The UK Independent asks: "Is catastrophic global warming, like the Millennium Bug, a mistake?"

I remember vividly the panic leading up to year 2000. People were racing to Y2K their computers and systems. TV news crews had reporters stationed at bank machines, at train traffic centers in NYC, at airports, all waiting to see if the machines and the computers that run them, stopped working when the clock went from 1999 23:59:59 to 2000 00:00:00 because in the early days of programming, to save memory, they used two digit years instead of four, and the fear was that computers would reset themselves to the year 1900 rather than 2000, and stop functioning.

I remember being in the TV newsroom (as it was mandatory for all staff to be there that night) as the millennium crept up in each time zone on our satellite feeds…we waited, scanning, looking, wondering…..and nothing happened. The bug of the millennium became the bust of the millennium. That story was repeated in every news bureau worldwide. After all the worry and hype, nothing happened. Not even a price scanner in Kmart failed (a testament to the engineers and programmers that solved the issue in advance). We grumbled about it spoiling our own plans and went home. With “nothing happening” other than tearful wailing from Bill McKibben, subsidized anger from Joe Romm, self immolation for the cause by Gleick, pronouncements of certainty by the sabbaticalized Michael Mann, and failed predictions from scientist turned rap sheet holder Jim Hansen, CAGW seems to be a lot like Y2K.

Simon Carr of the Independent, after hearing a lecture by MIT professor Dr. Richard Lindzen, thinks maybe global warming and Y2K have something in common. He writes:

At a public meeting in the Commons, the climate scientist Professor Richard Lindzen of MIT made a number of declarations that unsettle the claim that global warming is backed by “settled science”. They’re not new, but some of them were new to me.

Over the last 150 years CO2 (or its equivalents) has doubled. This has been accompanied by a rise in temperature of seven or eight tenths of a degree centigrade.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change attributes half this increase to human activity.

Lindzen says: “Claims that the earth has been warming, that there is a Greenhouse Effect, and that man’s activity have contributed to warming are trivially true but essentially meaningless.”

Full story here

h/t to WUWT reader Ian Forrest

Bishop Hill has a copy of Dr. Lindzen’s slide show for his talk here

(Update: some people having trouble with the link to Bishop Hill’s – so I’ve made a local copy of Linzden’s talk here: )

Josh Livetooned the talk – have a look at his work here


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Slide pdf link is broken.
REFRESH – Alternate link provided – Anthony


Err… the millennium bug was not a mistake, at least not in that sense. The reason ‘nothing’ happened is because a lot of people worked to make sure that nothing did happen. What did happen is that the media seized on the story, as they are wont to do, and ran with it. What started out as ‘guys this is a problem we need to do something about it’ was turned into ‘World to end! Film at 11’.
And in actual fact some things did happen, but of course they didn’t make the news.

Excellent quote, puts things into perspective.
Lindzen says: “Claims that the earth has been warming, that there is a Greenhouse Effect, and that man’s activity have contributed to warming are trivially true but essentially meaningless.”


Mistake? No!
Both have one thing in common – Al Gore …

“Bishop Hill has a copy of Dr. Lindzen’s slide show for his talk here” -> “Page not found”
REPLY: Works for me every time. Must be a residual Y2K bug. I’ve made a copy locally here:


So are they saying that like the Y2K problem, through proper planning, mitigation, and preparation then AGW will be a non issue? I’m not sure I understand the analogy

Patrick Davis

Well first of all, it wasn’t a bug in the usual sense, such as a programatical error. It was hardware desing limitation “built-in” as the consensus was computers would not be required beyond 10 or 15 years, a few years before year 2000. I like it when consensus is, almost always, wrong. I know people from several countries in Africa and one from Romaina who’s authorities did nothing to “fix” the Y2K “bug”. Still, it was largely the “banks” who were driving it as they needed to ensure payments were correct and on-time (To the banks that is).
Climate change is just the next scare and if Russian scientists are right, we need to be worried about a significant cooling period. Storing plant seeds in an ice vault in Sweden (Or wherever it is) won’t feed people.


I beg to differ. Numerous companies made investments into their own infra-structure to prevent problems, in many cases replacing lots of equipment which when tested, proved it would have auto shutdown. For example, Windows NT 3.0 had several issues with the date change.
Even though CO2 has proven itself to be nothing more than plant food and debate fodder, it is easy to draw out doomsday possibilities for those who only look for doomsday scenarios, regardless of the reason

This is an excellent comparison. Surprised, but delighted, that it was made in the “Indi”.

