Raphael Sbarge and Ed Begley Jr. chat about ‘On Begley Street’
Raphael Sbarge: Hey, Ed, are you there?
Ed Begley Jr.: I’m right here, Raphael.
Raphael: Hey, Ed. So, thanks so much for doing this. I’ve done some of these audioblogs as sort of an extension of some of the other stuff I’ve done, and they’ve just sort of been conversations with friends, and I had the thought that it might be a fun thing to do for both of us, and for people to kind of hear you talk about some of the things that you’ve been doing – and in full disclosure, some of the things that we’re actually doing together. That is, that we’re working on as projects. But, I wrote down some questions, sort of as a template, trying to be kind of objective as it were to ask you questions. Thinking of what people might want to know – but I’ll chime in along the way, if that’s OK with you.
Ed: That’s wonderful. That’d be great, Raphael.
Raphael: OK, perfect. So, just sort of starting with: So many people know who you are. But if someone essentially has been on Mars, could you speak just for a second about the background of your work, how you came to be associated with environmental issues, and kind of when it started?
Ed: It started for me in 1970. I started with the first Earth Day, and the reason I started was I had lived, at that point, 20 years in smoggy L.A., and I was kind of fed up. I wanted to do something to make a change. So I started recycling, composting, and changed my diet, and did everything I could to be more environmentally conscious. I even bought an electric car in 1970.
Ed: As I knew that cars were part of the smog in L.A. So I bought an electric car and drove that around back in 1970, believe it or not.
Raphael: I didn’t even know that they were available in 1970; that’s incredible.
Ed: Yeah. There were many electric cars since 1910 or so; Henry Ford’s wife preferred her Baker Electric to his noisy contraption, so she drove that around. I couldn’t afford one of those fancy cars; I bought a Taylor-Dunn electric car for $950. And it was simply cheaper to plug it in the wall and drive any given distance than it was to buy 1970 gasoline, same way it is today in 2012. It’s cheaper to go any amount of miles in an electric car today, than it is to buy that same amount of gasoline. And they’re pretty cheap to maintain; there’s no tune-up or oil change, or fan belt or radiator flush, or smog check or valve job. They’re very inexpensive cars to operate, too.
Raphael: That’s amazing. And then, how did you sort of find yourself moving into being so synonymous with the environmental movement? How did that happen?
Ed: You know, the truth is, I did the simple things. I continued those things like recycling, and cutting down my energy use, and bike riding and bus riding, public transportation. I did that for many years, but it wasn’t until the 20-year anniversary of Earth Day, in 1990, that I went, “I’m going to redouble my efforts.” We had just had the Exxon Valdez spill, and a lot of people were becoming more aware in 1990. People were starting to talk about climate change then; ozone depletion was known to us in 1987. So a lot of people went, “I’m going to redouble my efforts,” and I was one of those people that went, “I’ve been recycling all these years, I had an electric car back when. What if I got another electric car in 1990? Oh! I could buy one for $1,750?” It was a used car, as was the Taylor-Dunn in 1970, but it was great! I was driving around L.A. in 1990 in this electric car that was very inexpensive to operate again. And riding my bike was good; I gave up my gym membership because I was riding everywhere, and I put in solar electric – solar hot water, I’d had since 1985 — but I did another system on this house I live in now, solar hot water and solar electric. I put in a big vegetable garden, which I’d always had since the ’70s, and I started capturing rain water, and cooking meals in the solar oven. I just did every single thing I could in 1990, and I was really surprised that nearly everything I did, with the exception of the solar electric, gave me a very quick payback. That is to say I was saving money right away on all the things, except the long-term payback of solar electric, which I now have gotten my money back and then some. That took a while because when I put in the solar system in 1990, not only was it expensive back then, but there were no tax credits or anything like that. No net metering, no tax credit. So it was a whole different kind of solar setup so it was real pioneer time. But I own that system now, as I have since 1990; it’s 22 years later, it’s working great. There are many things that people can do, from the simple things like light bulbs and thermostat and weather stripping – that’s the way I started, cheap and easy stuff – to the big-ticket items, like solar, if you save enough money over the years from the small stuff.
Raphael: That’s so great. Is your daughter, Hayden – who’s, she’s 11, or 12?
Ed: She’s 12 and a half now.
