A Guide to the Eco-Friendly Life

I can trace my environmentally-friendly lifestyle back to my childhood. My father was a conservative Republican that liked to 'conserve'. Before he was a successful actor he was a blue-collar worker and before that a child of the Depression, so the urge to conserve -- to reuse and recycle and make do -- was fostered early on in my life. My father also encouraged my love of nature. He urged me to become a Cub Scout, and later a Boy Scout, and I found I really liked being outdoors. At the time, though, the air quality in Los Angeles was terrible. In the San Fernando Valley where I lived, people would ask "why do they call it a valley?" because the smog was so thick you couldn't see the hills or mountains on either side of the valley unless you drove right up next to them. I couldn't run from one end of the block to the other without developing a horrible wheeze that made it impossible to breathe.

And so, when the first Earth Day was held in 1970, it really crystallized a lot of thoughts that had been percolating in my mind and compelled me to make some more substantial life changes. I was able to connect the dots between the things I had been doing already and the things that I now felt driven to do for the health of the planet. And yet my father always told me "Eddie, don't tell people what you're going to do... show them by doing it." So, rather than focusing on messaging and activism, I focused on things that I could do personally in my life. I bought my first electric car in 1970. Its top speed was 15 mph and it had just a 15 mile range -- it was essentially a golf cart with a windshield wiper and a horn. But I did it. I started composting in 1970 by taking my food scraps out behind where I lived and burying them in a hole next to the railroad tracks -- and green things started to grow there! I began to try more things and found that not only were they good environmental practices, they were saving me money! As I saved more money, I began to do more things. In the 1980s, I invested in a better electric car and I also installed solar hot water. In 1985 I invested in a wind turbine in the California desert. In 1990, I installed solar electricity (even before there were government tax credits or rebates). And all of these things I've done over the years that are "good for the environment" have been good for my bottom line!

Perhaps the most rewarding, and interesting aspect of this shift, though, is that environmentalism is no longer seen as the province of extremists. Thanks to an ever-growing consensus among very intelligent folks (many of them with PhD after their name) and highly respected, peer-reviewed studies, we are starting to live in a world in which there is widespread agreement that issues like global climate change, reduction in fisheries, air pollution, water resources, dependency on Mid-East oil cannot be ignored. And for the first time we are recognizing that these challenges don't reside on one side of the political aisle or the other -- they affect each and every one of us, and are inspiring all of us to make changes in the way we live. People in both the red and blue states have a strong desire to reduce their energy bills, reduce their waste, and leave a healthy planet for their children to enjoy. I get so much fan mail now from people in the heartland of America that say things like "I may not agree with you politically mister, but I like the idea of using a rain barrel to catch and use my rainwater like you did on TV -- where do I get one?"

In this election year, you certainly see evidence of the new environmental ethic on both sides of the aisle. John McCain is a perfect example. McCain's League of Conservation Voters score sheet as a senator was an 11 out of 100 back in 1999. By comparison, John Kerry and Dianne Feinstein were both a perfect 100. This was nine years ago mind you. McCain then went on to co-author (with John Kerry) an amendment to the energy bill in 2002 to raise the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (C.A.F.E.) standard in cars to 36 mpg. He is now talking about things of an environmental nature in a way one could only dream of just a few short years ago. More recently, we democrats had tried for years to get an emissions reduction bill through in the small engine category, but we could never get it through. The Republicans went in and pleaded a case more effectively than we ever could. They argued that "if Honda says they can clean up these small engines, why is Briggs & Stratton saying we can't?" And so they got the law changed.

I will, in the same breath of course, heap praise on John Edwards, who I've supported since the beginning of this campaign, for being the only candidate to say NO to new nuclear power plant construction. He's also had a very good position on coal, and many other environmental energy issues. Sadly, of course, he is now out of the race. We now have Obama and Clinton, who on environmental matters are very similar. As I say this, I'm being lobbied heavily by friends in both camps, friends who are environmentalists and major leaders in the Hollywood community. I'm going to look in great detail at the records of both and then make my decision. But the interesting thing is that even on the Republican side you have people like John McCain who have a greatly improved environmental position. Whereas several years ago, environmental policy was a polarizing issue between the parties, it is now a common thread issue across both platforms. Don't me wrong... there are certainly major differences between the two party platforms across a whole host of issues. But it is wonderful to see bilateral support on so many components of environmental policy.