“Off-Grid” Book Review

Living “off-grid” is all about disconnecting ourselves from nationally-provided water, sewerage, gas and electric supplies. There are a variety of reasons why one might want to consider living off-grid.

Firstly, living off-grid has the very real potential to help the environment. For example most electricity is still generated from non-renewable resources such as the burning of fossil fuels. The release of greenhouse gases from this planet is what most scientists believe is a major cause of climate change. Add to this the disastrous effects of actually finding and gathering fossil fuels and going off-grid has two massive benefits.

There are, of course, also a whole range of other reasons for going off-grid. Some people long to get back to the earth and to become more self-sufficient. Living off your own energy, for example, can be a very nice feeling indeed.

And whilst the initial installation of wind turbines, solar panels and the like have some costs involved, many people enjoy being free from the worry of sizable monthly overheads for basic utilities like electricity and water. These reduced overheads can allow you to either increase your giving to charity or reduce the hours you work and so help to provide you with a better quality of life.

Lastly there may be practical implications such as living on a boat where the grid cannot reach you or living in a rural location where perhaps phone lines or electricity pilons do not reach.

Whatever the reasons, Off-Grid examines the concepts and principles of going off-grid while offering some practical advice for anyone looking to do the same.

The book is broken up into a number of chapters and we begin by getting a better understanding of the author and *why* he is interested in this topic. Next we learn about how the grids that most of us actually rely on came about and this historical element was of particular interest to me.

The next (massive) chapter involves the author going to visit a huge range of people living off-grid to various degrees. Some of the people he visits have some utilities while others have none and he ventures from eco-communes to middle class couples working in “normal” jobs.

Once the visits are over with the author rounds up with some guidance and advice on the practical aspects fo going off-grid with some useful resources presented, such as on how to buy a piece of woodland or learn about permaculture.

So those are the facts aside. But what about my opinion?

Well I have to admit that whilst I value and appreciate the concept of going off-grid, I *did* have a major problem with this book. The problem that I found was that many of the off-gridders that were visited in the book were essentially “hippies”.

many had given up most of their home comforts to live in tents and survive off the land. As the author himself admits not only were many of these communes strewn with rubbish and mess, but they were often sent up illegally and without planning permission.

Some people may argue that we need people who are willing to do what is right, irrespective of the consequences. They may say these people are the free thinkers that we will all be following soon enough. But I’m not convinced.

My own feelings are that if the green movement is really going to take hold – to become mainstream – then we can’t expect people to give up their home comforts. People are *used* to having a TV, living in a house, going shopping and driving a car. Most people *won’t* sell all their belongings and go and live in a tent without a toilet for the rest of their lives.

In essence, I believe we should be finding ways for people to make the right choice – to lessen their impact on the planet – without having to give up their modcons. Only when people can be green without denying themselves the modern pleasures they have got used to will the green movement really have any hope.

And so personally I believe that a group of hippies, living illegally and creating rubbish, really paint the opposite picture to what I would like the green movement to represent. If anything, I think these people will do more harm than good by annoying the neighbours and by local councils having to waste money on trying to evict them when this could have been spent on sustainable local projects. These seem very much like the kind of people you definitely *wouldn’t* want in your back yard.

If the green movement is to go global we need to get rid of the way “green” is typically filed next to “hippy”. We need it to go mainstream. And so I found myself getting more and more annoyed at some of the people in this book.

Is it worth reading? Yes, it is entertaining and has some useful practical advice. Just take the characters contained within it’s pages with a pinch of salt!

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