August 5, 2008

Begley Jr. Talks About Environmental Issues at Burlingame Conference

By Christine Morente

Now, 33 years later, Begley Jr. lives with his wife in a self- sufficient home powered by solar energy. He also makes time for public speaking engagements regarding his environmental activism.

He made one such appearance Monday at the "Carbonopoly" Conference and Tradeshow at the Hyatt Regency in Burlingame.

The actor -- who has appeared on "St. Elsewhere,""Six Feet Under" and, more recently, in the reality series "Living with Ed" -- said there are simple and cheap ways to help save the planet.

"Can you afford a light bulb? Can you afford an energy-saving thermostat? Can you afford public transportation?" Begley said. "There's home gardening and home composting. All are good for the environment. You do the stuff you can afford."

Begley, spokesman for the California Department of Conservation's effort to promote beverage container recycling, helped kick off the day.

The event, which is sponsored by the California Resource Recovery Association, continues through Wednesday. During the 32nd annual conference, government officials and waste-management professionals will learn about recycling, climate change and environmental purchasing.

This is the first time the event has been held in San Mateo County. This year, the association has made a concerted effort to make sure the conference is a zero-waste event. That means reducing its printed materials and encouraging eco-travel options.

In addition, the Hyatt has applied to become a green business. It is trying to reduce energy and water use, prevent pollution and minimize solid waste.

Before Begley Jr. spoke, he was given the Rick Best Environmental Advocacy Award, which honors lifetime environmental stewardship achievements.

Begley Jr. said he learned about conservation through his father, who died in 1970.

"He saved tinfoil, turned off the lights, turned off the water," Begley Jr. said. "That's just the way we lived. That's just the way I was raised."

Now, more people are advocating for sustainability because of former Vice President Al Gore's film "An Inconvenient Truth" and the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina.

"Hurricane Katrina gave people a snapshot of what climate change might look like," Begley Jr. said. "What if sea levels do rise? It gave people an idea of how difficult that would be."

Richard Anthony, a board member for the California Resource Recovery Association, said Begley Jr. is a model and a leader and agrees there's been much progress since 1970.

"The more we get into it, the more we learn," Anthony said. "And the more science we have, the more "... we can measure the impacts.

"What I know now scares the hell out of me," he said, "but it also motivates me as strong as it motivated me" in the 1970s.