Trajectories of change are dynamic processes of individual, group and/or societal responses to change which create further change and responses, with outcomes that reflect the cumulative properties of those processes. Understanding trajectories of change is an important initial step for designing appropriate adaptation strategies because even though responses may enable people to cope with change in the short term, the accumulated responses of individuals can generate undesirable maladaptive outcomes over longer periods of time. This paper examines trajectories of change in Kahua, Solomon Islands, where people have traditionally relied on subsistence activities and have in the past been subsistence affluent. Participatory methods, including 76 focus group discussions in 38 communities with 821 individuals, were used to determine changes in the region and its drivers. A conceptual model was developed of the underlying feedback processes within the Kahua social–ecological system. The results show that communities are facing rapid and extensive changes. Most changes, however, are being driven by the two key drivers of population growth and a strong desire for monetary prosperity that act synergistically to generate stress in communities. People are generally responding by focusing on income generation, which is reinforcing stress in communities and resulting in maladaptive trajectories of change. The results suggest development policy in the Solomon Islands needs to: (1) take the challenges of population growth much more seriously; (2) place greater effort on development activities that reduce per capita impact on the environment; (3) improve management of the high expectations for monetary prosperity; (4) increase emphasis on wellbeing aspects of development rather than income generation per se, and (5) better align development with existing adaptation strategies to ensure that vulnerability to future global change does not increase.