The Sweaty Penguin

Hosted ByEthan Brown

The most fun you've ever had while learning environmental issues! Episodes include a comedy monologue and expert interview. Welcome to Antarctica's Hottest Podcast.

2. Lawn Pesticides

We often hear “pesticides are safe” or “pesticides are toxic,” but in reality, it’s not that simple. We’ll discuss the impacts of various lawn pesticides on public health and the environment, what improvements could be made from a policy perspective, and how you can safely control weeds and insects on your lawn. We’re joined by Ben Brod (University of Connecticut), Spencer Brown (Quinnipiac University), and special guest Christopher Brown: CEO and Co-Founder of Teed & Brown Lawn Care.

We chose to release this episode second, but we actually recorded this one first, and I couldn’t have been prouder to invite my dad Christopher Brown, my brother Spencer Brown, and my family friend since preschool Ben Brod as the three guests. And I’ve found it interesting learning from my environmental courses and experiences about how pesticides are terrible and lawns are environmental disasters, and then coming home and hearing about my dad applying products like cedar oil and acelepryn that are completely safe and fostering perfectly manicured lawns that provide environmental benefits. In this episode, I wanted to get to the bottom of it. Who’s right? Are they both right?

At first, I felt biased. On the one hand, I felt biased as the son of a lawn care entrepreneur, knowing that lawn care revenue was paying for my home, my food, my college education, and a lot more. On the other hand, I felt biased as a human being who wants to be in good health and cares enough about that to take on an Environmental Analysis & Policy major. So in preparing this episode, my biggest priority was critical thinking. And with that in mind, I hope that my two biases cancelled each other out and made for a good discussion.

Pesticides are challenging to research because everyone says something different. Some activists fight to ban all pesticides. Some manufacturers (re: Monsanto) claim dangerous pesticides are harmless. They all cite data supporting their claims, and it takes some effort to figure out who’s right. The prime example here is Dr. Seneff’s claims that Roundup causes autism, backing it up by saying “correlation doesn’t always imply causation, but in this case, I think it does.” It sounds convincing, but think hard about what that statement is actually saying, and it falls apart. And this is a MIT professor! Needless to say, as someone whose brother is on the autism spectrum (and whose perspective I was thrilled to hear on the podcast), Dr. Seneff’s statements were not only inaccurate, but also quite hurtful, given her mischaracterization of autism as a disease and her claims I did not include in the episode linking autism to vaccines, which have been proven untrue by countless scientific studies.

An interesting point which was further supported by my dad’s insights in the interview was that organic and synthetic are not synonymous with safe and toxic. In fact, some synthetic products are now safer than organic products! And I can’t help but agree that the actual toxicity of a product is far more important than where it came from, and it seemed Ben and Spencer agreed on that too. I should add that the USDA Organic certification is actually sometimes granted to especially safe synthetic pesticides and withheld from especially toxic organic pesticides, so a USDA Organic label does tell you something about a product’s safety, whereas just the word “organic” does not.

Given that pesticides are more about households than government, I’m not surprised by how much common ground Ben and Spencer found. To me, that’s important. While we hope to demonstrate how to make political conversations with those you disagree with easier, it’s worth noting that an intellectual conversation about an important issue can happen without getting into much politics! One small point of contention was on the governmental side, specifically to what degree pesticides should be banned. However, neither thought there should be no bans, and neither thought there should be outright bans. If our conversation continued for an hour, we certainly had a jumping off point to find a happy medium.

Thanks for listening! Stay tuned for episode 3 coming next Friday!



2 comments on “2. Lawn Pesticides

  1. Lawrence S Harris says:

    Another episode that everyone should hear! The issues are presented with such clarity (and humor) that even if the topic sounds boring, listen anyway. You won’t be sorry!

  2. Jack Brown says:

    Living in an apartment in midtown Manhattan, I didn’t have a dog in this fight. However, I found it informative and well paced. I’ll tune in again next week.

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