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Indonesian Lawsuit Seeks Court’s Help in Pollution Battle

Five years ago, a scan of Istu Prayogi’s lungs showed the kind of damage that comes from smoking cigarettes. But in his case, he had never smoked. Instead, he spent hours a day in traffic in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia and one of the world’s most polluted cities.

A computer science teacher, Mr. Istu began wearing a face mask, as his doctor recommended, but that was only a short-term solution. So he joined a rare citizen lawsuit against the government seeking to force Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, and other government officials to address the city’s pervasive pollution.

“For me personally, it’s very urgent,” he said, “because everyone needs air and everyone needs health.”

A three-judge panel is expected to rule as early as this week whether the president, three of his cabinet ministers and three provincial governors have been negligent by failing to curb the city’s air pollution.

prone to flooding.

The environmentalists who brought the suit say that many of the worst sources of pollution are outside Jakarta’s city limits and that presidential leadership and regional efforts are essential to address the problem.

A month after the lawsuit was filed, President Joko proposed moving the capital to a new city to be built on the island of Borneo, leaving Jakarta’s pollution problems behind.

A study released last week by the British consulting firm Verisk Maplecroft found that Jakarta was the city most at risk from environmental factors out of the 576 cities analyzed. The study noted that Jakarta is “plagued with dire air pollution” and faces threats from seismic activity and flooding.

One of the 32 plaintiffs in the suit is Yuyun Ismawati, a co-founder of the environmental group, Nexus3 Foundation, and a recipient of the 2009 Goldman Environmental Prize. She points out that Indonesia’s air pollution standards are much looser than the levels recommended by the World Health Organization. But even these standards are not adequately enforced, she said, and as a result, many people suffer from asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

Children are especially vulnerable to ailments caused by pollution because their bodies are still developing, she said. “I am worried about the future of young people in Indonesia.”

Research indicates that long-term exposure to air pollution can worsen the effects of Covid-19. Indonesia, the world’s fourth-largest country, has reported more than 1.7 million cases, the largest number in Southeast Asia.

Studies show that vehicle emissions are the largest single source of air pollution in Greater Jakarta, followed by coal-fired power plants. Vehicle inspections, to the extent they occur, are inadequate, Ms. Yuyun said, and the power plants do not have adequate filters.

Another major source is small-scale industrial activity that often relies on primitive methods that lack environmental safeguards, such as melting and recycling lead batteries, and burning wood, plastic or tires to generate heat. These often go unregulated.

“Everyone has the right to live in a healthy environment,” Ms. Yuyun said.

The suit, which was filed in Central Jakarta District Court, names the president, the ministries of health, environment and home affairs and the governors of the three provinces, Jakarta, West Java and Banten.

In a brief submitted in support of the lawsuit, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, David R. Boyd, pointed out that air pollution is the world’s deadliest environmental problem and is responsible for hundreds of thousands of premature deaths annually in Indonesia.

These deaths occur even though the solutions are well known and the government has a responsibility to implement them, he said.

“Protecting human rights from the harmful effects of air pollution is a constitutional and legislative obligation for governments in Indonesia, not an option,” he wrote.

Aditho Harinugroho, 36, began riding his bike on Jakarta’s crowded streets after a friend’s sudden death four years ago prompted him to change his lifestyle and embrace fitness. A freelance videographer, he sometimes rides 40 miles in a day.

Now, he is a plaintiff in the lawsuit. Even though he wears a cloth mask for the pollution, getting stuck in traffic can lead to coughing fits, he said. And after riding, his skin is blackened by the soot in the air.

“When I pass through a traffic jam hot spot, I definitely cough after that,” Mr. Aditho said. “When I wipe my face, it is black and I imagine that’s what gets into my lungs. It is impossible not to cough.”

President Joko has made Indonesia’s economic development his top priority. But Mr. Aditho said the government is focused on helping the rich, not improving the lives of ordinary people.

“Our government doesn’t care at all about pollution or the air quality of Jakarta,” he said. “We can see that from their policies.”

Dera Menra Sijabat contributed reporting from Jakarta.

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Crackdown on Emissions ‘Defeat Devices’ Has Amateur Racers Up in Arms

SEMA frames the federal position as a frightening recipe for overreach, in which the E.P.A. doesn’t allow any street car to become a racecar. That would end amateur racing, and in turn all racing, because there would be no path for developing new pro racers.

