This time 10 years ago, much of the world was digging bunkers and buying guns, waiting for the world to end. Yes, it was the Y2K bug that had people trembling at the end of the last decade. When the internal clocks in our computers rolled over from 1999 to 2000 at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, the world’s computer network was supposed to crash, the lights would go out — and not only on all the New Year’s Eve parties, but on civilization as a whole.
Anyone on the grid would be left in the dark. That would include everyone except perhaps for a few tribes in New Guinea and the Amazon rainforest and maybe the Amish and a few antisocial nuts who lived in caves and cabins in the wilderness. The rest of us would be on our own, cast into a real-life Roland Emmerich movie in which computers would crash and so would airplanes. Without electricity, everything from office buildings to cocktail blenders would become useless.
In the run up to Dec. 31, signs appeared in front of churches reminding passersby that time was running out to get right with God. Other signs and TV commercials suggested that a gun might be more useful than Jesus in the brave new world of 2000.
As the hours ticked off until midnight, many people filled their gas tanks and took as much cash out of the bank as they were comfortable carrying. Airplanes landed and parked until after the midnight hour. As the last moments ticked away, toasts were made, kisses were stolen, and … and … and …
We all know what happened next — nothing! Except that one of the greatest parties in memory continued with a cheer and a sigh and another round of libations.
That was 10 years ago, and the Y2K scare pointed out the same social tensions and cultural divide that we see today with the global warming crisis — except in reverse.
Y2K was pretty much a red-state, blue-collar end-of-the-world scenario. It appealed to people who knew just enough about computers to grasp the idea that the older models were not equipped with an internal clock to count past 1999. They were apparently unaware of the extraordinary efforts that government and the private sector had made to upgrade older computers; all newer computers were built Y2K-ready.
Some enterprising fundamentalists also conflated the Y2K scare with biblical end-of-time revelations which had millennial overtones. Needless to say, this narrative found traction with a broad demographic in South Carolina. The idea of a world without modern technology also appealed to the crowd that drives pickup trucks with shotguns in the back and likes to pretend they are living on the frontier.
For a lot of people, the Y2K moment was not just feared, but hoped for. It would be a vindication of all of their primitive religious and social attitudes. Presumably, they would look down from their celestial mansions upon the uppity, smarty-pants intellectuals who once sneered at their beliefs and watch them as they now boiled in oil. Or maybe they would have the satisfaction of watching said intellectuals starving and groveling in the wake of the Y2K collapse, while the Bubbas with the shotguns and pickup trucks lived off the fat of the land. But none of this came to pass, and a lot of people were left feeling bewildered and cheated.
Flash forward 10 years. We now face another end-of-the-world scenario, this one conjured by the very scientists and intellectuals who have long dismissed such faith-based prophesies. Yes, we are talking about global warming, a complex theory involving fossil fuels, greenhouse gases, radiant energy, feedback loops, and other scientific terms and concepts.
In a country and a state where the majority of people still believe in God and angels and other supernatural phenomena — where the relatively old idea of evolution is still rejected as unchristian — the new idea of global warming has hit a wall of irrational resistance. That resistance comes from many of the same people who were happy to believe the end of the world was at hand 10 years ago because that was an end they could relate to. Resistance to the idea of global warming taps into a lot of free-floating white anger in this society and a general suspicion of personal and international cooperation. The conference on global warming in Copenhagen this month is just another proof of a U.N.-dominated, one-world conspiracy these people have long warned against.
We’ve come a long way in a decade, from one doomsday prophesy to another. I could laugh off the last one. This time I am worried.
For more, visit charlestoncitypaper.com/blogs/thegoodfight.