“We can do this,” was the mantra repeated by Ed Begley Jr. at the Lutcher Theater Tuesday on ways to help the environment and save money at the same time.

The actor / activist was hosted by Lamar State College-Orange and Shangri La Botanical Gardens during Earth Week.

“Unlike some people, Ed Begley Jr. actually practices what he preaches,” said Lamar-Orange President Dr. Michael Shahan, referring to Begley’s use of mass transit, bicycles and energy-saving measures around his home near Los Angeles.

The tall Californian, 59, averages an electric bill of about $300 per year.

Earlier Tuesday, Begley had a chance to tour Shangri La. In his talk he called it “extraordinary … get out there an see it.” In his travels around the U.S., he said, “I’ve never seen anything that special.”

Begley praised Shangri La Director Michael Hoke and his staff, noting in particular Shangri La’s educational exhibits and their benefits to today’s children – often overwhelmed with technology.

“I have a cellphone and I have a computer,” Begley said. “I’m not trying to diminish those things, but at some point you have to put the mouse down, get your hands in the dirt and get out there.”

Sometimes with humor, Begley discussed the problems the planet faces, such as air pollution in cities like Houston, water pollution and the ozone layer.

“We need water to drink … and people are mostly doing the right thing but there has been some neglect,” he said. “There are chemicals in the water, and despite the best of intentions, it winds up at the bottom … and once it’s in our groundwater it’s very hard to get out.

“In 1969 the Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught on fire. I don’t know about you but I don’t think rivers are supposed to catch on fire.”

For solutions, he said, great strides have been made to fight air pollution, using natural gas turbines and other eco-friendly devices.

“In Los Angeles, since the ‘70s there are four times more cars on the road but only half the smog,” he said.
Begley said his father, actor Ed Begley Sr. (“12 Angry Men,” “Sweet Bird of Youth”), often told him, “Don’t talk about stuff, just do it.”

The elder Begley died just four days before the first Earth Day in 1970, and spurred the young actor to go “green,” long before the term was popular. He also found he could save money.

“In 1970 I bought an electric car. Well I say car; it was actually a golf cart with wheels. They were selling these things to retired people and I was the only one under 70 buying something like this … I had extra money in my bank account so I kept on doing it. It wasn’t cool to be riding a bike in 1970. My bell bottoms kept getting caught in the chain.”

He encouraged the audience to ride bikes when health- and weather permitting, use more natural gas and to take advantage of weather-stripping and energy-saving thermostats. Take small strides at first, he said.

“You don’t just run up Mount Everest,” he said.

“Get into home gardening,” he advised. “Most kids only know the names of four plants. They need to learn there’s no such thing as a ‘Kroger Tree.’”

At present Begley appears on “Living with Ed” on Planet Green TV. Shows in season two include a visit to Jackson Browne’s ranch with Begley and his wife, Rachelle. Begley’s newest book is “Living Like Ed: A Guide to the Eco-Friendly Life.”

Begley was nominated for six Emmys as best supporting actor for “St. Elsewhere.” Not bad for a show that all took place inside an autistic kids’ mind.

The show featured Begley’s Dr. Victor Ehrlich, forever comically browbeaten by the irascible Dr. Mark Craig (actor William Daniels won two Emmys for lead actor). The series launched the career of Denzel Washington and used to good effect Norman Lloyd, a longtime associate of Alfred Hitchcock; and featured Howie Mandel, Ed Flanders, Stephen Furst, Bonnie Bartlett and Mark Harmon, among others.

Before and since “St. Elsewhere,” Begley has appeared in countless film roles including “This is Spinal Tap” and “Best in Show,” and on television from “My Three Sons” to “Roseanne” to “Boston Legal.” Recent appearances include “Gary Unmarried.”