Seven-time Emmy nominee Ed Begley Jr. is much more than an acclaimed actor. You might not immediately know him by name, you’ve definitely seen him on screen if you’ve watched The Office, Ghostbusters, Pineapple Express, or any of the literally hundreds of other films he’s acted in over the years. But there’s much more to Ed than his acting — he’s been an environmentalist since 1970. And he wants you to be one too.
We should care more about our environmental footprint. But can you imagine powering your home entirely with wind and solar, going vegan, and toasting bread with an electricity-generating bicycle?
Well, Ed does all of that — and a slew of other things too.
Recently, we spoke with Ed about what motivates his green lifestyle and how Ed defines success in environmental sustainability. And we finish with how how Ed thinks we can all contribute something to make the world a greener place. Hint: it’s all about getting started today.
theRising: You’ve said that your activism began pretty close to when the first Earth Day happened in 1970. How did that historic day impact your personal trajectory of environmental action?
BEGLEY: It was a call to action for me. They were talking about cleaning up the air and cleaning up the water. I knew we had to clean up the air because I lived in Los Angeles for 20 years and felt the searing pain of smog every day. I knew we had to clean up the water because I’ve been to Santa Monica Bay and saw the pollution there after the rain.
theRising: So it sounds like that first Earth Day was a pretty defining moment for you. Did you start pivoting to this greener lifestyle right away from there?
BEGLEY: Earth Day was important, but it was the days and weeks that followed that were more meaningful to me. I started recycling and composting, became a vegetarian, rode my bike, and took public transportation. I also bought an electric car.
theRising: It sounds like you do everything in your power to make your own lifestyle as green as possible. But beyond that, you’re also affiliated with a handful of environmental organizations. What expectations do you set before deciding to partner with them?
BEGLEY: Most importantly, I try to verify that they’re actually doing things and not just talking about them.
theRising: Some environmental organizations and activists are taking part in strikes around the world. Do you think this a move in the right direction and how have activists motivated your work?
BEGLEY: Coming together as a group in protest is very important. It’s what motivated me in 1970. Seeing what Greta and others are doing today has been a powerful influence to get me to do even more.
theRising: There are a lot of people, organizations, and leaders that are contributing what they can to the environmental sustainability conversation. What impact do you personally hope to have in these conversations?
BEGLEY: I try to emphasize the importance of building and work on three pillars of equal size and strength: personal action, legislative action, and corporate change. You can’t make the changes we need to see if you focus only on personal action, or just changing the laws, or by making corporations do the right thing. You must pursue all three with equal vigor or meaningful change will never occur.
theRising: Sometimes there are metrics we can look at to determine how well we’re doing on sustainability, but it’s not always that cut and dry. How should we judge how successful our efforts are? And what we can we achieve as a society that will make you feel like you’ve achieved your goal as an environmentalist?
BEGLEY: When we are able to turn the tide on climate change, loss of countless plant and animal species and the damage done to millions of people from toxic air and water, I will feel like I have something successful.
theRising: If you could go back in time and change something about your sustainability work that would make it more impactful, what would that be?
BEGLEY: I would’ve practiced telling the truth more vigorously and more often.
theRising: It sounds like your hope is that by living a green lifestyle yourself that more people would be encouraged to do so as well. For someone who wants to make a personal commitment to sustainability today, what should they be doing?
BEGLEY: Definitely start small and build. You don’t just run up Mount Everest; you first get to base camp and you get acclimated to the environment — and some people won’t make it to the top. Not everybody can afford solar panels or some of the elaborate things I have employed in my life. But everybody needs to do what they can. Do something, and do it today.
Do you have questions for Ed? Send them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
You can read more about Ed’s work here. Do you like interviews like this one? Then check out our interview with Tesla’s co-founder and first CEO.