China's massive and long-term pollution problem is putting an economic thesis to the test.
The theory, known as the environmental Kuznets curve, contends that the environment must suffer in order for a society to achieve financial growth. Only when the growth has been reached, the premise says, can the society then afford to clean up the mess—if it wants to.
As the world's largest economy after the U.S., China appears to have the necessary wallet. It may also have the will after years of mounting deaths attributed to polluted air and water.
But the combination may still not be enough to reverse decades of environmental destruction.