Thursday, 2 September 2010

success is when it looks like nothing

The Daily Dish is running a series where people write in and explain one thing people don't understand about their jobs. Today it's a computer programmer who worked on Y2K.

On December 31, 1999, I along with programmers around the world sat apprehensively in front of my TV watching the date roll starting in the far east. As each hour passed, and cities still had power, I became more elated. We had done it!

To hear people refer dismissively to Y2K as a disaster that didn't happen is a misreading of the event. It's actually a case of people in thousands of companies and many countries working together to avert a potential disaster, and the fact that it looked like nothing happened means that we were successful, not that we were just saying "the sky is falling" when it wasn't! I hate seeing "Y2K" used as a synonym for unjustified hysteria.

What you get, then, is the opposite of a self-fulfilling prophecy: Y2K is often used by climate sceptics as an example of a scare story that didn't turn out to happen - another bit of alarmism, just like global warming. One reason it didn't happen, of course, is that sensible measures were taken.

Similarly climate sceptics sometimes say, oh there was this big scare about the ozone layer or bird flu and that didn't turn out to be worth worrying about. Well, that's because each time experts and politicians have gone and done something about it.

Follow this logic through: if we end up taking all the right actions over climate change, and thereby limit the threat, the climate sceptics will be able to say, see it didn't turn out to be such a big deal.

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