Maybe you remember him from the 80's TV show St. Elsewhere, but chances are Ed Begley Jr.'s floppy California charm has infiltrated your consciousness as "that environmentalist actor guy." He's no greeny-come-lately. Begley started driving an electric car in the 1970s and was using solar power long before it was vaguely chic, much less tax deductible.
Now he's espousing the green way through a reality show on HGTV, "Living with Ed."
In its second season, it follows his struggles with his less stringently eco wife Rachelle over things like a gigantic red rain barrel. He puts up solar Christmas lights, "audits" his celebrity friends' homes for their green factor, and rides a bike to power his toaster. And now he's spreading the message further with a book out in February 2008, "Living Like Ed: A Guide to the Eco-Friendly Life."
Begley recently chatted with Beliefnet
from his Los Angeles home about the importance of silence, not rushing into tranquility, and how we can all be gentler on the earth without roughing up our wallets.
Listen to Ed Begley, Jr.:
Center Yourself in Worthy Efforts
You Can't Plan for Everything
Driving Can Be Meditative
What a Bumper Sticker Teaches Us
'We Need to Stop Spinning'
What was the first moment you recall wanting to do something for the environment?
t was 1970. It was the first Earth Day
and I wanted to get involved. Everything about itseemed right immediately.
Was there some particular moment that you remember on that day?
Well, there were things that led up to it. I was in Cub Scouts and then Boy Scouts—scouting was the good influence. The bad influence was living in smoggy L.A. And finally by 1970, I'd had a bellyful of growing up in the '50s and '60s in smoggy L.A. I bought my first electric car. I started recycling. I started composting, buying all biodegradable soaps and detergents and changed my diet. I became a vegetarian.
How has this show shifted your ability to reach people?
The show came at a good time, with all this interest in environmental matters. I notice now that people write and they really want to do something. Half of the mail that I get at EdBegley.com is from Red State Republicans and that's great. I'm very happy with that.
They say, "Oh, I may not always agree with you politically, mister. I'm a Republican, but I want to get a rain barrel like you got. I want to get a recycled glass counter top or solar panel." So, that's good news.
I saw you speak at a conference recently, and you said it was important to have silence and be still to be a good activist.
Yeah, I think that's really important. We run around so much—with the best intentions: I want to save the rain forest. I've gotta clean up the oceans. I've gotta save the dolphins. All worthy efforts, but if you're not centered and you don't have the serenity in your life you need to accomplish that task, you're not going to do a very good job.
Why is that?
You'll be so scattered. If you rush too much, you can't accomplish your goal.A friend of mine, Dick Stahl, in the late '60s, early '70s, he decided to investigate Eastern religions and arranged to go to the Temple of Tranquility, very far away, near Bali. It was a complicated trip. But he's very Type A personality. He had everything organized. He had a flight from L.A. to Hawaii, from Hawaii to the Philippines, from there he had a merchant marine vessel. He'd gotten a good price on getting from there to Indonesia. And from there to Bali.
Well, the first flight from L.A. was late. And he got there just as they were closing the jetway to the connecting flight to the Philippines. When he finally landed from the next flight, he just missed the merchant marine vessel. He couldn't get another one for a week. And then he was stuck in Indonesia and it was monsoon season. He had to take a sand pan to this little dock. He ran from this little boat to get in a rickshaw and he actually said to the driver, "The Temple of Tranquility and step on it!" And that's what we do sometimes.We can kind of lose our mind, with the best of intentions, trying to do something very worthy—try to get to the Temple of Tranquility and step on it.
How do you stay centered?
I just try to find some quiet time. One of the regular intervals of meditation
in my life, believe it or not, is in my car. I had to be in Florida in June for an environmental conference, and Washington, D.C., for another environmental event, and then home. I drove there in my wife's Prius. I have a lot of drives like that. It's a real elixir. I watch the countryside pass me by—it's just beautiful. It's another form of meditation.
Do you have other spiritual practices?
I try to find some serenity in my life in every way. I'm much better the older I get at letting things go—realizing what's important and what is not. I've gotten better at that.
Continued on page 2: 'My wife cares about the environment a lot—she just wants things to look better...' »