Is it greener to live in the city or off-grid in a rural area?

....not a bad life

This is the Treehugger.com debate going on now. Some of the comments are quite off-the-wall (see below)

I debate Lloyd Alter of Treehugger about whether it is greener to live in the city or in the country off-grid.  Tell your friends. Vote for me!
Of course, we do get on to talking about living off the grid in the City, but that is a very minority sport.You need to click through to the third page to register your vote – and you get to read it all that way.
Once you are there, check out some of the angry remakrs made by Treehugger fans:
George Mockray sums up my beliefs when he says: Well, I’ve got one room essentially off-grid in the middle of the city and carry solar on my backpack every day. During the growing season, I use it to carry vegetables home from my community garden plot. Seems to me that one can be off-grid in the city too.
But George  is a rare calming influence in the debate compared to this from Biodiversivist: his is an old pipe dream repackaged in yet another book. Communes don’t work (and renaming them doesen’t either).

Off-Grid homes typically devolve into shacks surrounded by a junkyard and a dog or two to protect the occupants from other off-griders.

Admittedly, the idea of having no utility bills is appealing. The reality is not so appealing.

Lots of people have wells. They are expensive and need maintenance. It’s much nicer to have clean water arrive in a pipe from the water grid. Taking responsibility for the safety of your own water is burdensome.

Lots of people have septic systems. They are expensive and need maintenance. It’s much nicer to have dangerous waste sent down the sewer grid to be treated. Taking responsibility for your own waste treatment is burdensome.

Lots of people have propane tanks. They are expensive and need maintenance. It’s much nicer to have gas arrive in a pipe from the natural gas grid.

Now try powering your cabin with solar panels, especially ones that have no grid to tie in to. Much nicer to have two wires coming to hour house, and you don’t have to live in the boonies to put solar on a house.

Living in the boonies is not green People and nature don’t mix.

13 Responses

  1. It is certainly greener in the city regards obtaining materials both reclaimed or new.
    In rural Devon, England, it is almost impossible to find things that a trip to the city yields freely. I am thinking carpets, insulation, timber, waste oil, vehicle parts… the list is endless. You are forced to pay a premium, travel expenses or delivery charges for anything you need with perhaps the exception of meat. There are more people growing veg in cities than out here. Even alleged off-gridders hereabouts have a few scant herbs and a chicken raped veg patch, if any at all. I was shouted down for wanting to use about 250kg of concrete to support a wind turbine mast because ‘the cost can never be recovered’ by a ‘green’ who drives either a four wheel drive or a 3.5tonne van 15 miles to the local farmers market to buy her veg etc. when she has 30 acres of wilderness and a few sheep with names.
    This whole off-grid/green thing is its own undoing because of the ridicule it generates by misinformed and unrealistic people hanging on to the banner.
    I am totally off-grid save my vehicle and that has to earn every penny it costs to run. I have lived like this for twenty five of the last 48 years and very rarely pop up my head to shout it. I suffer abuse and aggression from locals who put in ‘the strongest possible objection’ to my planning application for no other reason than ‘my septic tank (been here for forty years) could be polluting their private water supply’.
    It isn’t and as it is half a mile horizontally from anyone else and 144metres above sea level it could be filtering in a subterranean water course that emerges five hundred miles away… data from the local authority inspection engineer who checked it.!!
    So it is possibly greener in a verdant sense in the rural idylls everyone seeks, but from a freegan point of view the city yields greater riches and as most of the mainstream off-gridders are ex city workers who made their riches and set up camp in the wilderness to find themselves, they too are a product of the city.
    I on the other hand and many like me have lived on the fringes of this society for all our adult lives and only succumbed to bricks and mortar when all else failed. What I have here would be scoffed at by the purists..yes Nick you included, I would refer you to the slants you proffered about some of my more rustic friends in your first book.
    In summary I would suggest that it is as green as you make it to live wherever you choose and to try and gain kudos for your ideal is just base at the expense of those who choose otherwise.
    Time to grow up people and accept all our differences are what makes us the same, on-grid, off-grid or plain spaced out. childish bickering is simply dividing us all and sad but true that is the human condition. Heal your hearts and minds and embrace everything as a possibility then we will move nearer to harmony.