“It would be like trying to sustain Major League Baseball without sandlot games, Little League or minor league teams,” said David Goch, SEMA’s general counsel.

Modifying road car exhausts can be made legal in a few ways, most prominently by getting an executive order exclusion from the California Air Resources Board, better known as CARB. The E.P.A. relies on CARB to certify that products conform to Clean Air Act regulations. Between fees and independent testing, an application costs about $6,500 to $9,000 per device, and takes two to nine months to process, the board said.

CARB does offer an automatic exception for racecars, but shops must keep detailed records. Anyone who makes, sells, installs or uses a racing part is liable if that part is illegally used on a public road.

CARB has used that rule to sue out-of-state companies that sold defeat devices in California, including Mr. Willis, the Louisiana shop owner, who faces a criminal CARB suit.

“People who produce devices or programs that modify to the point where it is rolling coal, that is where lines are drawn between civil and criminal,” said Allen Lyons, division chief of the Emissions Certification and Compliance Division of CARB. Some parts companies avoid risk by not selling in California.

Actions against emissions tampering may increase beyond California and the E.P.A. In Utah, an environmental group successfully sued the men who host the Discovery show “Diesel Brothers,” establishing a template for others to follow.

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After the Pandemic, Will More People Wear Masks for Colds and Flu?

Once Americans return to crowded offices, schools, buses and trains, so too will their sneezes and sniffles.

Having been introduced to the idea of wearing masks to protect themselves and others, some Americans are now considering a behavior scarcely seen in the United States but long a fixture in other cultures: routinely wearing a mask when displaying symptoms of a common cold or the flu, even in a future in which Covid-19 isn’t a primary concern.

“I will still feel a responsibility to protect others from my illness when I have a cold or bronchitis or something along those lines,” said Gwydion Suilebhan, a writer and arts administrator in Washington who said he also plans to continue wearing masks in situations like flying on airplanes. “It’s a responsible part of being a human in a civil society to care for the people around you.”

Such routine use of masks has been common for decades in other countries, primarily in East Asia, as protection against allergies or pollution, or as a common courtesy to protect nearby people.

Meet the Press.”

Other leading American health officials, however, have not encouraged the behavior. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — which at the beginning of the pandemic advised against wearing masks, and only changed its guidance a couple of months later — does not advise people with flu symptoms to wear masks, and says they “may not effectively limit transmission in the community.”

That’s partly because there’s no tidy scientific consensus on the effect of masks on influenza virus transmission, according to experts who have studied it.

Nancy Leung, an epidemiologist at the University of Hong Kong, said that the science exploring possible links between masking and the emission or transmission of influenza viruses was nuanced — and that the nuances were often lost on the general public.

randomized controlled trials — the gold standard in scientific research — that masking reduced transmission of influenza viruses in a community.

There was some evidence from observational studies that masks reduced community transmission of influenza viruses, she added, but that research had a caveat: Observational studies cannot isolate masking from other possible factors, such as hand hygiene or social distancing.

“You can’t really decipher whether that observed reduction in transmission is due to face masks alone or not,” Dr. Leung said.

For similar reasons, the fact that the flu all but vanished in the United States during the coronavirus pandemic — and that many Americans anecdotally reported that they caught fewer colds than usual in 2020 — is not evidence alone that masks were responsible.

In East Asia, the historical use of masks is based on more than just medical research, and the steps that led each country to adopt them vary widely.

Please sneeze into your elbow, not your hand.)

Others pointed to institutional differences, including a history of anti-masking laws in the United States that were implemented during periods of social unrest in order to discourage violence.

New York State, for example, passed an anti-masking law in 1845 to prevent tenants from demanding land reform, according to research by Sharrona Pearl, a professor of medical ethics at Drexel University in Philadelphia. And from the 1920s to 1950s, several states passed similar laws in response to violence by the Ku Klux Klan.

Several East Asian scholars said in interviews that the region’s mask-wearing customs varied widely because people in each country had responded over the years to different epidemiological or environmental threats.

Jaehwan Hyun, a professor of history of Pusan National University in South Korea, said that ignoring the nuances could be dangerous.

seasonal dust storms that sweep into the country from Mongolia and northern China.

