In many countries, and especially in the United States, we do not have “government of the people, by the people, and for the people”, which Abraham Lincoln called for in his famous Gettysburg Address. Instead, we have government of the people, by corrupt politicians and for the enrichment of corporate oligarchs. In the United States, both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party (with the exception of progressive Democrats) owe their allegiance, not to the people, not to the voters, but to large corporate donors.
As Professor Noam Chomsky has pointed out, greed and lack of ethics are built into the structure of corporations. By law, the chief executive officer of a corporation must be entirely motivated by the collective greed of the stockholders. He must maximize profits. If the CEO abandons this single-minded chase after corporate profits for ethical reasons, or for the sake of humanity or the biosphere or the future, he (or she) must, by law, be fired and replaced. This being so, the enormous and universal power of corporate oligarchs undermines democracy.
The military-industrial complex
The two world wars of the 20th century involved a complete reordering of the economies of the belligerent countries, and a dangerous modern phenomenon was created - the military-industrial complex.
In his farewell address (January 17, 1961) US President Dwight David Eisenhower warned of the dangers of the war-based economy that World War II had forced his nation to build: “...We have been compelled to create an armaments industry of vast proportions”, Eisenhower said, “...Now this conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in American experience. The total influence - economic, political, even spiritual - is felt in every city, every state house, every office in the federal government. ...We must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. ... We must stand guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted.”
Military-industrial complexes exist in many countries, but in the United States the military-industrial complex, against which Eisenhower warned, is particularly strong and has bipartisan support. This may explain the Biden Administration's highly aggressive rhetoric and actions during the current Ukraine crisis.
Arms manufacturers do not actually want war. All that they want is a level of tensions and threats sufficiently high to justify the insanely vast river of money flowing into their pockets. But the threat of war can easily become a reality through technical or human error, through uncontrollable escalation of a small incident, or through false flag actions.
In the present Ukraine crisis, the threat of war is especially worrying because both Russia and the United States possess more than enough nuclear weapons to destroy human civilization and much of the biosphere.
Giant fossil fuel corporations and catastrophic climate change
Giant fossil fuel corporations, such as Shell and Exxon and the coal corporations owned by the Koch brothers, knew as early as the 1970's that their products would lead to catastrophic climate change, but with shocking cynicism they employed advertising agencies to sow doubt concerning whether human activities affect the climate. Interestingly, the advertising agencies were the same as those employed by the tobacco industry to deny that smoking caused lung cancer, although they knew very well that it did. In the Christian religion, Greed is named as one of the seven deadly sins. Today, corporate greed is driving us towards disaster.
The threats of catastrophic climate change
Why is climate change such a difficult problem to address? One reason is that, while immediate and drastic action is needed to avoid disaster, the most serious effects of climate change will not be felt for hundreds or even thousands of years. It is difficult to mobilize the political will needed for drastic, and perhaps painful, climate action, when the disasters we are acting to prevent lie in the distant future.
The second reason why climate change is so difficult to address is that it is an international problem. Historically, the industrialized nations of the global north have been responsible for most of the emissions of greenhouse gases. Countries of the global south, such as India, may have large supplies of fossil fuels, and they argue that they should be allowed to burn these fuels in order to combat poverty.
What will happen if we fail in our attempts to avoid catastrophic climate change? We may soon reach tipping points, beyond which uncontrollable feedback loops, such as the albedo effect or the melting permafrost feedback loop, take over, making human efforts to control the climate useless.
Then, in the long-term future, most parts of the earth will become uninhabitable. My personal belief is that humans will not then become extinct, because there will still be places where human life will be possible, but the population of humans will be very much reduced, and there will be a threat of serious conflicts in the struggle to determine who shall survive.
The threat of nuclear war
Looking at modern history we can remember a number of times when the world came extremely close to nuclear war, The Cuban Missile Crisis is one example, but there are a number of others. We cannot continue to be lucky forever. Just as the politicians and generals who started World War I had no imaginative idea of what it would be like, our present day leaders seem not to realize the catastrophic nature of nuclear war. Because of the nuclear winter effect and because of the long-lasting effects of radioactivity, our civilization and much of the biosphere would not survive such a war. In the present crisis over Ukraine, both the United States and Russia possess more than enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world completely.
As citizens, we must prevent our politicians from pursuing this insane brinksmanship.