Good reads: ‘Confessions of an Eco Sinner’ and ‘Coffins, Cats and Fair Trade Sex Toys’

The world we live in is complicated. Pretty much everything we do, use or produce is surrounded by a web of environmental and social issues. It’s a minefield for anyone wanting to make even a simple but informed decision. Other than taking a degree in science, books are one good way to start breaking down information barriers and there certainly are no shortage of them. However, finding a good book on the ‘Sustainability’ shelf that doesn’t take on a doom-and-gloom or ‘I told you so’ tone is easier said than done. So, I thought I’d share with you two books that I would recommend.

Confessions of an Eco Sinner by Fred Pearce

Fred Pearce is an experienced, London-based science writer covering environment, popular science and development issues in over 60 countries. He is the environment and development consultant for the New Scientist and writes regularly for the Guardian where his Greenwash blog appears online.

In Confessions of an Eco Sinner, Fred Pearce tackles the seemingly impossible task of throwing some light on the often complex tangle of environmental and social issues behind the everyday objects in his life by tracking them from source to point of consumption. It’s a relatively simple concept and yet the resulting accounts are incredible, informative and at times shocking.

Fred Pearce has to cover a lot of ground in order to track down, amongst other things, the cotton in his socks, the prawns in his curry and the gold in his wedding ring. The book has received some criticism for how it jumps around in order to handle the variety of subject matter however, in my opinion, it’s a minor quibble far outweighed by the positives. For example, unlike many other eco-books there is no preaching, Fred takes a refreshingly objective and honest stance in order to present the facts and let us experience places, people and processes in the world that we would never otherwise get to see.

This has to be the most thought provoking book I can remember reading. Far from being predictable, Confessions of an Eco Sinner challenges a lot of green assumptions and accepted truths, demonstrating how even well intentioned eco efforts can in fact be detrimental when you look at the bigger picture. And this has to be the best and most accessible presentation I’ve experienced to date of what that ‘bigger picture’ looks like. I simply cannot recommend this book enough.
Coffins, Cats and Fair Trade Sex Toys by Jeremy Piercy

Jeremy Piercy, pioneer of the Fair Trade movement, founded Shared Earth in 1986. Coffins, Cats and Fair Trade Sex Toys is a light hearted account charting Jeremy’s struggles and successes in transforming his fair trade business from an unknown shop in York into being the UK’s largest fair trade retailer. The book provides an insight into what it’s like to be a fair trade buyer, including some of the commercial as well as consumer hurdles facing the fair trade movement. It is made all the more personal and vivid with descriptions of some of his encounters and experiences in places like Ecuador, Sri Lanka and India.

Importantly the book also describes and clarifies exactly what fair trade is, highlighting the all too common misunderstanding that it also means environmentally friendly. It also raises some interesting questions; Is climate change more important than poverty? Is fair trade a long term trend or short term fashion? Will there be a fair trade mark for craft as well as food?

One of the things that struck me whilst reading the book is that Fair Trade’s greatest ally is also at times its greatest obstacle; public opinion. Nevertheless, Jeremy Piercy’s story is an inspiring and positive one and his enthusiasm that we can all contribute to making a better world is infectious.
So there you have it, a couple of book recommendations for you. If you have already read either of these titles I’d love to hear what you thought about them.