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My Passions

Passion or Obsession?

When I step onto my soapbox to generously share my wisdom with the world, my wife sweetly teases me with "crank up the crank!" This is just a gentle warning, should you ever want to invite me to a dinner party. Because there are two topics that particularly captivate me: 1) overshoot, i.e., the overuse of our planet, and 2) motivation, i.e., what empowers each one of us to respond to it.

Some of my friends wonder how I can remain passionate about these specific topics for decades. However, to me, they feel as fresh and intriguing as they did on the first day I encountered them. I continuously uncover new layers and mysteries, which keep the inquiry titillating and surprising.

You might rightly judge my persistence as being obsessive. My wise friend Wolfgang Sachs had counseled me about “people being in love with their obsessions.” Yes, granted, I am one of those undeniably enamored with my passions. I also recognize that my particular passions are not a given as I meet quite a few people shying away from these topics, considering them being too dark and dreadful. In contrast, I cannot fathom how understanding our future more fully has any downside. It leads to better decisions and to higher chances to win "bets about the future". And every single decision boils down to being a bet about the future.

By recognizing what is and exploring the options available to respond, opportunities unfold. There is little I find more rewarding than, when working with others, helping uncover effective pathways to more successful futures. Overshoot is merely the context, or the backdrop to our stage. How we act on that stage is largely within our hands.

Why These Two Topics Fuel my Passion

My two most central, recurring passions are related: 1) overshoot and its impacts, and 2) the mystery of why ‘overshoot obliviousness’ is so widespread, or rather how we can generate motivation to respond.

1) Overshoot. Over-what? If you are not familiar with that term, you are not alone. While I consider it to be the second most significant threat to humanity (at par with nuclear annihilation, and the largest one being ignoring overshoot), it gets barely any media coverage.  I found that for every 10,000 articles on climate change in the news, there was about one on overshoot. Yet overshoot is the overarching dynamic, and climate change just one of its symptoms.

The idea of overshoot is not that complicated: it occurs when human demand has become larger than what Earth’s ecosystems can renew. Overshoot is now occurring globally and has led to massive declines in biodiversity, excess greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and heightened competition for food and energy. These symptoms are becoming more prominent with unusual heat waves, forest fires, droughts, hurricanes, and floods.  This is our context that is starting to shape everything

Understanding the overshoot dynamics and the conflicts it generates also brings afore practical guidance. For instance: Anyone who prepares themselves meaningfully for a world in overshoot can significantly reduce their own risk exposure. But most don’t. So, what’s holding us back? That’s my other area of inquiry I am passionate about.


2) Motivation. Shifting anything requires internal motivation. Yet, such intrinsic motivation to meaningfully respond to overshoot is lacking. Some may call this "overshoot obliviousness". Others see it as "denial". Whatever the reason for ignoring overshoot, this inaction, in my view is turning into the 21st century's largest risk, as mentioned above.

The impacts of overshoot threaten human wellbeing profoundly in the longer run (think war, famine and decay). But in the short run, participating in overshooting the biosphere seems to carry many benefits: seemingly limitless supply and demand feeds and fuels the flamboyant present. Our robbing the future to feed the present indicates that we are caught in pyramid scheme. And indeed, overshoot is a gigantic ecological Ponzi (or pyramid) scheme. It makes Bernie Madoff look like a dabbling beginner. Why is this Ponzi scheme not only tolerated, but even encouraged? Upton Sinclair‘s insight from the 1920s offers some explanation. He pointed out that if one's salary depends on not understanding, it is very hard to understand.

This means that people ignore overshoot not because it is too complicated of a question and their brains too wobbly to grasp it. Rather, the reason is, in my view, that people are afraid that their required action will be to their own disadvantage. They wrongly believe, in my opinion, that them addressing overshoot, while beneficial to society, would impose costs on them and limit their own possibility to operate.

In contrast, I argue that not preparing yourself for the predictable future of climate change and resource constraints is particularly hurtful for yourself, particularly the less other people around the world prepare themselves for that future. This is why I am interested in how we all relate and respond to this new context of overshoot.

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Overshoot and Motivation

Overshoot is so simple, and yet so elusive. How do we measure it? If true, what does it mean? Is it just risk? Where are the opportunities? What's the resistance? What's the attraction? What keeps me motivated? What does it mean to you?

How I Apply This to my Work

Given these topics, I am particularly fascinated with finding ways to generate motivation among individuals, companies, cities, and countries to respond to overshoot.

I identify three critical components that enhance motivation:


  1. Augmenting the desire (I want to respond to overshoot). With a will, there is a way.

  2. Kindling a sense of agency (I can do something). A sense of self-determination is one of they key ingredients to stimulate motivation, according to most psychologists' research on intrinsic motivation.

  3. Encouraging curiosity (learning more gives me thrill). Not knowing makes the journey even more fascinating. It makes also clear that everyone is needed, which is empowering.


In anything I undertake, I therefore want to make sure that all those three conditions are strengthened among the people and partners I engage with. Because otherwise, I fear, my contribution may be counterproductive. To learn more about my engagements.

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