While you may know Ed Begley Jr. for his long career on television, now he wants you to pay attention to his planet-saving tips that will not break the bank. Long before there was ER or Grey's Anatomy, he starred on a popular hospital show called St. Elsewhere and more recently Better Call Saul, the sequel to Breaking Bad. Begley is widely recognized for his digital programming about sustainability called Begley Living.

Begley, now 70, has been an environmental activist for over 50 years. In addition to creating and starring in the green-centric reality TV series called Living with Ed, he has written Living Like Ed: A Guide to the Eco-Friendly Life (2008) and Ed Begley Jr.'s Guide to Sustainable Living: Learning to Conserve Resources and Manage an Eco-Conscious Life (2009).  He also wrote A Vegan Survival Guide for the Holidays (2014), all available on Amazon.

In an intimate interview on the Awesome Vegans Influencer Series, Begley gives us a private tour of his energy-saving LEED home, shares his tomato soup recipes, and even better, his simple tips for making an impact on climate change on a budget.

The best thing about these eco-friendly tips and inspirational message from the Jolly Green Giant, is how hopeful he sounds, despite having worked as an environmental activist for the past half-century, he believes in the future of our planet.

Elysabeth Alfano: What are some of the tips that you would give to people? 

Ed Begley Jr.: People regularly say to me, they say ‘I can’t afford a Nissan Leaf, like you drive, I can’t afford a fancy leaf platinum home like you have,’ and I say to them, ‘Neither could I when I started.” You don’t run up Mount Everest. You get to base camp and you get acclimated and you climb as high as you can. If you have the stomach for it to go further, then you keep going. But right now, there are lots of things you can do.

Back in 1970, I was a struggling actor. I couldn’t do a lot, but I started recycling. I started composting. I rode my bike. I took public transportation, you know? Becoming a vegan was a big thing. That really was one of the best things I did.

EA: When you go to the grocery store, your dollars do the talking and that is inspiring.

EB: Diet is a big part of it. Cleaning products, you know, use baking soda instead of harsh cleansers, much cheaper. Vinegar and water instead of harsh cleaners, you know, much cheaper. Riding a bike, taking public transportation.

Composting, growing your own food. Light bulbs are cheap, energy-efficient light bulbs are cheap. You make that money back in a month or two. Energy-saving thermostat, cheap. Weatherstripping around your doors and windows, some dimmers if you want to dim your lighting. All those things are very, very cheap. You get money back within a month or two.

EA: Is it true you’re supposed to unplug your appliances when not using them?

EB: Not all of them. Like a lamp, for instance, you don’t have to unplug when it’s not used because there’s no transformer. Anything with a transformer, that little box that has a cord going up to your computer or you know your speaker system for your computer, whatever. Things that plug into the wall but have a transformer, those you want to put on power strips and turn off at night or when you leave the house. That’s called vampire power: like a vampire sucking from you and giving you nothing in return.

It’s also called phantom power. So even if you’re in a college dorm, you want to put all your stuff that has a transformer (on a power strip), you know your cell phone chargers when they’re not charging your cell phone, all those things.  You don’t want to put your clock radio on it. You don’t want to put your microwave on it. You know because you’d have to reset the clock every time. But anything that has a transformer, anything that has a solid-state front end, anything like that, you’d put it on a power strip and turn it off when you leave the house or go to bed.

EA: So we all need a power strip to makes it easy to switch off when you leave?

EB: You would save money instantly.

EA: The east coast has had hurricane after hurricane. California has had horrible fires. There seem to be these environmental extremes that are happening for our planet. Are we close to the end? How are you feeling about the state of the environment today?

EB: I became quite concerned back in the eighties when James Hansen from NASA spoke to Congress and raised the alarm of many people back then in the eighties, 1987, I believe is when it was. So, it’s been quite a while, and bit by bit we’ve seen more and more things that happen that lead us to believe (climate change) is occurring.

It’s very clear that it’s happening, you can go to Miami beach and you can see the sea level rising and there is flooding in the streets and what have you. There’s going to come a point in the next decade or so when you’re going to lose a fair amount of land in Bangladesh in the Marshall Islands, parts of Florida. It’s going to happen more and more over the next decade. That’s unfortunate, but it’s no reason to stop and give up hope.

There’s a lot that we can still save. You may lose some coastal areas in Florida but let’s save, you know, some of the other areas that are not so close to sea level. I’m sure you’re going to have some challenges, even in lower Manhattan. Let’s save Midtown for God’s sake.

EA:  What do you think it’s going take for people to get the message or do you feel that people have gotten the message?

EB: There are a lot of people that have gotten the message. Sadly, there’s a lot of misinformation, people quoting pseudoscience. There’s 97% of the world’s scientists who study climate and have all said it’s not only happening, but it’s happening because of man’s use of CO2. So, we have to do something. They are all quite concerned, and they are raising the alarm.

It’s so interesting that people trust science when they get in an elevator or get on a plane, they totally trust science and then suddenly they go “I don’t believe these scientists.” If you’re going to trust science for God’s sake trust it and listen to what they’re telling you. They’re raising an alarm for good reason because they know what’s happening and they know it’s serious.

EA: So, this is another great reason to feel empowered if you want to go vegan? 

EB: And if you think that you can’t make a change globally or in some large area, let me tell you what’s happened. Since I started with Earth Day in 1970, we had horrible choking smog back in 1970. The fifties and sixties, I grew up in L.A., and we had this horrible smog all those years and from 1970 to date we have four times as many cars, millions of more people, but we have a fraction of the smog. How could that be?

If we just had the same amount of smog but four times the cars and millions of more people we would say “damn we’re good! Look at how we held the line!” No, we’ve gone backward, way backward, because of good technology. Smog controlled devices on cars, combined cycle gas turbines, spray paint boost. All these things that we did, they all worked, and we cleaned up the smog in L.A. It’s been a model for other cities in the nation, so we can do this!

We banned CFCs (Chlorofluorocarbons that are harmful to the ozone) aerosol cans from refrigerators. They said, ‘You wouldn’t be able to buy a refrigerator anymore, you won’t be able to buy an air conditioner.’ You can buy a refrigerator. You can buy an air conditioner. They’re not too expensive. They still are within everybody’s price range. But we’ve solved this problem with CFCs. We greatly reduced the problem with the ozone hole, that’s a global thing that we did.

The Cuyahoga River in Cleveland caught fire in 1969. I don’t know about you, but I think it’s a bad thing when rivers catch fire. The pollution was so bad something was flammable on the river, the river caught fire. That doesn’t happen anymore.  The Great Lakes have been cleaned up! We did that! We all did that together so that we can have a successful, you know, result in some of these things.  You’ve just got to do something and do it now.


EA: Is there something that you’d like to be known for and is this it?

Ed: I’d like to be known for my green work, for my environmental work since 1970 and I suppose I am known for that as much as the acting, possibly even more, and that pleases me.

For the full interview with Elysabeth, click here or to watch more Awesome Vegans Influencer Series, click here. Elysabeth Alfano is a plant-based expert for mainstream media, covering  plant-based health, food, culture, business and environmental news for the general public on radio and TV. Follow her @elysabethalfano on all platforms.

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