What is Global Change?
Global change refers to the many changes unfolding across our planet, including changes to climate, land, water, and ecosystems. Humans increasingly shape these changes and are a consequential part of the Earth system.
Global change research is the interdisciplinary effort to better understand these changes, why they happen, how they connect, and how we can work together toward sustainable solutions.
Global Change ChallengesGlobal change takes many forms. Here are just a few examples:
Global Change Key Questions
Climate change is one example of global change. Climate change refers specifically to shifts in temperature, precipitation, and other atmospheric conditions. Because the climate shapes many other parts of the planet – such as the temperature of the ocean or what kinds of ecosystems can thrive – climate change alters other systems beyond the atmosphere. As a result, climate change is a major factor in many types of global change.
However, many other processes also reshape our planet and life on it, such as pervasive plastics in our oceans, expansion of cities, roads, and farms across landscapes, and many factors leading to high levels of biodiversity loss. Global change describes all these kinds of phenomena, including climate change.
Check out AGCI’s resource library to learn more about climate change or other types of global change.
Global changes don’t happen in isolation. Planetary domains – like the atmosphere, biosphere, cryosphere, geosphere, hydrosphere, and anthrosphere – and their processes are all linked. Consequently, understanding global changes frequently requires working across disciplines, including the social sciences, which consider social, economic, and political dynamics. Taken together, global change science is collaborative and interdisciplinary. Global change researchers explore why global changes are happening, how these changes connect with one another, and what we can do to address or prevent the consequences of those changes.
Global change impacts all aspects of our lives—from what we eat and our health to how we sustain livelihood, safety, and overall well-being. For instance, climate change is intensifying extreme events, like storms, fires, and heat waves. These events disrupt agriculture, business, and daily routine, and they can also be deadly, especially for the most vulnerable. Around the globe, human development encroaches on natural ecosystems, providing another example of transformative change. Loss of habitat can increase human-wildlife conflict, contribute to extinction, and accelerate the formation and spread of diseases. Even common, daily activities can have far-reaching impacts. Widespread use of fertilizers, for example, can lead to algal blooms that make rivers and gulf areas unsafe for fishing or swimming. Global change influences everything from the places we play to the essential systems that keep us alive.
Both individual and collective actions are necessary to meet the challenges associated with global changes. Individual actions may take forms such as shifting away from cars and appliances that require fossil fuels, reducing food waste or consumption of single-use goods, and collaborating with friends and neighbors to find creative ways to reduce environmental impacts. Societal transformations may include reforms such as stronger standards for buildings, investments to make cities more resilient to natural disasters, or new approaches to how we value the resources that come from the Earth. How we choose to acknowledge and address global changes and their impacts will have profound consequences on quality of life for both current and future generations, across our planet.
AGCI approaches global change research primarily through supporting and contributing to collaborations. For over 30 years, our interdisciplinary workshops have nurtured communities of researchers and practitioners learning from each other to improve understanding of human and Earth systems. AGCI’s research initiatives support research-practice partnerships that contribute to the knowledge base about drivers of and solutions to global change. Explore other sections of this website to learn more: