Comedian Hasan Minhaj grew up watching public service announcements about protecting the Amazon rainforest.
While some of them were definitely cringey, global calls to action eventually slowed deforestation rates in the Amazon.
But last year saw an alarming reversal of that progress, Minhaj explained on the latest episode of his Netflix series, Patriot Act.
In fact, deforestation grew 12.7% in 2018 compared to the year before, amounting to a loss of 12 billion trees.
Since then, the rate of deforestation has only accelerated as Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro opens up the rainforest to resource exploitation, weakens protections for Indigenous land, and promotes the expansion of the beef industry.
“The Amazon has never been more vulnerable,” Minhaj said. “Between political corruption, Bolsonaro’s pro-business agenda, and the incentives of agribusiness, the Amazon is going to keep burning.”
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The beef industry is especially harmful to the Amazon, accounting for 80% of the forest’s reduction. Livestock businesses burn large chunks of the forest to clear land for their cattle to graze. Although parts of the forest are legally protected from deforestation, illegal efforts to burn the forest have increased in recent years.
Minhaj said Brazil’s notoriously corrupt political class makes large-scale deforestation possible. The largest meat producer in the world, JBS, has close ties to Bolsonaro’s cabinet and in recent years has been found guilty of bribing at least 1,829 politicians with $150 million. The company has been fined $3.2 billion as a result.
In the past 50 years, the Amazon has lost 17% of its tree cover. If the forest continues to decline, it will gravely harm the entire planet, Minhaj said.
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“We have to stop messing with the rainforest,” he said. “The Amazon is home to 10% of all species on earth. It absorbs 25% of the carbon emissions captured by the world’s forests. The Amazon produces massive amounts of oxygen and water vapor, which serves as the Earth’s cooling system.”
Although the Amazon faces formidable threats, Minhaj said that Indigenous people are leading the effort to fight back. Throughout the Amazon, more than 1 million Indigenous people in 305 tribes live on protected land. Although Bolsonaro has vowed to strip this land of protection, Indigenous communities are waging legal and cultural campaigns to stop this incursion.
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Minhaj profiled the activist Sônia Guajajara of the Guajajara tribe who has become a chief opponent of deforestation and has amassed global support for her advocacy.
During Guajajara’s life, more than 1,465 Indigenous people have been killed for trying to protect their land, making Brazil the deadliest country in the world for environmental activists.
Taking a page out of John Oliver’s book, Minhaj ends the episode by telling his audience to donate to groups fighting to save the Amazon through a website that takes its name from a meme that Guajajara has shared of Bolsonaro.