Home > Uncategorized > “What is on the list of things you can do today?” an evening with Ed Begley, Jr.

“What is on the list of things you can do today?” an evening with Ed Begley, Jr.

April 14, 2010

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.”
Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Jim
    April 15, 2010 at 05:36 | #1

    Al Gore would be a lot more credible if he walked the walk like MR. Begley.

  2. April 15, 2010 at 07:13 | #2

    They share some things in common.  Both stick to peer-reviewed science, which makes the message worth it’s salt without reference to who says it.  Both invest in green power and own windmills. Both drive Toyota Prius’. Both recycle, buy recycled products, and use energy-efficient light and heat. The difference in their personal lifestyles does stand out, mostly because Gore owns a bigger house and travels more.

    Begley’s approach is mostly personal – things you should do, and it’s hard to start a movement based on what people perceive as self-sacrifice.  (Actually most of the things he does are no sacrifice at all, just more intelligent choices that actually do save money.)

    Gore’s approach is more on the scale of economies and industries – let’s stop subsidizing carbon energy and put a price on carbon, then green technologies will suddenly come out of the woodwork (probably true, and the approach endorsed by the conservative magazine Economist).  One is an actor with a deep sense of personal ethics, and the other is a politician, a businessman and geopolitical strategist.

    But notice how anti-environmental corporatism plays one approach off the other.  The notion that you needn’t take any environmentalist seriously unless they live like Ed Begley, Jr., (and then label his lifestyle ‘extreme’) is a popular excuse to do nothing.

  3. April 15, 2010 at 14:25 | #3

    The notion that you needn’t take any environmentalist seriously unless they live like Ed Begley, Jr., (and then label his lifestyle ‘extreme’) is a popular excuse to do nothing.

    It’s also a great excuse for the people who profit by the way things are now to keep profiting.

    Begley’s approach makes a lot of sense, at least at the personal level. Doing what you can be making better choices will help a lot. If enough people do it, government and the economy may follow suit.

  4. Jim
    April 15, 2010 at 18:32 | #4

    Don’t get me wrong, I have no doubt about Al Gore’s sincerity. I guess the point I was trying to get across is that it would be a lot harder for the wingnuts to attack Ed Begley JR. than Al Gore because of the differences in their lifestyles.
    I wholeheartedly agree with both of them that we need to develop renewable energy as fast as possible whether global warming is true or not (I think it is) because it’s the right thing to do for the environment and for our national security.

  5. April 16, 2010 at 07:50 | #5

    I’ve never understood the whole lifestyle argument against Gore. Jim, maybe you could help clear this up for us. It was my understanding Gore works from home which would typically require more space and explains why he has a larger home. Something that actually saves a lot of money and energy versus getting an office. He also has solar panels to offset some energy usage and there are the things George already mentioned. What else is it about him that pisses people off besides politics?

  6. Jim
    April 16, 2010 at 18:17 | #6

    Where I’m from (Alabama) what pisses people off about him is that he is a Democrat and vocal about a cause he believes in. I always hear about his big house and his flying around everywhere producing greenhouse gasses while campaigning against it. They see that as hypocrisy. What he does to offset all that doesn’t matter one bit to them. You would have thought it was the end of the world when he won the Nobel Peace prize from listening to some of these people. Personally, I’m glad he’s a thorn in their side and I hope he keeps it up as long as he’s needed.
    I should have worded my comments better so folks didn’t get the impression that I was criticizing him myself. I’m a small blue spot in a very red state and I was just trying to get across what I hear constantly.

  7. April 16, 2010 at 19:52 | #7

    Too timid to explain how you escaped a littering ticket by referring to the contents of your vehicle?  ;)

  8. April 16, 2010 at 21:31 | #8

    Thanks Jim!  No worries, you were fine.  If we were all at a table together drinking coffee I’d say; “Don’t mind Webs, he sounds more confrontational than he intends to sometimes.” :P

    Sometimes it amazes me how different parts of this country are.  I lived in East Tennessee for seven years, and was still an outsider, a Yankee.  Appreciate knowing what it’s like in Alabama, a place I’ve never visited. Any stories you want to share are most welcome.

    Begley said something funny about offsets; “People say it’s like eating ice cream all day and paying someone else to eat broccoli.  And it is!  But you’re still increasing the total net amount of broccoli and decreasing the total net amount of ice cream.”

    One thing I do think is good about offsets is that it stimulates and creates economies of scale in green technology.  It simply isn’t practical to stop using dirty tech cold-turkey, but everything we can do to bring clean tech up to speed is good.  The sooner it becomes cheaper than dirty tech the better.  In some cases that is already true and the message just hasn’t gotten across yet – which was pretty much the topic of Begley’s talk.

  9. April 18, 2010 at 16:58 | #9

    Sorry if I read you wrong Jim, but I was merely asking some questions as your first comment gave me a different impression. I certainly didn’t mean to offend if I did. I respect anyone that has to be blue dot in a sea of red as that is exactly what I’m going through now and I feel your pain.

    The claims against offsets do not make a lot of sense to me either. We know there are people in this world that need to travel and use airplanes. It is unrealistic to expect that to stop. But using offsets so that someone else can offset your carbon usage seems a great way to me to help with the damage flying in an airplane does. I know not everyone can bike to work everyday like George can, but if a few of those that drove to work everyday offset their carbon, the world would certainly be better off.

  10. Jim
    April 19, 2010 at 18:06 | #10

    No offence was taken guys, besides, I’m a big boy and my skin isn’t too thin. Sometimes I type faster than by brain works. Considering my typing ability, that doesn’t say too much about my brain LOL.

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