Monday, September 15, 2014

[PHI 2200] The morality of the ice bucket challenge

Do you think that those who participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge are doing something morally good? That is, those who pour buckets of ice water on themselves for ALS should be praised for doing so. After all, in so doing, they are trying to support the fight against ALS.

If so, consider the following facts:

(1) Lots of water has been wasted for the ALS cause. Jason Ruiz writes:
"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."
(2) Water scarcity is a global crisis. According to the UN:
"Around 700 million people in 43 countries suffer today from water scarcity. By 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world's population could be living under water stressed conditions. With the existing climate change scenario, almost half the world's population will be living in areas of high water stress by 2030, including between 75 million and 250 million people in Africa. In addition, water scarcity in some arid and semi-arid places will displace between 24 million and 700 million people. Sub-Saharan Africa has the largest number of water-stressed countries of any region."

In fact, it is estimated that "every 21 seconds a child dies from a water-related illness."

Do you think that these facts put the morality of the Ice Bucket Challenge into question? If so, why? If not, why not? 


  1. It is morally good to support a cause that affects people. The ALS challenge was motivated to get supporters to donate and if they did no donate they had to do the ice bucket challenge so the initial instructions were ignored by the participants. So did the als campaign work successfully yes but it does waste a non renewable resource. So in doing a morally justifiable activity it is causing others increased barriers to accessing water. If the als challenge is compromising the ability of how people live it has to be questioned

  2. I think that the water being wasted is a valid concern, however, it doesn’t really put the morality of the challenge in question. The average US household wastes a lot of water even if no one in the house participates in the ice bucket challenge. For example, running the tap while brushing your teeth can waste 4 gallons of water (1). Also older toilets can use 3 gallons of clean water with every flush, while new toilets use as little as 1 gallon (1). Therefore, just by brushing your teeth twice a day with the tap on you’ve already wasted the amount of water you could have used on the ALS challenge. If one is concerned about water use, they should consistently try to limit the waste by spending less time in the shower, turning off the tap when it’s not needed, not running half loads of laundry, etc. While the ALS challenge certainly wastes clean water, it’s not the leading source of water waste in an average home. In my opinion, there are other concerns related to the challenge that are evident in the “ALS challenge fail” videos (2), where the participants endanger themselves and others. This seems like a more relevant issue, because people who get injured because they were careless in their ALS challenge attempts wouldn’t have gotten hurt if they weren’t doing the challenge or decided to simply donate instead.

    (2) like this one -

  3. I completely agree with the argument simply because not only could the water be going to the use of others but it could also be saving lives. However I would like to pose the question to you: How would we get the water to those areas of the world that have water scarcity? Think about it, the majority if the water used for the Ice bucket challenge is coming from either the tap or a hose in someones backyard. It is not like they are taking bottled water and dumping it on themselves... The reason why I bring this up is because when I was in high school we tried to donate water and the restrictions on how you donate the water is a little more complex than you may think. It has to be in a sealed bottle or container it cannot just be cups and opened containers with tap water.

    1. Good question. Here's one way to do it:

  4. If using water to raise money for disease research is considered wasteful, then I would argue using water for recreation must cease immediately. How much water is "wasted" every day at water parks, events, or perhaps birthday parties? I'm sure the number will easily exceed 6 million gallons.

    1. As I understand it, your argument goes something like this:

      P1. If wasting water for charity is morally impermissible, then wasting water for fun is morally impermissible.
      P2. But wasting water for fun is morally permissible.
      C. Therefore, wasting water for charity is morally permissible.

      I think that those who find the Ice Bucket Challenge wasteful would probably object to P2. They would say that we should not waste water for fun, either. Is there a good reason to think that P2 is true?

    2. Sorry I did not see the reply until now.

      I would be in agreement with those opposing the Ice Bucket Challenge in that we should not waste water for either activities. However, I think their criticisms should more directed to the one that is wasting more water and doing less good.

  5. I believe that these facts do put the morality of the Ice Bucket Challenge into question. I am a native Californian and I am from an area that is particularly hit very hard by the drought that the state is experiencing. I would never do this challenge because it is a waste of water that some people could really use. Yes it does bring people awareness of ALS and some do donate to ALS research, but it is a massive waste of clean water. I think that an alternative to this challenge can be suggested where no resources are wasted.

  6. The participants of the ice bucket challenge should not be praised. Although they did manage to raise over one hundred million dollars for ALS, the wasteful way in which they did this is questionable. When we consider that about seven hundred million people suffer from water scarcity, and that six million gallons of water have been wasted throughout this challenge, one wonders if all of that water really needed to be poured out. Ultimately, many of these participants could have simply donated to the ALS fund, without casually eliminating a vital resource. As a result, these facts put the morality of the Ice Bucket Challenge into question. While raising money for ALS is certainly a good thing, it cannot be morally good when done in this context. Although the participants help one group, they blatantly disregard another.


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