Search Episodes
Listen, Share, & Support
Listen to the latest episode
Subscribe via iTunes
Subscribe via RSS
Become a fan
Follow on Twitter

Support Us:

Please consider making a donation to help make this podcast possible. Any contribution, great or small, helps tremendously!

Subscribe to E-Mail Updates

Related Readings
  • Answers for Aristotle: How Science and Philosophy Can Lead Us to A More Meaningful Life
    Answers for Aristotle: How Science and Philosophy Can Lead Us to A More Meaningful Life
    by Massimo Pigliucci
  • Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk
    Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk
    by Massimo Pigliucci
  • Denying Evolution: Creationism, Scientism, and the Nature of Science
    Denying Evolution: Creationism, Scientism, and the Nature of Science
    by Massimo Pigliucci

RS82 - It's Not Easy Being Green

Release date: March 10, 2013

If you're an ethically minded consumer, you should buy organic because it's better for the environment, right? Actually, the case isn't so clear-cut. But you should certainly buy fair-trade because it's better for foreign laborers, right? Well... that's complicated too. In this episode of Rationally Speaking, Julia and Massimo talk about how hard it is to know how much good you're accomplishing with your purchases, or whether you're even doing any good at all.

Julia's pick: "The game Wits & Wagers"

Massimo's pick: "Philosophy and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"

Reader Comments (18)

great episode. one of my all time favorites. thanks for the great work.

March 11, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterpaul

Thanks for the picks! I had to immediately pause the podcast and queue up the free sample of Philosophy and the Hitchhiker's guide on Google Play books.

March 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBennett Todd

I never heard of the foods you were talking about (before asparagus). How are they spelled? I wanted to look them up.

"It's Not Easy Being Green" podcast

March 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPat Mueller

When someone tells Massimo and Julia, "What does this have to do with the price of tea in China," they take it literally.

Pat, they were talking about quinoa.

March 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMax

Loved the episode. It connected with much I've been thinking about lately.

The is one thing though that you have seem to missed about ethical investing. While it is true that not investing in unethical companies, especially through mutual funds, might not have an impact on the company's behaviour, any investment profit you make is in a sense tainted money. For instance, I would have many ethical problems in accepting that the returns on my investment come from weapons manufacturers, even if only indirectly.

March 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterClaude

Good episode. I know you emphasised vegetarianism and veganism because it's a common "ethical consumer" choice but you could have mentioned that most of the soya grown in deforested rainforest is used for feeding livestock. Given that using the soya to produce meat takes more resources and feeds fewer people, just eating the soya is clearly the "least worst" option of the two even if the soya is from deforested rainforest, which it may not be.

In 2002, the UN got a bunch of scientists together in a body called the IAASTD to report on how to feed 9 billion people sustainably. You can read the global summary for decision makers here, if you're interested. It's 48 pages but still their most concise document.

March 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJulian

I can't get it to play, for some reason! I know, not a very interesting comment.

March 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJeffrey Myers

Does this link play for you?

March 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBenny

Benny, it plays for about 45 seconds and just stops. I've never had this problem before. I can't even download it from the iTunes store. Thanks, however, for the suggestion.

March 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJeffrey Myers

Hi there! I'm peruvian and a big fan of the podcast :) Although I have listened to them all, I never wrote before but now I felt I had to do it, jsut to say this: To Pat Muller: the "cereal" mentioned is QUINUA and it is as good as they say (you can also try KIWICHA, very similar).
To Massimo and Julia: PLEASE NEVER EVER STOP EATING quinua nor asparragus... PLEASE GUYS DO NOT WORRY TOO MUCH, you are doing us (the people in Peru & Bolivia) a huge favor by buying those foods... Its absolutely not true that you are keeping us from afording them anymore... on the contrary, all the endemically poor people up over the Andes grow those seeds and the need you in the 1st world to apreciatte them. Thank you, thankyou, thank you!!

March 24, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterrosario

Archive error: Episodes 82 and 83 are duplicates

April 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Zacharie

1) Quinoa isn't a vegan staple -- much too expensive! In reality the quinoa craze is mainly driven by folks like Massimo: omnivores interested in healthy eating, with a bit of comfortably disposable income to shop at grocery specialty stores. Vegans comprise about 2% of the population, so -- I mean, yah we're a bunch of avid food shoppers! -- but we couldn't skyrocket the quinoa market like that even if it WAS a staple food for most of us... but just FTR, vegan staples tend to be both inexpensive and easily accessible -- things like black beans, pinto beans, tofu, lentils, chickpeas, blackeyed peas, fresh produce, rice, oatmeal, fresh or frozen produce, etc. Regarding Bolivia, it's unlikely that (without systemic changes in their agricultural system, or at least initiation of a 'fair trade' certification process or something for quinoa) consumer boycotts are unlikely to improve things there -- it seems to be a wealth inequality problem, rather than a simple quinoa-supply-and-demand problem -- though I'm certainly open to boycotts if anyone can convince me it might have any effect, in this case... there's a good discussion here, about (among other things) why boycotting quinoa would be unlikely to change conditions for the Bolivian poor:

