Despite his own confessions, Pearce isn't here to preach. He'd rather people make up their own minds about what to buy and what to snub. In the second part of our interview, the author of Confessions of an Eco-Sinner tells more tales from his explorations into the sources of his stuff. We also get a slice of his greenwash-busting that is featured regularly in the Guardian, and his reasons for believe that Obama might just save the world.
Click here for part one.
Fred Pearce: I'm a bit cautious about giving suggestions because I think we all have to make our own choices about what we regard as the most important issues. For some people, for instance, want to buy local produce or want to buy organic produce. For other people, me included, I'm less worried about local produce and more thinking about who grew it and am I helping their lives by growing it.
That's why, for instance, I'm quite happy to buy green beans grown in Kenya and air freighted across thousands of miles to come to Europe. Now, they have quite a high carbon footprint doing that. But I know having met them, that the farmers need my business. I'm inclined to stick with that.
Different people are going to have different priorities. One of the things that I became very interested in is whether I should be buying clothes which were assembled in sweatshops in Bangladesh. I went and spent some time talking to women in these sweatshops where they are paid about 10 cents a hour to work. It's pretty dreadful pay that they're getting.
I expected them to say, "please stop buying these clothes because our conditions are dreadful." But what the women there told me was, "we want to work in these factories. The conditions are not good, but this is freedom for us."
They told me that their previous lives had been in the villages in Bangladesh where they had literally no freedom at all. They had to do what their fathers said or their brothers said or husbands said. They had no freedom.
They would come to Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, to work in the sweatshop factories producing clothes for western consumers as an act of emancipation. They said, "please campaign to pay more for your clothes, but please don't stop buying." That came as a shock to me. Some people would probably still say that we shouldn't buy from these sweatshops, but there is another view. Much as we may wish and might want to campaign for better conditions, probably, we should carry on buying.
TH: My great-grandparents were rag merchants. They'd go door to door to collect and resell textiles. Today, a lot of the stuff that we don't toss out gets donated to the Salvation Army or organizations like that. The stuff that doesn't sell in second-hand stores, what happens to it?