The TH Interview: Fred Pearce--Confessions of An Eco-Sinner (Part One)

Now, this is a trade with quite a large carbon footprint because of the air miles involved in bringing the beans, so that they can be picked and be in our stores within 48 hours. I thought this is a bad idea. But then I went to talk to the farmers and I was surprised to discover that the farmers were not working in sweatshop conditions in greenhouses or on large plantations.

They were actually smallholder farmers who, for the first time in their lives, were getting a good living from growing food on their land. They weren't selling the beans as they had before in local stores at very low prices. They were able to sell on the international market and they were now globalized producers.

These guys had mobile phones to check on the market requirements so that they could deliver what was required and when it was required to the trucks coming to their village. They had TVs and they were following foreign soccer teams.

The village that I went to, they were all following the Arsenal soccer team in London. So, these were kind of globalized people, culturally and economically.

I began to think, should we be taking that away from them? Should we, rich consumers sitting in Europe or North America, say, 'no we want to cut our carbon footprint so we're going to stop buying these beans.' so that these guys would end with a much worse living.

I became concerned about that and I began to think that if we, as we should, want to reduce our own carbon footprint, then, maybe we ought to be doing it in ways that inconvenience us rather than damaging the livelihoods of people who, if they have to go back to their old ways, are in pretty precarious circumstances.

I began to think, well, maybe, I should walk to the store or take the bus to the store or do something like that which is inconvenient for me, but allows me to carry on buying the beans and allows these guys to carry on living the sudden new prosperity that they found.

I began to find that the way you want to go environmentally is not always the way you want to go socially, or in terms of basic equity and fairness around the world. That became a kind of theme that I work through in different ways throughout the book, whether I was looking at clothing sweatshops in Bangladesh or bean farms in Kenya.

TH: That raises another issue that is certainly on people's minds a lot these days. This comes up for you when tracking down the source of the coffee beans that gets sold in grocery stores in the UK. And you hear firsthand from coffee farmers, with their feet in the dirt, how they feel about the price of a Starbucks latte. What did they have to say about their fair trade wages?

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