The Environmental Kuznets Curve hypothesis has dominated this discourse, but is only one part of a broader pollution-economy nexus.
As we consider a societal shift towards a circular economy, there is a need to consider a more integrated framework for analyzing the empirical evidence that connects pollution and economic development, and its implications for human well-being and the achievement of the sustainable development goals.
As we consider ways of moving towards a circular economy in which pollution itself could be harnessed as a material asset for usage in products to diminish waste, a more integrated framework is needed.
This is particularly true in developing countries where pollution rates are rising most dramatically and where governments and firms are often being confronted with conflicting narratives about the impact of environmental regulations on economic growth and broader human development.
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Economic growth is clearly the dominant pathway towards reaching the positive goals of development but alternative approaches are also considered in terms of ecological constraints that could take us via a circular economy or post-growth model of development which will be discussed towards the end of this review as a possible opportunity for 'win–win' outcomes.
This diagram is meant to show a range of possible paths and impact categories as a heuristic exercise rather than a deterministic model.
Historically, the modern ecological movement, which started in industrialized countries in the 1960s blamed economic development as the main driver of pollution.
Studies, such as the Report of the Club of Rome (Meadows 1972), suggested that if the economy continued with the same pattern we would deplete natural resources and reach unpredictable, and perhaps unacceptable, levels of pollution, advising zero growth as an alternative to environmental and human catastrophe.