[Plura-list] Against hygiene theater; Saving the planet is illegal

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Thu Feb 25 11:56:37 EST 2021

Today's links

* Against hygiene theater: Wired: Ventilation. Tired: Handwashing.
Fired: Sterilization.

* Saving the planet is illegal: Time to torch the Energy Charter Treaty.

* This day in history: 2006, 2016, 2020

* Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming/recent appearances, current
writing projects, current reading


🎬 Against hygiene theater

A year ago, covid was a mystery. We didn't know how it spread, we didn't
know who it infected, we didn't know how to treat it. All we knew was
that it was spreading fast and the early epicenters were slaughterhouses.

It's been a year, and now we know a lot more. One thing we know, for
example, is that even though virus particles can linger for a long time
on surfaces, you're not likely to catch the virus from these "fomites."

Simple handwashing of the sort we should have all practised all along
will do the trick. You don't need to sterilize your groceries or leave
your parcels to sit on your doorstep for three days. Just wash your hands!


However, in the lockdown's early days, businesses were floundering,
wondering how they'd reopen, and, driven by the scant science of covid
transmission, a class of highly speculative health consultant sprang
into existence to promote a meticulous regime of surface cleaning.

Surface-cleaning is a highly visible activity, and it can feel
reassuring to be handed a grocery basket whose handle is glistening with
a layer of freshly applied sterilizing spray. But all of this hygiene
theater is largely irrelevant to controlling the pandemic.

Hygiene theater isn't harmless. At the very least, it's a major
distraction. Late in 2020, my kid's school district circulated a plan to
reopen for in-person classes in early Jan, assuming the LA County health
department permitted it (they didn't because LA is a plague-pit).

This email went into incredible, eye-watering detail about the school's
plan to sterilize all surfaces, going so far as to mention the brand
names, active ingredients and concentrations of the products that would
be applied to every surface every day.

Meanwhile, the plan included *nothing* about ventilation. When I wrote
to the district to ask some simple questions like, "Will you unseal the
windows so they can be opened while students are present?" or "Do you
have any fans?" no one knew the answer.

Needless to say, "Have you changed the kind of HVAC filters you use?"
was an unanswerable mystery. This wasn't reassuring - as school safety
plans go, it was about as useless as those lock-down active shooter
drills they terrorize the kids with.

Hygiene theater is everywhere. A friend of mine owns a 100-employee
business that moved into new offices just before the pandemic. The lease
includes cleaning services, and twice a week, a masked crew sweeps
through the unoccupied offices and sterilizes every surface.

Covid science is still a moving target, obviously, but the overwhelming
consensus is that masks, distance and ventilation are the most important
safety measures we can take - while sterilization and surfaces are no
more (or less) important than they were before the plague.

Of course, airflow isn't easy to demonstrate or detect (some places are
experimenting with giant CO2 readouts as a proxy for ventilation), so
it's getting short shrift.


But focusing on sanitizing because it's so visible is the
epidemiological equivalent of looking for car keys under the lamppost.


🎬 Saving the planet is illegal

One of the worst barriers to preserving the planet in a state suitable
for human habitation is the Energy Charter Treaty, an obscure 1994
treaty with 50+ signatories that allows energy companies to sue
governments over environmental protection laws.

The ECT has just been invoked by the German polluter RWE, which is suing
the Dutch government for €1.4b over a law that bans coal plants by 2030.


All told, the EU faces *at least* €345b in ECT liability over its
climate plans. In reality, the total could be much higher, because the
ECT provides for damages equal to the value of physical plant and *all
projected future profits* from those plants.


€345b is double the EU's total annual operational budget. This is the
ransom that the world's worst climate criminals are demanding that
Europeans pay as a condition of continuing to have a habitable planet.
Big Energy want to be rewarded for its crimes against humanity.

Every day the treaty remains in effect produces more liability. Under
ECT's provisions, a country that pulls out of the agreement is still
liable for *twenty years* for any laws that affect the profitability of
energy products started while the country was still in the ECT.

