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A precautionary tale: Y2K and the politics of foresight


Phillimore, J and Davison, AG, A precautionary tale: Y2K and the politics of foresight, Futures: the Journal of Forecasting, Planning and Policy, 34, (2) pp. 147-157. ISSN 0016-3287 (2002) [Refereed Article]

DOI: doi:10.1016/S0016-3287(01)00052-0


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.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Research Division:Human Society
Research Group:Policy and administration
Research Field:Research, science and technology policy
Objective Division:Environmental Policy, Climate Change and Natural Hazards
Objective Group:Environmental policy, legislation and standards
Objective Field:Environmental policy, legislation and standards not elsewhere classified
UTAS Author:Davison, AG (Associate Professor Aidan Davison)
ID Code:29505
Year Published:2002
Web of Science® Times Cited:3
Deposited By:Geography and Environmental Studies
Deposited On:2005-07-06
Last Modified:2005-07-06

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