is a well informed science writer and environmentalist, and it's meant to be a wake up call to thinking about our impacts on the planet, but there's a minimum of right-on preaching.

My only criticism is that after a strong series of opening chapte
Feb 05, 2016 Kristin rated it liked it
Introduction -- super intriguing.
"[t]he 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" ... and, although automation and cheap energy have certainly helped, "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 cl
Feb 28, 2015 Edai rated it it was amazing
Why is the banana doomed? What does fair-trade actually mean? This book has it all. Each chapter offers a story of a different good -- from t-shirts to shrimp and trash -- and follows Pearce as he meticulously tracks it back along the supply chain. Pearce employs a crisp writing style and quick wit, and will often have you laughing in one moment, shocked in another, and devastated by the end. He maintains a neutral tone for the most part and isn't didactic, sprinkling relevant statistics in betw ...more
Feb 01, 2010 Jady rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
This is a book I think everyone can learn from. It's informative, very eye-opening, thought-provoking, and written in a wonderfully engaging style. It covers a huge amount of territory, both geographical and informational, yet it is quite concisely written. I thought I had already been fairly aware in terms of my shopping habits, but this book clearly showed me that I still a lot more to learn! I haven't read anything else by Pearce, but I'd definitely like to - he's a very enjoyable writer.

An interesting, if somewhat depressing book about the cost of consumerism. I learned a lot and the earth seems doomed. I'm not as optimistic as Fred Pearce appears to be about the future.

I disagreed with him entirely on the matter of overpopulation. At the time of writing he said the population was 6.5 billion and that it would take 14 years to reach 7 billion. The copy of the book I read was published in 2008 and even allowing a couple of years before that he's grossly underestimated the growt
Debra Daniels-zeller
The author is British and the premise is intriguing, tracking down the orgins of all the stuff in his life. Each section was about a different product--coffee, cotton, gold, old clothes. I was fascinated and sometimes horrified by the footprints we all leave as we consume and use products daily. Each section was an eye opener as the author takes the reader through different hidden worlds of plantations and sweatshops. It's an important book for anyone to read and I highly recommend it, but I'm n ...more
Dec 28, 2014 Wendy rated it really liked it
I usually find non fiction a slow read but I have to admit this was much better for me. The author tries to source the origin of every product he uses in his life. Everything including gold, electricity, computer, cell phone, coffee, food, clothing, cans........There is certainly lots to think of. I always assumed "fair trade" was fair trade - not necessarily so! I also thought local was always better.......not necessarily so......Everything we consume has such a domino effect. We may think "I'm ...more
Sally McRogerson
Jul 24, 2011 Sally McRogerson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
If you have any pet prejudices that you are determined to hold on to, then this may not be the book for you! It allows me to go back to buying those wonderful green beans from Marks and Spencer (as long as they're from a company called, ironically, Homegrown), whilst confirming some of my other environmental actions as justifiable, even desirable.

Fred Pearce is a scientist who writes for New Scientist magazine so his credentials for writing this book are excellent and he approaches the subject f
May 06, 2012 Alix rated it really liked it
I found this book relatively easy to read, although it took me a while to get all the way through it because of the somewhat poignant/sad mini-chapters. The various topics (coffee, sugar, green beans, cotton, aluminum, "rubbish" paper, computers, cell phones, etc.) were all covered in their own chapters, which made the book relatively easy to follow. Some of the chapters were very short - just when you were getting into the story, the chapter ended. I appreciated the human story that was brought ...more
Dec 27, 2008 Mason rated it it was amazing
Yes, it's gimmicky that Fred Pearce tracks back the things in his house to the places they came from. But this book is incredibly compelling, easy to read, and has a lot of surprises even for someone like me who thought they knew a lot already about where things come from.

All of Pearce's books I've read are among my favorites, but I think this one is his most accessible, and will be most compelling to a general audience. Everyone who can afford this book is deeply embedded in the network of stuf
May 18, 2010 Melody rated it liked it
Another for the "everything you are doing is wrong" shelf. Pearce decided to investigate the ways his consumer goods were manufactured and disposed of. The usual suspects are on display here, and some less usual. It's always a little troublesome to see someone log tens of thousands of air miles to report on how the environment is going to hell, but it feels like his motives are pure- and points to him for acknowledging his footprint as considerably larger than average for his cohort.

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Fred Pearce is an English author and journalist based in London. He has been described as one of Britain's finest science writers and has reported on environment, popular science and development issues from 64 countries over the past 20 years. He specialises in global environmental issues, including water and climate change, and frequently takes heretic and counter-intuitive views - "a sceptic in ...more
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