DL: What was the most important thing that happened in 2007?
EB: Al Gore's movie, An Inconvenient Truth, got a lot of people's attention. Global climate change wasn't a page-one story; people weren't listening. Now it's the cover of Time and Newsweek. There are very few people left who think it's a hoax.
DL: What's your biggest goal for 2008?
EB: To further demonstrate that people at any income level can do something that will benefit the environment—and their pocketbooks.
DL: You've been doing this since 1970. Your home in Los Angeles is solar-powered; you drive an electric car; you even make toast by riding a stationary bike hooked up to a battery. It's incredibly inspiring, but also a tiny bit intimidating. Where do the rest of us start?
EB: I'm not saying everyone should go out and buy solar panels. Pick the "low-hanging fruit" first. Buy a compact fluorescent bulb. Take public transportation, if it's available near you. Ride a bike—at least part of the time—weather, distance, and fitness permitting. Get an energy-saving thermostat. If you have a patch of dirt in your yard, grow vegetables. If you're in an apartment, join a community garden. And if there's no community garden, start one!
You don't run up Mount Everest. You take one step at a time, get to base camp, and get acclimatized. And not everyone can make the summit. You climb as high as you can and you get a big congratulations, wherever that is.
Even if you don’t believe climate change is real, or that man has any impact on it, by taking steps to mitigate its effects, you’re going to accomplish other things. You’re going to clean up the air in cities like Houston and Bakersfield that don’t attain the Federal Clean Air standard. We have four times the amount of cars in LA since 1970, yet we have half the ozone.
You’re going to lessen your dependence on Mideast oil, which I think is a very good idea for our nation’s security now. Fifteen of the 19 [September 11] hijackers had Saudi passports. Where did that money come from that funded people flying planes into buildings? It came from oil. Why would you want to fund that?
DL: Is environmentalism a partisan issue?
EB: I’m very proud of the fact that about 40 percent of the emails I get from Living with Ed viewers are from wonderful red-state conservative Republicans like my dear father, who like to conserve. They say, “I may not always agree with you, Mr. Begley, but where do I get one of those rain collection barrels?” I love that.
Like so many things, it comes down to economics. Everything I’ve done [to conserve natural resources] over the past 35 years has been very good for my pocketbook, in terms of keeping my expenses down.
DL: What do you value most?
EB: Remember that old bumper sticker: “He who dies with the most toys wins”? Well, I’ve never seen a hearse with a luggage rack on top. I don’t know what this acquisition of more and more stuff ultimately means. If stuff made you happy, there would be nothing but happy people living in Bel Air and nothing but unhappy people living in villages in Fiji. But it’s just not true. I’ve been in those villages in Fiji and the people are very happy.
I really like my solar panels and my electric car, but ultimately they’re just more things. What’s more important is being with my family and friends, or spending time up in the Santa Monica Mountains. That’s the real quality of life for me.