“Generally speaking, Koreans until recently believed that mask wearing was a sort of ‘Japanese practice,’ not ours,” he said.

In Hong Kong, where 299 people died during the SARS epidemic of 2002-3, the experience of universal masking against that coronavirus helped create a “cultural familiarity” with a practice that was also common during episodes of severe air pollution, Mr. De Kai said.

“It was a big reminder to people that masks are important not only to protect yourself from the pollution but also to avoid infecting those around you,” he said.

In Taiwan, SARS and recent air pollution were the two main factors that prompted people there to develop the habit of mask wearing, said Yeh Ming-Jui, a professor of public health at National Taiwan University in Taipei.

Professor Yeh said he believed mask wearing was not more widespread in the West because people there had no immediate memories of a severe pandemic — at least until now.

“The experience and health practices of past generations have been gradually forgotten,” he said.

Amy Chang Chien contributed reporting from Taipei.

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India’s Neighbors Struggle Amid Regional Covid-19 Outbreak

KATHMANDU, Nepal — Most of Nepal is under lockdown, its hospitals overwhelmed. Bangladesh suspended vaccination sign-ups after promised supplies were cut off. Sri Lanka’s hopes of a tourism-led economic revival have collapsed.

As India battles a horrific surge of the coronavirus, the effects have spilled over to its neighbors. Most nearby countries have sealed their borders. Several that had been counting on Indian-made vaccines are pleading with China and Russia instead.

The question is whether that will be enough, in a region that shares many of the risk factors that made India so vulnerable: densely populated cities, heavy air pollution, fragile health care systems and large populations of poor workers who must weigh the threat of the virus against the possibility of starvation.

Though the countries’ outbreaks can’t all be linked to India, officials across the region have expressed growing dread over how easily their fates could follow that of their neighbor.

huge, maskless rallies in India hosted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi even as infections rose. Likewise, both the ruling and opposition parties in Nepal held large political gatherings after the prime minister dissolved Parliament in December.

told CNN on Saturday that Nepal’s situation was “under control” but acknowledged that “political instability” had led to “some mistakes.” On Monday night, Mr. Oli lost a vote of no confidence in Parliament, throwing Nepal into further turmoil.

Aid workers have warned that the parallels between Nepal and India may continue, as hospitals turn all but the most critically ill patients away. With medical oxygen supplies running short, as they did in India, Nepal’s government has imposed quotas for each hospital, which doctors say are far from adequate. Reports of patients dying from insufficient oxygen have spread.

said in a statement last week.

Vaccines are unlikely to help immediately. Nepal paid for two million doses from India’s Serum Institute, the world’s largest producer of vaccines. But as India’s crisis has escalated, its government has essentially halted exports, leaving Nepal a million doses short.

India’s pause has also scrambled vaccination plans in Bangladesh. Late last month, the authorities there announced that they would temporarily stop accepting new registrations for shots after supplies from the Serum Institute were cut off.

95 percent of its eligible population. Bhutan last month suspended entry for foreign workers, after experts cited concerns about laborers coming from India.

The border between Pakistan and India was closed even before the pandemic because of political tensions. But in Pakistan, too, cases are rising. Asad Umar, the official leading its coronavirus response, cited the fact that “the entire region is exploding with cases and deaths” to explain new lockdowns.

coronavirus response plan last May, it estimated that local facilities would be insufficient if there were more than 5,000 active cases at once. Now there are more than 100,000.

For many Nepalis, anger and sorrow have mixed with utter helplessness.

Pramod Pathak, a businessman in the border district of Kailali, has watched in anxiety and sorrow as migrant workers returned from India. They have crowded every day into overwhelmed testing centers, or — for the many for whom there are no tests — simply crammed into shared cars and returned to their villages.

“The virus is transmitting as they travel in jam-packed vehicles,” Mr. Pathak said. “There’s no safety for them no matter where they go — be it India or Nepal.”

Bhadra Sharma reported from Kathmandu, Nepal; Aanya Wipulasena from Colombo, Sri Lanka; and Vivian Wang from Hong Kong. Julfikar Ali Manik contributed reporting from Dhaka, Bangladesh, and Chencho Dema from Thimphu, Bhutan.

