Posted by Mary Wimberley on 2009-07-29

What's good for the environment can also be good for the pocket book, actor and environmentalist Ed Begley, Jr., told an audience at Samford University Wednesday, July 29.

"More than ever, people want to save money," acknowledged Begley, speaking at the second annual Take Pride Statewide Conference for Litter Prevention.

Begley said he realized as a young adult in 1970 that such practices as riding the bus or a bike could help the environment and save him money at the same time. Other measures followed.

"I did what I could afford, saved money and moved up the ladder," said Begley, who started with a solar panel, then progressed to a solar oven at his California home. Fifteen years later, he could afford solar hot water and a wind turbine.

Carbon negative since 1985, Begley said he bought solar electricity in 1990 as an investment.

"I'm in it for the long run," said Begley, who with his wife stars in the reality show, Living With Ed, which airs on Planet Green network. He also is the author of Living Like Ed.

He said his approach to being environmentally conscious is to "pick the low hanging fruit first."

"Everyone can't afford a hybrid car, but we can all do something," he said, advocating such simple acts as buying energy efficient light bulbs, using window stripping, getting involved in community gardens and turning down thermostats down in winter and up in summer.

A recent home energy audit with a thermal imaging device revealed that his house that he thought was well insulated was actually leaking energy. A simple and cheap improvement cut his already low electric and natural gas bills in half, he said.

Begley cited environmental challenges such as water and air pollution, but said that he is filled with hope that the problems can be fixed.

Although air pollution is bad in U.S. cities, especially Houston, Texas, and Bakersfield and Los Angeles in California, it is far worse in other cities around the world, such as Beijing, Hong Kong and Mexico City.

Much water pollution is caused by manufacturing chemicals that wind up in ground water, as well as herbicides and pesticides, he said, noting that the first Earth Day in 1970 was partly in response to the heavily polluted Cuyahoga River in Ohio catching fire in 1969.

"Rivers are not supposed to burn," said Begley. However, progress is being made, he said.

"We now have four times the cars in Los Angeles, but half the smog we did in 1970. We're headed in the right direction, and there are jobs in making catalytic converters. Business has thrived from making clean air in Los Angeles," said Begley who believes that the charge of "jobs or the environment" is a false one.

"We can have jobs and the environment if we behave in a fiscally responsible manner."

Although ozone depletion is a problem, the ozone hole is smaller now, he said. "And the Cuyahoga River doesn't catch fire any longer."

"Don' let anyone tell you it's too far gone," he said of the environmental situation, warning to get the best information available from reliable sources.

He advises to seek specialists who are trained in eco diversity, such as Samford biology professor Larry Davenport, who is director of Samford's Vulcan Materials Center for Environmental Stewardship and Education. The Center was a sponsor of the conference.

Begley was introduced at the conference by environmental educator Pat Mitchell, better known as Auntie Litter. Mitchell also paid tribute to the late William R. Ireland, Sr., who she called "a friend to Alabama's environment," and an early supporter of the Auntie Litter program.

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.