Raphael: She’s 12. Oh, wow. Do you see, generationally, just that the conversation has changed? I mean, not just because she’s your daughter, but amongst the younger people, her friends and stuff?
Ed: Yeah, people her age get it, because there’s no getting away from a lot of the problems. There’s a gyre in the Pacific – there’s actually five different gyres of plastic out there, in different waters, around the world. There’s real problems that many scientists – nearly all of them, actually – agree on climate change. So there are real problems out there. There’s still problems with air pollution, but we’ve shown with Los Angeles air and other areas of the United States that we can do it. The air’s not dirtier from 1970, when we started with all of this. It’s cleaner, even though we have four times the cars and millions more people in L.A., the air is much cleaner than it is in 1970, because of catalytic converters and combined psycho gas turbines, and cleaning up power plants and spray paint booths, instead of letting those DOCs go into the L.A. air. All those things worked – and we still have smog. I’m not saying we don’t, Raphael, but it’s much less. Indeed, we’ve done a good job, when you think four times the cars, millions more people. If we had the same amount of smog, we’d go, “Damn, we’re good.” But we don’t – we have much less smog than in 1970, and anybody who’s lived here that long will tell you that’s the case, it’s better.
Raphael: That’s really encouraging.
Ed: My friend Tom who’s here, a solar wizard, he knows, too. He was in the Valley back then, too, and he remembers the way it was. And it’s better, not worse.
Raphael: Wow. So, tell me about On Begley Street, how it came about, and I guess sort of what you’re thinking, what you’re hoping to achieve with it.
Ed: Well we had a show for a few years called Living With Ed – my wife and I did, it was her idea, and her friend, Joe Brutsman. They dragged me into it begrudgingly, because I’ve had green shows before, and they were kind of dry and factual, I suppose, but didn’t engage a lot of people. But with Rachelle as the every woman/every man kind of person who took the ride with me, she showed what it was like living with a guy who was willing to ride a bike to make toast, and all that stuff. And it was humorous, and engaging, and so rather than just facts, there was some entertainment value. And that show was successful. Well that show ran its course on Home & Garden and Planet Green, and now we’re doing a new project. We’re building a LEED Platinum home a mile east of where we are now, and so because of that, we wanted to document that. Because we showed with Living With Ed what you could do with an existing home – the home I’m talking to you from right now, a 1936, energy-inefficient home – how efficient you can make a home like that, shown that. Now: What can you do with new construction? And that’s what we want to show with On Begley Street, and my dear friend, who I’m speaking to, Raphael Sbarge, is key to making that happen. He and my friends at Make It Happen Productions have been documenting this, from the recycling of the house that was on-site to begin with; Habitat for Humanity taking all that stuff; and other, different entities taking all those materials and recycling them, to the construction, putting in the rain water tanks, which is going to happen in a few weeks, a 10,000-gallon rain water tank. All the many things we’re going to do with the property – we’re documenting that with the new show, On Begley Street.
Raphael: That’s great. And I know that you didn’t really want to … you didn’t want to buy a house.
Ed: Oh, no.
Raphael: Was there something that changed your mind? How did you finally make that turn?
Ed: I told Rachelle from when we started dating in ’93, and certainly reaffirmed it in the year 2000, when we were wed, I said I will never move from this house. Ever, ever. Read my lips, carved in stone, and then finally, after 18 years, she finally wore me down, I guess. Because what she said was, “Look. We’ve got a soon-to-be teenage daughter, we can’t all share the same bathroom. We’re going to have to do an add-on or something. What do you want to do?” We looked at that. The house – we could have done it here, at this property. The house would have been out of scale with the neighborhood: A big house, on a small lot. It would have been weird. So she said, “What if I can find another property, within the price range and you’ll have more solar on your rooftop, bigger rainwater tank, more vegetable garden, and I’ll have some more closet space and a separate bathroom. So what about that, mister?” And I finally said, “If you can find that for this price, good luck. She won’t. Go do it, honey.” And within a week, she had found just such a place. So, now she’s gotta take yes for an answer and go forward with this, and here we go. We’re on a real adventure.
Raphael: That’s great. In terms of – I know that you’ve launched this Kickstarter campaign, and we all have launched this Kickstarter campaign, and it’s about to come to its end. It’s been very well received – have you discovered anything doing it? Is there anything that’s surprised you about having done that campaign? Have you found people as a result of having done it?
