An Exclusive Interview with Ed Begley, Jr. – Part 1

June 8, 2010 by  
Filed under Environment, Featured

Ed Begley

Ed Begley, Jr.

Ed Begley, Jr. is both a well-known actor and well-known environmental activist, and in this exclusive interview with us, he talks candidly about his environmental activism.

He first became prominent when he starred in the 1980’s TV show, St. Elsewhere. And he’s been busy working ever since, acting in TV shows such as Arrested Development, Scrubs, and The West Wing, and in such movies as This is Spinal Tap, A Mighty Wind, and Recount.

His most recent movie acting roles are in Woody Allen’s Whatever Works, and the Judd Apatow film, Pineapple Express.

Currently, he is seen in two TV shows: the network show Gary Unmarried, and the cable reality show, Living with Ed.

Living with Ed, seen on Planet Green, allows Ed to talk about his favorite subject, green and sustainable living. He knows his stuff about the environment, as he has been involved in environmentalism a long time.

After all, how many people do you know use a bicycle to power their toast?

Truly, Ed Begley, Jr. lives a Low Density Lifestyle. To learn more about him and his work, go to his website at

So today, I give you the first part of the exclusive interview I did with Ed. I’ll continue with the interview tomorrow.

Ed and his wife, Rachelle Carson, are both seen on the TV show, Living With Ed

Ed and his wife, Rachelle Carson, are both seen on the TV show, Living With Ed

Michael Wayne: How do you use a bicycle to power your toaster?
Ed Begley, Jr.: 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 12V 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.

M.W.: What got you interested in living in a more sustainable way?

E.B.: 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, and 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.

Using a compact flourescent bulb is a simple way to live a more green lifestyle

Using a compact flourescent bulb is a simple way to live a more green lifestyle

M.W.: What are some of the things people can do to live a more sustainable lifestyle?
E.B.: 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.

M.W.: What do you use to power your home, and approximately what does it cost you a year?

E.B.: 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. Both the solar thermal and solar PV are fully paid back and I’m into profit on all of them. Solar thermal was first put in 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.

M.W.: What do you say to people who state that climate change isn’t real?
E.B.: 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.

M.W.: What lessons should we emphatically learn from the Gulf Coast Oil Spill?

E.B.: That 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.

M.W.: I understand that California has four times the amount of cars since the 1970’s, yet half the ozone. How was that accomplished? Didn’t the skeptics say it would bankrupt the state?

E.B.: It was accomplished through good policy and good technological efforts. Unleaded fuels, catalytic converters, combined cycle gas turbines, spray paint booths, natural gas busses, expanded public transportation – all things that contributed to California’s clean air efforts. There were many businessmen and economists that felt smog and pollution were signs of progress and that our economy would struggle. But throughout these changes in the 70s, 80s and 90s the economy thrived. We can do this.

M.W.: What can people do to be more energy conscious if they don’t have a lot of money?

E.B.: As we talked about above, they can pick the low hanging fruit – lighting, thermostat programming, weather stripping, biking, public transit, energy star devices, unplugging phantom power etc. etc. These are things people can do today on any budget and immediately start saving energy and saving money.

Part 2 will appear tomorrow…


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  1. […] If you missed the first part of the interview, here is Part 1. […]

  2. […] response to a question from about what he says to people who say climate change isn’t real, Begley says: “I say let’s […]

  3. […] of course brings to mind another forward-looking fellow, one Ed Begley, Jr. The actor famously powers his toaster with a stationary bike, among his many green habits. Actually, innovative ideas for capturing human […]

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