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Original Essays

Live Simply So That Others Can Simply Live

by Ed Begley Jr.
  1. Living Like Ed: A Guide to the Eco-Friendly Life
    $3.95 Used Trade Paper add to wishlist
    "[A]n enormously helpful book on the subject of green living....[T]he book, appealing, well-organized, and relevant, serves its message well." Booklist

    "Ed Begley is more than a beloved Hollywood figure; he's an all-American hero, and Living Like Ed is a comprehensive yet accessible guide to becoming more environmentally savvy that light greens and bright greens alike will find themselves dog-earing for years to come." Treehugger.com

I've been an "environmentalist" for 37 years now and I couldn't be happier about the "green" bandwagon that is rolling through Hollywood and the rest of the country these days. It hasn't always been so easy being "green"; in fact, there were times back in the 1990s when I think my lifestyle was considered so strange and extreme it may have even cost me acting work. Certainly environmentalism was considered some kind of far-left liberal cause, a holdover from the days of hippies and the Whole Earth Catalog. Well, perhaps like miniskirts and skinny neckties, the sustainable lifestyle has come back into fashion. But I am convinced it's more than a lifestyle fad. The challenges we face today (and I use the word "challenges" not "problems" because I truly believe they can be overcome) are so widely acknowledged that I am seeing a fundamental shift in human behavior.

Perhaps the most rewarding and interesting aspect of this shift, though, is that environmentalism is no longer seen as the province of extremists. Thanks to an ever-growing consensus among very intelligent folks (many with Ph.D. after their names) and highly respected, peer-reviewed studies, we are starting to live in a world in which there is widespread agreement that issues like global climate change, reduction in fisheries, air pollution, water resources, and dependency on Mid-East oil cannot be ignored. And for the first time we are recognizing that these challenges don't reside on one side of the political aisle or the other — they affect each and every one of us, and are inspiring all of us to make changes in the way we live. People in both the red and blue states have a strong desire to reduce their carbon footprints, reduce their waste, and leave a healthy planet for their children to enjoy. I get so much fan mail now from people in the heartland of America that say things like "I may not agree with you politically, Mr. Begley, but I like the idea of using a rain barrel to catch and use my rainwater like you did on TV — where do I get one?" It seems conservatives do conserve, too!

But when I think about it, that's nothing new. After all, my 37-year journey of practicing environmentally friendly living began as a child growing up in Los Angeles, California — not in Hollywood, but in the more conservative San Fernando Valley. My father was a staunch Republican of Irish descent who liked to "conserve" and didn't allow anything in our home to go to waste. He was a child of the Depression, and frugality was very much a part of our lifestyle, so the urge to conserve — to reuse and recycle and make do — was fostered early on in my life.

My father also encouraged my love of nature. He urged me to become a Cub Scout, and later a Boy Scout, and I found I really liked being outdoors. At that time, though, the air quality in Los Angeles was terrible. In the San Fernando Valley where we lived, people would ask, "Why do they call it a valley?" The smog was so thick you couldn't see the hills or mountains on either side of the valley unless you drove right up next to them. I couldn't run from one end of the block to the other without developing a horrible wheeze that made it impossible to breathe.

In 1970, the first Earth Day was held, and that celebration really crystallized a lot of thoughts that had been percolating in my mind and compelled me to make some life changes. My father always told me, "Eddie, don't tell people what you're going to do... show them by doing it."

So, that year, I bought my first electric car. Its top speed was 15 mph and it had just a 15 mile range — it was essentially a golf cart with a windshield wiper and a horn. But I did it. I started composting in 1970 by taking my food scraps out behind where I lived and burying them in a hole next to the railroad tracks — and green things started to grow there! I began to try more things and found that not only were they good environmental practices, they were saving me money! As I saved more money, I began to do more things. In the 1980s, I invested in a better electric car and I also installed solar hot water. In 1985 I invested in a wind turbine in the California desert. In 1990, I installed solar electricity (even before there were government tax credits or rebates). And all of these things I've done over the years that are "good for the environment" have been good for my bottom line!

This is where I see the convergence of belief and behavior. People in this country may or may not believe that we share responsibility for global climate change — but we are all interested in saving money and making our lives easier. We want to lower our energy bills, reduce our gasoline consumption, and eat healthier — these things are important to all of us. This economic motivation extends not only to individuals but to corporate America. Thirty years ago, businessmen and politicians and economists in California claimed we would destroy the economy by forcing the automakers to reduce emissions and by forcing power companies to clean up their plant emissions. Instead, Detroit and the world made cleaner cars through the use of unleaded fuel and catalytic converters. The power companies cleaned up their dirty plants and moved to cleaner fuels like natural gas. The air quality in California improved markedly and the economy thrived. Today we have four times as many cars in Los Angeles, yet we have half the ozone depletion. We all deserve a medal for bringing about such an astonishing turnaround! That is why I believe the "challenges" we face are solvable. We have made changes, big ones, and we can do it again.

Sometimes people ask me, "How can I do the things that you have done, Ed? I don't have the money or the resources of a Hollywood actor. I can't afford to make that type of investment." Well, I'm not a millionaire, nor have I ever been. I'm a working actor. And I started small back in 1970 and did more and more over time as I saved money. Start by changing out your old incandescent lightbulbs for energy-efficient compact fluorescents. Get an energy-saving thermostat. Start recycling and composting. Start your own vegetable garden. Get out of your car a day or two a week and walk or ride a bike or take public transportation. Start by picking the "low hanging fruit" first and work your way up to the bigger ticket items as you save money.

We're all in this together and we can overcome these environmental challenges. There is no reason for us to use the world's resources like we're having a going-out-of-business sale. There is value to the trees in the forest that is equal to or greater than the value of those trees being used as two-by-fours. Cutting down the old growth forests for lumber would be like tearing down the Smithsonian because we needed some bricks!

I'm filled with hope for the future... and glad to be getting acting work on Hollywood sets filled with recycling programs and hybrid cars!

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Ed Begley, Jr., is a veteran actor who has appeared in numerous film and television roles, including St. Elsewhere and Six Feet Under. He and Rachelle reside in L. A. in a self-sufficient home powered by solar energy. Visit him at LivingLikeEd.com. spacer

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