Monday, March 16, 2009

10 MINUTES WITH. . . Ed Begley Jr.


Actor and environmental activist Ed Begley Jr. will be speaking in Northeast Ohio next month, and reporter Evelyn Theiss spoke to him for this story in today's Plain Dealer:

If you're hosting a big-time environmental event, Ed Begley Jr. is THE celebrity to invite. The actor/activist will be the keynote speaker as EarthWatch Ohio (a sustainability nonprofit organization) holds its first anniversary gala Friday, April 3, at Landerhaven in Mayfield Heights. Begley spoke with The Plain Dealer's Evelyn Theiss by phone from his office in Los Angeles, where he works and lives with his family.

So I've got to ask, how will you get here?

Sadly, I'm flying. I'd prefer to drive my wife's Prius, but I don't have enough time, so I will have to take the plane like a normal person.

Will you do something to offset the carbon footprint? Or is that, as my friend says, like paying someone to eat broccoli so you can eat ice cream?

It is and it isn't. I do buy a Terrapass (an online social enterprise that allows people and businesses to buy carbon-offsetting products or credits at terrapass.com). Right now, there's only about 80,000 people participating, but if enough people did that, there'd be a net gain.

What was it that set you on the path to ardent environmentalism?

It was growing up in smoggy L.A. -- living through 20 years of that. So in 1970, I said: "Enough already. I'll start doing something different." So that year I bought an electric car, a Taylor-Dunn, though I'm being grand by calling it a car. It's more like a golf cart with a windshield and a horn.

What did that do for you?

It wasn't only good for the environment, but good for my pocketbook. I just plugged it in. No oil changes, none of that car maintenance stuff. People today use them to get around in places like Palm Springs, Calif., and Arizona.

That must have gone over well in 1970.

Sure, people thought it was wacky, but back then, people even thought me riding a bike was nutty. It's hard to be cool on a bike -- especially with the wind resistance I got from my Afro. But that was the first year I really started saving money.

I remember an episode of "Dharma & Greg" in which you played yourself. They had a protest, so Ed Begley Jr. had to be there.

Yes, as I remember the script, they had to kidnap me. But that was a good show, good people.

So, you're still quite busy as an actor, doing films, television. How do you fit your national activism in?

I've always found time to do both. I've gotten so much more demand for speaking engagements. I used to drive my hybrid or electric cars to them, but I obviously couldn't do as many speeches.

For a while I thought, "My contribution to the environment will be for me not to come." But then David Suzuki, a Canadian genetic scientist, told me, "I'm glad you're trying to save fuel, but it's more important to get out there and talk to these people, get the information out." I used to make two or three speeches a year, now I do that in a week. Hence the flying.

You've been in Cleveland quite a bit, right?

Many times. I even stopped there when I drove a natural-gas car across the country. Cleveland was one of the few places I could refuel.

Your daughter once said you were ahead of your time, but it seems like the times are catching up with you, don't you think?

I hope so. I'm almost 60.

So I hear you have this eco-competition going with Bill Nye, "The Science Guy," who is one of your neighbors?

Yes, it's a good-natured competition, but it is competitive. He has a better-looking rain barrel than we do, though.

So your wife, Rachelle, always has been supportive of your intense eco-lifestyle?

Absolutely, she's cool and on board, but she does care more about aesthetics than I do.

What do you suggest people do first as they start greening their lifestyle?

Pick the low-hanging fruit -- that's how I started when I was a struggling actor. Do stuff that's cheap and easy. Get energy-efficient light bulbs, get weatherstripping, ride a bike or walk -- you don't need a 2,500-pound vehicle to pick up a few things at the store. I've ridden my bike in Cleveland even in November. Doing these things, I guarantee, you'll save money.

What's your ultimate message?

I want people to do things that are good for the environment and good for their pocketbooks. The reason we're in the situation we're in, in this country, is that we haven't been behaving in a fiscally responsible manner -- individually or as a country. Now, someone shut the oven door and the souffle fell.

But if you work on creating a healthy environment and keep doing things in your own life in a fiscally responsible manner, and keep doing them even when things get better, you will be fine.

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