Energy Update: Rethinking Luck, Privilege and Abundance

Rising bills, compounding energy crises, the head of the UN announcing an existential threat to humanity.  When the head of the largest diplomatic organisation in the world uses language that wouldn’t look out of place in the Extinction Rebellion manifesto, it only adds to our desire to be a part of what follows this madness. A few questions we often ask ourselves follow the ‘four Rs’ set out in Jem Bendell’s famous paper Deep Adaptation, what can we relinquish? What can we restore? How can we be more resilient?

In light of this, an update about our energy systems seems appropriate. For those of you unfamiliar with our system, you may want to look at how we built a home battery out of recycled laptop cells or the first energy update. In a nutshell, in terms of electricity, we have five 100w solar panels, 2 homemade batteries using recycled laptop cells and one lead acid battery. We have a 500w 240v inverter used to charge drills, run a small fridge (Dometic CDF-30) during the summer and a small, cold-water washing machine. We don’t have a generator or grid connection and have relied on this for 5 years without a problem.

For water we have two ferrocement tanks of 8000 and 3000 litres which we have written extensively about in other blogs. Hot water comes from a 200 litre evacuated solar heater which works like a dream. For cooking we have a gas hob, but recently added a solar oven to this from GoSun which has had a profound impact – a real example of resilient technology here. 

I don’t want to go into the design specifics here but offer some observations having lived with these systems for 5 years and in light of the existential crisis we are accelerating toward.

What started out as a curiosity or talking point is now increasingly urgent. The off-grid system we have created has provided us with a high quality of life, no sacrifices (see the 90% rule), minimal consumption of between 2 and 4% of a conventional European household and, wait for it, no water, gas, electricity, sanitation or heating bills, ever. 

Moreover, the natural cycles upon which these systems depend, whether it be sunshine, rain, or microbiology to process our waste, means we are drawn closer to the sky, the soil, the insects —- we become more symbiotic with the natural world we have collectively fought so hard to separate ourselves from over the last few centuries. 

This embedding has given rise to another realisation. What many people call ‘luck’ or ‘abundance’ in the conventional sense of the word would more fittingly be called ‘symbiosis’ in the natural world. Allow me to expand. When we talk about abundance or luck, they are often seen as zero-sum. If I am enjoying abundance, somebody else is necessarily experiencing scarcity. If I am lucky, then others are not. Indeed, modern economic theory dictates this and as such we see a race to the bottom for dwindling resources playing out around the world.

I mention this because when we say we have no bills, people might say, ‘oh, you’re lucky!’. Which implies that others are not so. However, we do not reprimand the bumble bee for its luck every spring when it happens upon a dandelion laden with pollen, nor do we chastise the tree for drinking what it will of a Spring shower. In a symbiotic, natural relationship, there is abundance, but not the kind that comes at the expense of others. 

Furthermore, using this kind of language can lead to a sense of dis-empowerment and despair. When we say someone else is privileged or lucky, by using this language we ultimately are reflecting on our own sense of helplessness. You might think you can’t make changes in line with your deepest intuition, but you can. We are a part of the natural world and if we listen, we are being called back into alignment.

Perhaps air is the only thing that reminds of this truth. It’s no coincidence that air is one of the few things to be monetised – although we know that poorer people generally breathe worse quality air, so maybe this is even debatable. If people were charged for air, and received an air bill every quarter, we would say how lucky some people are to be able to afford it and how unfortunate others are who sadly can’t stump up the cash. Once things enter the money realm, rent seeking abounds and it becomes a zero-sum game. Food, water, housing — all birthrights, become distorted, inflated, misinformed and sold back to us for a life of slavery in which our ‘luck’ or ‘abundance’ must be fought for, guarded and legislated lest someone else get their hands on it. 

An example: When gas is sold on the open market, a person who has the economic means to heat their house to 25 degrees day and night with the windows open can do so, because money is abundant in this person’s life, or they have been lucky to get a good job, or hard working, whichever. Crucially though, this ability to fork out large amounts of cash for energy drives up prices for others. During an energy crisis this is compounded, those who can afford to pay extra bills do so, using up the same amount of a scarce resource, making prices even higher for those with lesser means. 

This seems clear to anyone with the cognitive skills of a 6 year old. So, yes, I am ‘lucky’ when the sun shines, or I benefit from ‘abundance’ when the rain falls into our tanks. But do I enjoy these things at the expense of others? Of course not. 

Living off grid has not only taught us a wealth of practical skills but also helped us align with cycles of natural abundance. I don’t mean a pyramid scheme or some manifesting ‘think and it will become’ nonsense. I am talking about solid, practical steps taken following a thorough analysis of your needs and the careful application of some choice modern technologies. 

Think carefully, meditate even: What will follow? What elements of modern life will have to be relinquished? What can you restore? How can you become more resilient? And the final ‘R’: Can you reconcile to some extent the horrific damage wrought on planet earth by humans by once again honouring natural cycles? Fill your life with things that may form a part of what follows. You will become more capable, intelligent, resilient, and peaceful and Gaia will thank you for becoming the conscious ray of light she always hoped you would become, in these end times it is the least we can do.

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