Off-Grid Living – Where To Start – Episode 3 - DIY

Updated: Oct 18, 2021

By Howard Lewis. Recently two new co-leaders were elected for the UK Green Party. In their first statements they blamed the government and opposition parties for inaction in combating climate change. “It’s vital that green policies are adopted for the benefit of our climate and our communities”, said Carla Denyer, one of the elected leaders.

In other words, let’s kick this new leadership opportunity off by pointing the finger at someone else and blaming them for the environmental crisis that’s unfolding. It’s the government’s fault that this is happening and they need to do something now to fix it. It’s easy to be critical of the government of the day and you can always get a headline by blaming someone else.

I don’t mean to sound cynical, but you simply don’t get action by pointing the finger and telling someone else that they’re not doing enough. Time and time again the greatest political (and business) leaders of our world got action by living their dreams and encouraging others to follow. Think of Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Nelson Mandela – three great leaders who lived their beliefs, not blamed others for their non-beliefs. And boy did it take guts to do it.

The truth about all political parties is that in order to get elected they have to appeal to the widest possible electorate, the mainstream. And climate action isn’t a mainstream subject; it should be but it isn’t, more’s the pity. There are politicians who try to push it into the mainstream, but it doesn’t work. Why? Because acting to save the climate is perceived to be all about giving stuff up, and that’s not an attractive proposition. Give up meat, give up your car, give up your consumptive lifestyle and go frugal. It’s definitely not a great government message particularly if you’re trying to kick-start a flat-lined economy and need people to consume like crazy. People are going cold, hungry and jobless in today’s modern internet society – imagine the uproar if you told them they also had to shit in a bucket from now on. I’m certain you’d not get elected. Talking about it and berating the inaction of others is easier than doing something ourselves.

So what to do?

Big changes happen when lots of people make little changes. A little change multiplied by millions of people equals a very big change. Governments have an important role to play in setting the policy agenda and enacting laws. But it’s only when people get behind something en-mass that things really begin to change.

For me the move to sustainable living is a personal choice and not one where I’m giving anything up – quite the reverse. I believe that by reducing my consumption of goods & services and changing my food habits I will lead a healthier life and will spend less money. So I won’t have to work at a job I don’t like, and travel for hours every day to get there. The do-it-yourself approach works for me because I want to learn as I go.

Fundamental to my belief is that living a more ecological life is also living a better life. So this year, with my Green Gorilla family, I’ve built a tiny house in the garden, which collects rainwater for washing and boiling the kettle and burns wood efficiently in a rocket stove. The stove heats my water, cooks my food and provides under-floor heating, so I have warm feet. I will live in the house this coming winter because it gets cold outside and the house is well insulated, dry and cosy.

I also have a compost toilet and have started making compost for the garden. Next year I’ll connect the house to solar so I have off-grid electricity (instead of running a cable from the house) and will begin to grow some food. I’m finding the move to sustainable living very therapeutic – I have more time for reading, writing and watching good movies. I don’t go to the shops very often because I’m too busy at home and really don’t need much.

This DIY life is a work in progress. I still eat a bit of meat, have the occasional bath and drive a diesel van. But I’m also starting to use my bike again to limit the van’s use – my target is not to go above 500km each month – and I walk across the valley to see my friends. It won’t be long before I don’t eat meat anymore, give up the bath and drive electric. Eggs and cheese may take longer!

So don’t rely on politicians to get us across the line on climate action. It might be better (it would certainly be novel) if they told the truth – that this is where individual action is paramount. They can set the conditions and provide some education perhaps, but it’s up to each of us as individuals to hunker down and start living green, at whatever speed we can comfortably manage.

In the meantime, the politicians and their immense delegations and flunkies will fly to Glasgow for the upcoming COP26 climate meeting, and they will talk earnestly about the need for immediate action. Words like precipice, catastrophe, crisis, destruction, change, floods, droughts, fire and pestilence will be solemnly said. And hands will be wrung. They’ll sympathise with the protesters, but won’t let them get too close. They will set some targets, cross their fingers, have some nice dinners, stay in expensive hotels with free mini-bars and complimentary monogrammed dressing-gowns, get chauffeured about and have their photos taken. And then they’ll fly home again feeling good at the progress they’ve made.

And while that’s going on the DIYers will have built a veggie garden, installed a solar system, emptied their compost toilets and insulated their homes with repurposed duvets and pillows. Just getting on with it.

I know who I’d rather vote for to get me out of trouble!

The Green Gorillas run workshops in tiny house building and sustainable living. Find out more at

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