RTK or Left-To-Wonder?
Recommended Reading

Y2K and the Environment

Date sent:          14 Sep 1998 12:05:18
Send reply to:      Conference "env.justice" 
From:               [email protected]
Subject:            Environmentalists and Y2K -- a grave problem
To:                 Recipients of conference 

virtual xerox -- sent under "fair use" doctrine to promote
calm and reasoned public discussion and response to the looming
Year 2000 global computer crash

please ask politicians, media institutions, banks, 
food distribution companies, transportation systems, electric utilities
what they plan to do about "Y2K" failures this is far more important than
Monica Lewinsky

the ability of human society to survive and recover
depends both on the extent of catastrophic failures on 01-01-00
and how well communities cooperate to mitigate problems

(if we muddle through Y2K, then we can contemplate climate change,
nuclear wastes, melting polar ice caps, poisoned water, habitat
destruction, and other manifestations of mass extinction -- see for information about the end of the petroleum age)

read about the "embedded processor" problem at
daily updates on the Y2K Crisis are at and

forwarded by Mark Robinowitz * [email protected]

sent Monday Setember 14, 1998 -- 473 days 12 hours until the new


September 8, 1998 

     Westergaard Year 2000 Y2K Tip
          of the Week #54 

       Y2K and Environmentalism 

            By Jim Lord 

Because of its embedded processor aspect, the Year 2000 Computer Crisis
poses what is likely the greatest environmental threat in history.
Embedded processors control countless industrial processes that produce or
use pollutants, poisons, or toxic substances. The facilities in which
these processes are common include,

* Manufacturing plants 
* Chemical plants 
* Pharmaceutical plants 
* Mines 
* Oil and gas wells, pipelines and tankers 
* Oil, gas and ore refineries 
* Nuclear and fossil fuel power plants 
* Nuclear waste treatment facilities 
* Nuclear weapon facilities 
* Sewage treatment plants 
* Water treatment facilities 
* And many others 

The April 1998 issue of World Oil Magazine says,

"It is estimated that the average oil and gas firm,
starting today, can expect to remediate less than
30% of the overall potential failure points in the
production environment. This reality shifts the
focus of the solution away from trying to fix the
problem, to planning strategies that would
minimize potential damage and mitigate potential
safety hazards."

This statement implies that:

* The oil and gas industry won't finish in time.

* There will be environmental damage and personal safety hazards. 

The cold, clammy realization that we're not going to fix the embedded
processor problem is sinking in. No matter how well we do in the United
States, much of the world has little chance of fixing the embedded
processor component of Y2K. The environmental implications are nothing
short of staggering.

A critical question - where's the environmental movement. The answer is -
nowhere to be found. At this point, they don't have a Y2K clue but that
won't last long. Awareness of the Year 2000 Crisis is growing
dramatically. Before long, the environmentalists will realize what's
happening and when they do,

They're going to go stark, raving nuts.

They're going to want to shut down everything and here's the great irony -
they're probably right. We probably can't take the chance of massive,
simultaneous, global failures in environmentally sensitive systems. At a
minimum, we need to start testing these facilities by turning the
computers ahead to the Year 2000 in a carefully controlled and isolated

When the environmentalists finally get up to speed on Y2K, they will play
an immensely important role in the public discourse. Theirs will be one of
the loudest voices on the scene. With their potent, international
political clout and their superb, global organization, their Luddite
tendencies will rise to the surface.

  [Mark's comment:  this was obviously not written by an 
  environmental activist -- few environmental groups 
  asking for anything more substantial than minor tweaking 
  of the destructive status quo have much influence with the 
  political powers-that-be.  See Alexander Cockburn and 
  Ken Silverstein's excellent muckracking "Washington Babylon," 
  which contains a wonderful chapter on how big money 
  bought out and neutered the elite of the environmental movement.
  If the environmentalists had been seriously listened to in the 1960s and
  1970s, we'd be in much better shape to cope with Y2K and climate change
  -- wind power instead of train-loads of coal burned at centralized power
  stations, more local self-reliant communities, etc.]

The drama of this confrontation will be compelling and political
leaders all over the world will be trapped in a fascinating
corner. Save the world by shutting it down and ruining the
global economy. Meanwhile, all those tens of billions of clock
chips keep ticking, ticking, ticking.

(Just a passing thought - consider poor Al Gore. Both ends of
his stick, technology and the environment are about to turn
malodorous. It'll be fascinating to watch him as well.)

