(Local) environmental quality versus (global) ecological carrying capacity: what might alternative aggregated indicators bring to the debates about environmental Kuznets curves and sustainable development?

The Environmental Kuznets Curves (EKC) hypothesis suggests that the environmental impacts of a population increase in the early stages of its development, and decline once a certain level of income is attained. After examining different criticisms that can be addressed to studies that validate this hypothesis (environmental data which concern mostly restricted and/or local phenomenon, development indicators which offer a too limited vision of human development), this paper proposes a representation that confronts two aggregated indicators: ecological footprint and human development index. This confrontation contradicts the EKC hypothesis. Different visions concerning the meaning of the term environment (local environmental quality versus global ecological carrying capacity) might partially explain our conclusions and reveals a pernicious phenomenon. While developed nations tend to improve the quality of their ‘local’ environment, they also tend to consume more and more ‘global’ resources, which might often come from developing nations.