Stanford University

What can Pacific island cultures teach us about sustainability?

BY Madison Pobis
ClockApril 28, 2023

Island geography, genealogy, kinship, and other cultural and environmental factors influenced early Pacific island societies to develop sustainable practices. How can we apply these lessons to climate and sustainability issues today?

Stanford ecologist Peter Vitousek and Polynesian scholars Kamanamaikalani Beamer and Te Maire Tau recently co-wrote a book, "Islands and Cultures: How Pacific Islands Provide Paths Toward Sustainability," that views Pacific islands as models for understanding how environment and culture can interact.

"An important feature of the book is to draw on both science as it's conventionally understood and Indigenous understanding of the world and try to bring them together," said Vitousek, who is also a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. "I think that the right pathway is for them to look at the world together, and learn from each other's insights about how the world works. That's the confluence we're seeking."

The book is in many respects an outgrowth of the First Nations Futures Program, a collaboration between Stanford, University of Hawaii, Canterbury University, the First Alaskans Institute, Sealaska Corporation, Hookele Strategies, and the Ngai Tahu Tribe, that was launched in 2006 through the Woods Institute. Offering fellowships for young Indigenous leaders, the program focuses on building First Nations’ capacity by developing values-based leadership and integrated asset/resource management solutions.

Vitousek and Beamer came together for a conversation on the intersections of Indigenous leadership, island cultures and the environment during a May 4 event co-hosted by the Woods Institute and the Stanford Native American Cultural Center

>> Read the recap from the event

>> Watch the event recording

Vitousek is the Clifford G. Morrison Professor of Population and Resource Studies and a professor of Earth system science. Beamer is a full professor and the inaugural Dana Naone Hall Endowed Chair in Hawaiian Studies, Literature, & the Environment at Hawaiʻinuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. He serves a dual appointment in the Hawaiʻinuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge and in the William S. Richardson School of Law as part of Ka Huli Ao Center for Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law. Tau is an associate professor of history at the University of Canterbury.



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