Long before the movie An Inconvenient Truth educated the world about global warming, and long before it was cool to be green, Ed Begley Jr. was walking the talk. Back in 1970, before most of us understood that our very survival depends on our protecting and preserving the planet, Ed was recycling his garbage, driving his first electric vehicle, and eating vegan. And he was only 21 years old!
Ed inherited his acting genes from his father, Academy Award winner Ed Begley Sr., and though he has appeared in many films and TV shows, he is probably most affectionately remembered for his role as Dr. Victor Ehrlich on the TV medical drama, St. Elsewhere.
The show, which ran from 1982 – 1988, dealt with life and death issues and was a precursor to the likes of ER and Chicago Hope. Here’s a bit of trivia – How many of you remember that in addition to Ed there were three other young actors – Mark Harmon, Howie Mandel and yes, Denzel Washington – who appeared on all 137 episodes of St. Elsewhere, which really jump started their careers?
While acting is in Ed’s blood, environmental activism is what makes his heart tick. But doing things like speaking out about the horrible air quality in Los Angeles and riding to various Hollywood events, including the Academy Awards, on a bicycle got him labeled as a kook, and he believes adversely affected the acting roles he was offered.
Today things are quite the opposite and Ed is recognized as a leader in the eco-movement. People like Leonardo DiCaprio have acknowledged him by saying, “Ed Begley Jr. was one of the first people in Hollywood to start talking about the need to protect our environment. He has worked tirelessly to bring environmental awareness to the masses. He is a true green pioneer.”
Environmental lawyer and long-time friend, Bobby Kennedy, Jr. said “Ed has a greater sense of social obligation than anyone I know. He’s like a West Coast cadet who gets up every morning and says ‘reporting for duty.’”
Take a look at this great segment the CBS Sunday Morning show did on Ed.
When I asked Ed what he was most passionate about he said, “Living within our means. That may seem like dry subject matter, but it is rich fertile territory to me, because so few of us are doing it. Most of us are mortgaging our children’s future so we can be comfortable today and that kind of theft brings up great passion in me. It’s taken millions of years to create fossil fuels, which is simply solar power stored in the form of crude oil and coal and we are blowing through it in 250 years. It’s so short sighted.”
Living within our means. That may seem like dry subject matter, but it is rich fertile territory to me, because so few of us are doing it. Most of us are mortgaging our children’s future so we can be comfortable today and that kind of theft brings up great passion in me. It’s taken millions of years to create fossil fuels, which is simply solar power stored in the form of crude oil and coal and we are blowing through it in 250 years. It’s so short sighted.”
Ed devotes time to different organizations like the Environmental Media Association, Tree People, Friends of the Earth, and the Walden Woods Project, which was founded by musician Don Henley. He also supports the Coalition for Clean Air, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and many others.
LIFE LESSON: Get involved with organizations and causes that you believe in. Don’t wait for other people or the government to fix things or corporations to regulate themselves. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Vote with your dollars.
It wasn’t surprising when Ed told me he was greatly influenced by naturalist Henry David Thoreau. “He showed us that a great deal of joy and fulfillment could be derived from nature. When it’s all about commerce and liquidation, then it becomes about survival. You can live in survival mode, or you can live a full and rich life where you are a part of nature and not separate from it.”
One way of connecting with the earth is to plant a small vegetable garden in your backyard. You don’t have to have a “green thumb,” no pun intended. My husband, Steven and I definitely don’t, but I remember how excited we were when we saw our first crop of watermelons and broccoli and when we picked a bountiful harvest of plums from our one plum tree. No store-bought produce ever tasted as good.
Here’s a clip from an episode of Living With Ed that shows the typical banter that goes on between eco-devotee Ed and Rachelle Carson, his less zealous, eco-resistant wife of 14 years who suffers due to her husband’s uncompromising beliefs. This good-natured bickering made the show such a hit that not only entertains, but educates.
When I asked Ed why so many people are reluctant to make changes in their lifestyle even though the planet is facing a crisis that may permanently alter life as we know, this is what he had to say.
“It is human nature to stay with what we think works. It’s a version of hoarding nuts for the winter, always taking the same path. Fear of the unknown is great and we think we’re going to perish. But we also have a wonderful brain and the intellectual ability to recognize that while the brain is saying we shouldn’t change, it makes sense to look at the facts that might dictate the need to make some radical changes in order to have a better chance for success. Staying the course may not be a good idea. It’s hard, but we’ve done it before with the computer age. The space program was also a radical decision. Now we need to make some radical changes about how we get our energy that will be for our good.”
LIFE LESSON: As we enjoy the last few days of 2010 and get ready to enter into 2011, let’s re-evaluate the way we think about success. Years of excessive consumption, unsustainable growth and a sense of entitlement have led to the inevitable – record unemployment, foreclosures and bankruptcies, spiraling out-of-control health-care costs and a sense of hopelessness. It’s time to come up with a new definition of what a successful life looks like that focuses on the things that really matter.
Here are Ed’s words of wisdom.
“We’re learning lessons now about our excesses and our emphasis on consumerism and trying to get satisfaction from more and more stuff. I believe that like an alcoholic, we will bottom out and have a belly full of it. Many people around America have joined the “Voluntary Simplicity Movement,” because they’ve ceased to get satisfaction from their second home, their fourth car, or ninth DVD player. It’s not getting them high anymore. They find their lives filled with more turmoil and less time with their families and more time on the interstate going back and forth trying to do what? Get more stuff! If stuff made you happy, there would be nothing but happy people living in Bel Air and unhappy people living in the bush.
“For me, luxury is being able to travel and do what you want, whenever you want. Some people think it’s about having a really big house, that’s just not my definition. By Hollywood standards, it’s like, ‘Wow, what happened to Ed? He’s in this tiny house.’ By world standards, this is a palace.”
To read the full interview I did with Ed for Luxury Las Vegas magazine, check out Up Close and Personal with Ed Begley Jr.