Stephen A.

It’s important to call out the mass media when they create mass hysteria over trivialities and a false understanding of science.

Mark V

I am not sure if it is my system, but the link to the slides at Bishop Hill does not seem to work. Thanks for the great WUWT site and all the effort.

Massive amounts of work were done wrt the millenium bug. Many millions of dollars were pocketed by consultants and experts. 99% of it was a total waste of effort.
I was one of those people writing those reports and checking the code, being just the grunt that actually did the work I didn’t make much out of it, but some people in suits are probably still living on the proceeds.
It’s only my wild guess but I suspect if the cost of y2k preparations was £1 billion, the cost of doing nothing would have been $1 million.


Advice to the UK Independent:
1. Scientist crying catastrophe for 20 years are not to be trusted!
2. Any politicians needing taxes to fix catastrophic anything are not to be trusted!
3. Any scientist who switches from global warming to climate anything are not to be trusted.
4. Any UN body claiming catastrophic anything are not to be trusted.
5. Any UN body claiming any justified world taxation requirements are not to be trusted.
Hey, you UK Independent writers & editors, executives & members of your Board of Directors: do you sense a pattern here? Are you brain dead? WAKE-UP!

John Arthur

@NoAstronomer 8.04 am. You are absolutely right. I was then working with large IT projects in telecomms. and without a lot of hard work by a lot of people some important problems would have arisen, in telecomms. and elsewhere. Yes, there were odd glitches, but none were serious or could not be sorted out quickly. To imply it was a non-event is wrong and a slight on a huge number of IT professionals.
John Arthur

John Morgensen

NoAstronomer says:
February 24, 2012 at 8:04 am
I agree that Y2K was a real problem solved by real people. In 1999, I was responsible for making sure that the software that ran various business segments of a 24/7 operation continued to work.


The real news here is that it made it into the Independent.
Strange days indeed…


The proper comparison of Y2K mitigation to CO2 Doomerism is this:
“We need to stop time immediately or it’s going to kill the children!”


Gotta love the banner on Watts’ site here as the purest of ironies. Post after post of anti-AGW propaganda and politics.
Sorry fellas, but one way skepticism is not scientific skepticism.
Oh yes, you guys are the good guys!
I’m a bit stunned as to how people can become so disturbingly self-deluded. How perfectly you reflect what you claim are the worst traits of your opponents. Group Think does that.
I know Anthony, You have an answer for that and will not allow the comment. Confirmation.


Y2k is an example where even the purported story is still miss represented 12 years later. I worked at a large electrical generation and distribution Company on y2k remediation. First step was testing and identifying problems of which there were many, enough serious ones to bring down the grid. The problems were fixed through the hard work by great technicians and investment by the company. The media saw y2k come and go and because civilization did not come to an end the conclusion was that the public was
lied to. What a bunch of morons. Y2k was a case where a an identified problem was easily verified through testing, fixes put in place, and the outcome was a non event. Certainly there are NO parallels with AGW!! (other than how moronic the MSM can be)

Patrick Davis

“Exp says:
February 24, 2012 at 8:37 am”
Are you an Australian ALP supporter?

Ah. Yes. Y2K where contract programmer pay went through the roof.
Gone are the days. The work is still fun though.

Robin Guenier

There is no parallel between Y2K and cAGW – because the former was a real and potentially serious problem and the latter almost certainly is not. I urge anyone who is dubious to read this: (or at least to read its Executive Summary). Interestingly, for me anyway, it was my responding to an AGW sceptic’s comment that AGW was another empty scare like Y2K (commenting on an article by Dr David Whitehouse in the UK’s New Statesman in December 2007) that got interested in the important, fascinating and, particularly recently, hugely entertaining AGW issue.
Unfortunately, the Y2K/cAGW parallel continues to be drawn: not least – and most unfortunately – by the otherwise heroic Donna Laframboise. It was an article by Donna and a subsequent email exchange that prompted my paper.
I attended Professor Lindzen’s talk in Westminster (and was privileged to have tea with him afterwards): his quiet, undramatic manner is devastatingly effective. And thanks for reminding me of that quotation, pwl. The last five words – “trivially true but essentially meaningless” – sum up AGW perfectly.

So Exp care to explain the errors here? I’m sure you will get a rather robust reply.
Instead of a content free “you don’t understand” how about giving your understanding with supporting evidence. You know. Do some science.

I don’t believe the global worming story.
[perhaps you have more to contribute? . . kbmod]

Carmen D'oxide

Y2K hysteria was media-manufactured. It was a real issue for IT staff. I modified hundreds of programs and datasets to fix a database design mistake — beginning seven years before midnight December 31, 1999. Only missed one program and had that fixed in a couple of hours. Clear-headed scientists know any change to an environment presents both benefits and detriments. The issue is dislocation — how much and how fast. That and the parasites trying to gather as much as they can for their own benefit.

Coach Springer

Ironcially, the AGW problem has the same fix. Adjust the computers to more accurately reflect the true state of things. Smaller scale, too.


First the American public decided that AGW was of little concern, even if it existed. They were ridiculed. Then the Australian public. The leftwing politicians broke every campaign promise and decided to dismantle manufacturing and mining through bizarre taxes. But when the mainstream German media expressed doubt, things became dicey for the Warmists. And now we have mainstream British papers carefully voicing the same opinion as the American public. Even if true, the effect is trivial. Hmmmm. That is just a very careful way of saying that AGW may not be true at all. A step back without the admission that one had been taken in.

Mike Smith

The Y2K proponents spent millions of dollars successfully mitigating a very real problem. It was a herculean but achievable task and it was indeed achieved to a level of 95% or more.
The AGW proponents propose spending trillions of dollars to mitigate a non-problem. Under the best estimates, these efforts will likely be less than 1% successful.
The similarities are striking, NOT.


NoAstronomer says:
February 24, 2012 at 8:04 am
Err… the millennium bug was not a mistake, at least not in that sense.
It had been a common programming practice to store many ‘dates and times’ as the number of seconds since 1970. I made some nice money just setting the system clock to 2001 and demonstrating that nothing ‘untoward’ would happen. Then I made even more ‘nice money’ verifying at the code level that 2000 was not a trigger for anything.
January 19th, 2038 is going to be a really bad day for anyone still running software written in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

Steve C

Exp says: (February 24, 2012 at 8:37 am)
(…) I know Anthony, You have an answer for that and will not allow the comment. Confirmation.
Sorry, Exp, exactly what point did your ‘comment’ ‘confirm’? 🙂


I believe that at least part of the AGW scare is intentional, not a mistake.
Like Mike´s Nature trick to hide the decline. Not possible to happen by chance.


There were some real Y2K bugs. My brother worked on some embedded systems (for things like sewage treatment plants) and found that almost all his and his predecessors work had the bug, and many systems would freeze in whatever their state was at the roll-over. So, pumps that were on would run until they went dry and burned out, pumps that were off would stay off, etc. It turned out that the solution was nearly trivial – turn them off just before midnight (system time), and turn them on afterwords, and re-enter the system time. Their equipment suffered no problems, but only because they investigated it and did a bit of testing in the months leading up to it. I’ve heard stories of lots of other similar, small-time bugs that were dealt with the same way.
AGW is a different kettle of fish – different time scale, vastly different number of variables, how much money needs to be spent to change the outcome, etc. The main similarity is that it’s not sufficiently well understood by the people that are hyping it the most.

View from the Solent

Of all the places to find such a paper, it’s in Nature
The case for open computer programs
“We argue that, with some exceptions, anything less than the release of source programs is intolerable for results that depend on computation. The vagaries of hardware, software and natural language will always ensure that exact reproducibility remains uncertain, but withholding code increases the chances that efforts to reproduce results will fail.”


