The Illusion of an Off-Grid Utopia

The Illusion of an Off-Grid Utopia
By Brett A. Fernau

I attended a presentation the other night from someone who sincerely believed that living off-the-grid was a goal toward which we all should strive. That was not the first time I have heard this idea presented as a goal worthy of achieving. The idea is somewhat pervasive within the preparedness “community.” I reject the notion that we all should be working toward getting ourselves off the grid. Instead, I believe we should be working hard at building a better, more sustainable, more resilient and durable grid.

First, let’s look at what life off the grid would be like. To do that we have to define what the “grid” encompasses. Technically, the grid is the electrical distribution system that delivers power to your home or office from its source or sources. I’ve heard the term used to include all public utilities and, indeed, to some degree that is true. Almost, if not all, the resources that come into our houses are dependent upon electrical energy in some way or another. For natural gas, water and sewage, there are pumps and valves and systems that depend upon electricity to operate. Landline and cellular communications are both electrical by nature, as is television, radio, and computer technology. Oil refineries would cease operations. The gasoline and diesel fuel in the underground tanks at the gas station would have to be dipped out of the tanks by the bucketful. If the electrical power grid stops working, everything that depends upon electricity to operate eventually stops working, too.

Life off the grid, then, would mean no phones, no computers, no television, no running water, no toilet flushing, no hot water heaters, no video games, no refrigeration other than ice, no air conditioning, and no leisure time. Your time from sunrise to sunset would, by necessity, be spent in obtaining enough food, water and fuel to survive. Our ancestors lived this way. Their lifespan was short and their lifestyle consisted primarily of hard work, callused hands and sore backs.

Okay, so you don’t actually want to live off-grid, you just want to live independent of the grid. You’ll get yourself some solar panels and some batteries, a couple of wind turbines, maybe and you’ll be off the grid. Of course, on a calm, cloudy day, you’ll have your batteries to see you through, so things will be just fine. You realize, don’t you, that all that technology that you are dependent upon to get off-grid depended upon there being a grid for its manufacture. And when your batteries wear out, or a hail storm destroys some of your solar panels, or the bearings in the turbine seize, you will need to go outside where the grid exists to get replacements.

Unless you want to go back to life the way it was lived on the frontiers of the United States in the early 1800s, you will need for there to be a grid. You will need modern technology, including modern medicine, modern sanitation, modern water treatment, modern communications, etc., or you will need for everyone else to have those things so that you can enjoy the luxury of your off-grid lifestyle. If you believe that we’d all be better served by going back to that “simpler,” “more sustainable,” life style of the frontier days, you’ll have to figure out how to accommodate all the additional people that have come into being since those days. They’re each going to need some farmland, and a few goats, sheep and cows. Plus, they’ll each need a good clean water well with enough capacity to not only meet their own personal needs but to water the food crops they will need to grow. They’ll also need an enormous variety of skills, from sheep-shearing to spinning wool to knitting and weaving, from animal husbandry to farming, from midwifery to general medical practitioner, from miner to blacksmith, from lumberjack to carpenter and, well, you may begin to see the problem.

Regression is not the answer. We need to move forward, be more creative, make better and wiser use of our resources, find new resources, create new technology, so that instead of becoming more primitive, we become better at doing what humans do best; and that is adapting the environment to our needs. We need to learn to do that while husbanding our resources. We need to create methods of operation which will bring prosperity to ourselves and everything around us. We need to create an environment and a society where we all work together; and isolate and quarantine those who pit us against each other for their own nefarious ends.

To do this, we must get down in the trenches and work at it. It won’t happen if we withdraw into little insular, off-grid communes. If will only happen if we actually create a civilization on this planet. An excellent first step would be to get a good, workable moral code in place planet-wide. The best one I have found is called The Way to Happiness. This little booklet has proven effective in a wide array of countries and cultures and has created peace and understanding wherever it has been read and accepted. Getting us all working together to solve problems is an achievable goal and would be a step into a better, more prosperous future.


