March 18th, 2010
This is an interview that appeals to the principles of the second chapter of my book — the chapter titled, “Don’t Be So Literal Minded.” I’m hoping to get some of the stodgier science types to open their minds up and realize that in addition to all the Nobel Prize winners, you also need some spokespersons for climate science who are experienced at connecting with and motivating the broader, less technical audience.
Last week I traded emails with a prominent scientist blogger who said dismissive things about Ed Begley, Jr. as a spokesman for climate action. It was disappointing to read. The climate science world is in crisis mode right now after the Climategate mess and even just a couple weeks ago there was another incident where private emails concerning climate science were leaked — this time from the National Academy of Sciences. The result is a communications battle. It’s a fight where the environmental/climate science side needs EVERY communications resource they can muster. And Ed Begley, Jr., with forty years of environmental dedication, is one of the most valuable resources around.
It is my hope that, more than anyone else, some of the scientists will read this interview and realize that Ed is deeply committed, very smart, and knows how to keep this stuff interesting and even fun.
Similar to the Marc Morano interview, please email us your thoughts and comments at info AT randyolsonproductions DOT com. And on Monday we are finally going to post the summary of feedback on the Morano posts.
THAT FOX NEWS “INTERVIEW”
RO: Okay, let’s just jump right in here and talk about that wild interview you did on Fox News in November. The conservative bloggers said that you “flipped out,” “freaked out”, “lost it.” Did you at any point in that interview lose control, or were all your words perfectly chosen?
I’ve been the good little lap dog. “Oh, I understand, but let’s agree to disagree, can’t we agree that we have to lessen our dependence on Middle East oil, and clean up the air in our cities, and do stuff that’s going to make us money.” I usually take that approach, and that day I sat there, having watched a previous Democrat guest who was talking about health care, he was asked literally about four questions in a row, and Stuart Varney (the host) really didn’t let him answer any of them. And the guy said, “You just asked me four questions in a row, aren’t you gonna let me answer any of them?!” Well … I was loaded for bear, Randy.
EB: Actually, I was kind of okay at that point, because I thought he’s not gonna do that to me. And then he starts off with Climategate and Senator Inhofe, and I couldn’t do it that day. I just couldn’t do it.
RO: Am I the only one that sent you an email saying that I thought it was awesome what you did?!
EB: There were maybe 5 people total in three days, three by email and two phone calls, versus hate mails coming in at a rate of 50 an hour for a couple days. And so then you start to think, “I know climate change is real, but maybe I am an asshole?!”
I should’ve just been quiet. “Lets agree to disagree and let’s get some light bulbs.” This is the interesting thing, the biggest point the angry emails were making was, “How dare you go there to talk about climate change? Who the fuck are you any way?” And my response was, ‘I didn’t go on there to talk about climate change, I came in there to talk about a light bulb giveaway program!’”
And they didn’t do it on air, but they did it while I was backstage, they said “This “Climategate” thing is heating up, would you talk about that?” And I said, “Sure, as long as we talk about the light bulb project.” And all he ended up saying about the light bulb project was that we were going to break into his house and steal his incandescent bulbs from him!
EB: We never even talked about our Project Porchlight, which is where we’re giving away light bulbs, we’re going to give them away to people, we’re going to knock on people’s doors, and if people don’t want to answer the doors, they don’t have to, they can say go away and we will. Anybody who wants free light bulbs, they can have them. If you want to keep your incandescent bulbs along with your antique waxed cylinders and your 78 rpm records and give them to your fucking great-grandchildren, then go ahead.
RO: And what did everybody say to you there at Fox News after that segment was finished? Did they just show you the door?
EB: No, it was very friendly, we all smiled and just went toward the door, and laughed, and Stuart Varney laughed, and said, “Why is everybody yelling at me?” And I should have said, “Because you’re insane! And you wouldn’t let the guy before me talk, and you asked him four questions, and the guy before me even had to stop Stuart to ask to let him answer the four questions.”
Did I lose it? Sure, I wish I had been more calm, and made some wonderful points. Like the point Bill McKibben makes recently, what’s happening with global warming is like what happened with the O.J. case: you have a mountain of evidence, yet they manage to get it all thrown aside through their theatrics.
Climategate is nothing more than Mark Fuhrman. You have one cop that does some weird things and that’s enough to outweigh all the evidence. They had to come up with a Mark Fuhrman for the glove, because the glove had O.J.’s hair, it had Goldman’s blood, and Nicole’s blood and fiber from the bronco. If they didn’t have Mark Fuhrman, they’re screwed. Well that’s what they did with Climategate, there’s sea temperatures, air temperatures, melting glaciers, with all that’s there, they’ve got to come up with some guy in East Anglia in Britain that’s kind of wacky, and they gotta hack into his computers, and make a case as they did with O.J. That’s the point Bill McKibben made recently, if you’ve seen what he said.
RO: I did, absolutely. But unfortunately they have made their case very effectively with Climategate.