One must always be careful with analogies, because two separate issues are never fully alike, but in this case, I think there are enough similarities to make the analogy useful. The fundamental similarities between Y2K and CAGW:
1. There are some real issues.
2. In the publicity, the root issues and their implications were not explained well
3. Alarmists blew the issue all out of proportion
4. Many of the alarmists had a vested interested in exaggerating the problem.
In the case of Y2K, there were many software programs that would not behave properly when comparing dates that were on the opposite side of Jan 1 2000. It was a “rollover” problem, as we in the software business say. (I deal with rollover issues in different contexts in my company’s own software all the time.) But once found, the fix for any given date comparison was trivial. And once you knew what you were looking for, it became very easy to find the comparisons.
A friend of mine whose full time job at the time was maintenance of this type of software told me in the midst of the hoopla in 1999, “People don’t realize how many bugs of this magnitude we find and fix every day.” The Y2K bugs were a very small fraction of what he worked on that year. Compare this to greenhouse climate variability and other sources of climate variability — generally all you hear about in the media are the greenhouse effects.
Then people who stood to benefit financially from the issue started promoting the apocalyptic line. There were several classes of these people. Internally, many IT folks used the scare to convince technically unsophisticated upper management to purchase the brand new computer systems and software they had always wanted but never been able to justify before. And external consultants justified huge fees to find and fix these bugs by scaring the bejeezus out of management.
The apocalyptic story line that all sorts of software necessary for civilized life as we know it was going to grind to a halt on Jan 1 2000 if fixes were not made, overwhelming our ability to fix them was just never going to happen. Many of the bugs manifested themselves well before 2000. For instance, in 1996 and 1997, many people got credit cards whose expiration date was in 2000 or later. When they tried to use them, some programs rejected the cards as expired, treating the expiration dates as being around 1900. A problem, yes, but quickly and easily fixed. Many other bugs did not manifest themselves until significantly later. We found one we had missed in the summer of 2000 when we released a new revision of one piece of software, and saw that another piece of software that compared the date of this revision to older revisions got it wrong. We changed one line of that program and fixed the problem.
So a real issue, yes. Apocalyptic potential, no. (Although some companies, particularly financial services companies, would have been in a world of hurt if they had not found most of the bugs in time.) In general, organizations that treated Y2K as just one issue of many that deserved attention fared as well as those that went into expensive crisis mode.
The crisis atmosphere turned out to be very destructive financially. All the new computer hardware and software purchased in 1998 and 1999 led to a complete drying up of the market in 2000 and the next few years. I don’t think it has ever really been acknowledged how much this contributed to what is widely called the “dot-com bust” of those years.


Over the last 150 years CO2 (or its equivalents) has doubled. This has been accompanied by a rise in temperature of seven or eight tenths of a degree centigrade.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change attributes half this increase to human activity.
Well, I felt it…………. 😉


Exp says:
February 24, 2012 at 8:37 am
“Gotta love the banner on Watts’ site here as the purest of ironies. Post after post of anti-AGW propaganda and politics.
Sorry fellas, but one way skepticism is not scientific skepticism.”
Exp, if you actually cared to read the comments under past posts, nearly every alternative theory that tries to explain 20th century warming or predict some future climate is mercilessly criticized just as CO2AGW is, so, no, you are not at RealClimate here. Of course each of those theories has their believers. But I hope even they are more open to criticism than the RealClimate fellows who always find that CO2 is the almighty control knob for everything.


The Y2K problem was real – the Y2K media hysteria was not. I remember some predictions of an economic collapse due to large scale systems failure. Some scaremongers shifted a lot of books, I guess.

Exp says:
February 24, 2012 at 8:37 am
I know Anthony, You have an answer for that and will not allow the comment. Confirmation.

Amazing how many things you got wrong in so short a post. You state “one way skepticism is not scientific skepticism” where a number of those commenting have disagreed with the premise of the blog post.
You state the site is loaded with “anti-AGW propaganda and politics” and sarcastically state “Oh yes, you guys are the good guys!” Wouldn’t take long to point you to posts where AGW scepticism is shared by people of various political leanings.
I’m a bit stunned as to how you could be so disturbingly deluded and buy into the Group Think on AGW alarmism. I once thought as you and researched the issue so I could thoughtfully debunk those “anti-science deniers of global warming”. To my surprise, the more I looked into it the less I could continue to swallow the party line.


Claiming the Y2K bug did not exist is almost as bad as saying that CO2 is a problem. There was a problem with many legacy programs, and it was fixed. That is why nothing happened.
If you get a stomack ulcer and your doc gives you medication and you then don’t barf blood up, you don’t say the doc was wrong because nothing happened.

