by Jas Faulkner
For nearly four decades, actor/activist Ed Begley, Jr. has lived by the principle that “Green is good!” Arrivals at awards ceremonies via electric car decades before the Prius was the must-have accessory and early adoption of new technologies have always been elements of his public persona. Walking the talk is why Begley remains one of the more effective proponents of sustainability. What makes him optimistic about the future?
“The fact that even with 4 times the cars and millions more people in L.A.since 1970, the air is not dirtier, but is in fact, much cleaner.”
It’s a big picture sort of answer, but one that also includes an aggregate of changes made by everyone. Begley, who was raised to respect and conserve what was on hand, is an enthusiastic and empathetic teacher. Even in the course of visiting the homes of celebrities during his groundbreaking series, there was the acknowledgment that what was being shown was just one of many ways to live an environmentally conscious life.
Living With Ed and Rachelle and Hayden and Molly and Bill and…
“Living With Ed” a charming hybrid of how-to shows, sitcoms and reality television, ran for three seasons, first on HGTV and then for a final season on Planet Green. The show featured the Begley household (aka “The SS Begley”) as an example of a typical American family in pursuit of the green dream. Pater familias Ed and his chip-off-the-block daughter, Hayden, often faced formidable opposition from wife and mom Rachelle.
Onscreen she was the voice of skepticism, looking askance at what might be considered by some as Begley taking things too far. For viewers who were not completely won over to Ed’s way of life, she was the person who voiced their doubts about the efficacy and aesthetic appeal of renewable energy, recycling, xerescaping and household gardens. The story behind the camera was somewhat different. Ed recounts the origins of the show:
“My wife came up with the idea with our friend, Joe Brutsman. Joe’s cousin, Bud Brutsman made it a reality by investing time and effort in a demo reel, then took it around to a number of cable companies. HGTV placed an order.”
Begley is quick to point out that his family and friends, many of whom made appearances on the show, contributed to the creative presentation that made it a DVR staple for viewers who may have been considering an eco-life laundry. Their presence served as an endorsement and a familiar cast of characters who played out the more common, nagging questions about sustainability.
“I can take no credit for any of their onscreen personas,” he said, “I’m not even sure I can take credit for mine.”
At first blush, it would seem that the show is Begley’s soapbox and everyone else is a supporting player. Rachelle gives Ed the side eye, Hayden charms, and neighbour Bill Nye is perfect as the comic foil. The heart of “Living With Ed” is Rachelle, who introduces the series with a summary of her life after moving toCalifornia, pursuing a career, marrying Ed and living sustainably. The show is a love letter to that life and the people she shares it with. It is also an invitation to viewers to learn ways to achieve their own sweet happy (and environmentally friendlier) existences. Many argue that names are destiny and with a name like Rachelle Carson, could she be anything but a green activist whose instincts are every bit as sharp as her consort’s?
When asked if he would do the show again if given the chance, Begley responded he would do so “in a heartbeat.” Does he feel they had accomplished what they’d hoped with the series?
“After three seasons, we considered ourselves a success after reaching millions of people and causing a great many of them to try their hand at energy efficiency.”
To the Internet and Beyond!
“Living With Ed’s appeal would lead to the publication of two books: “Living Like Ed” and “Ed Begley’s Guide To Sustainable Living”. A companion website, which initially served as an online promotional vehicle during the show’s run on Planet Green, took on a life of its own. Begley’s outreach has always included speaking engagements and active participation when and where he can. He now uses social media as yet another way to spread the word.
“14,000 follow me on Twitter. I’m learning to manage my website better as we speak.”
The interactive nature of having a net presence can present an educational curve. “I have much to learn,” he said. The environmental perspectives he has encountered sometimes surprise him as well. “I intended to teach with my website, but sometimes I learn more than I teach.”
Living Green! (The next big thing since 1970)
While the idea of Ed Begley, Jr. as an environmental activist might have been news to some upon seeing the initial broadcast of “Living With Ed”, he has been an active proponent of sustainable living for most of his adult life. His list of environmental heroes includes Sylvia Earle, Jane Goodall, and Bobby Kennedy, Jr. He cites his “conservative Republican father” as the initial inspiration for his world view.
His father, actor Ed Begley, Sr. was the son of Irish immigrants. He came of age during the Great Depression. Frugality was a necessary approach to managing household resources. Begley, Jr. refers to his father as a “conservative who liked to conserve” and recounts that he carried these values into adulthood, raising his own family to be mindful of their own consumption. As Begley has noted in his books, “this attitude was the substance of what we now call environmentalism.”
The wisdom of conscientious usage speaks to many people seeking to find a saner, more sustainable way to live. “People respond very well to cost effective green choices. I’m well poised to talk about that, since that’s what I’ve been doing since 1970.”
The cost of converting from conventional energy sources is often the first thing people think of instead of the potential savings in both environmental and financial terms that can come from smaller changes. Begley agrees that this is one of the more common reasons that people are reluctant to take measures to be greener. “They think it has to cost a fortune,” he said. “It doesn’t.”
Public figures play a part in inspiring change. Begley is one of many activists who agree that there is a moral obligation to model environmentally responsible behaviour. To him, “seeing someone actually do it, rather than just talk about it,” is part of getting people to understand that this is not only needed but possible.
So you want to live like Ed…
The home improvements demonstrated by Begley and company are on many wish lists and quite rightly so. Are they nice to have? Sure. But they’re not absolutely necessary if you want to reduce your carbon footprint. I asked Ed for the five thing he would like to see everyone do in order to make the world a cleaner, greener place. Here is his wish list:
- energy efficient light-bulbs
- energy saving thermostats
- weather stripping
- bike riding (when weather & fitness permit)
- public transportation (if available near you)
Still think going green is all about gadgets and high-dollar makeovers? Take another look at that list. Living like Ed might be easier than you think.
Inspired to go green and want more information?
You can visit Ed online at: LivingWithEd.net