EB: As with O.J. they got 12 people to say he didn’t do it. Usually a person is put in jail because of one hair, one drop of blood. They had 34 pieces of physical evidence, we have the same embarrassment of riches with climate change, there is so much data, and yet they’ve been as successful as they were in the 1990’s with the O.J. case, of making people think that up is down.
RO: So, other than the Fox News blow-up that you had, do you get people coming up to you at events and recognizing you and saying anti-environmental things to you?
EB: Most of the time they are pretty nice. People are normally pretty nice and civil to you in person. A guy came up to me recently and said, “I certainly don’t agree with what you say on climate change, but I like what you do. I like that you walk the talk and you live a good, modest lifestyle.” That’s about the worst that it gets in person.
RO: That’s very interesting because I recently interviewed Marc Morano, author of one of the most aggressive anti-climate action blogs, Climate Depot. He had plenty of bad things to say about Hollywood celebrities whom he feels are hypocrites, but when he got to you he stopped on a dime and said you are the one celebrity he respects for exactly those reasons.
EB: Well, that’s very nice, tell him that I appreciate that. I think it’s because I promote personal action, and I credit almost entirely my father, a conservative Republican. And I normally don’t make it a partisan issue. I actually didn’t that day on Fox, I didn’t say the word “Republican” or “Democrat.”
RO: Was your father an environmentalist?
EB: Well, he was a conservative Republican, which I’m not, but he was a conservative that liked to conserve. We saved string, we saved tin-foil, we turned off the lights, we turned off the water. He lived through the Great Depression, he was the son of Irish immigrants, he got me involved in scouting, and so I saw nature and thought it was something that was worth protecting. And he died a few days before the first Earth Day in 1970. And that was when I first got involved with environmental issues.
RO: Were there environmental skeptics back then?
EO: Yes, there definitely were, and here’s the way they manifested themselves, much the way they do today, but with different voices. Basically the same form. “We can’t afford it.” “And I’m with you, too,” they would say. “I hate the smog, I hate that my kids are breathing it, but we can’t afford to stop it!” With anti-environmentalism, it’s basically the same tenet behind it today. “We can’t afford environmentalism, we’ll go broke.” That is the big error that people are making. Indeed we know today, it’s the big lie. They are willing to say that all the science behind climate change is lies, but they base their whole case for not taking action on one lie, which is easily refuted, that we are going to go broke doing it. They said that in 1970, and it’s not the case. Businesses prosper cleaning up the air in Southern California, as you probably know, there’s four times the cars in California since 1970, and the smog is cut in half.
RO: So you’ve had a long involvement with environmentalism as a celebrity. What do you think is the most effective role for celebrities in environmental issues?
EB: I think our duty is the following: If you have had the types of experiences I’ve had, and what I mean is, I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of groups where we have met with Nobel laureates organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists. We’ve sat at breakfasts, at lunches, at dinners, at meetings, in Hollywood, out of Hollywood, where people with Ph.D. after their name have talked to us about climate change, plastics in the ocean, air pollution, ground pollution, groundwater contamination, on and on. We’ve heard from people that are quite knowledgeable, who have been published in good peer-reviewed scientific reputable journals. Then for us to go, “Well, I’m an actor and so I really shouldn’t have an opinion, I’m gonna do a little song for you now, enjoy!”
I mean, could you imagine, you’re a performer about to go on stage, and the Fire Marshal comes up to you and you say, “Yes, I’m about to go out, what’s going on?” And he replies, “Mr. Begley, there’s a fire going on in the basement, and we have to very carefully and quietly, and in an orderly manner, get people to vacate the theater. So don’t freak anybody out, but please tell them that we have to row by row go to the fire exits.” “Well, huh? Sure, thanks.” And you ignore him and … anyway, here’s my song, “Look at me, I’m as helpless as a kitten up a tree. Misty… much love, thank you!”
EB: I mean, that would be insane. And we have heard from those Fire Marshals, those Fire Marshals are the Ph. D.’s, the Nobel laureates, the people who have told us these facts, laid them out with charts and graphs, good science from reputable places like Nature magazine and peer-reviewed studies. We have the responsibility because we’re the ones with the megaphone. The Fire Marshal doesn’t have that megaphone normally the way we do. We have it for better or worse.
BEING A KNOWLEDGEABLE SPOKESPERSON
RO: Where do you get your news and information for global warming?
EB: I still get Science Magazine, I get a lot of information from the internet. I certainly read things, I occasionally read things in scientific journals that cause me to dig deeper. I don’t take anybody’s word for anything, I really don’t. It turns out everything I’ve read, nearly everything in the environmental journals has been correct, but I do follow-up.
RO: Have people from the science world asked you to be a spokesperson and communicate more effectively the issue of global warming?
