[nobody knows how dry I am]
This year’s major viral craze is a challenge that involves donating to the ALS Association (a non-profit organization that aims to find a cure for ALS aka amyotrophic lateral sclerosis aka Lou Gehrig’s Disease). Basically you dump a bucket of ice water on your head, give to the ALS Association, and challenge others to do the same. It’s a lot like the viral Harlem Shake video from 2013 but without the water, the ice, and the cash.
Predictably, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has spurred a backlash. This is the Internet, after all, and hipster contrarians must have their say. You’ve seen these daffy folks: they’re the ones screaming “wabbit season!” if you say “duck season!” or “duck season!” if you say “wabbit season!”
For the hipster contrarians, the important thing is to be swimming upstream because that means you must be smarter than the herd if only that wasn’t such a mixed metaphor.
It’s hard to find fault with the challenge, particularly since donations to the ALS Association have been wildly up as a result of it, but that doesn’t stop these elitist sourpusses. Their first line of attack was the usual one of narcissism. The contrarians claim that people were only donating because they get to brag about it. Well, donations are legal tender either way, bragging or not. A buck is a buck no matter how you got it. (Just ask an exotic dancer. Or Rupert Murdoch.) And, what’s with bullying of the little people? Why not attack the Stanfords or the Carnegie-Mellons for putting their names on universities? Why not attack the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation? The Rockefeller Foundation? The David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research? (Yes, he’s that Koch.) The contrarians, however, decide to guilt trip only the little people, the common folk who deign to comment on their own giving.
With money rolling into the ALS Association at an unprecedented rate, however, this argument has become rather weak. So the hipster contrarians decided to focus on the water itself. Dang! Spilling water! There’s climate change! There’s drought in California! There’s thirsty people in Africa! (That last one was from a Ricky Gervais tweet that’s since been deleted, though he forgot to also delete his follow-up response.)
Look, I appreciate those that think about the water they will use in the challenge and either dump it into a pool or on some thirsty plant life. It’s always good to be conscientious about all acts involving Earth’s finite resources. And both of my faithful readers know that I’m as green as the next guy with foot fungus. I’ve written about the environment before and before that. But the numbers – about which the contrarians apparently know nothing – don’t support their holy-water-than-thou remarks.
A putz recently wowed hipsters who struggled through Algebra I with an article that estimated 6 million gallons of water had been “wasted” as a result of the challenge. Now 6 million sounds like a big number. And it was. In 1973. When it took that number of dollars to turn an astronaut into a bionic man. Today, however, that amount of scratch wouldn’t even get you onto an old Russian rocket to achieve Earth orbit.
So how big a deal is 6 million gallons of water, really?
Not as much as you might think.
The average toilet flush is 3 gallons (about half that if you’ve installed a newer, low-flow model). Meaning that if just 2 million people save one flush in one day (stop tossing those spiders down the toilet!), we’ve wiped out the total ALS water use debt.
Or how about this? The average shower head sprays between 4 (old models) or 2 (new models) gallons per minute. Let’s just split the difference and say shower heads use 3 gallons per minute. Than means if 2 million people shave just one minute off their shower once, we’ve wiped out the total ALS water use debt.
In other words, it’s almost certain that the average person (and certainly the average hipster contrarian) wastes more water in a single day (day after day!) than is used in the average bucket challenge.
The irony, of course, is that these contrarians, who like to talk about the slacktivism of others, are slacktivists themselves. Pontificating loudly about water usage, pretending that means they actually care about water. Because, you know, if we just cut out all these narcissistic ALS water dumping exercises, we can go back to ignoring the real water crises:
- Like why anyone still buys bottled water since it’s even more wasteful of water than using the tap.
- Like why few in the United States know about the Ogallala Aquifer, how it’s necessary for a lot of our food, and that it’s disappearing.
- Like why no one lobbies their government to invest in infrastructure updates so that hundred-year old water pipes don’t break and create 20 million gallons of wasted water. (That’s more than 3x the amount used in the ALS challenge thus far but it’s already been forgotten.)
Those worried about a tenuous link between dumping ice water and donating to ALS research should recognize there’s an equally tenuous link between dumping ice water and drought.
So dump away, donators! Dump without guilt!
And chill out, slacktivist hipster contrarians, chill out. Sit on a block of ice if need be. Yes, the planet can afford it. (It can even afford the precious energy used to freeze the water into ice.) You aren’t more aware than the rest of us. You don’t care more than the rest of us. Let your outrage be directed at more meaningful – and far more essential – water projects. Besides, isn’t it getting to be about that time for your annual rants on Burning Man?
Update (August 25, 2014): This viral “fad” has now raised $80M for the ALS Association. To put that into perspective in all of 2013, the ALS Association had a budget of $24M and in all of 2012, it had a budget of $19.7M.