mUD MOUNTAIN BLOG
Back in 2011, I found myself camping alone on a remote
Turkish hill. There was no power or water on the land.
It was the start of an adventure that profoundly changed
my beliefs about what is enjoyable, or possible...
Should Everyone Move Off Grid?
Should everyone do what I’ve done, jack in their job, run from the city to the hills and build an off-the-grid mud empire for themselves? Would it be more or less sustainable? Could humanity survive without cities? Where, after all, would we squash these ever mushrooming plagues of people?
It is widely promulgated that without cities there simply wouldn’t be enough land space for us all. Out of curiosity, I began to research a little on how much usable surface area of the planet there was for each individual. It's not easy to uncover a straight answer to that, and it depends whether the research includes the entire Earth's surface, forests, deserts or cities themselves. According to this study back in 2005 we all had a little over 5 acres of earth surface each. Huntington Funds puts the figure closer to just over 1.5 acres per head. WorldWatch calculates it as only 0.5 acres per capita. Feeling claustrophobic yet?
There is much debate about how much land each human needs to survive. Somewhere between 5 – 10 acres is a figure that sprouts up fairly regularly, thought let's be honest, far too many of these theoreticians are hypothesizing from a swivel chair in a city of a suburb. I am not self-sufficient (is such a thing possible?) but I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t starve if push came to shove, and I haven’t even touched ¾ of my 2 acre plot. The issue isn’t so much land space as what we’re doing with it. Ask me to choose between 100 hectares of desert and an acre of fertile soil with a wellspring, there’s no debate. I’d go for the latter. Far more crucial than metres squared, is clean water, healthy soil and healthy bio-systems, hence my ambivalence vis-à-vis cities.
When you live with your arse in the dirt, when your meals sprout primarily from your garden, when your life is dictated by the seasons and the sun rather than a Rolex, a different type of awareness evolves. The impact of everything you do to your land is obvious, and you reap what you sow very quickly. The trouble with the urban sprawl is that while it might not take up as much physical space per capita, its population is divorced from the consequences of its actions. If city folk pollute a river it doesn’t impact them directly, because they can still throw a bottle of Evian in their supermarket trolley. If they waste insane amounts of energy why care as long as there is the cash to foot the bill? Why ever bother with a composting toilet? The crap is flushed away somewhere else. And therein lies the problem. A city’s mess doesn’t end at its asphalt fringes. If we take stock of the bigger picture, the waste, energy and water consumed by cities decimate large swathes of resources.
And yet . . . Am I saying we should all live off-the-grid?
From the outside it looks as though the soundest option would be permaculture-based sustainable communities with food stuff, materials and resources shared, but . . . but . . . I’m still hesitant. There is a tendency, when folk escape from ‘civilisation’, to turn pristine nature into exactly that which they were running away from. Rural off-the-grid life and the world of the city are two vastly different realities, and some never adapt. Houses are generally built too big, nature’s gifts are bulldozed out of existence before they are even noticed, the quiet unpeopled hours weigh heavily on those of naturally social bent, the lack of distraction bores others. City dwellers moving to the country for the first time are like refugees finding themselves in a foreign land with a language they don’t speak. It takes time to adjust, and some never do. And perhaps they were never meant to.
But isn’t the aim of this blog to convince everyone to join my club and be like me, build a whopping great muddy community? Isn’t that what we should do?
The idea that we 'should' be doing something, is all too human. Wild cyclamen and buzzards know nothing of what they should do. They do whatever they like, can, or have to, at any given moment. So why do I write this blog? Why spend a day each month banging the keys of my laptop and spouting my earthy crap? Let it be known; I have no interest in convincing anyone to do anything, converting people is the territory of religions and dogma. Actual living is the art of the soul, and everyone does it differently.
To accept yourself, to love and believe in your talents, to follow only that which brings you joy is nature’s way. Contented, self-fulfilled people generally consume less than their miserable or desensitised counterparts left with little else to do but stuff the holes inside them with noise and instant gratification. The more complete you are, the more you realise the outside simply can’t bring you what you most desire. It’s inner peace and happiness we need more of, not off-the-grid homes or communities, because both pollution and ecology start in the mind and the heart, and just like everything else in the natural world, they grow naturally out from there.
Would I say this if I were starving, or without a stump of wood to throw at the fire? Probably not. But In that case, I wouldn't be throwing out half a refrigerator of food every week, nor buying palm oil products nor draining the national grid. I'd be on my knees kissing the dirt like it was the Goddess of Nourishment instead.
24/12/2014 09:21:01 pm
trolling the web on the eve of THE 25th of DECEMBER...and you remind me of another essay I read recently: http://aeon.co/magazine/culture/why-i-gave-up-living-in-an-off-grid-commune/
9/1/2015 04:10:52 am
It's great to read such a direct assessment of this question. As you point out, it's not so much about location but about not denying responsibility for your own shit (literally). People born and bred in rural areas regularly dump chemicals in the river to poison neighbours downstream, or bury refuse when there's no government carting it away. In the cities people can be amazingly inventive - two of the most interesting initiatives I've come across recently are using smart grids to increase energy efficiency and city food gardens (http://www.ozcf.co.za/, http://harvestofhope.co.za/).
Thanks for sharing Claire:) The Harvest of Hope is very interesting. I suppose the older I get (he he) the more I come to the conclusion that pollution, war and violence are mostly products of inner miseries rather than outside factors. This is particularly striking when I return to Western countries and watch folk who are in fact incredibly privileged (materially and security-wise) compared to the rest of the world, and see how miserable they still are. If anything more miserable!??
24/10/2015 05:23:29 am
Hi,any idea on the Eurocode and earth bags? I've looked everywhere..cant find a simple answer. Please,tks.
24/10/2015 10:20:34 am
I'm afraid I don't know, as Turkey is outside the Eurozone, and doesn't even follow its own rules. If an answer comes my way, I'll post it.
7/6/2016 10:40:26 pm
I grew with camping, having things be simple, rough, and as a child, it was great for the weekend. Then for nearly a year, while the military made dad wait on a list for housing in Germany, my mother, grandmother, and myself had to live as campers. Even now, as dad and I shift through the old camping gear, I'm amazed how everything still works, except for the age old tent from the 40's. He is 72 now, and one day, I know I need to do things on my own. Being in Nevada, earth building is not permitted. Since I can remember, I've always wanted to dig in, and build my home. My year camping exposed me to caves, basic dwellings, and how much we did not need television, and more. Thanks to these experiences, even when I lost the use of my right hand, I pushed forward, figuring how to keep my independence. I know there is still so much t learn, I know I cannot handle more than an acre. I just wish I knew where to find information for the USA so I can go beyond the trailer I'm setting up with the old camping gear. Sure, the dogs and I will be fine being campers, but playing with the mud, making my old mud ideas on a living level would be a dream come true for me. I have picked up your free book and others from Amazon. Any help will be deeply appreciated. Thank you for having such an informative site.
13/6/2016 04:36:25 pm
Thank you for sharing your experiences Ann. Take a look at Calearth.org for plenty of information on earthbag in the US. I'm feel sure I've seen an earthbag house in Nevada on the net, but can't remember where exactly.
16/4/2023 03:47:49 pm
7 years later, there's the Mojave Center https://www.mojavecenter.org/ with classes outside of Las Vegas NV. I'm currently in NM myself.
17/4/2023 03:39:10 am
Brilliant article. Thanks.
1/5/2023 03:14:04 pm
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Atulya K Bingham
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