Leading the Way to a New Civilization – Part 2

Leading the Way to a New Civilization
By Brett A. Fernau

Part 2: Helping or Hiding

There are some emergency preparedness enthusiasts, often referred to as “preppers,” who advocate extreme secrecy in all their preparedness activities. I understand their viewpoint, though I do not altogether share it. If you are concerned only with your own survival, or the survival of your own small group, then I can see where secrecy is a priority. You wouldn’t want to advertise the fact that you have water and food supplies cached in your basement, or that you are prepared to defend yourself, your group and your supplies by whatever means you deem necessary. You want to survive, you want your group to survive and you don’t want to be overrun by those around you who have not prepared. I understand that, however, in a major, long-term, disaster where most of your fellow human beings are thirsty, hungry and desperate, hours or days away from death, the breakdown of society will be of such magnitude as to make survival impossible for even the most well-stocked individual or group. Consider how many hundreds, thousands or millions of people surround you. If they are not prepared for an emergency, they will be looking everywhere for sustenance. In their search, they will find you and your group and they will take what you have. You cannot long survive a breakdown of civilization in this modern world, unless you are isolated, fortified and self-sufficient. Even if your small group does survive, what will you have left to work with in the aftermath? However, if your goal is to help your friends and neighbors, then withdrawing and withholding yourself from them will not serve that end. Hiding, staying under the radar, keeping a low profile, and withdrawing from society in the name of emergency preparedness is not a viable way to ensure long-term survival of yourself, your friends and your society.

If a major disaster of some sort is inevitable, then so, at this time, is the breakdown of society in the aftermath of that disaster. One aspect of emergency preparedness which, I believe, is being almost completely neglected is preventing that seemingly inevitable societal breakdown. Our civilization, in its current state, is extremely fragile. Our supply lines are long and easily interrupted; the distance from farm to table is very, very long and our reserves are limited. There is no common bond of civility which holds us together, no overriding concern for the physical and spiritual well-being of our fellow human beings. Our society as a whole has no moral compass pointing the way toward cooperation with our neighbors to ensure the survival of our civilization. When a disaster strikes, it will be, for most people, every human for himself or herself with little or no consideration for the preservation of society as a whole. Without some sort of common moral grounding, we have no reason to cooperate, no reason to consider important anyone’s survival but our own. This is where we are right now as a society, no matter which society we consider. As far as I can tell, there has never been any agreed-upon moral code that included every human being on earth, no fundamental agreements that bind us together as a species. We can fix that. Not easily, not quickly, but it can and should be done. If we are to survive as a species, it must be done.

I have found only one moral code that can be broadly implemented, accepted and agreed upon. This secular (meaning non-religious) moral code is called The Way to Happiness. To date, it has been tried and found successful in helping restore civility, hope and morality in a number of very different cultures and activities throughout the world. Explore it’s precepts for yourself here . I believe you will find it of great value.

I would argue that emergency preparedness to be effective must be done overtly and promoted broadly. If we are to survive in any sort of disaster, be it long-term or short-term, widespread or local, we will all need to work together. We need to have common agreements, purposes and goals in order to be able to help each other; we can only have those things if we share them with each other. Would it not be better to help your neighbors get themselves prepared for a disaster than to have to watch them struggle and probably perish in the aftermath of that event? Is it not in your own best interest to be surrounded by people who can help each other survive? Would you be able to turn away that family down the street when they came to you for food and water for themselves and their children? How would you feel if you did? Better to help them get prepared. If you help them become stronger, smarter, and more able, you enhance not only their ability to survive, but your own.

To that end, it is essential that we communicate with each other in order to share information and concerns. Throw a block party and invite all of your neighbors. Make it pot-luck and have everybody bring something to share. Talk to them and get them talking to each other. Hand out a list of suggested emergency preparedness actions that they can get started on right away. Reach out to those of your neighbors who did not come to the party. Find out what their concerns are and offer to help them get started on their own emergency preparedness plans, or, better yet, have one of the people who did come to the party talk to them. Don’t try to do it all yourself, get everyone to help. That’s what you’ll need to be doing in the event of a disaster – helping each other; you may as well begin practicing that immediately. Follow up the first meeting with others. Get everyone talking about what they are doing to get prepared; help them solve whatever problems they might be having in their efforts; throw the question out to the group and invite everyone to offer suggestions and help. Get yourself a few copies of The Way to Happiness and hand them out to your friends and neighbors.

What you ought to be working towards is being surrounded by people who agree that it is in everyone’s best interest to help each other survive, both physically and spiritually. With that agreement in place, you can start to work on improving everyone’s ability to live a better, more productive, more satisfying and, dare I suggest it, happier life. You can accomplish this in the name of emergency preparedness, but you can’t do it by withdrawing yourself from society. You will have to do it by stepping to the front of the room and leading the way.