Taking only what we need: What The Borrowers can teach us about energy conservation

Movies are always a great go-to conversation starter. Everyone has their favorite films and comfort movies to turn to when they’re down. But while you can generally get a group of friends to agree on whether a movie is well-made, it can be harder to get people to agree on a film they all want to see.

While my own taste skews toward the unique, the unusual and the unknown, there are some movies (and movie studios) that I go to again and again. It’s even better when I can take a good film and apply it to a real issue, like The Secret World of Arrietty, by Studio Ghibli, based on Mary Norton’s 1952 Carnegie Medal-winner The Borrowers. The award-winning Borrowers series (The Borrowers Afield, The Borrowers Afloat, The Borrowers Aloft, and The Borrowers Avenged) has been around for some time and has been continually adapted for the big and small screens, with the latest coming from the BBC this year and starring Stephen Fry.

For those unfamiliar, The Borrowers are a family of little people who live in between the walls and under the floorboards of the houses of us big folk. They are able to keep up a pretty enjoyable lifestyle by going out and “borrowing” things from the big people. They take only what they need, never enough to be noticed, and avoid contact with the big people. (In the books and films, Arrietty, the young, fearless daughter, has problems following that all-important final rule.)

Learning about energy conservation from The BorrowersWhile it’s probably not a good idea to “borrow” energy like the borrowers do (with no intention of returning or reimbursing what’s “borrowed”) the little guys do have a few insights into energy conservation.

Because the borrowers don’t live in a world designed for them, they are forced to plan out what they need and what they use. A borrower’s expedition into a vast big person’s house can be dangerous, so to minimize the risk, they plan ahead.

In contrast, big people like us seem to have an overabundance of everything and don’t tend to notice if a sugar cube or two is gone. And unfortunately, we like to treat energy the same way. We leave lights on in offices and homes. We leave computers running for days at a time. We plug in electronics that drain power even when they’re off. When it comes to energy use, big people need to think more like the borrowers.

First, we have to make a plan for what we need. There are a number of great places for energy literacy. A great place to start is our own Wiess Energy Hall and our Energy Conservation Club. Other places to borrow some energy literacy are the National Energy Education Development Project (NEED) and the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA).

After you get a grip on what you need, you can figure out how much time, energy, and money you’ll need to get it. But before you resort to borrowing, there are some great resources for watching your spending. Turn off the lights and the fan when you leave a room. Unplug appliances that are energy vampires, such as the TV, video game systems, cell phone chargers, and coffee pots. Get a power strip and plug all the vampire appliances into it, so you only have one button to turn on and off.

When the borrowers borrow, they don’t take anything that will missed. You can do the same with energy rebates. There are incentives to help with renewable energies and getting energy-efficient equipment.

The borrowers live happy little lives. Apart from the dangers presented by the big people, they seem to want for nothing. They are able to use their intelligence and thriftiness to survive, and we should do the same.

You can learn more about energy conservation this Saturday, Oct. 20, by joining HMNS at Energy Day 2012, hosted Downtown at Hermann Square. Located in front of City Hall, Hermann Square will be bustling from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. with family-friendly fun and games, food and live music — all for free!