A Conversation with Ed Begley, Jr.


By Michael Wayne
September 30, 2010

Published in the fall 2010 issue of MyLIFE magazine

ed_begley_jr_solar_panel_roof.pngEd Begley, Jr. is an accomplished actor and environmental activist. His current TV show, “Living with Ed,” on the Planet Green network, chronicles the eco-friendly adventures of Begley and his wife, Rachelle, as they navigate life in the green fast lane. The show is well into its third season and offers a unique opportunity for others to follow Begley’s passion for the environment on a day-to-day basis.

Ed Begley, Jr. is an accomplished actor and environmental activist. His current TV show, “Living with Ed,” on the Planet Green network, chronicles the eco-friendly adventures of Begley and his wife, Rachelle, as they navigate life in the green fast lane. The show is well into its third season and offers a unique opportunity for others to follow Begley’s passion for the environment on a day-to-day basis.

It was Begley’s brilliant performance as Dr. Victor Ehrlich in the 1980s hit TV series “St. Elsewhere” that brought him to the limelight. He received six Emmy Award nominations. Since then Begley has appeared in many memorable Hollywood films, including “Batman Forever,” “The Accidental Tourist” and “The In-Laws,” just to name a few. He also directed episodes of the popular TV series “NYPD Blue.”

In this one-on-one interview, Begley talks candidly about the environment and the motivation behind his activism. Although being green has become a trend for some, Begley’s convictions have been a constant in his life for decades—by living by example.

Begley’s ingenuity for reducing energy consumption at his home may appear unusual at first glance—after all, how many people do you know who use a bicycle to power their toaster?—but it’s all part of his plan to educate the masses on what can be done to save money and leave the smallest possible carbon footprint.

Wayne: How do you use a bicycle to power your toaster?
Begley: The original system I had was made by a friend of mine. It was a simple stationary bike with a generator on the back that fed 12 volts of power down into my solar battery array, where it could then be used as stored power. A few years ago another company built me one out of a bike trainer—so I could hook any normal bike to it and make power that way. It doesn’t power the toaster directly, it simply puts power into my batteries that power the entire house. What I figured out was that 15 minutes of hard riding essentially generated enough power to toast two slices of bread.

Wayne: What got you interested in living in a more sustainable way?
Begley: It was several things. It was the first Earth Day in April 1970, and I wanted to get involved. I had grown up in smoggy Los Angeles and had really had it with the horrible, choking smog. My father, Ed Begley Sr., a wonderful actor, had just passed away and I wanted to do something to honor him. Even though we didn’t call him one, he was an environmentalist. He was the son of Irish immigrants and a conservative that liked to conserve. He had lived through the Great Depression and had saved string and tin foil, and turned out the lights—and did those things you did back then to save money. He had always told me ‘Eddie, don’t tell people what you are going to do, show them by doing it.’ And so, to honor him, to get involved with Earth Day and to try and do something about the horrible smog problem in L.A., I started taking public transportation. Riding my bike, walking, recycling, composting, using biodegradable soaps and detergents, eating a vegetarian diet and so on. I even bought an electric car.

ed_begley_jr_light_bulb.pngWayne: What are some of the things people can do to live a more sustainable lifestyle?
Begley: They can live simply so that others can simply live. Less is more. I encourage everyone to slow down and simplify. Start with what you can afford and work your way up the ladder. That’s the way I did it starting back in 1970. You do what you can, save money, and do more. Start with the cheap and easy stuff—energy-efficient lighting, weather stripping, recycling, composting, home gardening, bike riding, public transportation, etc. A kilowatt saved is far cheaper than a kilowatt produced. I encourage everyone to start with a home energy audit and work towards a more energy-efficient home through insulation, windows, lighting, etc.

Wayne: What do you use to power your home, and approximately what does it cost you per year?
Begley: My electricity comes almost entirely from solar. I use between $300 and $600 a year in grid electric—mostly off peak power to charge my electric car, which I use about 10,000 miles a year. I also use between $20 and $40 a month in natural gas. The natural gas is for heating the home using hot water—some of the work is done via solar thermal, the rest with a high efficiency AO Smith Vertex 100 gas water heater hooked into a FirstCo AquaTherm water-based forced air furnace. Solar thermal was first put in 1985, and PV in 1990. I also get to claim a carbon negative footprint, as I invested in a 75kw wind turbine in the California desert back in 1985, and its still putting out about 10 homes worth of power.

Wayne: What do you say to people who state that climate change isn’t real?
Begley: I say let’s agree to disagree on that, and instead focus on what we can agree on. Do we agree that $3+ a gallon gas is a problem? Do we agree that we have a dependency problem on Mid-East oil, and that we are sending billions of dollars to countries that don’t like us very much and impact our national security? Do we agree that we want to clean up the air and water in our cities? Do we agree that we want to save money? If we can agree on those things, then a sustainable lifestyle can make a difference.

Wayne: What lessons should we emphatically learn from the Gulf Coast oil spill?
Begley: Although there is still quite a bit of oil available to find, it is getting harder, more dangerous and more expensive to get. At some point we have to decide if getting to that oil is more expensive and dangerous than the alternative, which is to spend the money on other forms of more renewable energy. I think that time is now.

ed_begley_jr_hybrid.pngWayne: What can people do to be more energy conscious if they don’t have a lot of money?
Begley: As we talked about, they can pick the low-hanging fruit—lighting, thermostat programming, weather stripping, biking, public transit, Energy Star devices, unplugging phantom power, etc. These are things people can do today on any budget and immediately start saving energy and saving money.

Wayne: Do you think if our country and economy moved in the direction of becoming a greener economy, that it would cause an economic renaissance? And if so, why do you think this would be? And what is holding us back from moving in that direction?
Begley: I’m not an economist, but the U.S. does need to continue to be a leader in the technologies of the future. I think there are good jobs making solar panels, wind turbines, electric cars and hybrid cars. I hope these industries grow in the U.S., and I hope they do contribute to an economic recovery. Our government can continue to encourage growth in these areas as well.

Wayne: Are you satisfied with the Obama administration’s environmental and energy policies so far?
Begley: They’ve done some good things—but they can do more.

Wayne: What do you think of lawns?
Begley: I’m not a huge fan. I think we can do better things with our water and still have beautiful landscaping that can include native, drought-tolerant plants and fresh, organic fruits and vegetables to eat.

Wayne: What type of vehicle do you drive?
Begley: My transportation hierarchy goes like this: Walking, biking, public transportation, electric car and hybrid car. When I have to drive, I use a Toyota RAV4-EV. I hope to replace it with an American electric soon. When I have to drive long distances, I borrow my wife’s Prius.

Wayne: You ride a hybrid electric bike. How does that work?
Begley: It’s a regular bike that also has an electric motor and battery to assist you. I don’t use it too often any more, as I’ve made a conscious effort to get back on my bike every day. I’m in good bike shape again and using my road and mountain bikes almost exclusively now.

Wayne: With all the people who use gyms to work out, can equipment in gyms be retrofitted to generate electricity?
Begley: There are a few gyms outfitted with bikes that generate 12V of power. Why not?

Wayne: Any last words?
Begley: Just thank you for the time.

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