EB: Many have, I can’t give you specific examples because there are so many. But regularly the Union of Concerned Scientists contacts me and they are a good overall organization that have asked me to be on their board, and I am. And many other groups have called me, and they’ve said, “Can you help us? We’ve got a problem down at the air quality management department. Can you come down and get the press to come down? We need KTLA and KNBC, if you come down….” …many times. The different ocean protection groups and scientists, air quality, you name it, have asked my help, to go there, because they think, and many times it is correct, that I can get a few more people to come down or listen.
COMMUNICATING ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE MORE EFFECTIVELY
RO: So do you know from your training as an actor anything that might help the science/environmental world to communicate more effectively?
EB: Definitely. You have to be able to tell a very good story, and it has to be clear. And you have to have an action at the end of your point. Some kind of action, whether it’s contacting your representative, or buying light bulbs, or taking public transportation, or whatever it is, you have to have a good story, clear points, why it is, and where people can verify that it is so. And I think that’s the beautiful thing about today, with the access to information, it used to be in the early 90’s when I was doing this stuff, “You can go down to the library, go to the archives, and check it out for yourself!” Now it’s so simple – just go to the internet. And yet, I tell people, “Don’t go to any environmental websites, don’t go to any environmental radio hosts websites, don’t go to their websites!” I say that regularly and some friends are shocked, they are taken aback. But let me just make my point, stick only with reputable scientific or nature magazines, things like National Geographic and the website Real Climate. But here’s the scary thing, Randy. There is a guy, I can’t remember his name and I don’t want people to know it, but he has this website where he says, “Peer-reviewed science is dead, don’t you get it Begley?”
EB: Yes! He says, “Peer-review is out! It’s no longer valid, it no longer has meaning.” They’re saying this. That to me is just terrifying, because it’s nonsense.
RO: I know you’re friends with Andy Revkin of the NY Times. He asked me to ask you this question, “Do you worry that the focus on living the green life is going to backfire since there’s a limit on what individual actions can accomplish?
EB: Yeah, there are limits to it, I’m going to agree with Andy, he’s a smart man, but I’m going to focus on just one leg of this stool, you need three of them to stand up or the stool’s going to topple. There’s personal action, government leadership, and corporate leadership. And if you have just two of them, then things just aren’t going to work. But, if you vote with your dollars, you can start rewarding the good companies with your spending power, and in effect punishing the bad companies by not buying from them. That is a powerful vote.
Then of course the other big vote is on election day, and another way of voting is writing letters and faxes, and making phone calls. But he’s right we can’t just do one or two, we have to do all three and they have to be equal.
RO: So bottom line, do you think that climate skeptics should be confronted or ignored?
EB: Good question. What I do now is, I don’t know the different kinds of martial arts enough to know which one this is, but I deflect, deflect, deflect, and then strike, but only when I must. There’s too much energy spent for other important things, the boat is leaking, I’ve got water to bail, I don’t have much time for hand to hand combat with this other boat that’s flanking our boat, saying, “We’re not taking on water.” I’m bailing the water with one hand, and with two hands occasionally I have to stop and deflect these blows from them. But I really don’t want to have to be doing that.
RO: And just to finish here — I thought you were awesome as the angry father in Pineapple Express.
EB: Thank you.
RO: So what’s more fun for you, acting in comedy movies or saving the planet?
EB: I’m so lucky that I have time to do both. I work a fair amount as an actor. I have basically a 50/50 split at this point. Half acting and half giving environmental talks, doing the show with my wife Living with Ed, promoting green products and going to environmental rallies, it’s about 50/50 at this point, and it’s a nice mix.
RO: Any last thoughts?
EB: Well, for the health of the planet, and for my own personal health, and emotional well-being, I think it’s important that “We all live simply, so that others may simply live.” That’s one of the best things that I’ve read in my almost sixty years.
We received a lot of great responses to our Transcriber’s commentary on the Morano interview. So we figured this time we’d post a picture of him and let him give his impressions of Ed Begley, Jr.
Ed Begley, Jr. comes off as a truly inspired man. You can tell his words and his actions come from an honest set of emotions created by his personal beliefs and his own life experiences. Unlike certain other people I’ve transcribed, who seem to be rattling off facts and statements from memorized talking points, Ed pauses and reflects before his carefully-worded thoughts. His ideas ring of originality, and you truly get the impression that maybe he has never said, or even thought to say, the words coming out of his mouth until the moment they are spoken, like he is channeling them from a higher inspiration, and realizing those words himself as he is speaking them.
He seems like a nice guy, too. Ed does not seem afraid to talk nicely of, or even agree on certain points, with those that are usually negative toward his environmental message. And yet at the same time, he is not afraid to turn around and be negative toward ideas he disagrees with. However, one can really feel his anger during the bitter moments, when he describes just how dire our planet’s situation is. And this, I think, is right at the heart of what so many people love about Ed: His sincerity. Whether he is speaking of his conservative Father’s inspiring life, or his frustration with the conservative news machine, you can tell that he is serious and confident. Ed Begley Jr.’s environmentalism is definitely not some cause célèbre, but obviously a way of life, or even, I dare say, a religion.