Off The Grid: Not A How-to, But a Why-To (Book Review)

off the grid cover
Nick Rosen's book Off The Grid is subtitled Inside the Movement for More Space, Less Government and True Independence in Modern America. That subtitle is important; this book is not about how you connect the red wire and the black wire. Instead, it is about how you connect to the people who do it.

It is a different movement than the one we saw in 1969, that Alastair Gordon wrote about in Spaced Out. Alastair writes:

What everyone shared in common was boundless faith mixed with a willingness to relearn everything, to embrace poverty and live as voluntary peasants. Inspired by Thoreau, they made little encampments with tents and tepees or in temporary sheds made from boughs and leaves. They weren't afraid.

Nick finds that today, there are in fact different subsets of people living off-grid, which is more a state of mind than a source of power. They don't share a lot in common, and a lot of them are very afraid.

Nick writes:

The people living this way -the off-gridders-might be middle class environmentalists or right-wing survivalists, victims of foreclosure or long-term pot-growers, international business travellers with their own islands or groups of friends who decided to start a community.

Nick crosses the country and meets many of them, the young anarchists, the old angry men, the economic refugees and the survivalist 911 truthers. We are introduced to people who live in cars and others who live in earthships. (his chapter on Earthship inventor Mike Reynolds is worth the price of the book on its own). It is not a coherent, unified movement. Nick writes:

Most of the people I met on my tour of America are losing faith in the grid, in both its literal and metaphorical sense. They don't feel a sufficient advantage to being inside the fabric of society. This led me to conclude that living off the grid is more than a lifestyle choice. It is a political act.

Nick concludes that the movement is a response to a loss of faith in our political system and our financial system as well as our energy distribution system. But he also sees it as a viable, environmentally positive response to these issues, an answer to these problems. He also sees it as a way of reversing the depopulation of rural America:

Policies favourable to off-the-grid living would bring hundreds of thousands back to the land, reviving dying communities, and nurture long-forgotten skills needed to grow food and live self-sufficiently.

It is a fascinating book, and not the conventional how-to, more of a why-to. I must admit that I was not completely persuaded by Nick's argument that this is a greener way of living; while not a complete fan of David Owen's Green Metropolis premise that New York is the greenest place to live, I do agree with Owen's explanatory subtitle " living smaller, living closer, and driving less are the keys to sustainability."

Nick suggests that "living off the grid reduces energy bills. This benefits the wider energy security of the nation." This is not quite true; energy security is primarily an issue of oil and gasoline, and these people drive a lot.

nick rosen photo

Image credit Martin:Alamy

I talked with Nick a number of times about this, and in the end we engaged in a semi-formal debate, where I put forward the proposition that " it is more ecological to live in dense urban environment than off-grid in the country." Watch for it on TreeHugger next week. You can also read more about Nick and the book at his website, Off-grid which appears to have become the meeting place for the movement.

More on off-grid living in TreeHugger

What Do Off Grid Homes Look Like? Here are 5 Examples
Generating Off-Grid Power: The Four Best Ways
Is Living Off the Grid Right For You?
Irresidence: Off grid Downloadable Design
Living Off-Grid: 3 Years in the Life of a New Pioneer
Off Grid Couple Answers Questions about their Mortgage Free Life

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