Awards and Events                
      UNEP at Work                
Ed Begley Jnr.

Don’t tell Kermit the frog, but it’s quite easy being green in Hollywood these days: stars vie with each other to establish their environmental credentials. But Ed Begley started living sustainably and campaigning for change decades before it became fashionable.

Best known for playing the intern, Dr Victor Ehrlich, in the television series, St Elsewhere –for which he was nominated for an Emmy in six successive years – he has been a committed activist for over four decades. “I started in 1970 after 20 years of living in smoggy Los Angeles” he told Our Planet. “That year the first Earth Day came along and said ‘We gotta clean up the smog’. It was like ‘Hell, yeah’”.

His father – the son of Irish immigrants – had died a few days previously and Begley also wanted “to do something to honour him. He never used the word ‘environmentalist’ but he was one. He turned off the lights, turned off the water, saved string and tinfoil”.

He says: “I decided to make a difference in every part of my life. Forty-one years on, it’s still working.” He powers his home with solar energy and owns a windmill in the desert that produces more energy than he needs, making him “carbon negative”. He even provides the electricity to make his toast each morning by riding an exercise bicycle (15 minutes pedalling per serving). He harvests rainwater and recycles grey water from his home, and has established a droughttolerant garden of native Californian plants.

A vegetarian, he bicycles and uses public transport whenever possible, and drives an electric car when it isn’t. He recycles so much, that years he ago cut his trash down to “about a glove compartment’s worth a week.” Now that he’s married and has a child it has inevitably grown, but only to about three times that modest amount.

He has also tried to avoid using toxic chemicals since the 1970s and now participates in UNEP’s Safe Planet Campaign for responsibility on hazardous chemicals and waste, because he is worried about “the vast amount of toxic chemistry that we all come into contact with every day”.

As a post-war ‘baby boomer’, he points out, he is a member of “the first generation to live life in a sea of chemistry that is new to our bodies. There have been toxic chemicals before, but never have ordinary people been exposed to such a combination of so many of them for so much of the time.

“Suddenly we were getting exposed to perchloroethylene a lot because we are doing more dry-cleaning, we’re sleeping on polyurethane mattresses, we’re pumping gas with benzene and ethylene dibromide in it, and we are eating food contaminated with pesticides and herbicides. So many young people are getting cancer. That did not happen when I was young.”

The most comprehensive study ever undertaken into human exposure to chemicals — which examined 2,400 people in the United States — found more than 200 chemicals in their bodies, he adds. Among them were some of “the most dangerous known to life on the planet: dioxins, mercury, DDT and a host of other toxic pollutants that travel far and bury deep in our bodies”. As part of the Safe Planet Campaign he has given some of his own blood to be analysed for its chemical content, and promises to make the results public.

He stresses that he is “not a chemophobe”, emphasizing that many chemicals have brought great benefits .But he says people should “have the opportunity to make a non-toxic choice”. The need is “to begin to get rid of the chemicals we do not need and to move towards a less toxic environment. We can stop hazardous chemicals and wastes flowing into our lives with awareness and action. These harmful substances do not belong in us”.