In November 2021, David Quinn tweeted the following:
I quote-tweeted a response to that, and I am including it here, in slightly-edited form, to make sure it's preserved.
I first heard of Climate Change (then called Global Warming) in 1981/2, while I was still in primary school.
I first heard of the Y2K problem in the late '80s, around the time of my leaving cert. At that time, a career in IT was not something I was planning.
Fast-forward a few years, and that non-plan came to pass. I spent a portion of the late '90s working on Y2K mitigations, culminating in staying awake and sober for the turn of the millennium so as to be on call for my employer and its customers. Thankfully, nothing Y2K-bad happened that night, nor in the days or weeks or months following it. This is because my colleagues and my friends and I had been engaged in a multi-billion dollar, multi-year, multi-million person, quasi-coordinated project to fix the problem. About 10 years after I learned about the Y2K problem, it was fixed.
40 years after I learned about Climate Change (and ~110 years after it was first highlighted as a problem in the press!) we're still discussing whether it's something to really worry about.
Why? What are the differences between these two issues, both having global visibility, global discussion, and global risks? Immediacy, perhaps? Maybe. I suspect it's to do with who bears the risk.
Both of these problems posed a risk to people. But the vector of the Y2K risk to people came through organisations, including businesses. If a plane fell out of the sky because of a Y2K bug, it's the airline who would have been liable. If a social welfare payment couldn't have been made because the government didn't believe the recipient has been born yet, the High Court would rule the government to be accountable.
Also, the risk of immediate and appreciable affect to business was real: if a bank can't get loan repayments because the computer doesn't believe that the next scheduled payment is due for more than 100 years, that's a problem for the bank, not the borrower.
However, the risks posed by Climate Change don't all, or don't primarily, come through business, so direct liability for the harms that will result is hard to predict or assess. But, the costs of doing something about it are predicted, and we're all going to have to share them. And this is the problem: businesses – particularly businesses built on models that are damaging the climate – don't want to bear the cost of fixing something they haven't affirmatively determined to be a direct risk to them.1
Mr. Quinn famously worships at 2 alters: The alter of Roman Catholicism and the alter of New York Capitalism. When he opposed the recent constitutional changes in Ireland asserting marriage equality and repealing the 8th amendment, he couldn't express his cases in terms of Roman Catholic teaching, because he knew they would have been scoffed at by the wider society, so he based them on predictions of bad social consequences. Ultimately he didn't succeed, primarily because the majority of the decision makers (i.e. the voters) declined to accept his predictions.
The fundamental tenet of the church of New York Capitalism is the requirement to accumulate and retain wealth, i.e. greed. The problem with basing a case against Climate Action on greed is that those who will have to assume the risk of Climate Inaction are not the beneficiaries of that greed. Mr. Quinn can't present his resistance to Climate Action in terms of greed, as this will also be scoffed at, so he has to come up with another tack: the old conspiracy theory approach whereby everyone is in cahoots to over-state the problem.
We have seen this before, though it was not as bad as it is with Climate Change. Some (still) believe that the Y2K work was unnecessary, and consider that the risk was overstated. Capitalism knew otherwise, though, which is why the efforts were so successful. We know this in part by those few unsuccessful attempts to fix the Y2K bug – there would have been many more if the work wasn't so successful in the run up to 2000. For example, kicking the can down the road for 20 years was one bad approach, causing the predicted failures to occur in early 2020.
Capitalism's secondary tenet, short-termism, doesn't permit it to respond to non-specific risks, even if they're real, because that would require committing wealth to an effort from which 1-year or 5-year returns can't be measured in terms of greater wealth. Or it would require sharing wealth with a common cause.
Both of these are anathema to Capitalism.
Capitalism requires its acolytes to resist Climate Action, but stating the real reason for doing so – greed – would be counter productive. Thus we persistently see misdirections, reframing, disinformation.
But the whole point is being missed. The Y2K efforts were successful.
We want (nay, "need") Climate Action to be successful. Just because that success won't be realised for 100 or 500 or 1,000 or 10,000 years doesn't mean it's not necessary, or not necessary now. Capitalism could get on board and promote Climate Action on the grounds that it will realise wealth in the longer term. It won't, though, because of its short-termist rules. Mr. Quinn is fulfilling his role, and it will be as effective, I hope, as it was when he was campaigning against social progress 2015 and 2018.
Much of my career has been spent banging my head against the wall in frustration at management declining to address clear, predicted risk in IT systems until it's nearly too late, or already too late!