This was going to be a long sweeping article about how wrong we are when we care about different things: how many megapixels a camera has, how much electricity we use by keeping the lights on, using cell phones on airplanes, and swimming in the water when there's lightning out. But instead of trying to weave all those things together, I'm going to focus on the biggest one.
This one is near and dear to me, because I am a bad showerer and I got in trouble for it as a kid. I'd wake up on a cold New England morning, snow outside, and tip toe across the cold wood floors.
When I was cold I would hold my hands in front of my chest, hands clasped under my chin. No one else seems to do this, by the way. My brother once told me that I "don't look like a ninja" when I did it, which apparently is what he guessed my motivation was.
Once in the bathroom, which always seemed colder than the rest of the house, I'd reach into the even colder shower and turn the knob to hot, shivering and counting down the seconds until I could get under the hot water. When the steam finally poured out from behind the shower curtain, I would jump in and exhale in cozy satisfaction.
And then I would do nothing for about ten minutes. I would stand, half asleep, staring at the wall of the shower, probably looking a lot like a dog when he gets his neck scratched. Fifteen minutes later I would be jolted back to reality by my dad, knocking on the door and telling me to hurry up.
Now, even as an adult, long showers are a guilty pleasure.
But how much does it really matter? Do short showers save money? Do they save the planet's precious scarce water supply?
As you may have guessed by now, it turns out that long showers really don't matter at all. A showerhead puts out around 2.5 gallons per minute. An extra ten minutes in the shower per day, then, is twenty five gallons. Multiply it out for the month and you've just wasted 750 gallons of water.
Sounds like a lot, right? Well, it's not. That amount of water costs about $1.13. Not a bad monthly fee for an extra five minutes of luxury every day.
On the other side of the coin, how much water do you waste by eating a hamburger?
That sounds like a stupid question with the obvious answer of, "Nothing", but that's not actually true. Meat requires far more water consumption to produce than vegetables do. In fact, according to waterfootprint.org, a meat eater's water footprint is some 185,000 gallons higher per year than a vegetarian's.
To put things in perspective, the vegetarian could shower for an extra THREE HOURS every day and still use significantly less water per year than a meat eater. Eat one fewer pound of beef per month, and even by the meat industry's clearly biased numbers, you've earned fifteen minutes extra in the shower every day.
My point isn't that you should necessarily take long showers and stop eating meat, but rather that dogma isn't always correct. Sometimes things we feel guilty about are actually more innocent than we imagine, and sometimes things we never even thought about are actually pretty big deals.
Wow. Is this three posts in three days? It's like the good old days. Remember those? So, today I wake up and go through my normal routine. Read e-mails, listen to voicemails, eat some breakfast, say hi to my beautiful fishies, etc. Time for the shower.
I turn the water to hot and weigh myself while I wait for it to heat up. 139. Damn. That's really skinny. I eat a lot of salmon. Shouldn't I weigh more? I check the water - it's still cold. I brush my teeth while I wait.
A few months ago, I set out to test cold showers. Here's what I wrote for my experimental mission statement:
People are raving about what hormetic opponent process magic silver bullet it is to take cold showers. A little research gave supposed benefits of increasing circulation, mood, immunity, fertility, energy, exercise recovery, fat loss, mental alertness, pain and stress tolerance, cold tolerance, and skin and hair health. They're even supposed to stop depression and hair loss and tumors. I'm going to alternate two weeks of cold showers with two weeks of hot showers for the next two months and see what actually happens.
So excepting two days of each condition when traveling, every day for two months I woke up, did a 10-minute workout, immediately took a 7-minute shower, recorded my energy, mood, and shower discomfort, and took an 8-minute Quantified Mind battery. This wouldn't tell me anything about skin health and tumors, but it would get the main thing: does a cold shower begin one's day more vigorously than a hot shower?
There were no observable differences on any Quantified Mind tests, suggesting that the brain does not care about the water temperature.