Ice Bucket Killjoys

Today is Friday, the day I talk about the issues.  Today’s issue is that there are people out there being killjoys about the Ice Bucket Challenge.  In case you’ve been living in such a way that you could find this obscure blog but miss the social phenomenon that has taken over every form of social media and the news, the Ice Bucket Challenge was a fun publicity stunt designed to raise a lot of money and awareness about ALS research.  The idea is that if you get challenged by someone, you have to send $100 to ALS research.  If you don’t have $100 or don’t want to send $100, you can instead dump a bucket of ice water on your head and send only $10 instead.  Then you chain letter 3 other folks and make them do it.  It seems that most folks opted for the ice bucket and then sent the $100 anyway.  As a publicity stunt it worked wonders!  Celebrities got involved, the public got involved, and for the month of August it was all the rage.  There were more than 739,000 new charitable donors and raised $41.8 million dollars in the space of one month (double what they got last year).

Of course, we can’t have a giant phenomenon where millions have a good time, lots of disposable income is pushed to a good cause, awareness of the terrible disease is increased, a readily replenishable resource is used, and people are temporarily discomforted for the amusement of others without the killjoys raising their voices in protest.  The killjoys are a group of folks that have to be outrageously upset about something that doesn’t impact their lives in the slightest bit.  They are obstinate gadflies who just want to poo-poo whatever it is that their pretentious ire is aimed at.  I’m not sure if it is out of spite, out of jealousy, out of a need for attention, or out of a dark soul that bemoans goodness and joy in any form, but the killjoys are here to talk bad about the Ice Bucket Challenge (IBC).  It’s just so easy to sit there, doing nothing, and complain about something while other people are out doing something.

The first thing that the killjoys latch onto is that the IBC is “wasting water”.  I’m not sure what to say about that, because the idea is really stupid.  These folks are acting as if the Conservation of Mass was not in effect, that once the water is dumped out it is gone forever.  The Earth has 321 million cubic miles of water, and even if the water from these IBCs did disappear from the universe, we’d be fine.  Of course, the water does not disappear, it rejoins the water cycle.

Maybe these folks aren’t scientifically illiterate and are more concerned that we are taking water and dumping it on the ground.  The USGA predicts that 2.08 billion gallons of water are used to irrigate all the golf courses in the US every day.  To put that in perspective, that is everyone in the United States doing the IBC with a 6 gallon bucket every single day.  Not for charity, but so that a few well-off suburban dads (mostly) can enjoy their really green playground that poor people aren’t welcome to.  Granted, most of that water for the nation’s golf courses is pulled from ponds, lakes, and it isn’t sanitized.  But that doesn’t stop Americans from dumping sanitized water on the ground all the time.  The typical American household has a sprinkler system that uses 265 gallons of water per hour.  They should only go for 15 minutes, which is literally taking sanitized drinking water and dumping it on the ground at the rate of 66 gallons every day, about 200 every week with 3 days of sprinkling.  That is, if they aren’t overwatering (which is a widespread practice).  If wasting water really offends you, start the campaign for outlawing lawn watering.

How about just dumping water down the drain?  A typical load of dishes uses 20 gallons of water if you do the dishes by hand and leave that pesky faucet on, 10 gallons of water if you are using a modern dishwasher.  3-ish gallons per toilet flush if your toilet isn’t new, 1.6 gallons per flush if it is.  A full bath can be about 40 gallons of water, a shower is 5-ish gallons per minute (Americans average a 50 gallon shower).  I haven’t even talked about washing the car, cooking food, actually drinking water, laundry, or many other water intensive activities.  A nice little water-conservative family of 4 living in suburbia USA uses about 280 gallons of water a day, 1,960 a week, and 8.4K gallons a month.  It’d be such a shame if 6 gallons of water went to a charity event.

Really, if ‘wasting’ water bothers you that much, you could instead do a charity of your own where you donate $88 dollars to buy someone with an older toilet (3-5 gallons per flush) a high efficiency toilet and another $29 on a WaterSense shower head (2 gallons per minute as opposed to the average of 8).  You’ll save about 42 gallons of water per person that uses that bathroom exclusively.  It would require effort, though, and that’s why I don’t expect the killjoys to take this idea and run with it.  It’s a shame, because I’ve got a great plan to kick-start this charity.  Let’s have folks dump 42 gallons of ice water on their heads to show how much water could be saved a day with just a donation of $117 dollars.  That’d definitely raise awareness!  Or have an Office Space moment where people take baseball bats to the old toilet.  I bet all sorts of people would watch toilet destruction videos.  Of course…then the killjoys will say that everyone is being wasteful and over-burdening already full landfills.  They just have to be offended by something.

Drinking water isn’t a precious resource in the United States.  At my current rate in New York, where everything is expensive, I can get a gallon of water out of my tap for less than a penny.  We have plenty of infrastructure that lets us convert absurd amounts of water to be safe enough to drink.  6 gallons here or there doesn’t really matter.  That’s 6 cents worth of water.  The ice costs 25 times more than the water.

