"The Scavenger's Manifesto," Feature, 5/20
Frugal, but Not Criminal
As a lifelong frugalista, daughter of survivors of the Great Depression (this one is only so-so?), I love the idea of scavenging. My favorite is the forgotten stuff in the back of my own closet. It's back in style! It fits!
However, I have mixed feelings about the picture showing the stolen shopping cart. The poor guy has no other way to carry his stuff, and yet I can't help wondering how much they cost and how much they add to my grocery bill, whether or not I choose to contribute. A rich country like this one should be able to find a better way to help the poor.
Ruth Bird, Berkeley
If You Love Something ...
Coming across some "free" item that I can actually use while going through my normal daily routine has always been a happy event, but it doesn't happen very often. Usually the freebies that I come across are of no use to me, and I decided a while ago not to keep things that I use less frequently than once every 10 years. The questions this article opens up, are such as these: How much of your time will you spend to save $5 or $10? Is an item more valuable or useful just because it comes at free or low cost? If you can't pass up taking things from free piles, will you eventually find all the rooms in your house turning into storerooms for unused goods, featuring narrow 14 inch pathways through each room and mounds on all sides threatening to collapse on and bury you alive? On the surface, scouting for freebies sounds like a good idea, but unless you live in a warehouse and have lots of free time during which to fill it, you'll soon hit limits when scavenging. You'll run out of space to store all the wonderful bargains. Three hours will turn to four in searching to save $15 on a blouse and if you value your time at your normal hourly wage rate you could have saved $80 or $100 by buying a brand new one 4 hours ago. I know a man whose weekends are dedicated to hitting one garage sale after another. The tub in the second bathroom of his house is nonfunctional due to being piled three feet high with an odd assortment of never used items, and he was unable to have repairs done on the furnace in his house because there was no way to get within 10 feet of it, due to the enormous pile of goods stored in his basement. His life mantra is "A vacuum will be filled," whereas the mantra I'd prefer to hear him try out is, "If you love something, let it go."
Deborah Cloudwalker, Oakland
The Problem with Consumer Culture
While I am a proponent of scavenging and admittedly partake, Anneli Rufus' manifesto of scavenging misses the greater problem with the so-called "consumer culture." It's a problem having to do with forming one's identity out of things that are bought, found, stolen, scavenged or won. The point is that an identity formed around what one owns can lead to some unfortunate consequences. When Rufus describes scavenging for some as being "spiritual," I cannot help but ponder what this means.
This sort of deep connection to a means of acquiring things, while portending to exist within a counter-culture (i.e., opposing a consumer culture) is concerning because it is an example of how we're being trained to believe that what we buy (or scavenge) is a primary signifier of who we are. What's concerning about this is that it is yet another example of how as individuals in a society, we acquire products not first and foremost for their use value, but for an ideology. The theme of the article seems to be an us (counter-consumer culture) vs. them (consumer culture). That's exactly the kind of antagonism this superficial kind of identity creates. Creating a social identity around scavenging breeds a sort of righteousness that can construct and facilitate differences that hold little weight outside an individual's self-inflated ego.
I agree with the practical reasons of scavenging (saving money, reducing waste), I have to take issue with the author's assertion that a scavenger is, for better or worse, acting beyond the horizon of a consumer culture that is so condemned in the article.
Brian Kennedy, Oakland
"Sierra Water Grab," Feature, 4/29
An April 29, 2009 East Bay Express article was subtitled, "East Bay MUD wants to build a new dam and ruin a scenic stretch of the Mokelumne River because it is not willing to make its suburban customers conserve water." That statement draws conclusions about EBMUD's current and future water supply management programs that are not supported by the facts.
First, it's a fact that EBMUD has a long history of encouraging water conservation. EBMUD's three-tier rate structure uses inclining blocks and was adopted long before it became a California best management practice. Customers who use more water pay more. In addition, EBMUD invests millions of dollars annually helping all customers conserve by providing technical assistance and rebates. EBMUD's overall water demand is at approximately the same level as 1975, even though the population in the area EBMUD serves has grown by more than 30 percent.
Second, it's a fact that EBMUD has enough water during wet and normal years to serve existing and future customer demands but EBMUD customers need more water in drought years even with the comprehensive, progressive demand management programs that EBMUD has pioneered and/or adopted. EBMUD's new Water Supply Management Program 2040 (WSMP 2040) pushes conservation and recycling goals to the limits of cost-effectiveness. Because our service area is bordered by other water agency service areas, in the future EBMUD's service area will not be growing "out" so much as growing "up" through increased density of development. The additional dry year demands in WSMP 2040 were estimated by consulting with local land use planning agencies about their plans for the future. Over the next 30 years demand will rise about 0.8 percent per year or 60 million gallons per day (MGD) total. EBMUD will meet this entire increased demand through increased recycling and conservation and drought rationing.
The remaining need for water by customers totals 43 MGD over the next 30 years to offset increased water use by other Mokelumne River senior water rights holders and to allow the maximum future customer rationing level to be reduced from 25 percent to 10 percent. Reducing the planned rationing level makes sense when one looks at the level of conservation already built into EBMUD's long-range water supply programs. It also provides flexibility in the event of future water supply uncertainty due to climate change effects.
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