Is the environmental Kuznets curve still valid: A perspective of wicked problems

Jingling Chen*, Tao Eric Hu, Rob van Tulder

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Historically, academia has paid much attention to environmental Kuznets curve (EKC) associated hypotheses, and the EKC per se has triggered conflicting reactions since first posited. Yet, all controversies seem not to have any base framework to address further pollution-related strategies. Built upon an extensive critical review of the extant EKC literature, this paper attempts to address the gap by introducing the theory of wicked problems that can be used to reframe the extant EKC research. Integrating and synthesizing the theories and empirical findings of the extant EKC literature, this paper develops a conceptual framework (a research agenda), and suggests that, given humans' bound rationality and societal uncertainties, the EKC pattern may not be valid for the situations of more wicked pollution. Mainly focusing on this type of pollution, the paper contributes to the EKC study in proposing a set of causal relationships built upon the attitudes of societal sectors. The paper points to the necessity of distinguishing the less wicked pollution situations from the more wicked ones that require different practical and academic strategies to deal with. The former can be addressed along with economic growth, and the latter requires proactive attitudes, proactive leadership, and strong organization of societal sectors. In doing so, we hope to advance the conversation surrounding EKC studies and the abatement practice adaption. Contributions of this study and future research avenues for empirical verifications of the theory are then discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4747
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Issue number17
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to sincerely thank the three anonymous reviewers for their insightful criticism, encouragement and review comments on our manuscript. And, the authors would like to thank the Associate Editor and Editor-in-Chief for the research opportunity and their encouragements in the process of revision and resubmission. This research was funded by Jiangsu Social Science Project (18SHD001), and the Key Projects of Social Sciences of Jiangsu Education Department (2018SJZDI083)

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 by the authors.


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