The second complaint I keep seeing is that there are lots of people without drinking water, and the IBC is affecting them in some way that…um… well the killjoys never seem to finish their thought.  It’s the same thinking that an American child needs to finish their vegetables because there are starving children in China.  The thoughts aren’t related.  I’m not sure why this complaint is a thing.  Are they mad because we dumped that readily accessible resource on the ground rather than boxing it up and sending it UPS over to some unspecified thirsty individual?  Are the killjoys mad that thirsty people without access to drinking water weren’t given a plane ticket so they could come over to participate in the fun?  What is the complaint?  You might as well get mad at those kids in Alaska for throwing snowballs at each other and wasting the snow when there are kids in Hawaii that have never even seen a snowflake.  One place has the resource in droves and the other doesn’t.

I can tell you what the complaint is: Inequality exists in the world.  Inequality in the world is a very serious topic and one that troubles me often, but saying that the IBC is making it worse isn’t valid in the slightest.  It’s tragic that people don’t have access to clean drinking water, but that isn’t affected by the IBC.  Wasting water here won’t hurt or help folks over there.  Preserving water over here won’t hurt or help folks over there.  Locking up 6 gallons of water in a shrine to be revered and honored for generations to come won’t hurt or help folks over there.  Really, the “we’re wasting water when there are people that don’t have water” argument is really dumb because any resource could be used here.  If it was the “Eat 5 Poptarts” challenge, killjoys would be mad about wasting food from a place with an overabundant supply of food.  If we did a “stay awake all night” challenge, folks would be mad because insomniacs everywhere can’t get enough sleep.  Some people just refuse to let a good thing go by uncriticized because they have to be offended.  They need to be offended.

Yes, inequality exists in the world, and one of the best ways to combat that is through charityCharities like the IBC are great to combat inequality.  If you want to talk about inequality, let’s talk about the tens of thousands of individuals suffering from ALS that could greatly benefit from some very expensive research.  If you want to talk about inequality, let’s talk about people in the richest nation on earth using their iPhones and internet connections to help redistribute $41,000,000 of their throw-away change to help people that have it worse off than themselves.

Are there valid criticism of the IBC?  Actually…yes there are.  Some folks don’t like it because ALS research is sometimes done with detriment to animals.  Some folks question where the money would be going to (does it go to actual research or some CEO of a research lab?).  Some folks think that ALS is hogging all of the charitable giving (the numbers haven’t come in on this yet, so I can’t say if it is true or not, but my feeling is that the IBC generated extra giving without cannibalizing a large percentage of donations).  These folks I can tolerate, because they’ve put thought into what they are doing as opposed to throwing an immature hissy fit/temper tantrum in order to gain attention for themselves (my favorite one so far calling the IBC a Satanic Ritual).

What has the Ice Bucket Challenge done right?  More than raising $41 million for charity, it briefly made charity cool again.  For a while, people were talking about charity and giving.  They were excited about giving.  That hasn’t been a common conversation in years.  My wife and I talked about how we’d been slacking off on our giving to our charities of choice and how it would be nice to start that up again (my favorite is Heifer Project International).  The IBC brought with it a spirit of generosity that’s been sorely lacking.  It showed that we are very capable of addressing social issues if we want to.

Final thoughts?  I have a few.  I don’t have any data to back this up other than my gut feeling, but charitable people tend to be really excited about folks being generous.  It doesn’t really matter what the good cause is, charitable people are excited that other people are putting their money into the cause they care about.  If you ever find a charitable person, ask them, and they will tell you all about their charity of choice because it matters to them.  That’s why I think the killjoys really don’t have a leg to stand on, because I don’t think they give to any charities.  They don’t have a dog in this fight.  I have trouble seeing someone with a charitable heart donating hundreds of dollars to one charity and mocking and jeering someone else for donating to something else they care about.  I have trouble seeing a charitable someone missing the point so completely while saying “you’re giving to ALS?  Well I give to cancer research, and they didn’t need a stupid gimmick, so I’m better than you.”  Charitable people don’t talk like that.  Killjoys do…except for that part where they give to something else.  It really just sounds like an excuse to remain selfish.

So to you killjoys of the world, I offer you your own challenge.  You don’t have to dump water on your head or anything.  Just give a little bit of your spending cash to any charity you think is worthy.  $50 should do it.  If you are so offended by the inequality in the world that the IBC highlighted for you, I suggest giving to Heifer Project International.  If you were made aware of people without clean drinking water because of the IBC, I suggest giving to water.org.  I think the simple act of giving will change your heart a bit.  I wouldn’t put your money where your mouth is because I think that bragging about your charity is really just a self-promotional bit of advertising that still helps the cause but robs you of any personal growth you could have enjoyed.  It’s the difference between saying you care about something and proving it.  What will the challenge prove?  Not a whole lot, no one will really know that you did it, but I think it’ll change you for the better.  And if it doesn’t, you can tell me all about it and I’ll apologize to you personally for ruining the good name of killjoys everywhere.

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