More Than Money
Issue #27

Lifestyles of the Rich and Simple

Table of Contents

“The Gift of Time”

An Interview with Ed Begley, Jr.

MTM: What is your own relationship to wealth and simplicity?
BEGLEY: When I first bought my house back in the 1980s, during a string of particularly successful acting roles, people used to say to me, "What are you doing in this tiny little house? You're making all this money. It looks wrong for a guy of your stature to be in such a little house."

But buying that small house was the smartest thing I've done in my career, because I haven't had to take scripts of lesser quality. I don't have to do a stupid commercial to pay the rent. Because I take on fewer acting jobs, I have no business manager -I do it all myself on Quicken. This one choice has enabled a simplicity in all other aspects of my life. I grow food in my back yard. I get 95 percent of my electricity from my solar panels. Most of my hot water is heated from the sun. I make my own compost. All these things that I did primarily for environmental reasons also have a great economic incentive; they make my life simpler and less expensive. I can live very cheaply because, well over a decade ago, I decided that rather than accumulate vast amounts of money, I would eliminate the need for much money. It's part of the voluntary simplicity movement and not needing to make money to accumulate more stuff.

MTM: How and why did you begin to live this way?
BEGLEY: My journey started in 1970, around the time of the first Earth Day. I got my first electric car, I started recycling, buying biodegradable soaps and cleaners, reading environmental writings, and conserving energy in a big way. I started living more simply because of ecological concerns, but there are so many bonuses I didn't count on. The biggest has to do with my relationship to time. I was a very rusharound guy in the '80s, constantly on the go. When you're taking the bus in L.A. or driving a tiny electric car, believe me, it's mandatory to slow down.

I can't say I'm a totally changed person from what I was before I began slowing down. It's a process. We slow down, then something very important comes up and we backslide a little bit. But the trend is constant, year-to-year improvement. One of the biggest benefits of living this way is I get to spend weeks on end with my one-and-a-halfyear- old daughter.

We've gotten busier than ever as a society. Many of us have two jobs, commute long hours to work, spend long hours away from our families-we're just busy busy people. But do we really find it fulfilling? What purpose does it serve? It seems that it's just for more and more stuff. I'm not a Luddite. I have a fax machine and I use the Internet. But I spend only around twenty minutes a day online, and another ten to fifteen minutes offline answering email.

You bottom out on stuff, just as an alcoholic bottoms out on alcohol. If you find more stuff fulfilling, then go for it. But if you don't, you can seek out groups where you can connect with others who are also exploring this route or you can choose to live a different kind of life just on your own, to get away from rampant consumerism.

MTM: Have you experienced any drawbacks to living more sustainably?
BEGLEY: The drawback I felt at first in 1989 when I stopped driving was, "Oh my God, this is taking so long." But then I thought, "What am I rushing to? What is waiting at the other end that's so wonderful? The journey is part of the experience." Or I would think, "I'm riding my bike, my legs are killing me, it's late at night." But now I'm a 51-year-old guy, in very good shape. I don't need to go to the gym because I bicycle so much.

MTM: People sometimes use your name as the punchline in jokes, because of your reputation as an environmentalist. Has this hampered you in any way?
BEGLEY: People used to make jokes about me, but not anymore. More than one person has said to me recently with the energy crisis in California, "I used to think you were nutty, but with this energy thing, I sure don't think you're nutty now." It's prudent to save energy for the energy crisis we currently face. More than half the living Nobel laureates issued a warning to humanity on behalf of the Union of Concerned Scientists-a warning about the extreme stress we are causing to many of the ecosystems that support us all.

MTM: Do people with wealth have more responsibility in this area than others do?
BEGLEY: The Mother Lode I want to keep coming back to is voluntary simplicity, and the wealthy can take more responsibility than others to live simply and speak out about it. I speak out because I want to teach others what I know. If things made you happy, there would be nothing but happy people living in Bel Air and unhappy people living in the bush, and that is certainly not the case. Stuff does not make you happy. Whatever your financial means, you can live more sustainably, but the wealthy have more choices available for how to do that.

MTM: Is there anything else you would say on this topic specifically to people with wealth?
BEGLEY: I would say to invest in sustainable technologies, like wind or solar renewable energy or fuel cells. If you had invested in Ballard Fuel Cell in the 1990s, early on, you would have just made a lot of money. There is so much demand now in California for solar panels that there is a wait to get them.

Living more sustainably can save you money, too. In our area, a two-kilowatt solar energy system for your roof would normally cost $16,000, but with the assistance programs now to help promote it, you pay only $6,000. And the quality of technology is improving. When electric cars first came out, they did not meet my needs. They didn't go far enough or fast enough. But with the new hybrid gas/electric models, you can go as far as you want; you can drive from California to New York for only $72 in gas. For $20,000, you can get a car that gets 68 miles per gallon. These are not some pie-in-the-sky ideas for the future. You can buy these cars today. You can start making a difference right now.

-Interviewed by Pamela Gerloff

Actor Ed Begley, Jr. is an environmentalist and advocate of sustainable living. His acting career includes theater and movies, but he is best known for his starring role as Dr. Victor Ehrlich on the TV series St. Elsewhere. He currently plays Hiram, the hairdresser on the hit HBO television show, Six Feet Under.


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