May 8, 2012

Live simply, so that others can simply live. An interview with Ed Begley, Jr. ~ Richard Kujawski

I would urge everybody to the best of their ability to live simply, so that others can simply live.
~ Ed Begley, Jr.

Turning up at Hollywood events on his bicycle, Ed Begley, Jr. has been considered an environmental leader in the Hollywood community for many years.

His work in the environmental community has earned him a number of awards from some of the most prestigious environmental groups in the nation, including the California League of Conservation Voters, the Natural Resources Defense Council, The Coalition for Clean Air, Heal the Bay and the Santa Monica Baykeeper.

Ed currently lives near Los Angeles in a self-sufficient home powered by solar energy.

Living Green Magazine recently talked to Ed and I’m thrilled they’re sharing the interview with us here at elephant journal. The 25-minute interview is available for listening via the link at the end of this article. Enjoy! ~ Editor, Lynn H.

You’re very passionate about green issues. When did green get into your blood? Was there a tipping point, or did your interest build over time? There was a tipping point. There was a moment of epiphany and it was at the first Earth Day in 1970. It had been building before that. By that I mean I grew up in smoggy L.A., and Los Angeles in the 1950’s and 60’s had horrible, chocking smog. So after 20 years of that, I was poised and ready at the first Earth Day to take some action, to do something to make a difference.  So I started doing everything I could.

What does “living green” mean to you? It means the same thing as it did in 1970 in one key area, and that is to do everything you can. What I did in 1970 was interesting—but what I didn’t do, I think, is very important. I didn’t try to do a bunch of things I couldn’t afford or could not possibly pull off. I did stuff that was possible. I started recycling. I started composting. I started using biodegradable soaps and detergents. All this stuff I did back in 1970, it was all good for the environment. It was also good for my pocketbook because it saved me money.

Ed, you have a bit of a reputation as a green zealot. Can you share some examples of what’s been called your “low-density” lifestyle? After doing the cheap and easy stuff in 1970, I saved some money, and so I started doing more and more. Now I can do some stuff that other people aren’t willing or able to do. I have an array of six kilowatts of (electric) solar on the roof of my house. I have an underground rainwater storage tank that’s 550 gallons. I have not only solar electric but solar hot water. I drive an electric car. I ride my bike or take public transportation 300 days a year. Probably 60 some days a year I’m in the hybrid car for a long trip, or occasionally I even have to fly. Not a lot of people are going to go to such lengths. It’s something I’ve been doing for so long that I’m quite comfortable doing what some might view as extreme measures. Indeed, I like to do them for extra credit, if you will, and to keep upping the ante as I become comfortable with the things I started 42 years ago.

Many people know about you through the “Living with Ed” show on Planet Green that co-stars your talented wife Rachelle Carson Begley. What do you want viewers to learn, or what message do you want viewers to take away from the show? I want them to perhaps try to do it the same way I did, which is as a person with very little resources in 1970, to do that cheap and easy stuff first. Now there’s a lot more choices in 2012 than there was in 1970. You can buy energy-saving light bulbs about anywhere. You can buy an energy-saving thermostat at most hardware stores. You can buy weather-stripping that’s very easy to put up. There’s much more public transportation in every city I go to than there was in 1970. Bike lanes are much more prevalent now. If you don’t have room for a vegetable garden in your front or back yard, there are many community gardens now. The point is there’s simply more opportunity for people to do stuff that’s very cost effective. All these things I mentioned are very cheap, very inexpensive. So you want to start with those, and that gives you a taste for doing more because you’ll find you have extra money in your pocket after a very short time of doing these things.

Baby steps and a lot of positive reinforcement along the way. That’s correct.

Let me ask a serious question. Are we past the tipping point to prevent massive climate change? Can we as individuals make enough of a difference just by changing our lifestyles? I hope we’re not past the tipping point. Nobody knows for sure, but most scientists agree that there are serious consequences to having too much CO2 in the atmosphere.  The point that most of them agreed on some years ago was 350 parts per million (ppm). We’re above that now. We need to get it down below 350 ppm, and I think we can do that by just starting with the cheap and easy stuff like I’m mentioning. That’s going to free up more money to do things like some of the medium ticket items, which will free up more money to do some of the big ticket items like solar or wind. Besides all the solar I’ve had since 1900, since 1985 I’ve owned a wind turbine in the California desert that’s part of a wind farm. That’s a very good way to make electricity in 2012, as it was in 1985. Indeed, that wind turbine is 27 years old; it’s still running, still sending me checks, and still putting out many kilowatt hours of electricity a day. So, I’m very proud of that investment. I think that’s the kind of thing we need to do as a country, to encourage more of that kind of clean power to get us off foreign oil, because that has quite a price tag with 350 billion—with a “b”—dollars leaving the country each year. I think that’s a number we need to bring down as quickly as possible.

What do you think some of the barriers are that are stopping people from living greener, or even accepting the reality of climate change? People are resistant to change. I know for a fact that many times myself I’ve been resistant to change—even with some of these green things. I say “I’ll get around to that” when dealing with vampire or phantom power. I just started dealing with that issue a few years ago. But people are resistant to change because they think it’s going to cost them more no matter what anybody says. They make a list of things they can’t do. Well I can’t get solar like you, and it’s too expensive anyway. The much more interesting list for me is the one my dad used to give me, my conservative Republican father used to give me. “I’m very interested in the list of things you can’t do Eddie, but what’s the other list, the list of things you can do.” And that’s why I started in 1970 to honor my dad as much as anything. What could I do? I could recycle, I could use biodegradable soaps and detergents, I could change my diet, I could ride my bike or take the bus, I could compost, I could grow some food. All that was within my realm of possibility, within my power to do those things in 1970. I’m not telling anyone to go out and get solar. I’m suggesting you do it just the way I did—start that other list of things I know you absolutely can do.

Ed, we consider you the 2012 Person Who Lives Earth Day Every Day! Thank you.

Finally…if you could be your favorite endangered species, what animal would you be?  I would be the snow leopard, and I’d find a very safe place and hide…(laughter)..so that I could hopefully propagate well enough to have some substantial numbers again.

Anything else you want to add? We all can have an impact on the environment in a positive way; the human species has done many positive things, and we can certainly do otherwise. I would urge everybody to the best of their ability to live simply, so that others can simply live.

Thank you very much Ed. You’re definitely the poster child for what one person can do on Earth Day and every day. 

There is much more to the interview than has been transcribed here, including Ed discussing his reasons for being vegetarian, how the banter with his wife makes “Living with Ed” a high-quality reality show, the new Begley home being built that will be showcased in his new show “On Begley Street,” his new line of cleaning products and the green marketplace, his thoughts on educating youth about sustainability, reflections on his father’s spirit, and his current green mentors. Click here to hear the full Ed Begley interview.

Richard Kujawski is Managing Editor for LivingGreenMag, an online publication that informs and educates readers on a range of environmental and lifestyle issues, and highlights various non-profit causes. Visit www.LivingGreenMag.com.

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Editor: Lynn Hasselberger

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