Ed Begley, Jr. on Saving Energy, Saving Money, and Looking Up


Photo credit: Ed Begley, Jr./LOOK UP
Ed Begley, Jr. is a busy guy. Between his show Living with Ed on Planet Green, his other acting gigs -- you've seen him in movies like "Best in Show" and "A Mighty Wind", in guest spots on "Arrested Development," and he's now on CBS' "Gary Unmarried on Wednesdays -- and generating most of his own electricity, growing some of his own food, and bicycling about Los Angeles spreading the green message, it seems like he'd have enough on his plate.

But he's always looking for ways to help fellow greenies save energy and save money, and that's why he's hopping on his bike, starting this morning, and pedaling around Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and New York City. Ed is supporting a campaign called LOOK UP, which encourages howeowners and consumers to do just that -- take a peek at the ceiling -- and realize how much energy and money you can save by using a programmable thermostat and a ceiling fan in tandem; turns out it's up to $500 every year. We caught up with Ed on the eve of the tour, in Chicago, to chat about saving energy, saving money, and why everyone needs to look up.

TreeHugger: Tomorrow morning, you'll start to ride your bicycle around cities like Chicago, Philly, Washington D.C. and New York, in some pretty wintry weather, over Thanksgiving holiday and weekend. What inspired you to do this for Look Up?Ed Begley, Jr.: Well I'm always looking for a way to ride my bicycle -- I love to ride my bike -- and I know these are notoriously cold cities this time of year, but it seemed like a good place to start spreading the message about saving energy and saving money on heating the home. These are five notoriously cold cities, and, in this economy, people are looking for ways to save money, and, or course, save energy, so we're asking everyone to please "Look Up" and see the ceiling fan they might already have; if not, they can look up and see a good site for one. Many people already have a programmable thermostat -- if they don't, I urge them to get one -- and you can save up to $500 a year by using those two wonderful technologies together. So that's what I want to tell people to look up and see the ceiling fan, and look and see the savings that they can accrue.

TH: When people meet you at the Turkey Bowl or see you bicycling along the National Mall or in Central Park later this week, how do you expect them to react, and what do you want them to think?

EB: Well, the bike is a great way to show people about low cost ways to save energy. There's no more energy efficient form of ground transportation that man has ever invented than the bicycle. Y'know, there's lots of expensive technologies like solar panels and hybrid cars and they're all wonderful if you can afford them, but a lot of people can't afford those things.

So, public transportation, bike riding, and, other simple things like using a programmable thermostat and energy-efficient light bulbs are all good ways to do what I'm promoting this week. We want people to go to ChangeHappensinDegrees.org to see other ways to save energy on the cheap.

Hey, Collin, I gotta tell you, that's the way I did it in 1970. I was a struggling actor, I was not well-known, and I had very little money, so I did all of these energy-efficient things on the cheap. There are so many opportunities today for people to do that, to look up and save energy, so that's what I want to talk about on a very low cost way of getting around, which is a bicycle, and that's what I want folks to take away from this campaign.


Image credit: LOOK UP
TH: Thanks to Living with Ed, we've all seen the myriad green actions you've taken in your home, from solar panels and power to a bicycle-powered toaster, and more. Once folks have a programmable thermostat and ceiling fan installed, and working together, as well as the most other common low-hanging fruit like using compact fluorescent light bulbs, what do you recommend they do next?

EB: Well, this is a way to get 'em hooked, if you will, the way I got hooked on doing good things for the environment and saving money. They'll have extra money when they're done with that, and I hope they'll want to move up the ladder to -- let's call it -- some of the medium-ticket items to save more money and more energy.

Maybe they'll want to put in some more insulation in their attic -- there are many utilities around the country that'll partner with you to give you some of that money back for putting insulation. Maybe they'll want to get a solar oven, or a rain barrel to collect rainwater -- just do some of those things that are not really expensive like solar panels but are a bit more expensive than a simple light bulb or thermostat. Weather stripping around the house is another very cost-effective thing to do.

If you do all those cheap things first, we're hoping to get people hooked the way I got hooked in 1970 when I realized I wasn't only saving the environment, I was saving dough! So I stayed with it, and now, many years later, I have financial security because of all the energy efficiency I've done. My utility bills are so super-low, I can live on very, very small amounts of money.


