Population: what would you have recommended to Hawaiians on population during the centuries they lived alone?

December 2, 2022 by Joshua
in Nature

As a culture, we struggle to talk about population. Some consider more people better as a moral absolute. To them, more people solve more problems, so there can never be too many.

Others consider Earth’s resources finite. To them, more people means less resources per person, which means beyond an optimum number, more people means lower quality of life, ultimately leading to a collapse of population.

The first group values more population growth. The second values less. Both believe their own route leads to more human health and happiness. Both believe the other’s leads to death and destruction.

I believe I can see where each is coming from and why their view makes sense, but I can’t help coming back to Hawaii, in a way I’m about to explain. Countless other cultures could substitute, so there’s nothing special about Hawaii, but its isolation clarifies the situation.


First, context. The details are lost to time, but I understand Polynesians discovered the Hawaiian islands, established trade between them and Polynesia, but then abandoned that trade. Hawaiians lived on the islands for centuries until Captain Cook found them around 1850.

A few centuries is enough time for population to reach millions if it grew exponentially. They didn’t. They grew to about three hundred thousand, which seemed to have balanced what they needed from nature and what nature could provide.

What would you have recommended the Hawaiians do on population when they lived at that number? Would you suggest they grow the population? Were they depriving themselves of more people?

Why not grow more?

More people live there now, but they bring oil and minerals from elsewhere that they need to maintain the higher numbers.

If you would have recommended they grow more, what do you know that they miss? If you would have recommended they stay at the number they did, should we today also not grow past a certain number? What if we’re passed our equivalent number for the globe as theirs for their islands? If you think fossil fuels or nuclear mean that no such number exists, why not?

Honolulu Hawaii from above

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