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The China Syndrome and the Environmental Kuznets Curve

American Enterprise Institute
December 21, 2005


By Steven F. Hayward

Recent environmental news out of China has lent new momentum to the gloomy view of China’s environmental future amidst its headlong rush for economic growth. However, the gloom over China’s environment may be overstated. China is an ideal test case of the controversial idea of the "environmental Kuznets Curve," according to which economic growth precedes environmental improvement. The question for China is whether it can trace an abbreviated trajectory along the environment/development curve and avoid some of the environmental damage that the United States and Europe experienced in their industrial revolutions. Although current environmental trends in China are serious and deteriorating in many areas, some unappreciated signs of improvement are appearing.

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