Image credit: LOOK UP
TH: We often talk about how there are no 'silver bullets' or 'quick fixes' to solving the various environmental crises we face, which seems to be something that you embrace in your home, greening it with a terrific combination of conservation, renewable energy, home food production, etc. How do you balance this ethic -- that everything is a juggling act, a balance with lots of gray areas -- with campaigns like Look Up, that are trying to distill actionable items down to something relatively cheap, quick, and easy? Do you worry that campaigns like this will give people the idea that they can just change their thermostat and call it good?

EB: No, I really hope not. I hope people see the challenges before us and see how large they are. Looking up at that mountain -- looking up at Mt. Everest, say -- any reasonable person, I hope, would recognize that you can't run up Mt. Everest. You have to get to base camp and you have to get acclimated. There are different shades of this: you do what you can today.

Hopefully, everybody also knows that not everybody is Sir Edmund Hillary; not everybody can make it to the top. You climb as high as you can, and that's all you can really do. If everybody did something, according to their ability -- financial and otherwise -- I think we really could solve some of these big Mt. Everest-sized problems over time, if everyone does everything within their power.

TH: How do you respond to people who say that actions at the individual level don't make enough difference?

EB: Well I have to say that these actions definitely make a difference. There are so many credible studies and sources of information that are out there, and here's one example. Since the 1970's, energy use per capita around the country has gone up, up, up, like a very well-performing stock. The slope of the graph goes up at a very nice angle, except in California, because we really promoted energy efficiency in very strong ways in the legislature, since the '70's.

So, our energy use per capita has not gone up much at all. The only place in the U.S. that's done better than us, in terms of energy use per capita, is Hawaii, where it never gets that cold or that warm. We've really done very well.

Also, when people say, "Hey, you aren't going to make a difference with this stuff," you can look at how people in L.A. mocked all the stuff we did to clean up the air in the early 1970's. We have four times the number of cars on the road as we did in 1970, yet we have half the smog. We had the Cuyahoga River catching fire outside Cleveland; that doesn't happen any more. The Hudson River was one of the most polluted waterways in the 1960's, and you couldn't eat the fish that swam there; now you can eat the fish, and it's one of the most productive fisheries in the Northeast. The ozone hole was big and getting bigger, and some people reasoned it would be many decades before we turned that around; now, that hole is not the same size, it's smaller. Those are just a few examples of how we can make positive change, but we have to set to it, and everybody has to get on board and do everything within their power, and we have to start today.


Image credit: LOOK UP
TH: We have Bill Nye on the record saying he's "crushing" you -- well, "maybe not quite crushing" you -- when it comes to your friendly green competition. Care to comment on the status? Who's winning these days?

EB: He is doing better than me in several key ways, but, keep in mind, he's only one person. I've got three in my house, running a couple of businesses on site. I'm gonna catch up to him, though; I'm going to redouble my efforts, and, through energy efficiency -- even though I have more people, and a couple of other factors -- I'm gonna keep up with this Nye character.

TH: Last question: you have your own TV show, you've put solar panels on your house, you're going to spend Thanksgiving on your bicycle, spreading the gospel of energy efficiency. What can we expect from Ed Begley next?

EB: My next project, artistically, is a movie I'm doing with Jeremy Irons and Joan Allen about Georgia O'Keefe -- it's a wonderful project. I'm also keeping busy on a show every Wednesday on CBS on a show called "Gary Unmarried" and, I'm constantly out there talking about my good friends at Hunter Fan Co., to make sure that people know about the low-cost ways to not only cool you off in the summer, but help keep you warm in the winter. Many people don't realize you can switch your ceiling fan to the clockwise direction on a low speed to bring the warm air that rises toward the ceiling down where you can use it to keep warm. When you use it with your programmable thermostat, it's a great, great way to save energy and save a bunch of money, too.

Ed Begley, Jr. is an actor and environmentalist, currently appearing on Living with Ed on Planet Green, "Gary Unmarried" on CBS, and on his bicycle across cities in the Northeast for LOOK UP, a campaign to help consumers and homeowners save energy and money by using a programmable thermostat and a ceiling fan. Watch for him in cities in the Northeast over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

For more from Ed on TreeHugger, read our previous interview and listen to him on TreeHugger Radio.

Tags: Appliances | Biking | Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs | Energy Efficiency | Human-Powered | TH Interview

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