Why We Need a “Grid Switch”

image of a light switch
Light Switch by Dean Hochman via Flickr CC 2.0

What would it take to live on and off-grid? What if you could flip a switch and be “off-grid?” By “off-grid” I mean to live comfortably based on your own power, food, fuel, and water sources. But for those times when your own sources are falling short of your needs, you could simply flip the switch and go back “on-grid.”

As of now, there is no on/off switch for accessing the utilities and larger systems people typically need for daily life needs. That’s a key reason more people do not go “off-grid.” Another reason is social marginalization or even stigma. Ones who do are labeled “homesteaders” or “survivalists” and are perceived to live on the margins of society.

But wouldn’t we all like the security of knowing we had a steady local supply of power, food, fuel, and water? Isn’t seeking those things a basic part of the human condition? If you look at protests and revolution, it’s when we don’t have those things that we rise and demand more from our governments or other powers that be. However, when humans enjoy a steady supply of those things, especially food, the opposite is true. People carry on. People even put up with a miserable existence. 

Despite their negative impact, shortages are a predictable issue related to human systems – they are the result of system breakdown. In that sense, shortages are part and parcel of our systems. Power, food, fuel, and usable water for human uses are what we humans call “supplies” when they become a part of our systems. They become “shortages” when systems break down. On a larger scale, we call them “resources.” The things that provide power, food, fuel, and water are extremely abundant in nature. They are quite difficult for humans to access, however, exactly when and where they need them. That is the very reason why humans (and other life forms) make systems.

So it’s our human systems we need to look at when it comes to creating steady local supplies of what we need. We need to look at our larger systems; i.e., “the grid.” We also need to look at microsystems, and locally (not globally) functioning systems.

However, it is also essential to understand that those systems rely on larger ecosystems of which they are part. Human systems, regardless of how technologically advanced they may be, are not separate from the ecosystems of which they are part. We have been relying on these eco-systems without accounting for the costs these systems pay for our livelihood. Much of humanity relies on large systems – “the grid” – for their daily needs. That is why I believe our local systems are critical for not only adapting to changes in the global systems but for attaining independence from them.

Shortages, or the breakdown of the flow of basic supplies, happen when our systems break down. We know this. It is perfectly predictable that when our systems break down the situation the situation deteriorates and reduces available power, fuel, usable water, and food. We also know that our systems are currently straining the earth’s ability to support our lives. Change is coming, whether we usher it in consciously, or all systems, including eco-systems, will continue to suddenly and violently break down.

A “grid switch” could allow us to make a transition to local systems and earth-centered living in a more gentle way. A gentle transition is critical for creating the circular economies of the future, and a more earth and life-centered way of living. I believe that if we are going to make a reasonably smooth transition to an earth-centric paradigm for humanity we need the freedom to go on and off-grid because it will allow us to try new local systems out and work out any issues, make improvements and revisions until we can become earth-centered in our ways of organizing human life.