As several here already said, there were some real problems with the Y2K bug, but these were solved long before midnight at the end of 1999. It was the only night ever I had to be at work, to do nothing than wait for something that I did know wouldn’t happen, instead of being with my family.
But some firms have made a lot of money by scaring people to buy new computers, software, etc. just like now with the global warming scare…

1980 – 1992 there was a lack of volcanoes and total VEI was down considerably. Takes Earth a while to warm up, takes a while to cool off when volcanic activities resume. Go by individual years, you can see something naturally cyclical going on. If I ever retire maybe I’ll have time to work on something to show. Unless GeoLurking nails it down sooner. Which would be fine by me.


Curt says:
February 24, 2012 at 9:07 am
“The crisis atmosphere turned out to be very destructive financially. All the new computer hardware and software purchased in 1998 and 1999 led to a complete drying up of the market in 2000 and the next few years. I don’t think it has ever really been acknowledged how much this contributed to what is widely called the “dot-com bust” of those years.”
Interesting point. But I don’t think it contributed much – Computer sales are cyclical by nature. And most overvalued companies whose names we don’t remember anymore (uh, let me think of one, how about… letsbuyit ? I think that was one name) never had a viable business or an actual product. The actual hardware makers didn’t suffer that terribly. They also went from ridiculously overvalued to overvalued as usual which looked like a bust, but the actual companies continued to operate. The ones that had products and a market.

Make that 1991 please.


@ Exp
This is one of the few places that your comments will not be deleted. Your more than welcome to join in on the discussions.

Silver Ralph

Just to put this article in its proper perspective, the Independent is the Greenest of Green publications – with every newspaper produced on recycled paper and offset with a newly planted tree, and three herrings given to a seal.**
Thus this is a little bit like Al Gore declaring he has doubts about AGW.
** Fish are not cuddly, so its ok to kill them.


“Lindzen says: “Claims that the earth has been warming, that there is a Greenhouse Effect, and that man’s activity have contributed to warming are trivially true…”
Funny. Anthony keeps posting articles and comment that tries to counter this trivially true science.
REPLY: Funny, and you keep posting trivial snark without having the courage to put your name to it – Anthony


Y2K: I was there. And as many here say, it was something that had to be fixed – and was. The fact that it was then a non-story for the MSM meant that it had to be trashed and the many years of work done by legions of programmers and systems managers was dumped in history’s shredder.
To compare Y2K with CAGW is a nonsense. You can’t be clever enough to know that CAGW is a scam, yet stupid enough not to know that Y2K had the potential for great disruption. Then again, if another Y2K was occurring today I guess that people like WWF, Greenpeace and Gillard would be telling us that a tax on digital clocks would fix it!


Y2K was mo mistake! I busted my tail for nearly 2 years (while trying to raise a teenager as a single parent) to insure that issues where solved before the clock struck midnight. All possible problem types were identified and categorized., Mitigation strategies were developed for those categories., And software engineers worked wonders to insure that the problems were solved.
In a way, this was an ideal problem. All issue types fit in a few well understood categories, It was also measurable and corrective actions were testable. We identified problems partly by time warping the system, fake it out tho think it was 2000 etc. Thing REALLY did break when we did this. After our actions, they did not break.
It pisses me off when non-programmers claim that it was a scam because we fixed the problem and planes did not fall out of the sky. The fact that almost every corporation in the world spent a huge amount of money in mitigation, should demonstrate that this was a problem, because despite the leftie propaganda corporations are not flushed with cash and need to spend it wisely in order to stay in business.


Lots of comments above (by NoAstronomer, Traciatim, RHS, John Arthur, John Morgensen, BrentS, Robin, Guenier, Carmen D’oxide, Rolf) have done a great job pointing out how silly the title of that Independent blog post (not an article) is by saying that the Y2K issue was a mistake. I have very little to add except to ask those who haven’t read the posts above to go back and do so now.


The Y2K Hype was the result of interested parties introducing and exploting many peoples inability to understand the difference between time and duration. Yes there were Time related issues, mortgage schedules, 5 year treasury notes and the like, but there was Never a Duration issue, microwave ovens, cars, TV, Radio, the internet etc. The Y2K Hype sold newspapers and advertising, it simply created profit from fear. In this aspect it was no different than alarmist climate science is today. Yes, there were some software problems related to Time, but no one would be ‘worried’ about the bank loosing track of their mortgage, so the ‘they’ linked it to your car, your TV and the microwave oven.