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Archive for Thursday, October 11, 2007

Environment gets star status

October 11, 2007

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Of all the horrific changes that global warming is causing, none is quite as bad as the fact that we have to stop making fun of Ed Begley Jr. It's like finding out that Larry Craig has been diagnosed with restless leg syndrome.

So, knowing I had to do something to make my home less polar bear kill-y, I invited Begley over. Sure, there's tons of information online on how to reduce my carbon footprint, but blindly following the advice of a celebrity seemed much more American.

Begley immediately said yes, which isn't surprising because people cold-call him all the time for environmental advice. Lucy Liu, whom he'd never met, called to ask about his solar panels. Leonardo DiCaprio came by with his father to check them out too. And since Begley started hosting "Living with Ed" on HGTV, he's also answering about 100 e-mails a day from viewers. This, I like to believe, is why we don't see Begley in more major motion pictures.

Begley arrived in his electric car bearing a pile of presents: canvas Whole Foods bags, Seventh Generation paper towels and a bunch of Begley's Best household cleaners. As long as he continues to do this every two months, I will be living much, much greener.

Looking around my house, Begley cleverly began by complimenting me on basics. "Oh good! You have a smart thermostat," he said, then showed me how to use said smart thermostat to turn off the air conditioning when I'm not home. He spotted the new bamboo flooring in my office and nodded approvingly, prompting me to pretend to know why killing bamboo was good for the planet. He liked the tankless water heater I got so my wife and I could take long, simultaneous showers, but which apparently can be up to 24 percent more efficient. I was expecting him to get excited about my ingenious system for reducing electric lighting by the use of windows.

When the green suggestions did come, they sounded suspiciously reasonable - as if he were softening me up before the hard sell to drink my own urine. Begley suggested a power strip for all my portable-device chargers, to keep them from sucking power during the day. For a little over $1,000, I could even get GreenSwitch, a system that shuts off everything you don't need when you leave the house with the press of a button. Though for $500, I could probably hire someone standing outside Home Depot to just do that every day.

There was a flurry of excitement about solar panels, causing Begley to run back to his electric car and pull out a compass, but he found that my house's south side was too well-shaded, which he said was a good thing because it reduced my air-conditioning use. He also said something about calling a drought-tolerant landscape designer and replacing some of my water-gobbling shrubs, but I really couldn't focus on anything except the fact that a grown man in a major city keeps a compass in his car. Is he orienteering? Looking for magnets? Is telling his agent to meet him at the new restaurant at latitude 24.07026, longitude -118.36032 the thing that is really limiting Begley's major motion picture appearances?

When I proudly pointed out my bottle of Simple Green cleaner, Begley pulled the cap off and inhaled deeply. "To me, it smells like pretty strong chemistry," he said. When I politely informed him that the chemical in question was green-colored, and the bottle featured the word "green," he shook his head as if Simple Green were made of people. "It says green, but I don't rely on that," he said. Then he pushed the Simple Green to the far back of my counter, proving that there's nothing wimpier than green-on-green violence.

He also said I should stop buying nonrecycled paper at Costco. "I go to Costco too for some stuff, but I go to Whole Foods for Seventh Generation paper products," he said. This sounded like a good idea, until I got a better one - one that would change the habits of not just me but thousands: wait for Costco to start carrying recycled paper products.

In general, Begley seemed impressed. "You're a good man," he said. "You've got insulation." Then he took a look at my energy bill. Even in the dead of summer, I was spending only $65 a month on electricity - not far off from his $50 monthly average, even though he's got solar panels. Then he saw my water bill. It was not pretty: $106 a month, nearly 900 gallons a day, which is five times the American average, 10 times the average European and 350 times as much as someone in Mozambique uses. "Because of that, I'm going to give you a C," he said. "But I'm going to move you to a B because of the wonderful shading of the house. And if you can keep the mature trees but get rid of some of the smaller plants, you'll be at a B." I'm glad Begley isn't in charge of a classroom.

After he left, I reset our sprinkler system from seven to three minutes a day and gave a really mean look that I hope bordered on withering to the water-sucking bird of paradise Then I waited to feel the jolt of moral superiority, but it never came. I think I'd be a lot more into greening my house if it meant I could put a big "hybrid" sticker on my front door. Work on that, Ed.

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