Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 579–592

The future is behind us: traditional ecological knowledge and resilience over time on Hawai‘i Island

  • Heather McMillen
  • Tamara Ticktin
  • Hannah Kihalani Springer
Original Article

DOI: 10.1007/s10113-016-1032-1

Cite this article as:
McMillen, H., Ticktin, T. & Springer, H.K. Reg Environ Change (2017) 17: 579. doi:10.1007/s10113-016-1032-1


Local and traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) systems are thought to be particularly valuable for fostering adaptation and resilience to environmental and climate change. This paper investigates the role of TEK in adaptation to social–ecological change at the community level. It is unique because it takes a longitudinal perspective and draws on historical and contemporary data. We focus on a case study from Hawai‘i where TEK, cultural identity, and their relationships to environmental stewardship are locally seen as the basis for social resilience. We describe how coping strategies and indicators of social resilience have changed over time; the role of TEK in resilience; and the implications for climate change adaptation. Our results show the relative contributions of some strategies to cope with social–ecological change have decreased (e.g., forecasting, storage, and mobility), while others have maintained but adapted (e.g., livelihood diversification, knowledge transmission and storage, communal pooling, and cultural identity), underscoring the importance of considering multiple strategies together to promote community resilience. The article argues that understanding how people responded in the past can suggest relevant and culturally appropriate ways—through specific language, values, reference points, and indicators expressed in narratives, proverbs, and songs—of situating climate change and framing adaptation planning. This research also shows that TEK is vital for adaptation to environmental change broadly and climate change in particular, for subsistence-based, indigenous, rural communities, as well as place-based communities living in mixed economies. Thus, it is relevant for the larger Pacific Islands region and other areas that represent a continuum from rural-to-urban and traditional-to-global economies and lifeways.


Social resilience Adaptation Pacific Islands Traditional ecological knowledge Climate change 

Supplementary material

10113_2016_1032_MOESM1_ESM.docx (18 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 17 kb)

Funding information

Funder NameGrant NumberFunding Note
Pacific Island Climate Change Cooperative
  • F12AP00534

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Hawai‘i at MānoaHonoluluUSA
  2. 2.Kailua KonaUSA

Personalised recommendations