Sustainability Efforts in China: Reflections on the Environmental Kuznets Curve Through a Locational Evaluation of “Eco-Communities”
AbstractIn contrast to the common dismal view of China's environment, this article highlights local and national sustainability efforts in China and examines the location characteristics of China's Eco-Communities ( Shengtai Qu ), communities that achieved significant sustainability per the evaluation of the Chinese government. It explores what the Chinese experience implies to the environmental Kuznets curve (EKC) concept in the context of nature-society relations and sustainability studies. The research was based on field research in eight Chinese provinces in 2001, 2004, and 2006, in addition to Chinese governmental and academic sources. At the national level, there appeared to be a positive environment-development relationship: The Eco-Communities tended to concentrate in more developed eastern China. The Eco-Communities displayed unique spatial patterns that are strikingly at odds with conventional wisdom, however. They were often found in the periphery of their provinces away from the wealthiest areas, poorer and smaller in economy and population compared to other communities in the provinces. Contrary to the EKC, the findings illustrate that communities can achieve environmental improvement along with economic growth, thus a win-win, nature-society relationship, at early stages of development. Natural resource endowments and environmental governance appear to be more important than development level in determining an area's sustainability. Environment-development research should move beyond the traditional EKC debate to better understand nature-society relations and sustainability.