Feeds

'Climate change is like Y2k!' - Oz senator

Yes, but not the way you think

Seven Steps to Software Security

The Australian government's debate about climate change and carbon pricing has taken a turn for the silly.

The government's bill to repeal the country's price on carbon is stalled in the senate, to the frustration of the government, which led to this (as reported by AAP via the Murdoch press):

“Liberal senator Ian Macdonald has railed against the carbon tax and the stated threats of climate change, comparing it with the dire Y2K warnings before 2000.

“'I'm sure in years to come people will look back on history and say, yep, remember global warming ... we're still going,' he told the chamber on Monday.”

As memories fade, a common thread among climate deniers has become the notion that the Y2k bug was a fraud perpetrated by computer scientists to make money for vendors and consultants.

And there's no doubt that a certain amount of profiteering happened at the time. As the clock counted down, the unready – which probably meant “most of the world” – were charged plenty for their last-minute fixes.

And there's also no doubt that a certain amount of “disaster porn” was being touted among the media, because it was such a “sellable” story: aircraft falling out of the sky was a persistent theme at the time, and needed Global Hack Terror Threats to re-appropriate as a new scare story (thanks so much, Richard A Clarke).

But the parallels between the real narratives of Y2k and climate change are even more striking than the parallels between the fake narratives.

The problem was/is real – Even if the “disaster porn” stories were exaggerated, Y2k was a real problem. Left unfixed, its likely outcomes were unpredictable (which is one reason “end of the world” stories were hard to counter). Climate change also has real but unpredictable outcomes, which leave room for both “disaster porn” and “stay calm and carry on” narratives.

The knowledge gap – Experts understood the Y2k problem, and experts understand the climate change problem. Both are subject to attacks on their expertise by non-experts – the very people they tried, or are trying, to help.

The longer you wait, the worse the pain – it was easier and cheaper to fix programs incrementally over a long period, than to commission a “big bang” project at the end. The end-of-decade rush helped turn software in India from a cottage industry into a giant. Economists looking at climate change warn that delaying action will escalate the costs.

Disaster is avoidable – The Y2k issue was averted because people took the advice of experts and acted (admittedly with lots of money imminently at stake). If there's to be any chance of averting even some of the effects of climate change, the same thing is needed.

That's where the “similarity narrative” ends. Unfortunately, there are two differences that leave people like senator Macdonald room to speak nonsense.

Deadline – Y2k had a hard deadline: fix your software by December 31, 1999, or risk the crash. Climate science cannot offer a hard deadline, making it much harder to sell to people with money.

Vested interests – nobody had an interest in letting their computers crash on December 31, 1999. Alas, there are plenty of interests fighting to protect their business from any action whatever to reduce atmospheric pollution.

That's how it's always been, whether it was lead in petrol or CFCs in refrigerators. ®

Seven Steps to Software Security

More from The Register

next story
Delaware pair nabbed for getting saucy atop Mexican eatery
Burrito meets soft taco in alleged rooftop romp outrage
Japanese artist cuffed for disseminating 3D ladyparts files
Printable genitalia fall foul of 'obscene material' laws
Brit Rockall adventurer poised to quit islet
Occupation records broken, champagne corks popped
Apple: No, China. iPhone is NOT public enemy number 1
Beijing fears it could beam secrets back to America
Canuck reader threatens suicide over exact dimensions of SPAAAACE!
How many As? Reg hack's writing cops a shoeing
Accused! Yahoo! exec! SUES! her! accuser!, says! sex! harassment! never! happened!
Allegations were for 'financial gain', countersuit claims
Carlos: Slim your working week to just three days of toil
'Midas World' vision suggests you retire later, watch more tellie and buy more stuff
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Mobile application security vulnerability report
The alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, and the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.