When a country is sued by a multinational for improving its
environmental protections, the case is tried by a star-chamber of
corporate lawyers who meet in secret and overwhelmingly find in favor of

Now, obviously, this is not a stable situation. To keep countries from
fleeing the ECT, the energy cartel has embarked on a "modernization"
project that it has slow-walked since 2017, with help from Japan, whose
worst polluters depend on ECT to operate with impunity.

It's not hard to grind negotiations to a halt - all you need is a
requirement that every decision must be unanimous before work can
proceed. Leaks show this gambit is why the "modernization" meetings have
been a four-year, do-nothing talking shop:


The harms of ECT aren't limited to direct vast transfers of public money
to polluters. ECT is a major reason we don't get meaningful climate
action in the first place: such legislation dies in planning once its
authors are warned that it will trigger ECT enforcement action.

The arguments in favor of ECT are risible FUD, as Fabian Flues, Cecilia
Olivet and Pia Eberhardt document for Opendemocracy.


Take the argument that the ECT spurs investment in renewables: a
meta-analysis of 74 papers concludes that this effect is "so small as to
be considered zero" (in reality, the majority of ECT-attributable
investment is in dirty fossil fuel power).


Or the argument that since quitting ECT leaves countries exposed for 20
years, there's no point. Recall that this 20 year overhang only applies
to projects begun *before* the country leaves the ECT, so the sooner
countries quit it, the less risk they face.

Such risk as does exist can be mitigated by countries quitting in a
bloc, making a mutual promise to ban companies domiciled in their
borders from making any claims under the ECT, using national law to
prohibit ECT action. The EU could mitigate much of its risk this way.

That the ECT even exists is a bad joke. It can't be fixed through
"modernization" (especially not the current modernization plan, which
doesn't touch corporate courts or contemplate any exemptions for climate

300 EU lawmakers have signed a petition calling on the EU to leave the ECT.


They're joined by 450 climate activists:


And you can sign, too, in this new EU-wide petition:



🎬 This day in history

#15yrsago Don Knotts dead at 81

#5yrsago Rosa Parks’s papers and photos online at the Library of

#5yrsago HarperCollins to libraries: we will nuke your ebooks after 26

#5yrsago Disney offers to deduct contributions to its PAC from
employees’ paychecks, to lobby for TPP

#5yrsago Read: The full run of If magazine, scanned at the Internet
Archive https://archive.org/details/ifmagazine

#1yrago Cops' qualified immunity

#1yrago Private equity looters underperform the S&P 500


🎬 Colophon

Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism (https://www.nakedcapitalism.com).

Currently writing:

* My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and
reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 516 words (114637 total).

* A short story, "Jeffty is Five," for The Last Dangerous Visions.
Yesterday's progress: 260 words (7276 total).

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: Privacy Without Monopoly: Data Protection and
Interoperability (Part 2)

Upcoming appearances:

* Affordable Internet Day of Action, Mar 16,

* World Ethical Data Forum keynote, Mar 17-19,

* Launching "The Future You" with Brian David Johnson, Mar 19,

*  Balancing Worldbuilding and Narrative (with Karen Osborne and Kali
Wallace), Mar 24,

* Interop: Self-Determination vs Dystopia (FITC), Apr 19-21,

Recent appearances:

* Technology, Self-Determination, and the Future of the Future (CERIAS)

* Talking "Permanent Record Young Readers' Edition" with Edward Snowden

* Talking "Agency" with William Gibson

* Software Freedom is Essential to Human Freedom (linux.conf.au keynote)

Latest book:

* "Attack Surface": The third Little Brother novel, a standalone
technothriller for adults. The *Washington Post* called it "a political
cyberthriller, vigorous, bold and savvy about the limits of revolution
and resistance." Order signed, personalized copies from Dark Delicacies

* "How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet
analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a
(print edition:
(signed copies:

* "Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new
introduction by Edward Snowden:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies

* "Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime,
gender, and kicking ass. Order here:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed
copy here:

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"*When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla*" -Joey "Accordion
Guy" DeVilla

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