Students and faculty spoke with actor and environmentalist Ed Begley Jr. on Monday evening as part of the Environmental Student Assembly’s first ever #ECOTALKS roundtable discussion.
Fifteen students, including alumni and undergraduates from various majors, attended the event after submitting an online application. Non-student guests included Bonnie Reiss, global director of the Schwarzenegger Institute and former senior advisor to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Central to Begley’s approach to championing environmentalism are highlighting financial incentives for industries, individuals, and in public policy — he likens the forces of social change to a three-legged stool. He cited the Clean Air Act of the 1970s as an example of individuals, government and the automobile industry benefitting from the improvement in air quality through health improvements and adding jobs in greening cars.
“They said we would go broke cleaning up the L.A. air, but we couldn’t afford not to fix the air problem in L.A., the health care costs were too high,” Begley said. “Just sitting down, the air seared your lungs.”
Begley also said he believed that being environmentally friendly is also economically viable.
“I can retire not because of how much money I have but of how little money I need,” Begley said. “My bills are very, very low. I grow food in my backyard, most of my electricity is from the sun, I’m not buying plant food, making my own compost, I’m not buying a lot of produce, I have a low water bill from my rainwater harvest system. Everything I’ve done good for the environment has been good for my pocketbook.”
Students were also interested in motivating the USC administration and student body to take environmental action, an area in which Begley agreed USC lagged behind other universities.
“Show up when they make decisions on these things [such as construction meetings]. Try to get them to do the right thing,” Begley said. “You, as students, have tremendous power.”
He suggested students work on getting the university to agree on a sustainable building policy and on following the UC’s lead on energy reforms on the heels of the UC’s pledge for zero net emissions within the next 10 years.
ESA, which launched in spring of 2014, introduced #ECOTALKS to the USC community to allow students to discuss their concerns with prominent environmentalists in an intimate forum. The Schwarzenegger Institute approached Shawn Rhoads, executive director of ESA, about starting a series of roundtable discussions due to what Reiss said is the Institute’s priority to connect with students.
“ESA wants to try new things, and this roundtable discussion is part of that,” Begley said.