Panic Like It’s 1999: Why Aren’t We Tackling Climate Change Like We Did Y2K?


There could be important lessons from the fear of the Y2K software meltdown for those working against the clock on climate change.

On Dec. 31, 1999, USC students rang in the New Year in a variety of fashions. But they all faced the prospect of a global IT implosion, now that each year was about to start with a two instead of a one.

“I went camping in Death Valley. On New Year’s Eve, we stayed up all night and watched the sunrise. It was away from Y2K, which was a big concern,” Jesse Chow, a sophomore, told the Daily Trojan.

Since 1998, a pervasive technological worry had spread worldwide. The Year 2000 problem, or Y2K, which ostensibly threatened to take down entire banking systems and drop planes from the sky, had scared a global population into action.

By the arrival of 2000, an estimated $308 billion had been spent globally to prevent the potentially disastrous consequences of the Y2K bug. However, little, if anything, actually happened. On Jan. 1, CNN declared the Y2K bug a “New Year’s Day loser.”

Twenty years later, as the world heads into a fresh decade, climate change promises to upend our entire way of life. Yet, unlike Y2K, which saw a swift public and private sector response, climate change remains a looming disaster, with solutions bogged down by denial and inaction.

Why did we face Y2K with such prompt seriousness and yet flounder now in the face of a threat more pervasive and disastrous?

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