United States Secretary of State John Kerry has been politicking through Southeast Asia the past few days. Kerry visited the Vietnam Mekong Delta, a place he knows well from his wartime adventures. US military interventionism in the region nominally passe, but there is another aspect of state violence still making headlines in the east: Environmental degradation.
Kerry traveled to discuss the rising urgency of environmental change to the Mekong Delta. Changing climate and enhanced erosion and sedimentation of the Mekong from upstream dam projects are now Kerry’s target of political opportunity. According to the Associated Press, Kerry has pledged $17 million to a program that will help people and the economy adapt to environmental changes in the region.
Keeping to form as a high-ranking state official, Kerry says he’ll work to ensure that none of the six countries that share the Mekong (China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam) will over-exploit the river so other populations suffer. Calling out China (which has plans for numerous dam projects along the Mekong) Kerry stated: ”No one country has a right to deprive another country of a livelihood, an ecosystem and its capacity for life itself that comes from that river. That river is a global asset, a treasure that belongs to the region … The Mekong must benefit people not just in one country, not just in the country where the waters come first, but in every country that touches this great river.”
Crafty rhetoric, but governments will not protect natural resources. Nation-states work as rational actors to advance their own self interests and expand their power, largely through exploitation of natural resources. There is an inherent conflict of interest among states — the state with the most territory has the most resources for consumption. States will not share a territory or resource for too long. This is why war (be it military or economic) is the health of the state — it provides a monopoly over a territory and thus its resources.
Kerry, the US government, the Chinese government, any government will only enhance the complex wicked problems facing the world today. Progress, development, growth and industry are the objectives of states. States and their supported industries are rapidly using up the world’s natural resource base, especially water, to enhance their own power. It is the name of the game. Nation-states are large, bloated structures that require tons of resources — they will never protect the environment.
Free people will develop alternative federations and institutions to protect resources, however. It happens every day. People are becoming more aware of what burdens their societies. Education and awareness of public and environmental health are fostering concern for natural resources. Though markets are still largely controlled by the corporate state, liberation is coming. Contrary to the state, the liberated market, controlled and crafted by free human beings, will build the sustainable communities of tomorrow. Indeed, only in a liberated society, with no political boundaries, will human civilization realize its relationship with the environment.
History has been a dramatic race between state power and social power. Social power is growing. Human beings are connected like never before. Free people are building voluntary institutions that are rendering state monopolies useless. Freedom is back! May the old order soon be nothing but ashes. Our sustainability depends on it.
Grant Mincy is from the temperate forests of East Tennessee.