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A new rule in California could help curb emissions at e-commerce warehouses.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District in Southern California on Friday adopted a rule that would force about 3,000 of the largest warehouses in the area to slash emissions from the trucks that serve the site or take other measures to improve air quality, The New York Times’s Hiroko Tabuchi reports.

Southern California is home to the nation’s largest concentration of warehouses — a hub of thousands of mammoth structures, served by belching diesel trucks, that help feed America’s booming appetite for online shopping and also contribute to the worst air pollution in the country.

The rule sets a precedent for regulating the exploding e-commerce industry, which has grown even more during the pandemic and has led to a spectacular increase in warehouse construction.

The changes could also help spur a more rapid electrification of freight tucks, a significant step toward reducing emissions from transportation, the country’s biggest source of planet-warming greenhouse gases. The emissions are a major contributor to smog-causing nitrogen oxides and diesel particulate matter pollution, which are linked to health problems including respiratory conditions.

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E-Commerce Mega-Warehouses, a Smog Source, Face New Pollution Rule

And the industry is surging. Last year, Inland Empire, a region close to the Los-Angeles-Long Beach port where retailers and manufactures offload billions of dollars in goods, added 23 million square feet of new warehouse construction, an area the equivalent of nearly 500 football fields.

“Where we live, these warehouses are popping up like Starbucks,” said Ivette Torres of the People’s Collective for Environmental Justice, a local nonprofit organization that has campaigned for warehouses to address their role in air pollution.

Operators of warehouses larger than 100,000 square feet (roughly two football fields) are required to earn points to make up for emissions from the trucks that come and go from the warehouses. Operators can earn these points by acquiring or using zero-emissions trucks or yard vehicles, or investing in other methods for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, for example, installing solar panels at the warehouses or having air filters installed in local homes, schools and hospitals. Or they could choose to pay a fee if not in compliance.

Many warehouses are far larger. One planned site involves 40 million square feet of industrial buildings, an area about the size of Central Park in New York.

Known as an “indirect source rule,” the effort is unusual because it largely targets emissions from the trucks that service warehouses, rather than the warehouses themselves. In the past, similar approaches have been made to address the heavy traffic drawn by sports stadiums or shopping malls.

According to estimates by the regulator, its plan will reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by up to 15 percent and result in up to 300 fewer deaths, up to 5,800 fewer asthma attacks, and up to 20,000 fewer work loss days between 2022 and 2031. The district estimated that public health benefits from its plan could be as much as $2.7 billion, about three times the projected costs.

The region, which includes portions of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties and all of Orange County, has a population of 18 million people — more than most states.

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Ugandan Climate Activist Vanessa Nakate Is Back in the Picture

She chanced upon environmental activism in 2018 after graduating with a business degree from Makerere University. With no job lined up, Ms. Nakate volunteered with the Rotary Club organization, where she was researching the biggest challenges facing local areas and how she could help. That was when she realized that climate change was not some distant threat, but a problem that at that very moment was eating away at communities and destroying livelihoods.

She also found out about Fridays for Future, the movement that Ms. Thunberg started to pressure policymakers to listen to scientists and act.

Though eager to take action herself, Ms. Nakate said she was initially afraid of taking to Kampala’s streets to protest alone. So on a warm Sunday morning in January 2019, she enlisted her two sisters, Clare and Joan, and two brothers, Paul and Trevor, to help make placards and join her.

As passers-by and drivers stared, the siblings protested at various intersections in the capital, holding signs that read “Nature is life,” “Climate Strike Now” and “When you plant a tree, you plant a forest.”

“There was the feeling of ‘I have taken so long without doing this, and yet people are suffering,’” Ms. Nakate said. At that moment, she said, she determined “to add my voice to the climate movement and demand for climate justice.”

When her siblings returned to school several weeks later, she continued alone, organizing climate strikes in schools and standing outside government offices with signs bearing messages like “Are you fracking kidding me?” She urged lawmakers to divest from coal and oil companies and to deal with rising water levels in Lake Victoria and high air pollution levels in cities like Kampala.

By the end of the year, Ms. Nakate’s work was attracting attention worldwide, making her a fixture in global conferences and on television. In December 2019, she was one of a few young activists who were invited to speak at the United Nations climate talks in Spain.

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