When it comes to writing about the environment, forget the high horse: Standing on a DVD copy of An Inconvenient Truth is enough height from which to bloviate about the dangers of bleached toilet paper and South American produce. These concerns aren't exactly immaterial to British journalist Fred Pearce, but he begins his trek through globalization by throwing open his metaphoric closets. Thus Confessions of an Eco-Sinner: Tracking Down the Sources of My Stuff begins from a place of relative humility and substitutes travelogue for lecture.
After Pearce's recitation of the countries of origin for his massage oil and piano keys, each short but dense chapter chases one item—the banana he ate for breakfast or the wedding ring he never takes off—back to its country of origin. Even where such a journey isn't possible, Pearce wrings a trip out of what little he can discover: When popular British retailer Marks & Spencer is reluctant to reveal the source of its cotton, Pearce trucks off to Australia, where cotton wholesalers are more than happy to describe their efforts to get "premium" labels attached to their wares while simultaneously going through the worst drought in outback history.
Early in the book Pearce shows symptoms of becoming an insufferable companion: At one stop he sniffs at a visiting group of sponsors of a Mauritanian wildlife preserve, "They had no interest at all in the people… They just came to see birds. I don't like that kind of environmentalism." But subsequent visits tend to make him less preachy, and even buck conventional green wisdom: After going to Kenya to see where British supermarkets get the majority of their beans off-season, his experience with a local microfarming outfit leads him to conclude that the cost to the country's GDP would be too high to ignore should his fellow citizens make the switch to local, greenhouse-grown beans. He manages not to be too smug about his discoveries either, acknowledging the benefits H&M; clothing factories have brought to Bangladeshi women and proudly reselling his son's old cell phone in Dar es Salaam. Perhaps his endorsement of organic brands and best energy practices are Pearce's way of atoning for the implicit endorsement of tourism, a major greenhouse-gas-producing activity. He must have known that describing the last wild pomegranate orchard (in the mountains of Turkmenistan) would be too tempting to pass up.