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A Little Ice, A Lot of Water, A Whole Heap of Cynicism



Scott here.  I've seen a lot of concern over the wasting of water in the now infamous ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.  If you don't know what that is, welcome to the internet, you must be new here.  Google it and come back, we'll wait.

Anyways, I've seen figures suggesting that around 1.2 million Americans have participated in the Challenge, using approx. 5 gallons of water each, meaning somewhere in the ballpark of 6 million gallons of water have been used so far (as of two days ago, so that number has grown).  Sounds like a staggering number, and it is a significant amount of water, to be sure.   And if you donated to ALSA, but chose to forgo the ice bucket to conserve water, I think that is admirable, and I applaud your decision to use the Challenge as a way to shed light on water scarcity at the same time.

But before we begin criticizing an effective fundraising practice by lamenting the waste of water, I wonder if we are willing to examine our own daily practices and consider how we might be contributing to water scarcity in our everyday lives.  For instance:

A five-minute shower (brief by most people's standards) = 5 gallons of water
A full tub for bath = 36 gallons of water
Brushing teeth (w/ water running) = 1-2 gallons per minute
Shaving face/legs = ~ 1 gallon
Laundry load = up to 25 gallons (unless your unit is old, then about 40)
A dishwasher load = up to 20 gallons, compared to only 4 when washed by hand.  (All stats found at water.usgs.gov.  It should be noted that newer, Energy Star certified washers are much more efficient.)

Here's the thing, I write this while listening to my dishwasher run in the background, so I'm not saying if you live the standard middle-class American life you're a monster.  What I am saying is that before we go getting cynical about teenagers dousing themselves in ice water to join in a fad that has raised over $20 million for a worthy cause, we should do a little soul searching and realize that whatever waste we're creating in the Ice Bucket Challenge is (pardon the pun) a drop in the bucket.

Think about it: instead of taking a ten minute shower, get in and out in five, and you've undone the damage of one of those pesky Ice Buckets.  I smell a new hashtag brewing... #5minutechallenge!

Now, here's some things I'm sure some of you might be thinking:

Scott, aren't you simply justifying some waste by comparing it to more waste?
You know what, it does sound like that, I agree with you.  And you're right, waste is waste, and I wish that the ALSA had a way to raise funds that didn't require the wasting of other resources.  But the reality remains that this has worked for them and the cost:benefit ratio of the water used vs. the money raised seems (at least to me) to be a good one as of now.

But the Challenge isn't doing nearly as much good as everyone thinks!  The ALSA will be forgotten in a heartbeat!  It's slactivism/narcissism at its worst!
Okay, so here's your challenge: If you want to see causes supported in a healthy way, then stop complaining and go do it!  Wash your dishes by hand, support your favorite charity or non-profit consistently, and talk to your friends and family about causes that you are passionate about.  I think one thing we all need to recognize is that Facebook, Twitter, and other similar social media are not going to be sources of long-term or deeply-rooted activism.  They are, by nature, the lands of selfies, trends, and 15-seconds-of-fame.  It's why both outlets make sure you know which hashtags are trending at any given moment so that you can feel free to move on to the next great conflict or current event.  This is an issue of understanding what we expect out of our social media platforms.  Facebook and Twitter are, at their core, about maximizing the potential found in fleeting moments.  Real life is where we find depth and longevity.

So you're saying I shouldn't take part in the Challenge?
I'm saying you should do whatever you think is right.  Donate a hundred bucks and save the water?  Great!  Donate ten bucks? Fantastic!  Dump a bucket of water on your head?  Good for you, I hope someone you know sees it and ends up donating to the ALSA, because then it will have done something.  What I really hope is that you find something that gives you passion for more than a fifteen-second Vine video, because when you've found that, you've found something worth living for.

Cynicism and posts on Facebook come easy, rolling up our sleeves and getting invested in seeing a change in the world takes guts, and I'll be the first to admit that I need more guts and less cynicism in my own life.  Now there's a challenge I ought to undertake.

- Scott

Resources for those interested:
Charity Navigator, One source for information regarding charity practices
charity: water is a well-respected water-relief organization bringing water to 3rd-world countries
ALS Association Want to actually learn about ALS?  Start here.
For more info on charity-choosing, this article from the NY Times covers a lot and offers more resources for the conscious giver.

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