University boss quits her job to live off-grid

We could all follow her lead
“I was a cognitive psychologist, an academic happily ascending the career ladder,” said Dr Alison Green, head of Scientists Warning.

“I knew about climate change, and I knew that things were looking a bit gloomy, but I hadn’t really acquainted myself with the facts. The alarm bells weren’t ringing. People tend to have faith that those in high places know what they’re doing when it comes to climate change. It’s a trap I fell into myself.
I moved into academic management and got what was effectively my dream job: pro-vice chancellor at Arden University, a campus and distance-learning university based in Coventry. In July 2018, I came across Prof Jem Bendell’s Deep Adaptation paper, which was going viral online. Here was someone with credibility and a good track record who, having studied the science, was saying that we’re no longer looking at mitigation, we’re looking at adaptation; that societal collapse is inevitable.
Being a vice-chancellor no longer meant anything to me. I gave up my career, and I’m so much happier as a result
People are starting to talk about the kind of spiritual awakening you get in these situations: an “ecophany”. I concluded that banging on about climate change on social media was not enough, and became involved with grassroots activism. Being a vice-chancellor no longer meant anything to me. I gave up my career, and I’m so much happier as a result. Now I talk at conferences and events about the need for urgent action and I have taken part in direct actions with Extinction Rebellion, including the closing of five London bridges last November and speaking in Parliament Square during the April rebellion.
The science shows that societal collapse could be triggered by any one of a number of things, and once triggered, it could happen quite quickly. I suppose I’m being protective towards my four children, aged between 16 and 24, but in the event, I feel I need to be somewhere where I’m growing my own food, living in an eco-house, trying to live off-grid. It would give me some security; I don’t feel secure where I live in Cambridge at the moment – I’m concerned by thoughts like, “What would happen if I turned the tap on and there was no water?”. On our current trajectory, cities will not necessarily be safe places in the future – possibly within my own lifetime, certainly within my children’s.
I am putting my house on the market. My aim is to move to north Wales or Scotland and get a smallholding. I’ve had to think differently when house-hunting: is it energy-efficient? Does it have access to water? Is it above sea level by a certain amount? Where’s the slope facing, so I can grow food. I need to get solar panels up, and a friend has offered some help with a wind turbine. It’s a way of life that’s always appealed to me; now it seems really urgent.
I’m very aware that I’m privileged in being able to do this. It’s frightening to think about homeless people, people who are in rented accommodation. Who will look out for them?
• Dr Alison Green, national director (UK) at awareness charity Scientists Warning and former pro vice-chancellor, Arden University

4 Responses

  1. Glad to see that Dr Green’s plans include a wind turbine, as in UK solar alone is not enough, we are much too far North for solar alone to be enough. My daughter lives off-grid in West Cornwall, near Penzance. She met a man who rents an off-grid cottage and now they have solar panels in their garden and a wind turbine at the top of a ridge on neighbouring farm, and a battery bank of lead acid leisure batteries (very old fashioned) . And two children which happens to be their quota, see last paragraph.
    The cottage is in a clearing in woodland and the land owner allows them to harvest dead trees to burn in the ancient Rayburn oven for heat, hot water and cooking. They are well above sea level as in the 3 miles or so from Penzance to their cottage the land rises 300 metres, so walking cycling, growing vegetables and building maintenance and improvement keeps them all very fit (no car).

    The weakness is food, as they still need to buy much of their food, including meat and milk and in winter most vegetables and eggs- and feed for the rescue hens (ex battery hens).
    For the planet and the human race as a whole is to prevent the collapse of society by reducing atmospheric and ocean CO2 to a safe level. ALL our electricity must be carbon free, and the UK and several other European countries are heading in this direction, though not fast enough. SO OFF GRID IN ITSELF DOES NOT PREVENT THE COLLAPSE OF SOCIETIES, THE AIM MUST BE TO MAINTAIN SOCIETIES BY MAKING ALL ELECTRICITY CARBON FREE, AND PERSUADING PEOPLE TO ABANDON THE CULTURE OF INCREASING CONSUMPTION PARTICULARLY IN DEVELOPED COUNTRIES. We in developed countries cannot tell people in poorer countries to curb their carbon emissions unless we set an example and develop the technology for them to eliminate poverty without emitting CO2.
    So being off-grid does not insulate my daughter’s family from a collapse of society, for this they would need a year round sources of food, which could be done by growing more keep-able foods, as in Medieval times (when people also had no electricity).
    Also if society collapses how would they prevent people from stealing their food by harvesting it before they do?

