Its time to stop looking at the thousands of people who live in off-grid communities as strange throwbacks. They are the future, not the past.
(If you have come here from the BBC Radio 4 show looking for offgrid.com – you are in the right place, by the way. If you have not you may wish to listen to it at this link)
There are many reasons why people choose to live off grid – and although it is not for everyone, there are tens of thousands in the UK alone who are desperate to get away from consumerism, traffic, jams, rapacious landlords, and working just to pay the rent.
Then there are people who want to reduce their carbon footprint – the damage they cause every day to the planet. now we are being told we all have to reduce our carbon footprint.
The UK’s former chief science adviser, Prof. Sir Ian Boyd said that technology alone will not allow us to avoid the pain of carbon reduction. The main thing we must do is “reduce demand” for energy, fuel, food, clothing, and everything else. Over the past 6 years since carbon targets were set, said Sir Ian, the government failed to offer incentives to assist the public in making those changes. It can use the tax system do so in the future. Carbon tax is a stick. Successful policy will also need a carrot.
That provides an opening for an environmental policy that offers, at least to some, an immediate change in their daily lives. For all who yearn for a more “natural” way of life.
For about the same price as the Thomas Cook airlift, the UK Govt could immediately enable several dozen experimental off-grid communities – eco-villages of 300 homes, which can grow to be small towns over time. This could satisfy the pent=up demand of hundreds of thousands of voters and simultaneously advance other key policies in the areas of energy, housing, and rural affairs.
At a time when housing in this country is facing multiple crises – of affordability and of supply and, in the case of social housing, of funding and of allocation – we need to be willing to embrace brave and new solutions. Off-grid settlements – historically a fringe interest in the UK, although they have a long history in other countries, including the US – offer an important new alternative.
They help solve four problems:
• Cheap housing – how to enable it
• Energy use – how to reduce it
• Food Security – how to improve it
• Rural Regeneration – how to kickstart it
A policy which offered £50-100 million over 3 years toward launching dozens of these communities would test to destruction the level of genuine demand for such a lifestyle among our army of rebellious eco-warriors, as well as many other groups who for reasons of their own just dont want to play by the normal rules any more.
What is meant by off-grid? No mains utilities of any sort. That’s a huge infrastructure saving on its own. A new housing development has to pay the costs of joining up to the power and water and sewage grids. These are no longer needed by developers using the latest technology.
The land would not currently have residential planning permission, which would be another cost saving. If the planned use justifies it, then it should be possible to buy land for little more than agricultural value, as long as the development is ecologically sensitive and the area is covenanted to remain off-grid.
Small off-grid homes could be delivered for an average cost of £50,000 per unit, built on low-grade agricultural land and with no Utility connections, and low car use. I am not suggesting the government should pay for these homes, but it should subsidize the minimal infrastructure and early investment required for developers and householders to step in and begin building.
There is an objection to off-grid settlements — that it’s a ligger’s charter – the same laws that would allow a group of industrious, conservation-minded settlers to grow their own community, would also allow a bunch of new age travellers to plague neighbourhoods with waste, crime and drugs. But it should not be beyond the wit of lawyers and politicians to come up with a way of encouraging the deserving cases and preventing the undeserving ones. Isn’t that what we pay them for?
Off-grid living is almost mainstream in some countries, particularly in rural areas. Aspects of it – for example local energy generation – have started to permeate government policy, but attempts to pioneer off-grid approaches in the UK fail at the outset – in terms of both planning and funding. The main reason given, and there are many others, is that ordinary people would not want to live in an off-grid home, where they would have access to at best 25% of the energy supply of a “normal” house (although that is offset by better home design and insulation). They would not want to live in an off-grid street, where houses had to share their limited heat and power, and they would not want to live in an off-grid town or village, which would be constantly subject to shortages of water, power and other supplies.
Well ordinary people are on the streets of our major cities demanding exactly that kind of privation. So let’s give them what they say they want.
If you want to live off-grid, please consider supporting our campaign and joining one of our off-grid communities – write to me : Email firstname.lastname@example.org
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