Why climate change is/is not like Y2k

Ten years ago this month my professional life was deeply focused on one issue: Y2K.

y2k_bug The bug that didn’t bite.

Remember that bit of millenial panic over a couple of digits? As a technology reporter for the Austin Business Journal I couldn’t imagine anything more central to the companies on my beat than a digital apocalypse. (Here are my two contributions to an end-of-year Y2K special from back then, BTW).
Ten years later I find myself covering a beat — energy– that many believe is facing a somewhat similar crisis in man-made climate change. Regardless of whether or not you believe the science is right, it’s hard to deny that a lot of time and money is being spent treating it like a Y2K-esque issue.
Farhood Manjoo, the technology writer for Slate, writes about how climate change is and isn’t like Y2K and why responses are different:

… the most important difference between Y2K and global warming is the cultural attitude surrounding each case. Y2K never became a moral issue. “It was always framed as a simple design error,” [Australian researcher Aidan] Davison says–nobody fingered it as the consequence of our reliance on digital technology or argued that the way to get out of this mess was to get rid of computers. The debate over climate change, meanwhile, has always been as much a social and political argument as a scientific one.
“Climate change brings into view questions about modern society in general,” the Australian scientist says. It’s not just a question of what fuel we should use to power the planet–there are questions about where we should live, what we should eat, how we should travel. “It’s become a general debate over modernity itself,” Davison says.

Ultimately, the lessons of Y2K may have little application to climate change, Manjoo writes. As a matter of fact, the success in handling Y2K may actually undermine efforts to rally action around climate issues. Afterall, Jan. 1, 2000 came and went with barely a glitch, leading some to believe all the hand-wringing was either overdone or part of a great big hoax.
And there are plenty taking that approach to climate change now.

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