Key Idea There are different ways that we can classify the parts of the system. For this website, we are classifying the parts as Earth’s Matter, Earth’s Energy and Earth’s Life. We classify in this way because it reveals three systems principles that are different from each other and that work together. These system principles help us understand global climate change. The three principles are summarized below and described in more detail in their respective sections of this overview document.

Matter Cycles: Each of the elements that is vital for life exists on Earth in a closed loop of cyclical changes. From a systems point of view, Earth is essentially a closed system with respect to matter.

Energy Flows: The functioning of our planet relies on a constant input of energy from the Sun. This energy leaves the Earth system in the form of heat flowing to outer space. From a systems point of view, Earth is an open system with respect to energy.

Life Webs: A vast and intricate web of relationships connects all of Earth’s organisms with each other and with the cycles of matter and the flows of energy. From a systems point of view, Earth is a networked system with respect to life.

Humans are making very significant changes to Earth’s cycles of matter, particularly the carbon cycle. These changes are altering the flows of energy into, within and out of the Earth system. These changes to the flows of energy are changing Earth’s climate locally and globally. Changes to climate affect the web of life, including us.

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