    So the only possible answer is for society as whole to avoid collapse by QUICKLY going completely carbon free. In the UK we are heading in that direction, and quicker than many countries, by expanding wind power. So while our government is slow (the Conservative party has a target of carbon free by 2050, while the Labour party has a target of 2030, which would mean that remaining diesel and petrol cars would all have to be scrapped by then. Compare this to the current Conservative government’s aim of merely banning the sale of new diesel and petrol cars by 2030, and presumably banning their use by 2050 or earlier.
    Despite the dire outlook I remain cautiously optimistic. On the political level “If the people lead for long enough eventually the government will follow” wrote Amory Lovins over 20 years ago, and this is now happening though still slowly. This is where the Greta Thunberg effect is very encouraging at least in the developed world (except in the US Republican party and in many oil exporting states).
    On the technical level it is possible to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. As well as making all our energy carbon free we will need to remove from the atmosphere probably all the CO2 which we have emitted from fossil fuel burning and land use change (tree destruction and soil destruction) . The easy way to absorb CO2 is by tree planting (reversing the deforestation and soil destruction of the last century or more) and then NOT burning the wood ,but using some of it to construct such buildings as are required, replacing the carbon emitting making of cement and brick.
    Tree planting is being undertaken successfully in China and India, and is well under way with the Great Green Wall of Africa just South of the Sahara desert. There is a UK charity called Tree Aid helps people near the Sahara desert earn money by planting trees which are useful for food and/or materials, while also preventing soil erosion on their land. Even in the densely populated UK some government funded and private reforestation is under way.
    In addition there is a proposal to vastly accelerate the natural CO2 removal from the air and oceans from the weathering of rock. this would involve the mining and grinding of a common rock called olivine and exposing it to rainwater, or better to sea water by sprinkling it on beaches which are pounded by waves and in warm climates.

    All of this will be insufficient if the world’s human population continues to rise; this is the most difficult part to accept and most people and organisations simply avoid it. However simply stopping unwanted pregnancies by ensuring that all women have access to safe and affordable contraception will greatly slow the rise in population. At least Melinda Gates understands this, as does the American charity Population Media Centre which aims to create demand for contraception by making radio stories which inform women in poor countries, thus creating a demand for affordable contraception. Note that the Roman Catholic Church is reviewing it’s position on family planning, a position which is widely ignored in many developed countries anyhow.

    So in conclusion we have the technology, and the political climate is shifting and hopefully accelerating. For instance in the UK wind power, including offshore wind, is now cheaper than building a new gas fired power station (though not cheaper than power from existing gas power stations which have paid off the construction costs).

  2. People seem to have forgotten that the centre of the English town of Woking went off-grid many years ago, and Woking remains the only UK town Council to be a Beacon Authority on energy. This was the work of Council energy manager Allan Jones MBE.
    From Wikipedia:By March 2004 the initiatives had also cut the borough’s carbon emissions by 17.24% and those of the council by 77.4%.
    The 77.4% reduction in carbon emissions applies to the central area of Woking which is a sustainable community energy system area and is off-grid. All this was done before the cheap electricity storage provided by lithium ion batteries made going off-grid much easier, so it was done without rare earth metals. Key elements of the system are (1)Fuel Cell Combined Heat and Power which heats the swimming pool and neighbouring buildings, both commercial and Council houses, with the waste heat being used to generate electricity for the same buildings, and (2) the mix of commercial/Council and housing spreads the demand for both heat and electricity over a wider time period.
    To this day no other part of England has come close to a comparable reduction in CO2 emissions, but given this template along with sparing use of lithium ion batteries (or other means of battery storage of electricity, which are under development) it would be easy to replicate the 77% reduction. The remaining 23% would have to come from wind turbines. In England these can now be built only offshore, but in Scotland and Wales on shore wind turbines are still allowed. The offshoring of UK windpower was a bright idea of Prime Minister Cameron to placate nimby voters, mostly Conservative party supporters. However the good news is that offshore windpower has fallen in cost to the point where it is cheaper than building new gas fired power stations

    1. You can volunteer if you live close enough to population centres, regardless of whether you are on or off-grid.
      In sunny places not too far North, such as the southern States, people have gone off-grid with only solar power plus batteries such as the Powerwall made by Tesla, and this can be done in dense cities as long as you have a suitable roof (or garden).
      In more northerly climates (Chicago, Toronto or the UK) you need wind power for a year round supply, and this needs a windy location. Such locations need to be away from the wind interference caused by buildings and/or trees, and often regulation/building codes ban or control the size of wind turbines close to other houses. Wind turbines attached to your house are useless, mostly they get no wind, and on the rare occasions when they do they shake the house to pieces.
      A few sites have the option of micro hydro power, but this is very expensive per KWh compared to big dams which feed electricity into the grid.

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