Is Economic Growth for the Birds?

The environment provides ecosystem services that support human wants. Economic growth is important for raising human living standards. But whether economic growth benefits the environment is unclear. Research into this relationship has focused on a U-shaped association known as the Environmental Kuznets Curve (EKC). As economies grow, environmental quality initially declines but ultimately recovers and improves.

However, environmental quality has been narrowly defined in the research, largely neglecting the availability and range of ecosystem services. Because these services derive from biodiversity, we use avian biodiversity as a proxy for environmental quality. Our results replace the U-shaped relationship with a lazy-S relationship.

As economies grow, environmental quality initially declines, then improves over intermediate growth, but ultimately declines at higher growth. The EKC hypothesis has been used to forward economic growth as a means for improving environment quality. Our results call into question policies that rely solely on economic growth for reversing environmental decline.