Happy Birthday Ed Begley Jr., Thanks for Being My Personal Environment Offset
This post was originally published at smerconish.com
Today marks the 70th birthday of someone who has impacted my life, both inspirationally and reassuringly: Ed Begley Jr. Although we are both in the entertainment industry, I’ve never actually had the pleasure of any direct contact with Ed, though I was told a few years ago, our daughters attended the same high school. My relationship with Ed has always been from afar.
I was first introduced to him in 1982 when he starred as Dr. Victor Ehrlich in the great and often under appreciated series St. Elsewhere. Ed’s ability to play a quirky, funny, seemingly luckless character who could unexpectedly show off an amazing dramatic side earned him numerous Emmy nominations. Often when writing a script, I’d image one of the characters being played by Ed, which would often give the character dimensions I had never imagined.
But his acting ability isn’t what makes Ed special. Ed was the first major celebrity eco-warrior who not only preached about the need to reduce our use and abuse of the environment, but also walked the walk. While others were pontificating about the need to reduce our energy use, Ed was actually doing it; from his first electric vehicle, a Taylor-Dunn, golf cart-like vehicle, to bicycling to meetings whenever he could. He remodeled and altered his own home to lower his carbon footprint, including adding a vertical-axis wind turbine to generate power and replacing his lawn with a drought-tolerant garden composed of native California plants.
From 2007 to 2010 he and his family were featured on the HGTV show “Living With Ed,” in which his single-minded determination to be as good to Planet Earth as he could --- including timing his wife’s showers --- often raised the ire of his family. It was on this series where Ed showed how he could power a toaster by peddling furiously on an electricity-generating bicycle for 15 minutes.
And that is part of the beauty of Ed. While other eco-warriors are overly sanctimonious and serious about what they see as environmentalism, Ed has a sense of humor about his extreme tactics. It’s why he’s played himself on multiple episodes of The Simpsons, as well as other shows, as he is never above being self-deprecating. When I was doing stand-up I always knew that if I was talking about the excesses of modern day society, I could always get a laugh by merely adding the words, Ed Begely, Jr.
He continued to open his life to the public on the web series ‘On Begley Street’ where he built a new family house, and left a friend and fellow environmentalist, Bill Nye, in the dust regarding their competition to have the greenest house possible.
Which brings us to the inspirational and reassuring part of the story. As Ed knew; it’s easier to teach people about being conscious of their impact on the environment, not by preaching, but rather showing and more importantly making us laugh at his attempts.
And that’s where my own guilt comes in, and how Ed was able to save me. For as much as I understand the impact we are all having on our planet, after all, I do have a degree in Environmental Economics, I’m not the most environmentally friendly person there is. Put more succinctly, I like my creature comforts. Which brings us to environmental offsets.
For those unfamiliar with the offsets, it is an attempt to negate the net environmental damage we do with one action, by compensating either with investing in an environmentally positive program or doing better in some other action one takes. Like stealing from Peter to pay Paul.
The usual example of offsets is Al Gore, who buys “carbon offsets” by contributing money to programs such as one that helps fund renewable energy in Tennessee, in order to make up for the fact that his huge mansion is sucking energy much like many of us suck down a Slurpee on a hot summer day. In actuality, according to many experts, buying offsets is merely a way to assuage one’s own guilt over their bad environmental behavior. As Kevin Anderson, deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of Manchester suggested in an article in the journal Nature a few years ago, offsets were "worse than doing nothing."
Be that as it may, I really do feel guilty about my excesses and I don’t have the money that Al Gore has to ease that guilt, so I needed to come up with some other approach. And that is how Ed Begley Jr. becomes even more important in my life, for I have adopted Ed as my own personal offset.
For instance, I’m six foot and three inches tall, and not comfortable in those smaller fuel efficient or electric cars, so I drive a mid-size SUV. But balance that with the knowledge that Ed is tooling around town in a pedal kart. And yes, I know Ed is actually an inch taller than me, but I never said my system was perfect.
And I’m willing to admit, that ever since my youth, I’ve always enjoyed long hot showers, and that I am now able to feel comfortable continuing to do so, because I know that somewhere, Ed is bathing using biodegradable wet naps.
Finally, I don’t function that well when I’m very warm, so my air condition runs more than it probably should, but that’s okay, because Ed, wearing a white seersucker suit, is sitting under one of those slow moving ceiling fans reminiscent of those shown in black & white classic movies made before the invention of air conditioning, while he dabs at his neck with a handkerchief.
So for all that and more, I extend hearty and healthy wishes to Ed Begley Jr. on his 70th birthday and wish him continued good health, as I plan on needing my offset for a long time to come.