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A precautionary tale: Y2K and the politics of foresight

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-14, 09:40 authored by Phillimore, J, Aidan DavisonAidan Davison
In the wake of the minimal disruption to computer systems arising from the Y2K Millennium Bug, there has been a notable lack of discussion about whether the huge expenditures devoted to solving the problem were justified. The most common response was that they were worth it 'just to be on the safe side'. Furthermore, there were many related benefits in upgraded infrastructure and improved systems. We argue that in fact Y2K activity is an important if unexpected example of the 'precautionary principle' at work, i.e. acting in advance to ward off potential danger despite a lack of full scientific certainty about the extent of danger. It was unexpected because it was championed by corporations and governments who routinely oppose precautionary policies directed at environmental issues such as global warming. The paper outlines several reasons why Y2K was acted upon so swiftly while environmental issues are not, and explores what lessons may be learnt from the Y2K episode in terms of future strategies for dealing with environmental danger. © 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.

History

Publication title

Futures: the Journal of Forecasting, Planning and Policy

Volume

34

Pagination

147-157

ISSN

0016-3287

Department/School

School of Geography, Planning and Spatial Sciences

Publisher

Pergamon

Place of publication

United Kingdom

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Environmental policy, legislation and standards not elsewhere classified

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