Seeing the World Through Green-Colored Glasses: My Interview with Ed Begley Jr.

I spoke with the eco-friendly father, husband, and hybrid-trotter about his upcoming project, some easy next steps for greenies, and what his own climate bill would look like.
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This image of the blond bespectacled actor on his bike is something of a childhood memory for me. I grew up within a mile of Ed Begley Jr. in Los Angeles, and I still get warm fuzzies thinking about how he and I once shared a Studio City zip code. (The fact that Jack Nicholson and Tiffani Amber Thiessen also lived nearby didn't seem to interest this National Geographic reading, mountain-hiking kid who loved to compost.) When I had the opportunity to catch up with the Hollywood hero last month at the Go Green Expo in New York, I didn't hesitate to say hello.

It doesn't matter how many times you hear or read his panoply of pleas about going green, even to Republicans, Ed's got a mouthful worth listening to. Quite simply, and without needing a script, he knows just how to get the serious message across -- often by making light out of how to lighten our carbon footprint.

I followed up with the eco-friendly father, husband, and hybrid-trotter over email about his upcoming big project, some easy next steps for greenies, and what Ed Begley Jr.'s climate bill would look like if he knew Congress would pass it.

How can folks who already incorporate "green" acts into their daily lives take the next step to being even more eco-conscious? (Consider both those who live in a small NYC apartment and those who live in a house in the suburbs.)

ED: The way I did it, beginning in 1970, is by picking the low hanging fruit first -- the stuff that is cheapest and easiest and gives you the biggest bang for your buck. Walking, riding a bike, taking public transportation, recycling, composting, home gardening or supporting your local farmers market are good ways to start that help you save money right away. Others in this category include energy efficient lighting, low flow showerheads and faucets, power strips to shut down phantom power-draw devices, weather stripping around doors and windows, window coverings. As you do these things and save money, then you can do more. The next level includes things like a rain barrel, a compost tumbler, LED light bulbs etc. Then you can climb the ladder higher with things like an energy efficient water heater or solar hot water. Then towards the top come things like solar electric and hybrid cars. You don't RUN up Mt. Everest -- you climb slowly, get to base camp, get acclimated, then climb higher. Do only what you can afford to do. Be fiscally responsible and do what you can today, save money and then do more.

What is the next big project you're working on?

ED: Well, I'm doing a lot of speaking engagements. As I write this I am driving across the country in my hybrid to speak in Chicago, Detroit, DC and Toronto, then returning to speak in Southern California. The next BIG project is sort of a secret ... but I'll give you a hint ... it involves architects and builders...

When you do fly -- as you did to the Go Green Expo -- do you try to offset the emissions? How, other than buying carbon offsets, can we make all those air miles obsolete?

ED: I have several ways to offset my air travel when I have to fly. First, I use a carbon offset like TerraPass. Second, I have owned interest in a 75kw wind turbine in the California desert since 1985 that puts out about 10 homes worth of power -- so that has been a big offset for me for 25 years. Third, I try NOT to fly whenever possible. I'm in my hybrid going to all my events by car and getting over 50+ MPH in the process. It will take about 13 days, but it's a great way to travel, and greatly reduce the carbon footprint.

If you knew you could introduce a climate bill in Congress and get it passed, could you describe what the bill would look like, the key issues?

ED: The main part of it would be to create a government fund for home energy audits and retrofits. So many homes in the U.S. suffer from energy inefficiency: bad insulation, bad windows/doors, bad ducting and HVAC, inefficient lighting, etc. If we could do a good home energy audit on each home in America -- with infrared cameras, blower doors and duct blasters -- and fix these problems with the construction, we could save a huge amount of energy ... upwards of 20% of U.S. energy usage I'm told. That would be my main focus -- CONSERVATION first. Rebates and tax incentives for solar electricity are great, but if we put solar on homes that are energy inefficient, its like going out in the rain with an umbrella filled with holes. Conservation is our first line of bang for the buck. A kilowatt SAVED is far cheaper than a kilowatt produced.

How can we make more people realize it's easy to be green?

ED: The key for me has always been not to preach, but to lead by example. When people see me saving money, they want to try it. People's pocketbooks are a powerful motivator.

Do you think we will ever live in a world without cars? Or live in a world where the only cars driven are hybrid or electric? If yes, how would we get there? Clone Ed Begley Jr.?

ED: More than $3.00 a gallon of gasoline is getting us there pretty quickly. The fact that most of our oil comes from countries that don't necessarily like us all that much is another key factor. People want to save money, and people want to decrease our dependency on Mid-East oil and improve our national security. Between natural gas, domestic biofuels and electricity, we will have a great deal of high quality automobiles to choose from by 2011 or 2012. I think people will be buying them as fast as the automakers can make them. Fossil fuels aren't going away, but I think we are moving in the right direction. And hopefully, public transportation will continue to grow and be a bigger and bigger option for people. A bicycle or two in every garage would be a welcome addition too!

Photo: Courtesy of Brentwood Communications International, Inc.

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