Living off the grid almost sounds appealing to me: Less noise, less chaos, being one with nature and reducing my carbon footprint.
I say “almost” because I know my romanticized notion of the off-the-grid movement — popularized by films and literature such as “Into the Wild” — is seriously misconceived.
It’s not even the idea of no indoor plumbing that has me balking at the thought of living in my own cabin in the woods Walt Whitman-style; I’ve been camping and I figure I could cope. It’s not the lifestyle I find so objectionable, but the mentality that accompanies it. You have to be totally dedicated to the idea of living off the grid for this lifestyle to be successful.
Yet, this dedication to leaving the modern world, disconnecting from people and completely isolating yourself only works in theory. One of the central tenants of living off the grid is calling attention to our impact on the world through our continued reliance on the fossil fuels and pollutants that power our homes, cars and industries. The message: Leave the system behind, begin again and save the planet from human-caused destruction.
But why leave society altogether as a means to promote change when there are so many other active, collaborative alternatives that don’t require you to join the next generation of homesteaders?
You’re making very little impact on anyone other than yourself, and perhaps immediate family members who question your sanity. Yes, having your own solar panels and drinking out of lakes may reduce your personal impact on the world, but it also reduces the impact you could be having if you were still part of society.
Living off the grid is a fad perpetuated by people who are disillusioned by our system and style of living. According to Nick Rosen, editor of the site off-grid.net, the off-grid movement started because people had an ideological motivation to take their environmental impact into their own hands and reduce their mindless consumerism.
Rosen also asserts that after the financial crisis of 2008, more people turned to off-gridding because it was a viable means to take care of themselves when the government appeared incapable. He estimates there are roughly 2 million people living off the grid in the U.S.
Rosen has a good point. You can take care of yourself when you live off the grid, but that’s about it. It’s selfish to believe that living off the grid will make more of an impact than advocating policy change. Instead, you could work to create environmentally friendly start-ups, or even engineer new ways to make clean energy affordable to those who can’t drop out of society to pursue a personal ideology that confuses selfishness with concern for the environment.
There are plenty of people making a difference on behalf of the environment who haven’t felt the urge to drop off the face of the earth. Can you imagine if someone like Elon Musk, CEO and mastermind behind Tesla Motors, decided to live off the grid instead of working toward a social revolution? Musk is making a huge impact on the way we think about cars and the automotive industry, something he absolutely could only have accomplished as a part of society.
It might be tempting to turn to the idea of off-grid living, because it does offer an interesting alternative to the rat race we all feel caught up in sometimes. However, my interest in such an alternative lifestyle dwindled when I realized that my goal in life was not to make a self-satisfied claim about my carbon footprint, but to make a tangible impact in some way or another. That’s not something that can be accomplished by living an off-the-grid lifestyle.
Withdrawing from society to chase a selfish ideology isn’t the way to change the environmental disaster we’ve gotten ourselves into. We have a collective problem that needs a collective voice to remedy it, not a fragmented, self-righteous counter-culture.