Tiny Begley steps

Jolly green nerd
You can’t jump into a sustainable energy, solar-powered, electric car, environmentally friendly lifestyle without taking the small steps to get there, Ed Begley Jr will tell a Louisiana conference this weekend.

After 38 years of taking those small steps, actor and longtime environmentalist Begley has lived that piece of advice.

“What I did in 1970 is all I’m asking people to try,” Begley says.

Begley will share his message of taking the small steps as keynote speaker Saturday at the Louisiana Environmental Action Network annual conference.

Getting started on living in a more environmentally friendly way is easier than ever, Begley will say. A person can start by doing something as simple as changing light bulbs from conventional to the more energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs.

When he started on the path of living more simply and more sustainably, Begley says, he was poor and it just made sense to consume less because it saved money.


Begley says he was given the foundation for more frugal living from his conservative Republican father, who, instead of throwing things away, recycled them into new uses and emphasized living with as little waste as possible.

“He’d lived through the Depression, so he learned to live simply,” Begley recalls.

Then, starting in the 1970s, Begley decided to ride his bike as a means of transportation in Los Angeles. That was harder than it sounds because those were the years before the Clean Air Act helped address some of the major pollution problems in the city.

“To ride around in the smog in the 1970s, that was hard,” he said. “Back in the 1970s, you had to be dedicated (to ride).”

Each small step he took – from investing in an early version of an electric car to finally getting solar power for his home – all took time.

“It took me 20 years to afford solar electric,” Begley says. “You don’t run up Mount Everest. You’ve got to get to the base camp, get acclimated and then continue on.”

And not everyone is going to make it all the way to the top, but the journey starts with just a few steps.

“Doing what you can within your means,” Begley will tell them. “Put one foot in front of the other.”

For many years, he was seen as strange or un-Hollywood because of his pro-environmental thinking and actions.

However, that has changed, especially in the last four or five years, he said.

Begley said he started seeing a greater interest from people in how they could live in a more environmentally friendly way. Al Gore drew people’s attention with his film on climate change, and then there was Hurricane Katrina, Begley said.

He said he isn’t linking Hurricane Katrina to climate change, but the storm did draw attention to the issues of what climate change has the potential to bring. “It certainly gave us a snapshot of what that would look like,” Begley said. “It got people’s attention.”

Begley said the biggest bang for the buck people can get right now is to do an energy assessment of their home or apartment.

Back in January, he was approached by members of a group who asked if they could do an energy assessment of his home. Jokingly, Begley said, he told them he assumed they would use his house as an example of how energy efficient a home can be since he’s spent years working on his home to make it more energy-efficient.

To his surprise, they said his house was “OK,” but on an efficiency per-square-foot basis, the news wasn’t good. Then they showed him where it could be improved.

“My energy-efficient home got twice as efficient in February because of a proper energy assessment on my house,” he said.

Providing assistance to people to be able to do similar assessments on their homes could go a long way to saving energy, which reduces the need to produce more energy.

“If you help people get that home energy assessment they’ll know what’s up, and they can make decisions,” Begley said.

Maybe if someone decides to put in weather stripping as a start, or if they’re remodeling their home anyway, maybe they’ll invest in double-paned windows, he said.

In addition to individual action, there is a parallel track that Begley pursues, and that is government action to help regulate and move along environmental protection.

“That’s how air got cleaner in L.A.,” Begley said. “The Clean Air Act, signed by that radical Richard Nixon.”

Looking back at comments made at the time of the Clean Air Act’s passage, people said the regulations would bankrupt companies, people and that businesses would move out of the state and it would mean economic ruin for California, he said.

“No one went broke during those years,” Begley said.

Instead, the regulations meant that new businesses and jobs formed as industries developed technology needed to comply with the Clean Air Act, he said.

And he said there was another benefit: the new law even attracted businesses to the state.

“Businesses like to breathe clean air, too,” Begley said. “They want their children to breathe clean air.”

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