Ed: Yeah – it was the last thing I wanted to do, to have my hand out and ask people for many, certainly my fan base. But my friends at Make It Happen Productions said, “Well, look, this isn’t money that you’re asking for. It’s not for you. It’s for publicizing the show, for the production of the show itself. It’s nothing that would go to salaries for us or to you. So you’re not going to get your hands on any of this money, don’t worry about it.” So the idea was to use this Kickstarter fund to promote sustainability, to promote this show about sustainability, and so when I really understood the facts about it, I said, fine. Let’s go out and do just that. And so we had a successful Kickstarter campaign; the goal was $25,000 and we’ve met and exceeded that goal.
Raphael: And then, I know there’s been, now, sort of discuss the partnership with Green Wish. Do you want to talk about that for a second, as it relates to the money and the show?
Ed: Well, that’s the great thing about what we can do with On Begley Street; we have this wonderful charitable organization set up called Green Wish, which is something that is your baby, Raphael, and thank you for coming up with that. And the idea of Green Wish is to give money to local charities, in our case, North East Trees and different entities that are close to us in the L.A. area. We’ve helped a lot of people – Santa Monica Baykeeper, I think Heal the Bay; there’s many people that we’ve helped, the Alcalita Foundation, the deals for that, plastic pollution out there in the ocean. The idea is to keep it local; the national groups are great, and I will continue to support them. But with our local money at different hardware stores and grocery stores, when people see that Green Wish card, they want to give $1, $3, $5. As you can with some of those cards that help give people food, it’s the same kind of a thing for the environment, and then they will all go to local organizations, not big national ones. So that’s the nice thing, and so Green Wish is in partnership with On Begley Street, to promote that kind of charitable giving within our area.
Raphael: And just to jump in on that, and just sort of dovetail, which is to say Green Wish is essentially an organization that is essentially a nonprofit that raises money for other nonprofits. And it’s earth, air, water, sustainability education, in this case, what I guess Make It Happen and my partners there, as well as also, I know both of you have agreed to, as the show goes forward, profits from the show, a portion of the profits will go back to these local charities. So not only is it a show about sustainability and about sort of having a different way of building, but it’s also going to be doing good as it does so. So we’re all proud of that fact.
Ed: You should be proud. It’s your baby, Raphael, and I’m so glad to be aligned with you on that. It’s again, something that Rachelle came to me about, as she did the original show. I’d love to take credit for it, I can not. It’s her idea to work with you on this; it’s your idea originally, you came up with this Green Wish plan, and it’s a great plan, and I’m proud to be part of it.
Raphael: Thank you, so much. I just have one last question, then, essentially, which is just: You know, people who are faced with what seems to be a constant stream of bad news about the environment: How do they keep from getting overwhelmed, or just having environmental apathy due to how big the problem is? I mean, what are the things to be hopeful about as relate to the environment, so that we can keep up the fight?
Ed: Well, we should be hopeful. There’s certainly some big-ticket items that are quite alarming, like climate change, the amount of plastic in the oceans, the loss of coral reefs and amphibians dying off and bee populations crashing. There’s a lot to be concerned about. But I think we’re going to win on several fronts, because we have already. The air, as I said, in L.A. from 1970 to date is not dirtier, it’s cleaner. Even with millions more people and four times the cars. The Cuyahoga River that caught fire in 1970, not only does it not catch fire anymore, it’s been cleaned up to a large, large extent, that river outside Cleveland. The Hudson River was so polluted you couldn’t even eat the fish in the ’60s and ’70s and ’80s, and now it’s been cleaned up to a large, large extent. It’s one of the most productive fisheries in the northeast. So, we can do this. Ozone hole is not the same size as it was in ’87; it’s not bigger, as everybody predicted at this point, it is smaller. We’re winning on several fronts, so we have to duplicate those efforts, continue to do things that work, technologies that work, and behaviors that work, and prove that we can have a productive society. But we just have to do it more efficiently.
Raphael: That’s great. Ed, thank you so much for your time; I so appreciate it. And thanks for all the things you do, and I’m excited about what we’re going ahead to do and what’s ahead. But wat a joy, and a privilege to be working with you, so thank you so much.
Ed: Thank you, Raphael, thanks so much. It’s a joy and privilege to work with you.
Raphael: Thank you again, Ed, I’ll talk to you soon.
Ed: Talk to you soon.