Thursday, September 18, 2008

Book Review: Living Like Ed

I read "Living Like Ed: A Guide to the Eco-Friendly Life" by Ed Begley, Jr. After reading about it from a fellow bookworm (sorry, I don’t remember who you were). Full disclosure: Before reading the book I had no idea who Ed was. I rarely watch TV and we don’t have cable, so I’ve never seen his show. Therefore, there’s no celebrity worship going on here to help me love this book.

Divided into six parts (home, transportation, recycling, energy, garden & kitchen, and clothing & personal care products), "Living Like Ed" is a manual for making environmentally positive changes in how we live. It reads like an annotated "to-do" list. The ideas in it are great. He covers everything, and his wife adds interesting sidebar comments that give a different perspective. There are handy checklists in the back of the book to help you keep track of changes you have made and the results of those changes. It’s all good stuff.

Reading the book, though, I was disappointed that I didn’t end up with any information that was personally useful to me. We’re already doing most of the easy stuff. We’ve already done some of the big stuff, too, such as living in a well-insulated house and buying some energy-saving appliances. Others of Ed’s ideas were too expensive (solar panels), not practical at this stage of our lives (with an untrained preschooler, I'm not doing all the wash in cold water!) or not applicable to our situation (we can’t ditch the gas-powered lawn mower – we don’t have one because we don’t have a lawn!).
There’s another category of changes which we haven’t made because we don’t want to (use a rain-barrel to collect water), but most of these ideas I already knew about. One thing stuck, though. I think if I spent enough time listening to Ed, he’d convince me our next vehicle should be an electric car! He makes a good case for using natural personal care products, too.

Ed makes a big deal about how his changes can save money, but again I was disappointed. The relevant ideas that we are not currently implementing may save a great deal of money, but the payback time is significant, too. Also, I was baffled to see that with everything he is doing to be energy efficient at his own home, we use less electricity than he does, and we’re all electric as opposed to using some natural gas like he does. Maybe the most energy efficient thing a person can do is to move to a part of the country where there is no need for air conditioning.

It’s a little hard for me to rate this book. I thought Ed’s ideas were great, but I got bored reading because there was so little new (to me) material. If someone were just beginning to make eco-changes, the book would be very educational. I’ll give it 3.5 out of 5 stars, for light green to medium green readers.


JAM said...

I completely agree with you. I was less than impressed with this - all the easy stuff we all know about, and the hard stuff is pretty well known too. Plus I find his wife really irritating - both in the book and on the show, which I've seen a few times. And we used less electricity than he does as well, although we have oil heat. I was very surprised by that, but I guess it is probably all in the AC, which we only have on probably 5 days in the summer. I think it would be a good book for someone just starting out, but not for those of us who have read a lot of these kinds of books. I did find it very interesting how he explained (and I'm assuming he's right) that power plants have to run all the time so if you use power in the middle of the night (such as for powering an electric car) you are using up power that would have been wasted (and how crazy is it that with energy so expensive we are wasting power instead of not generating it when there's no need). So even if your utility doesn't give you a break on the price, you're at least using power that would have gone to waste anyway and not causing any new coal to be burned. That did make the case for an electric car more appealing, because before I had been thinking you were just trading coal burning for oil.

Joyce said...

I read this one last summer- or I should say, skimmed it, because, like you, it didn't really give our family anything new. I could really see that it would be useful for someone who is new to greening up, or even for a high school enviro class.

Donna said...

jam: I'm glad I'm not the only one. :) I was afraid everybody was crazy about this book because of the star appeal!

I think the thing about nighttime energy use (and some of this was new to me, too) is that with hydro power, you can't just stop generating electricity at night! I had assumed that it was stored somewhere or sold to other parts of the country, but apparently it's not. Too bad the energy companies don't give lower rates for using electricity at night -- if people knew about it and had a good reason to shift their activities to nighttime, it might make a real difference.

joyce: It's funny you should mention high school since that's when I learned most of this stuff! My dad taught my science class and he made a really big deal about how to save energy. I knew a lot of it already from how we lived, but there were kids in the class that were really impressed and they took the new info home with them.

Green Bean said...

Thanks for the review. It does sound like it might be a good entre for someone just starting out . . . though it that case, I'd rec The Big Green Purse. :)

Joyce said...

Donna, our power company does give us a lower rate at night, and we have used the delay setting on our dishwasher to have it run after midnight, as well as using the dryer late in the evening, etc. Our power is generated by coal and nuclear, so it's different from yours, but we recieve a nice rebate for night-time usage.

Donna said...

gb: Yes, I'm still looking for that one. It's come recommended from you and others who are already green.

joyce: That's wonderful -- I wish they did that here! While it's possible to turn off a nuclear or coal plant, I don't imagine it's much easier than turning off a river. You probably get a lot of excess power at night, too!