  2. The biggest cost, is rent, and it is easier to live rent free, in a rv, in the countryside.

    As far as being green is concerned,people pollute,just have less kids.

  3. As for cities being even remotly sustainable go to you- tube and search “The most important video” It’s a professor out of Boulder Colorado giving a math lesson that shows the future.

  4. “the only jobs left are scooping ice cream and building monster country homes for the rich. ”

    You forgot Tim Hortons – from Orillia

    And the reason this happened can be found on the 400 every week-end as everyone including you escape from the City – what are you/they all escaping from?

  5. Cities, by their size, are unsustainable, and therefore NOT green. Villages can have enough food growing area within walking distance, independent septic, water, and power systems.
    So it is a matter of size and location, and the lifestyle habits of those in an independent home or village. They can breed themselves out of sustainability easily.
    The cascading collapse of the world population is a mathematical certainty. The cities and areas relatively close to cities will be hit hardest.
    Without global and timely sufficient reduction in fossil fuel burning and slash and burn agriculture, eventually the biosphere itself will have a malevolent climate for most life. Outside crop areas will be subject to failures from climate change. So those well defended independent villages will be able to sustain less and less. As methane turnover accelerates over the next 3 to 500 years, surface life will be very difficult. It could very well be, on a geologic scale, an ELE, with a recovery time for the biosphere of several million years. All started by human burning of fossil fuels hundreds of thousands of times their replenishment rate, and human over-breeding to the point of using other key resources at 100 times or more their replenishment rate, and polluting at over a thousand times absorption rates. The methane releases from CO2 pollution warming, are considered to be at the tipping point of positive feedback, and CO2 warming itself is said to be +1*F more by delay in effect, even if all fossil fuel burning were totally stopped. Collapse for cities is imminent within less than two generations. Collapse of the biosphere possible by 2300. I would give chances of human survival at 1% and speciation at 1/2%. Thanks to overpopulation which has been well known since the 1960s, and nothing done about it while there was time.

  6. I’m not really sure which is greener and I’m not sure I care for that matter. I also believe it is impossible to make an absolute on this as each individual circumstance and situation is unique unto it’s self.

    I have a number of friends who belong to an Urban Homesteading and Permaculture group and they are doing some really great things. I applaud their efforts.

    I, on the other hand choose to live in a very rural area. I heat with wood, have a good well with a hand pump and an out house. I do use some propane and a gasoline generator that gets little use, except when I really need it for power tools, etc.. I also have a modest solar system that provides me with some additional power. I am only off-grid part of the year at this point, but plan to live there year round on retirement. I have very productive organic gardens and continue to improve and expand them.

    We all need to keep in mind that living off-grid may be a radical concept to some, but it wasn’t all that long ago that most rural families lived that way. We needn’t go back that far, maybe only 50 or 60 years in some places.

    The county I live in has about 300 Amish families and they are all off the grid. Not exactly a novel idea.

    As for the urban vs. rural debate I think it comes down to each individual. I prefer the privacy and wide open spaces of rural living. I also believe that we live in very uncertain times and the possibilty of civil unrest looms just under the surface of our daily lives. We just don’t know what will happen tomorrow, whether man made or a natural disaster. I simply feel safer in the country. Crime is not an issue for me and I like it that way.

  7. “Cities become breeding grounds of crime primarily due to the number of people living in too close proximity to each other.”

    Crime rates in cities have been dropping for years, and are often lower than the crime rates in the country, as are the suicide rates and rates of obesity, drug abuse. It is probably because there is something to do there.

    “b to peer pressure in acquiring status symbols. And the closeness of people tend to exacerbate the problems of haves and have nots comparing each others lifestyle. This tends to generate envy and avariciousness on the part of the have nots wanting some of what they see others enjoying. This in turn leads to theft and crimes of passion.”