2) As someone else already mentioned above, it's animal agriculture -- not soy consumption -- driving rainforest destruction due to soybean farming. About 85% of soy is grown for animal feed, vs about 6% for actual human food (mostly in Asia) -- a huge percentage of THAT soy also goes into processed food (for an omnivore consumer base) vs things like tofu, tempeh, miso, etc commonly eaten in higher amounts by vegans/ vegetarians -- according to all available evidence, veg diets lead to less-not-more resource waste/ rainforest destruction, with or without soy consumption. Please explore, if the goal is reason-based world navigation! More here:

3) From a scientific vs PR perspective, I found coverage of GMO issues pretty shallow on this episode. There's a difference between marketing and scientific data, or reason-based decision making. Please consider exploring this issue more fully -- I found coverage of this issue here uncharacteristically topical, and speculate that further investigation may be warranted. Contact me, Massimo and Julia, if you'd like to debate or further explore issues related to GMO-driven agriculture! Like you, my mind is changeable: but after several years of intense exploration, I think the only reason-based approach seems to me the opposite of the one Massimo and Mark Lynas advocate. Summaries of why I think so can be found here and here

I'm really glad you pointed out that the fact of possible unintended consequences doesn't negate the need to attempt to 'shop your dollar' in accordance with your ethics and values -- even with unforeseen potential effects that you might then need to take into account, generally -- with food choices or in any other domain -- you get better results when you try than when you don't try! ... and 'do nothing' is a strategy guaranteed to do more harm than good in the world.

Love the show! Thanks for all you do to expand the boundaries of reason, and debunk the nonsense. Keep exploring those borderlands (especially on the issues identified above)! ;-)

Tanya Sitton

April 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTanya Sitton

Oh yes, one more thing! On local food, it's absolutely upscaleable: just not within the traditional agricultural paradigm. I don't think it's the be-all end-all solution to everything, as some 'locavores' may, but (like wind, solar, and water power related to energy production) it's one of many tools in the idea box for moving towards a sustainable food system.

Please check out Will Allen's work at, for a system of local organic food production that is absolutely upscaleable to heavily populated urban areas.


April 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTanya Sitton

I'd like to complain: some time ago I posted a lengthy response to this episode about the Chinese idiom you guys mentioned, and the post still hasn't appeared. What gives?

May 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDan Aldridge

"Archive error: Episodes 82 and 83 are duplicates"

Try the download link - that's the correct file.

October 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDavid
1. Ethical Investing
- Ethical investing does make sense! In my opinion, by opting not to invest in coal or oil comapnies you lower the demand of their shares, thus lowering the return of the previous investors. Since many investors buy shares not to get dividends, but to rather hold on to them as the price increases, they will be disincentivesed to buy them in the first place if nobody will want to buy them in the future.

2. Soy and deforestation
- The soy growned on the deforested farmland in Brazil is meant as feed for animals. By eating soy and avoiding meat you are actually doing favor to the planet since that one calorie in meant required 8 calories in soy in the first place.
November 29, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMartin Růžička
Great podcast.

A note on quinoa: the problem is not the surge in prices. To break it down simplistically:

1- Producers and consumers are the Andeans. Equilibrium price = p.
2- Westerners start buying quinoa while supply remains the same. p goes up.
3- Western producers notice that quinoa now is profitable and start producing too. Supply goes up, p goes down.
Now Andeans and Westerners compete on whose quinoa gets sold. Since the good is a commodity, they can only compete on prices.
4- Andean producers can't keep up with the Westerners' productivity, therefore struggle to keep prices down (more competitive).
5- Andean producers get squeezed out of the market.

The only way I can think of for "us Westerners" to support Andean producers is to pay the premium for fair trade quinoa. There are other possibilities regionally - if I remember correctly, Bolivia's government launched a quinoa-supporting policy incorporating it in schoolkids' lunches, maternity feed etc.
March 3, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAlice
We already produce plenty of calories through farming in the form of grains (carbohydrates) and oils (lipids). We now need a way to produce high quality animal protein without the animals, perhaps through a microbial system.

We need international controls to assure ourselves of decent labor conditions and environmental quality and responsibility. A consumer really cannot verify issues like this for themself. This requires government oversight and international treaties.

Providing free shoes to poor people in developing countries definitely displaces local producers. We should probably just give poor people money directly, and then let them use those small amounts of capital to develop their own economies.
January 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJameson

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.