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Recent progress in global change research has shown clearly that the Earth's environment is a complex system, defined through intricately linked processes, feedbacks, and teleconnections. This integral perspective renders obsolete the conventional scientific approach of investigating disjunct causal relationships, and demands a new, integrated way of conducting environmental Earth research.

For example, the glacial record of synchronous fluctuations in climate and atmospheric CO2 and CH4 begs the question of cause and effect: Are fluctuations in the biotic greenhouse gases driving the climatic variability or are externally forced climate variations responsible for changes that result in varying emissions of these gases? Current consensus suggests that there is no simple “either/or” answer to this question, but that the biota and their geophysical and geochemical environments have co-evolved, resulting in a multitude of complex feedbacks.