Ecological Overshoot is a tragedy, not a tactic

It’s an easy and sometimes advantageous strategy to overshoot a mark we have in our sights.

When selling a house, it is usually the case that the asking price is set higher than the expected selling price.  It gives some wriggle room for the negotiations between buyer and seller.

And in salary negotiations, a confident job applicant has been known to overshoot the job’s salary target in the hope of influencing the employer to anchor salary negotiations at a higher level.  That tactic can backfire on those who do not know the realistic salary expectations of the job.

It’s a tactic used in golf.  The chance of holing a putt increases by weighting the shot for the ball to go past the hole, rather than dropping in to the hole on it’s dying rotation.    The downside of this overshoot strategy is that when one misses the target, the next putt may be even more difficult.

So it seems to be when setting carbon emission targets.  The Paris target of less than 2 °C of warming, will be difficult to achieve.  So we see the tendency to allow global GHG concentrations to rise above the target level in the expectation of bringing them back down at a future time.

Technology may or may not satisfy the expectation.

If it does, then the costs of meeting the target will inevitably have risen over that time of procrastination.

If it does not, then there will be no consequence to the procrastinators – that will fall on future generations.

We can see this lose-lose overshoot strategy playing out now in the concept of Overshoot Day.

Developed by the Global Footprint Network, Overshoot Day is a means to flag the date on which we ask more from nature, than our planet can renew in a year.


Today (August 1st) is World Overshoot Day.  This date reflects human demand for ecological resources across the planet, being 1.7 times what the Earth can sustainably meet.

New Zealand had it’s own Overshoot Day.  May 1st was the date on which Earth Overshoot Day would have fallen if all of humanity consumed like we do. Our demand for the earth’s resources is equivalent to more than three earths.

What will life be like when the rest of humanity demands what we have and take for granted?

When selling a house, negotiating a salary or playing a golf shot, overshooting the target may be a valid tactic.  When overshooting the capacity of the Earth to supply resources, it is a tragedy in the making.