On our first trip to Ireland, my family and I visited the cottage of my grandmother's late cousin. Until his death in 1994, he had been living completely "off the grid" in a tiny whitewashed cottage with no electricity, no phone, and no indoor plumbing...His water was supplied by a well, and he used a wood-burning stove to heat water for cooking and bathing. The cottage had a little outhouse in back and a thatched roof that he layered with new straw over the years. Although it seems very primitive, he lived this way throughout his life. Many people across the world still live this way today.
His cottage reminds us that living off the grid isn't a new concept. Rather, it's about finding ways to integrate modern amenities like electricity, plumbing, and air conditioning into a more sustainable way of life. It helps to remember that people in the last century have made the choice to "rough it" for a range of reasons from economic to cultural, and that our dependence on the grid is also a choice, though one we make collectively. As ideas about energy consumption change, looking back at the not-so-distant past can effect our perspective.