MrsDoF and I walked two-thirds of a mile this evening to hear Ed Begley, Jr. speak about his experience in learning about and protecting the environment. It was a show put on by the Milner Library and the university Center for Mathematics, Science, and Technology. He came out on stage wearing a red Illinois State University sweatshirt. “What do you think,” he asked, pointing to the sweatshirt; “too much suck-up?”
|From my photo album; Notes
Ed’s a science geek from way back, and he said his major inspiration was his father; “a conservative who liked to conserve”.
I can identify with that. My dad always liked to brag about the gas mileage he’d get. His ‘53 Mercury – a very heavy car – got 22mpg on the highway. Who else back then cared about mpg, when gas was seven gallons for a dollar? And I can tell you why I don’t litter; it would have disappointed my father. It was simply unthinkable to throw a piece of trash anywhere but in the trash can. Today I see kids dropping trash all over campus and wonder who raised them.
Ed’s father died just before the first Earth day, around the time the Cuyahoga river caught fire and Richard Nixon signed the EPA into existence. And thus began the central message of the evening’s message: “do what you can, do the cheap and easy stuff now. It’ll save you money and you can do the expensive harder stuff later.”
And that’s what he did. In 1970 he began recycling – and actually made money at it. He bought a Taylor-Dunn electric car (really a glorified golf cart) for $950 and discovered it was a LOT cheaper to drive than a regular car. This appealed to his natural frugality.
He was motivated by smog – so bad that you couldn’t run a block in 1970. I’ve never visited LA but I did visit DC around then, during a “pollution event”, and became very ill from the smog. After a full day and night, I must have adapted and only felt like crawling in a hole and dying.
He noted that with four times the cars that they had in 1970, LA now has half the pollution – an amazing accomplishment from good technology. If you want to see real air pollution, go to Bejing or Mexico city and see why the clean air act was such a good idea. “It’s not all about the view”, he said; “Ask the American Lung Association!”
Emphasizing over and over that conservation is good for your wallet, he said “There’s more at stake than money”. You’ll clean up the air, the water, reduce our dependence on foreign oil – $500bn to $800bn every year. Imagine the effect on our economy if all that money stayed here.
He was a Boy Scout, and inspired by the conservation ethic of scouting. How, exactly, did that fall out of fashion in our country?
Today, he lives in a modest home, off the grid, but it took him a long time to build up to that. He buys recycled products, telling the story of a fence he put in made of recycled plastic. His wife complained about the price. “You’ll never make your money back,” she said. Five years later, he called her out in the yard to watch the neighbors painting their fence. Five years after that, to watch them replacing the 4×4 supports and rails. His fence still looks new.
There was a lot more, but I love the idea of conservation as a conservative ideal. People who identify as conservatives but waste energy and resources… confuse me. That simply isn’t how I understand the term. What are they conserving?
For people who think that liberal Hollywood is all about the environment, Begley went through some lean years in the 90’s because, as his agent told him, “you’re freaking people out”. He had some funny stories to tell, and he’s been getting more work lately as directors find out he’s very easy to work with. It took them a while to understand that he drove an electric car because he liked it, and wasn’t going to confront anyone on the set. “If I judged people by their houses or cars,” he says, “I wouldn’t have any friends.”
Start here: recycling, save gas, use efficient lighting, change your diet to get lower on the food chain. Bike. Use public transportation, and pick your next car for efficiency. As you save money, ratchet up. Consider solar hot water, solar electricity, wind energy, a solar oven, or just some attic insulation.
“I get that there’s a list of expensive, difficult things, like solar electric and grey-water systems. But what’s on the list of things you can do today? Do those.”
- He drove here in his Toyota Prius, from LA. Got over 50 mpg most of the way.
- Begley lives right down the street from Bill Nye the Science Guy – his “arch-nemesis and rival”. Well actually, they’re good friends, and compete with each other on home environmental projects. He said; “I called Bill this evening and said, You were at this university ten years ago. They finally traded up!”
- The official title of his talk was a Ghandi quote; “Live simply so others can simply live”. I used the other quote for the title of this post because it was original to him and because it was more accurately the theme of his talk.
- On being an actor and speaking out: “When there’s a real danger, it’s irresponsible to just shut up and perform. And you shouldn’t yell ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater.” (I wondered if he was referring to Jenny McCarthy here.) “But you should tell people the peer-reviewed science. That’s being responsible.”