My Tip of the Week is to watch the environmental
movement like a hawk. When they become fully engaged in
this issue, they will put immense pressure on the politicians
and could very well determine the nature of the broad political
response to Y2K.

Good Luck!

Browse the Y2K Tip of the Week Archives for previous editions of this
column, and see many more practical Y2K Tips such as these in my book, A
Survival Guide for the Year 2000 Problem, a sample of which can be
previewed at 


New York Times, August 6, 1998 (Hiroshima Day)
letter to the editor

It is paradoxical that the arrival of the 21st century, supposedly the
information age, poses a threat to the country's computer systems
(editorial, Aug. 2).  

What the millennium bug tells us is that complex technological systems,
seemingly so futuristic, are vulnerable to as humble an error as two

Perhaps we should think what a similar error might mean in genetically
altered organisms and their cloned progeny set loose on the rest of us. 
It is nature, not technology, that has the flexibility to make our future
creative -- unless our over-enthusiasm overwhelms life's great but finite
store of resilience.

David Keppel
Essex, Conn., Aug. 2, 1998


Originally published in the September 1998 issue

>From "The Hard Edge" column

Tombstones To Die For 

Alice likes to rail against the stupidity of the digital world, but she's
recently uncovered the first true analog casualty (so to speak) of the
year 2000 crisis. It seems that the tombstone industry is facing a
disturbing number of headstones carved with an as-yet-unclaimed 19 prefix.

Apparently, it's a common practice in the burial industry to sell package
deals that include your casket; your plot; and a tombstone precarved with
your name, a message, and a blank spot for the date. To save money, people
precarve the 19 and leave the rest blank. That way, a relative gets hit
only with the cost of carving the month, date, and final two digits of the

Alice and Bill are always happy to know that the programming world isn't
the only sector blind to time. The burial industry is now facing its own
minicrisis as it finds itself with a glut of precarved 19xx headstones and
a customer base that--sorry to say this--refuses to dearly depart. Of
course, Alice finds great irony in the fact that the burial industry
didn't understand the passing of time any better than the programming
world, but there's something oddly comforting and human in that.

Lest we have the last laugh, the solution in the world of headstone
carving involves a simple cement-like paste that is added to the incorrect
numbers, buffed to a shine, and then recarved. A former cemetery worker
Alice spoke with (is that dedication or what?) explained that the cement
paste is highly effective and was developed long ago to correct and change
headstones for customers who wanted to go with another message or make
some sort of change to their original carving request.

"As a teen, I worked for a monument engraver, and it wasn't unusual, even
in the '70s, to 'repair' gravestones by using a stone/cement mixture for
engravement changes, polishing, and then reblasting the lettering onto the
grave markers," the former cemetery worker explains. "And yes, it does
last 'for years to come'! By the way, we weren't making the boo-boos; most
changes were from family members giving us the wrong birth date or name

Of course, in his practical way, Bill sees a darker side to all this.
Programmers faced with the impossible deadline, plus surplus 19xx
headstones? You do the math. Sounds like a match made in, dare we say,


For further reading:

Year 2000:  A Complete Guide to the Coming Crisis in Computing
By Peter Garrison (best introduction anywhere)

Social psychology of Y2K -- possible scenarios

Social Chaos or Social Transformation?
Critical Infrastructure Assurance Organization (CIAO, as in "goodbye")
Clinton's agency for the Y2K breakdown (no joke)


For years I labored with the idea of reforming the existing institutions
... Now I feel quite differently. I think you've got to have a 

reconstruction of the entire society, a revolution of values.
-- Martin Luther King, Jr.

America is the interplay of 300 million Rube Goldberg devices 
invented only yesterday.
-- Kurt Vonnegut, "Timequake"

For me all of this started with the non-violent direct action in defense
of nature, which I didn't see as being a ritual at the beginning.  But
when I think about it now it actually seems to me to be a ritual activity
- to go to that place where humankind meets wild nature, that line where
nature's being bulldozed and plowed and pushed back, and to stand right on
that line, not looking at nature with the eye to conquest but looking back
as part of nature saying "No" to this whole thing. That was really the
biggest turning point of my life, the first time that I was involved in
something like that.  -- John Seed

At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our
being, drive a spear into the land, and say to the bulldozers,
earthmovers, government and corporations, "thus far and no farther."  If
we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau,
that good but overly bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, "If
I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behavior." -- Edward Abbey
(spiritual founder of Earth First!)

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