Ed Begley Jr.: Big green man

You've seen the polls. Compared with a year or two ago, fewer Americans now think global warming is real.

It's human nature. People don't want to change. People don't want to give up their SUVs. They don't want to turn the thermostat down in the winter and up in the summer. [Deniers] have convinced people there's a lot of controversy. And their big lie is, we'll all go broke if we do this. I haven't gone broke -- I've prospered because of all the energy efficiency I've done. In the years that we cleaned up the air in California, we didn't go broke -- because there's money to be made in clean technology. It's a model for the world.

Your wife is Rachelle Carson. I immediately thought of Rachel Carson, who wrote the seminal environmental book "Silent Spring." Some weird karma?

Her father named her after Rachel Carson because he so admired [Carson]. He was a conservative Republican, like my dad, but he thought it was true that you're going to lose all the birds if you keep putting out poisons.

Until your epiphany, were you just another kid who kept the lights on and wanted to drive a big car?

I was a typical Valley teen, in smoggy Van Nuys. After two decades I was fed up. I'd been a Boy Scout, so I saw nature up close and personal. And my dad was a conservative who liked to conserve, and he turned off the lights and turned off the water and saved string and tinfoil and all that. [I thought] the old man was probably right about a lot of this stuff.

I started recycling, taking the bus. I went to buy an electric car: A guy named Dutch in Reseda; a Taylor-Dunn electric car for $950. When I say electric car, I'm being generous. You're talking about a golf cart with a windshield wiper and a horn.

Critics say Hollywood people talk a good green game but fly in private jets and drive Escalades.

I try not to judge. I love my friends, and I think people are trying to do the best they can, people of every stripe. Focus on what you are doing and try to do more. It's not about being a Luddite and living in a dome in Topanga -- I have friends who do, and I'm proud of them. But I live in the real world. I've got a cellphone and a computer. My No. 1 [transportation] mode is walking, No. 2 is my bike, No. 3 is public transportation, No. 4 is my wife's Prius. I drive to Vegas; I drive to Arizona, I've driven cross-country. But when I cannot do that, I get on a plane and [buy] a carbon offset. It doesn't eliminate pollution, but it puts green electrons into the grid.

When people see you on the bus or the train, do they talk to you?

Some people wave, or come over and whisper: "I don't want to bother you. I thought it was just part of a show. I love that you're actually riding the bus." I thank them for doing it too.

Do you find unexpected support?

In a lot of red states. A lot of them don't believe in global climate change, but they all want to clean up the air in Houston, Bakersfield, L.A.

People come up: "Let me tell you something, Mr. Begley."

I'm going, "Uh-oh."

"I love what you've done. I've got a rain barrel. I tried a gray-water system like you got, and damned if it didn't work."

It's fantastic.

It can get onerous. Finding out, is the food local? Is it organic? Is this or that endangered? People get overwhelmed.

Perhaps it does, if you're trying to do everything. But you look up at Mt. Everest. It's daunting. We do have a Mt. Everest of environmental challenges, but nobody runs up that mountain. You get to base camp, you get acclimated. Not everybody is Sir Edmund Hillary. You climb as high as you can. Focus on recycling at first. Buy an energy-saving light bulb. Home gardening, home composting -- talk about dirt cheap. Just slow down. The environmental crisis is all a result of rushing.

Your daughter Hayden is 10, and her generation's grown up with this awareness.

The poor kid is probably suffering from Stockholm syndrome, identifying with her captors. [But] at her school, kids who are not confined to our bunker in Studio City are [also] very much into all of it.

I don't want you to rat her out, but does she break the rules sometimes?

We'll go to the car wash or roller rink and she'll want those little tiny plastic toys. She does leave the lights on, or the TV on, and leaves the room. We all have our weaknesses.

Ken Burns told me his kids didn't really give him a lot of cred until he was portrayed on "The Simpsons." You've been on twice.

I [also] have two grown kids who are now 31 and 32. I've been in movies with Meryl Streep, Jack Nicholson, but I was on "The Simpsons," and finally, in the eyes of my children, I was a star. I was on again recently. There's an eclipse and I'm driving along in a solar-powered car, and it stops on the railroad tracks. The train's coming, you think I'm going to die, then the train stops just before hitting me. On the side it says: solar-powered train.

This interview was edited and excerpted from a longer taped transcript. An archive of Morrison's interview is online at