Microsoft Zune music players stopped working on New Years Day because of a software bug, raising the inevitable comparisons with the Y2K fiasco. The way in which the largely spurious Y2K problem was handled raises some interesting comparisons with the all too real problem of climate change. Although many billions of dollars were spent on making systems Y2K-compliant, there was no serious scientific study of the problem and its implications. The big decisions were made on the basis of anecdotal evidence, and reports from consultants with an obvious axe to grind. Even the simplest objections were never answered (for example, many organisations started their fiscal 2000 year in April or July 1999, well before remediation was completed, and none had any serious problems). There was nothing remotely resembling the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, let alone the vast scientific literature that needs to be summarised and synthesised for an understanding of climate change.
Thus, anyone who took a genuinely sceptical attitude to the evidence could safely predict that 1 January 2000 would pass without any more serious incidents than usual, even for the many countries and businesses that had ignored the problem. The retrospective evaluations of the policy were even more embarrassingly skimpy. I analysed some of the factors involved in this paper in the Australian Journal of Public Administration.
A really interesting point here is the fact that, in the leadup to 1 January 2000, self-described global warming sceptics, for the most part, went along with the crowd. If any of them rallied to the support of those of us who called for a “fix on failure” approach, I didn’t notice it. By contrast, the moment that the millennium had arrived without incident, retrospective scepticism about Y2K became a staple of their rhetoric. The IPA, for example, started its commentary on 15 January 2000 and it’s been a staple ever since. Of course, I’m open to correction here. I’d be very interested if anyone could point to a piece published before 2000 taking a sceptical line both Y2K and AGW.