We Hate ALS As Much As You; We Just Also Hate the Drought


My friends are wildly divided on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Every morning, I have equal numbers of heart-wrenching ALS survivor videos matched with drought-scare graphs. That a viral challenge can raise that much money for a cause is fantastic. I have friends and family who suffer through cancers and heart disease and MS, and to see that much money raised for research warms my heart. Plus, it’s all going to a charity that’s well known for managing funds fairly.

Okay, that’s where my heartwarming sort of ends for the moment.

California’s in a drought. Everyone knows this. Lots of articles are written about the ALS challenge and people who are mad about it, because of the drought. Ice bucket challengers are mad at the drought people, because they see themselves as supporting a good cause. Drought people are mad at the ice bucket challengers, because they think ice bucket people are ignoring an even bigger cause. Of course, they’re both right, but, if we are honest with ourselves—brutally and completely honest—the drought people might be more right. Yet, I think both causes can win (stay with me until the bottom for that).

If the ice bucket challenge had started a year ago, or even a few months ago, I don’t think it would have met with the same water-waste backlash. But it didn’t. It started a few weeks ago at the tail end of a brutal summer, when the state released some scary statistics that we only have somewhere around 12 months of water left. Seriously.

So the obvious thing is: we are late on the game. As someone mentioned in a lengthy Facebook discussion, California has been robbing Peter to pay Paul with our water. Strangely, people forget that California is a very big state and includes a central and northern coast, and a great deal of farmland all over the place. You can watch Chinatown and see how we royally fucked up over and over again, but NoCal has a decidedly different and less fraught history with water diversions. Yet, NoCal is in the drought with us and is proportionately affected by the drought. And this isn’t just another dry season for us. This is something far greater that can’t be swept under a rug. For instance, this is the city of iconic tall palms, yet we’ve quietly been removing them since 2006, because their water consumption doesn’t jive with new rain-less climate, and now city-wide efforts have brought up plans to wipe them out of our landscape completely. We’re prepared to give up our visual identity. For a city largely dependent upon tourism—this is big…even if most citizens are in blissful denial of it…

So what does this have to do with the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge? According to The Blaze, the challenge has used somewhere around 6M gallons of water. I actually think the count is dubious, because it says each person uses 5 gallons. So let’s cut that in half. Let’s say the challenge has used 3M gallons of water altogether. Hell, let’s say it used 1M or even just 25 gallons. Let’s go with that smaller number, because my point is that it doesn’t matter how much water was wasted during the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Before I even knew this challenge would get viral, I saw only a couple of videos of friends in my feed, drenching themselves, and even then, with just a few gallons of water gone, I seriously felt my heart sink. Why?

Because I’d just read another lengthy discussion on Facebook, where two women went back and forth about how the world is 70% water, so there is no drought and no water shortage, because water is endless. Underneath that Facebook post was an article about a town in North Carolina who had no clean water because of fracking. Underneath that, another article about people in my home state of Michigan who STILL don’t have their water turned back on even though outsiders donated to settle up their relatively minuscule bills. What I am saying is that it’s not the exact amount of water used in this challenge that matters. It’s the perception.

As I’m desperately trying to convince my friends and family and those in other states that they can help us in California by simply not drinking water bottled in California (Nestlé, the same company who owns the water in Detroit, has been draining us dry in California as well), I am finding it more and more difficult to combat people’s hard opinions about a fictional or not-so-bad drought, when I’m bombarded with images of happy, smiling people, gladly dumping gallons of drinking water on their heads. It is not about how much water. It’s the media perpetuation of the image and the seemingly white-washed attitude we have toward water conservation. And this could be anything that wasted water, but it happened to be an Ice Bucket Challenge, a good cause, which makes everything more complicated. If a trending story about pools existing in backyards had happened to break simultaneously with news of the drought stats, that would be on the chopping block instead. But it happened to be a bucket challenge. It happened to be a lot of fun. It happened to raise a lot of money for a good cause.

So now if I want to call out the hypocrisy, I’m told I’m an idiot who doesn’t want to raise money for a good cause. I’m told I should “focus on golf courses,” which I don’t exactly know what that means, but I am morally opposed to most golf courses in our nation, because I do believe it’s a huge waste and would like that to change. But I don’t have control over that. And something larger like getting legislators to curb golf courses from wasting water doesn’t happen unless the people really truly demand it, which often comes on a grassroots level of the personal becoming the political, by, for instance, saying that they will accept the ALS challenge but would like to, possibly maybe, dump a bucket of their own day’s worth of trash on their heads instead of clean drinking water.

My viewpoints aren’t fun. And they probably wouldn’t raise as much money for ALS. But water is a cause EVERYONE should get behind. It is the one thing that actually ties us all together. It’s the one thing we all need. And we’re running out of it.

Even if you are a staunch supporter of the Ice Bucket Challenge, please tell me you can see how frustrating this might be for someone like me who’s posting and posting all the information they can find on the drought and water conservation to desperately convince people that if it’s yellow you should let it mellow, when it’s juxtaposed with a lot of people pouring perfectly not-yellow water on their heads.

BUT, there could be a good thing to come out of this (as aforementioned). What if we allowed people to voice their concerns about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, while we also allowed people to participate in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge? Like we have been? What if people who didn’t know anything about the drought and clean water shortages all over the US suddenly became aware of them through this discussion, and then after the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge died down, people gave a second thought when they went to buy a bottle of water? Even if there’s a bit of anger, snark, hypocrisy from both sides, might it be nice to FINALLY be having a discussion about water again?


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