Many people will remember Ed Begley Jr. as Dr. Victor Ehrlich in the 1980s medical drama, St. Elsewhere. Begley was part of an all-star cast that including Howie Mandel, William Daniels, Denzel Washington, Mark Harmon, and many others. Fewer people know that Ed Begley Jr. has been a lifelong environmentalist and has pioneered the use of solar and wind power for home use. Last night Begley was the keynote speaker at the annual Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry meeting being held this week in Long Beach, California. He fit in nicely with the SETAC theme this year – innovation and sustainability.
One thing that struck me was that Begley is not some wild-eyed environmentalist screaming for the destruction of the oil companies. His main message was that no one has to bankrupt themselves to be environmental. He says to do what you can afford. In his own life he couldn’t afford solar panels early on so he focused on conservation of energy, avoiding waste, starting to compost. Over the years as he could manage it fiscally – which he could in part because he was saving so much money through wise conservation – he added on a solar water heater (and is now spokesperson for the Cirrex brand), then solar electricity, then invested in a wind turbine. His reminder to all is to be fiscally responsible but understand that not making changes has a cost too. With the use of renewable energy, walking and biking when he can, and driving an electric car for longer distances where mass transit in not available, he discovered a basic truth:
It’s good for the environment and also good for your wallet.
After a wonderfully delivered and very appreciated keynote speech Begley took questions from the packed ballroom. The audience consisted of many industry representatives (including from oil and chemical companies), academics, and other environmental researchers. When asked what role environmental scientists may have played in the shift toward sustainability back in the 1970s and beyond, Begley was adamant:
Environmental scientists are critical for doing the science and communicating it to public.
Without the science there is no way to inspire public opinion and get action. It became clear that Begley is one of those people who doesn’t just preach his views, he lives them. And yet he understands that the transition is a process. We have taken care of the most acute problems like deadly smogs in Los Angeles and burning rivers in Ohio. We did that through identifying the problems and taking action. He acknowledges that we cannot stop oil production tomorrow because we depend on it so much, but that to deal with the realities of man-made climate change we can take steps, work together, and innovate to build a more sustainable energy economy.
We can do what we can do now as long as we keep moving forward.
And moving forward is the key to sustainability. This week at SETAC we will take these thoughts into consideration – innovation and sustainability.
It turns out Ed Begley Jr. was a perfect opening night speaker. Thank you.
David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His next book is on Abraham Lincoln, due out in 2017.