Ed Begley, daughter urge crowd to take action on climate change

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There must be many TV viewers who sense that they grew up with actor Ed Begley Jr., who appeared in “Maude,” “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” “Room 222” and other shows before landing his best-known role alongside the likes of young Denzel Washington and Howie Mandel on “St. Elsewhere.”

But Sonoma County newcomer Amanda Begley really did grow up with him.

“He just seemed unusual and odd,” she said of her dad, affectionately. As she spoke on a couch at the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, her father, distinguished in real life by his extreme — to the point of comical — devotion to living simply for the sake of the Earth, sat right next her.

Now 41, Amanda Begley recalled the day in her native Los Angeles that her dad loaded her and several of her junior-high girlfriends into his cart-like electric car for a drive to the movies. When the plug-in vehicle began to groan, Ed Begley turned to the girls and barked, “How much do you weigh?”

He had his mortified teen daughter wondering if he’d identify her heaviest friend and order her out of the clean and efficient but gutless car.

The actor, who’s now 69 and busy with the ABC sitcom “Bless This Mess,” was in Sonoma County last week for a speaking engagement at the Schulz Museum with supporters of the Center for Climate Protection. His appearance was arranged by his daughter, who has worked all her life for the environment and now is on the staff of the center dedicated to helping reverse global warming.

Glancing at the eldest of his three children, Ed Begley said, “My greatest accomplishment is right here. She puts me to shame with her activism.

“She always got it.”

Amanda Begley, who moved to Sonoma County 15 months ago and is engaged to builder Ben Vallente of Sebastopol, said she’s encouraged that today “young people get it in a way that I have never heard people my age get it.”

Her job at the Santa Rosa-based Center for Climate Protection involves working with high school students eager to help reduce humans’ reliance on fossil fuels. She finds that many young people believe, as she does, that climate cataclysm is not inevitable if people make simple changes, such as traveling more by bike or public transportation to school and switching to a more plant-based diet.

“It’s not complicated,” she said. “We know what to do. The solutions are ready to go and they will make our lives better.”

Amanda Begley was born at Los Angeles’ Cedars-Sinai hospital in 1977 to Ingrid Taylor Begley and the then 28-year-old actor who’d starred a short time before in the made-for-TV horror film “Dead of Night.”

Even then, Ed Begley Jr. was a veteran environmentalist and pioneer composter, recycler, vegetarian, electric-car driver and shunner of modern, power-sucking conveniences.

In remarks before and during his talk to Center for Climate Protection boosters, he traced his conversion to his disgust at how bad the smog was in San Fernando Valley, where spent a chunk of his childhood with his parents, Allene Sanders and Oscar-winning actor Ed Begley Sr.

The elder Begley one day heard his son gripe about the air pollution and challenged him to do something positive about it. Begley Jr. seized the first Earth Day in 1970 as a call to change how he lived.

Soon the aspiring actor was cooking in a solar oven, taking his own bags to the grocery store, capturing rainwater, turning off lights, commuting by bike, mixing his own biodegradable household cleanser, eschewing meat and growing vegetables. He talked to the crowd at the Schulz Museum about taking future “Laverne & Shirley” star Cindy Williams on an ill-fated date in his little Taylor-Dunn electric car.

As his career ascended and his income improved, he installed a solar water heater at home, and then a bank of solar panels and a wind turbine project. Videos show him making toast in a toaster powered by a stationary bike.

He’s aware that he became so adamant about a low-impact lifestyle that some people in the entertainment industry and media perceived that he’d gone too far.

“I think I gave people the willies,” he said. Though he never felt blacklisted by the TV networks and moviemakers, he’s sure his environmental ardor — remember when he donned a tux and cycled to the Academy Awards ceremony in the rain? — caused directors to fear he might flip out over a scene involving gasoline engines or meat.

Begley Jr.’s sparse, extremely un-Hollywood-like lifestyle has drawn a fair bit of derision. He’s savored most of it, especially the episode of “The Simpsons” two decades ago in which he appeared to declare, “I prefer a vehicle that doesn’t hurt Mother Earth. It’s a go-cart powered by my own sense of self-satisfaction.”

In fact, Amanda Begley observed, “The Simpsons made fun of him three times.” Her dad said he was deeply honored.

The two Begleys share a tempered optimism that, just as clean-air initiatives have reduced the smog in Los Angeles, changes in human behavior can avert massive consequences of climate change.

“I’m not delusional,” Begley Jr. said. “I don’t think we’re going to save all the species that need saving. But I do think there’s a lot to be saved, if we act now.”

The actor-environmentalist is resolute that the three keys to halting climate change that inevitably will inundate some low-lying coastal areas are personal action, responsible legislation and corporate responsibility.

Already, he said, much has been lost to man-caused atmospheric warming and it’s too late to prevent additional losses. But, said the proud father of the Center for Climate Protection’s student outreach coordinator, “We have to save what’s left.

“We can do this.”

You can reach Staff Writer Chris Smith at 707-521-5211 or chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.

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