Long-term variations of global solar irradiance at the Earth's surface from the beginning of the observations to 2005 are analyzed for more than 400 sites. Further, likely causes for the variations, an estimation of the magnitudes of aerosol direct and indirect effects, and the temperature sensitivity of the climate system due to radiation changes are evaluated. The record of observed global radiation begins with an increasing phase from 1920s to late 1940s/early 1960s. This brightening period (first brightening phase) is followed by the decreasing trend lasting to late 1980s, known as the global dimming, which finally translates into the second brightening phase in many regions of the world. These decadal variations are to great extent caused by aerosol and cloud fluctuations. The total aerosol effect as well as its direct and indirect effects were evaluated mainly on the basis of the observations. To meet this goal, simultaneous observations of global solar radiation and zenith transmittance are necessary. Five such regions/sites in Europe and Japan satisfy these conditions. By using the 20-year dimming phase from 1960 to 1980 and the 15-year brightening phase from 1990 to 2005, it was found that the aerosol direct and indirect effects played about an equal weight in changing global solar radiation. The temperature sensitivity due to radiation change is estimated at 0.05 to 0.06 K/(W m−2). The first brightening phase lasting to 1940s/early 1960s does not show a compatibility with the variation of transmittance of the atmosphere and originated probably from a different cause.