    I see this as a much bigger problem now in the country, where rich urbanites build their second homes and the locals end up servicing their needs. I have a cabin in the woods north of Toronto, Canada, where the only jobs left are scooping ice cream and building monster country homes for the rich. The variance between the haves and the have nots is far greater than in the city where it is not so obvious.

    I think you have it completely backwards.

  8. My last water bill$212 for 3 months, my last repair bill, tree roots through my sewage pipe from a tree the city planted $1200, through a friend – was quoted $3000, last time I drank the water 1987. To quote the doctor on staff of the local heath unit ” If you drink that water your a ginny pig” ( contains Dry cleaning fluid but falls within Canadian Limits 25ppm )WHO standards 4.5ppm. If you live in Africa you are not allowed to drink our water – in Canada ” It’s safe” Google “Walkerton” if you believe a well is expensive and the city officals will give clean inexpensive water

    How many times have you heard water is the next oil?
    Get ready to pay

  9. City is where you live if you think government should make laws to fix the problem…. the bigger the better. The country is where you live if you wish to reduce your personal toll on earth and make the future doable for your children and grandchildren. The government is moved by the majority of people… these are people who have worked many years to have a retirement… or are there and don’t want to loose what they have worked for… that is most people over 40…. probably the majority right there. Then you have all those under about 14 who don’t care yet and can’t vote anyway… at about 15 people start wondering if there is going to be a world left for them in a few years… but they can’t vote till they hit 18. Once they hit 18 to about 25they have to work, these people will vote green…. till they finally get a job… and know it is not a green job, but it feeds them. Not many people left to push for green policy.

    When the wheels finally do come off… all the people who expect “somebody else” to do something are going to be in the city… the big city. All I can say is I would rather learn how to take care of myself now than then. I would also rather all the “don’t knows” are in the big city and not here. Selfish? Yes! (just like ALL the above mentioned people) But there are going to be a lot of people die and hurt, at least I can help some people and those I can help are those who helping is going to do the most for, those ready to survive.

    Civilization is already failing, not sometime in the future, it has started already. Will there be a huge collapse? I don’t know, but I don’t think so… I think it will happen slowly. When? Could be in the next few years or after I’m gone. Doesn’t really matter if it is 200 years down the road. Some people have to start setting their family up for a sustainable future apart from the grid (power/water/people/government) and start small local grids if humanity is to survive (maybe, no guarantee even then).

    “We should” means “somebody else should”
    I have to replace that with “I am going to”

  10. Nick I agree with you. There are a number of factors that should be included in the overall comparison of urban versus rural living. Cities become breeding grounds of crime primarily due to the number of people living in too close proximity to each other. Mention is made of municipal sewers versus rural septic systems. No mention is made of lagoons nor was mention made of natural filtering by wetlands. You had a post last year on Off-Grid.net wherin this option is detailed. Such things are not even mentioned in the debate of rural versus urban living. A seperate issue not even covered is the generation of methane gas from sewage because we do not even talk about this in North America. Yet it is a viable power source in other parts of the world.
    In the cities there is little choice as to building heat fuel. Rural residents do have a choice of wood heat which is considered carbon neutral.
    I concur with the point that urban dwellers tend to become part of the consumer society if for no other reason than they succumb to peer pressure in acquiring status symbols. And the closeness of people tend to exacerbate the problems of haves and have nots comparing each others lifestyle. This tends to generate envy and avariciousness on the part of the have nots wanting some of what they see others enjoying. This in turn leads to theft and crimes of passion.
    As to carbon foot print. Much depends on the geographic location. When you live closer to hydro-electric power generation, the electricity bill is lower compared to places which is powered primarily by coal fired generators. Thus even if the power consumption is equal the carbon footprint is bigger in one place compared to the other. I have live in some of the major cities names in the energy consumption table on Tree hugger site and visited many more but now I live in a rural environment far from any towns. To me the choice is obvious.


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