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Hollywood Hybrid

How the stars are reducing their carbon footprint.

May 19, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 34 • By JOE QUEENAN
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Living Like Ed

A Guide to the Eco-Friendly Life

by Ed Begley Jr.

Clarkson Potter, 240 pp., $18

The 2005 bestseller Freakonomics introduced a troubling narrative technique. The book was a collaboration between the economist Steven D. Levitt, who supplied the ideas, and New York Times writer Stephen J. Dubner, who supplied the prose, with the men listed as coauthors. But in the body of the work Dubner would sometimes refer to his collaborator in the third person, using phrases like "the most brilliant young economist in America" and "a demigod" and "a noetic butterfly," which he lifted from the New York Times Magazine.

In other words: Don't take my word for it that I am a brilliant demigod and a noetic butterfly. Take my ghostwriter's word for it, and my word.

Admittedly, this sort of thing takes a bit of brass. Ed Begley Jr., adopts a similar approach in this self-eulogizing guide to leading an "environmentally friendly life." Though Begley himself, a third-echelon movie star, is identified as the author, Living Like Ed also contains guest essays (in tinted boxes) by various eco-professionals, who discuss such topics as "silent" gardening or the joys of ecoFoam or mounting a rooftop wind-turbine that will kill fewer birds than other, less ornithophilic turbines. (These appear under the rubric "Ed's Green Friend.")

There is also a series of inserts called "Rachelle's Turn," in which Begley's wife weighs in on what a quirky but wonderful person she has married. Mostly, Rachelle reports that while she, too, is a deeply caring human being, who devotes a great deal of time and energy to conserving energy and defending the environment, she is nowhere near as eco-sensitive as her husband Ed, as no one could be.

Thus, much like -Steven D. Levitt, Ed Begley Jr. has enlisted his wife's aid in a self-applauding book that incorporates an additional tier of adulation from convivial eco-entrepreneurs, and then acts as if this supplementary praise were not, in some way, contrived and fulsome.

Knowing how fragile show biz marriages are, this makes you wonder what would happen if the couple ever got divorced, and Rachelle forced Ed to excise all her contributions from the book, complaining that they were extorted from her as part of a systematic pattern of domestic abuse: "I was lying when I said that I admired Ed for climbing up on the roof and broom-cleaning our solar wind panels," she might explain afterwards at a palimony hearing. "The truth is, I thought he was a jerk. I mean, get real."

None of the foregoing should be construed as criticism of Begley himself, much less as criticism of his book. Tenaciously clinging to a patch of the moral high ground occupied by Al Gore, Ben and Jerry, Bono, and the woman who started The Body Shop, Begley addresses his readers from the very pinnacle of the energy-efficient Everest, which is now based in Los Angeles. There is literally nothing in his book that can be denied, gainsayed, or even challenged--whether it is installing that avian-friendly wind turbine on the roof, or properly recycling worn-out vegan tennis shoes, or having friends bring styrofoam over to your house so you can all recycle en famille. There is literally no environmental issue on which Begley discourses with less than ex cathedra finality. That includes the part where he guzzles the nontoxic house cleaner, seemingly to demonstrate that it is safe to consume, but perhaps because he had run out of vegan wine cooler.

To his credit, Begley does not hesitate to discuss such hot-button issues as whether bag people should be prosecuted for filching recyclable cans and bottles out of recycling bins. The problem here is that the money that comes from can and bottle deposits goes a long way toward defraying the cost of recycling glass and paper. By heisting aluminum cans, bag people are sabotaging the entire municipal recycling operation.

Yet despite his horror at such eco-rapine, Begley adopts a temperate tone toward the malefactors, noting: "I would not condone fines or jail terms for homeless folks trying to make a buck." This is where the fault line between right-wing recyclers and left-wing recyclers really lies: Even the most compassionate conservatives believe that bag people and winos should be subjected to the three-eco-strikes-and-you're-out rule, with recidivist scavengers doing hard time in the Big House. Otherwise, they just won't learn.