From 2000 To 350: Two Numbers

Mathematical Graffiti

One thing we did not intend to do in 2009, but did: visit South America.

One thing we intended to do in 2009 but did not: write this post about the bookend numbers of the decade. A small observation.

The first decade of the 21st century started with Y2K and ended with 350 – two expressions of our fear that the collective technological creations of humanity will also be our destruction.

As a lingering concern from the tail end of the 20th century, we entered 02000 affraid that the computer systems running everything from our stoplights to medical devices would call it quits as their internal clocks reset from 99 to 00. People stockpiled food, escaped to remote areas, and there was a collective holding of breath as we stepped into that unknown territory together. By the end of January 1, 2000 fears of massive computer meltdown had already dissipated and “Y2K” was thrown out with the party favors from the night before.

December 12 2009: World leaders gather in Copenhagen to discuss an international treaty that would limit the presence of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere by establishing a cap of 350 parts per million. At the end of the decade we were again confronted with the unexpected consequences of human progress.

Although the possible disaster that was Y2K fizzled quickly, all informed parties agree that 350 is a much more menacing number that we are not likely to escape. I’ll remember the decade as a transition from 2000 to 350, a persistent fear of technocollapse concretized into two essential numbers. Hopefully 350 won’t become this decade’s Y2K, forgotten as soon as it’s widely recognized as a problem.

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