A Drop In the Ice Bucket: Good for the Cause, Bad for the Drought

IceChallenge

Seventy-five years ago, Henry Louis Buster Gehrig took to the hallowed grounds of Yankee Stadium and delivered one of the most iconic and saddest speeches in sports history. The prognosis from doctors at the Mayo Clinic was grim, yet he still told the 60,000-plus fans in attendance that he considered himself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.

The man that earned the nickname “The Iron Horse” for his durability, playing in a then-record 2,130 consecutive games, was forced to cut short a Hall of Fame career after being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The neurodegenerative disease that now shares Gehrig’s name progressively cripples and kills those afflicted, usually within two to five years of being diagnosed.

In an effort to help those paralyzed by the disease, The ALS Association, the only national non-profit for Lou Gehrig’s Disease, has been pushing something called the "ice bucket challenge." The phenomenon that has swept through all facets of social media is as basic as it is wasteful. A person posts a video of themselves pouring a bucket of ice water over their heads and challenges others to do the same within 24 hours, or donate money toward the association. A nice premise, unless you live in a state that is facing a crippling drought.

As of Sunday, August 17, the association reported it’s received $13.3 million in donations, a huge jump compared to the $1.7 million it had received during the same period (July 29 through August 17) last year. The sum of donations comes from both old donors and a reported 259,505 new donors, according to the association.

To put the waste this campaign has caused into simple terms, let’s just assume everyone is using a five gallon bucket. Now multiply that number by the more than 1.2 million videos shared on Facebook since June 1. Based on that assumption (5 x 1,200,000), over 6 million gallons of water have been poured out in the name of Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The average American household uses 320 gallons per day, which means that based on this estimation, nearly 19,000 homes’ daily water usage has been wasted. And that’s not even taking into account that videos posted online often depict multiple people, sometimes even entire sororities or fraternities, taking part in the ice bucket challenge, often using more than one bucket per video. 

That obviously would bump the water wasting total up, but you can do the rounding. I’m a journalist, not a mathematician.

An article posted last week by The Daily Currant, a satirical news site, stated that authorities in California were handing out state-mandated $500 dollar fines to participants, using their online videos as evidence.

“Perhaps these idiots can make it the Ice Cup challenge or do something really crazy and actually donate money to the disease?” the article read.

Sadly, the post is fictional and so are the fines. But it raises the question: why not fine?

There are more creative, socially conscious and environmentally responsible ways to raise money. Parks and Recreation star Chris Pratt almost nailed it when he opened his video by chugging a bottle of Blue Ice Vodka and a Smirnoff Ice in lieu of dumping the ice buckets on himself. He was on the brink of becoming a hero to water conservationists everywhere, until buckets of H20 started to rain down on him from the second floor deck above. As Pratt said at the end of his YouTube video, “It’s too much.”

Meanwhile, Gazettes Sports Editor JJ Fidler hit it spot on the nose during his challenge: showing the world a "Long Beach-style" ice challenge, Fidler hints that he is about to do what millions of others have done but eventually dumps a dry bucket of sand onto himself. While the billow of dust clouds the screen, a simple acknowledgement appears: "The drought is REAL. Save some water."

Raising money for disease research is a noble goal, and in a world where this sort of research is sadly under-funded, it's an integral part of the process. People should be altruistic but not at the cost of contributing to the arrogant waste of a vital and diminishing natural resource. The fact that the ALS Association has reported a near $12 million dollar boost in donations is great, but whatever happened to being silently generous and putting the focus on the charity instead of the donor?

Let's continue to give to medical research but stop taking so thoughtlessly from nature. As much as human existence will depend on the improvement of modern medicine, it will also rely on our efforts to be rational about our natural resource consumption.

The next viral hashtag should be for water conservation, because I think we’d all consider ourselves the luckiest people on the face of this earth if we can live in a future with enough water to go around.

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