Eco-Friendly Competition: Who Can Go Greener?

Neighbors Ed Begley and Bill Nye compete over who can go greener.


July 25, 2007 — -- In Hollywood, where the streets are supposedly paved with gold, actor Ed Begley is all about green. His passion about energy use and the environment serves as the plotline for his new reality show, "Living With Ed," videotaped at his California home.

But something is happening in his little corner of the Hollywood Hills, and Begley is feeling the heat. And it's not from his thermostat.

Begley made it in Hollywood playing Dr. Ehrlich on the 1980s hit series "St. Elsewhere," but in his new show, he's not acting. A devout environmentalist, Begley has practiced what he's preached for nearly four decades, and is often cast as that electric-car driving, wind-turbine and solar-panel pushing Hollywood kook. But suddently he's no longer seen as an eco-nut but as the guy who got it right.

"I'm shocked that people seem to view it that way, but it's fine by me," says Begley. "It always made sense to me to conserve, to not waste anything -- why would you waste energy? It's too precious."

But is Begley the greenest of them all?

"There is a man down the street who is trying to keep up with the Begleys. I don't know that he's succeeding, but you decide. He's a nice man," says Begley.

That nice man is Bill Nye, the "Science Guy."

Nye is Begley's neighbor, who, Begley says, is "a very nice fellow who started this competition, I suppose, to see who could have the lowest carbon footprint."

That's right. Call it enviro-smackdown, or battle of the nerds, but Nye is taking on his neighbor.

Nye is a Boeing engineer turned television personality who made science cool in his popular PBS program in the 1990s.

He moved onto Begley's street a year ago, started looking over the fence and built his own solar power system. Nye is not just trying to match Begley -- he's raised the stakes by putting in a state-of-the-art system.

"Without Ed down the street pushing all of us to live a more environmentally-responsible lifestyle, I wouldn't be so motivated to crush him like a bug," says Nye.

Even cleaning solar panels is a competition in this backyard battle -- Nye with a homemade contraption, Begley with an old sock.

"I'm a nerd," admitts Begley. "I'll just say it. I'll say the word. It takes some of the sting off if you say it yourself."

Nye concurs. "I have no problem with being a nerd! It's fun, understanding these systems, these energy systems, or even, if you will, the weather, is fascinating."

They may share the same interests, but each still wants to win.

"I'm way ahead Ed … way ahead in power use this year," says Nye.

"We'll see," Begley responds.

Nye is racing to keep up, outlining an organic garden. Begley has been eating out of his for years, and proudly shares his tomato varieties and zucchini. But when it comes to power use, Bill Nye, the "Single, Guy," does have an advantage -- there aren't a lot of curling irons in his home.

Begley says he has the ability to use traditional energy, or "switch onto the grid."

"I have to be on the grid … a lot," he explains, "because of certain people here who don't have my certain zeal for exercising on the bike to produce power, or saving power."

When asked if he's talking about his wife, Begley says, "I don't want to name names -- that would be counterproductive."

"I've really taxed Ed's life haven't I? I've ruined it [with] a blow dryer!" jokes Begley's wife.

"You have to compromise, you can't be rigid … you have to bend," Begley says, jokingly. "I'm not a dictator."

On "Living with Ed," Begley gives his wife a hard time about the length of her showers.

"Honey, do you know how long you have been in there in the shower? Fourteen minutes you have been in there, 285 gallons now."

Funny, yes, but these guys believe what they are doing is seriously important.

"We're just trying to change the world. That's all," says Nye. "So I'd say it's important. The strangest thing, the hardest idea to get about climate change is everything you do affects everybody."

"I think people are starting to see the connection," says Begley, "between their actions and pollution, their actions and our dependence open Middle East oil, their actions and big-ticket items like global climate change."

Begley and Nye wouldn't tell us exactly how much they invested in their homes, but it's easily in the tens of thousands of dollars. Is this a lifestyle that the average American could replicate, or is it a Hollywood trend?

"There are many things that are available to people of low income," says Begley.

"I'm no millionaire," he adds. "I wasn't when I put the solar panels in in 1990. I've never been a millionaire, but I have an income that allows me to do these things. And if people who have the means do it … it's going to create a good marketplace, and it will get cheaper for all of us."

That is part of the evolution of the environmental movement: not focusing just on saving the planet, but saving a buck. This "keeping up with the Begleys" helps deliver the message, but Begley and Nye won't go so far as to say that they're hip.

"Let's not get carried away," says Begley. "But we can show people they can still have a cool beverage and a warm shower. We're just going to do it more efficiently."

"You save money -- what's not to love about that?" says Nye.

The latest standoff involves wind turbines. Nye came home one day and saw a turbine installed on Begley's garage. So, Nye has ordered his own. One that is even more efficient than Begley's.

Begley's daughter Hayden is in favor of the competition.

"I like it because my daddy is winning," she says.

"You don't have little blond children to speak for you?" Begley asks Nye.

"No," replies Nye, "especially none that are so well coached."