Susan Krauss Whitbourne Ph.D.

  • Personality

How Has Life Changed You, and How Have You Changed Your Life?

New research tests how personality changes and is changed by life experiences..

Updated October 12, 2023 | Reviewed by Michelle Quirk

  • What Is Personality?
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  • There is a widespread myth that personality is fixed with little potential for changes through life.
  • New research busts this myth by examining the relationships between personality traits and life experiences.
  • The findings can give people hope that anyone can grow and adapt to life’s continuing challenges.


As you contemplate how your life has evolved over time, what role do you believe personality has to do with this developmental process? Perhaps you were digging through some of your school notebooks from your teenage years. Alongside the class notes, homework assignments, and other academic material are doodles, jokes, “notes to self,” cookie recipes, and attempts at creative writing. As you flip through the pages of the notebook, you realize that it’s full of what you might consider predictors of your current life in those nonacademic scribblings. You still draw some of those same doodles and continuously write little phrases with ideas that pop into your head. You even make the same cookies. At the same time, you realize that your ideas about your future life are nowhere near where your life has taken you since, and you can’t even remember that you wrote those little stories.

Researchers on personality development in adulthood have done a complete “180” on a now-discarded notion that your life reflects a continuous playing out of your innate traits or dispositions. Original writings based on the most well-known trait theory, known as the Five Factor Model (FFM), proposed that what you were as a child predicts what you’ll be as an adult. With accumulating bodies of evidence showing the invalidity of this claim, personality researchers have finally gotten on board with the developmental models that document the nature and influences on life change.

Transactional Models of Personality Development

According to The Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Wen-Dong Li and colleagues (2023), personality traits are “relatively enduring patterns… [that] are also able to change as a function of various work and life experiences over the years” (pp. 2–3). The transactional piece of this proposition is based on the idea that your traits, defined as “patterns of behaviors, thoughts, strivings, and feeling” may lead you to make certain initial life choices (the “selection effect”). Once those choices start to play out, your experiences begin to have a moderating impact (the “socialization effect”). Consider the trait of neuroticism (the tendency to worry and feel sad). If you were high on this trait, it might take you longer than your age peers to find a person to love and establish a committed relationship with. However, once in that relationship, as shown by prior research, your neuroticism eventually eases, and you start to feel better about life and yourself.

Personality can also affect your work–life patterns, but evidence on the effect of work on personality is less compelling than the effect of relationships. Li et al. believe that this prior research failed due to its sole emphasis on work rather than, they maintain, the work–family “interface.” You don’t leave your personality at the door when you go to your place of employment (even if that place is your home office). Similarly, what happens at work doesn’t, as they say, “stay at work.”

Furthermore, much of adult life involves navigating the work–family (or relationship) balance. How are you going to handle the stress of having to put in extra hours at work while at the same time co- parenting a newborn baby? Indeed, although previous studies failed to find a reciprocal effect of work with the trait of conscientiousness , there is research documenting the idea that “work-family facilitation may be associated with increases in conscientiousness over the years” (p. 4). Essentially, this means that people become better at managing potential stressors by becoming better organized.

Testing the Work–Family Interface and Its Impact on Personality

The highly ambitious study carried out by this Hong Kong research team examined, longitudinally, scores over three testing occasions on the FFM traits of extraversion , neuroticism, agreeableness , openness to experience , and conscientiousness in relation to the life experiences variables of work-to-family and family-to-work conflict and facilitation. The authors took advantage of two large existing data sets, involving 3,192 and 1,133 adults, respectively (average ages 43 and 57 at Time 1; followed for 10 and 4 years).

As you might imagine, tracing pathways from personality to the work–family interface and back again required the use of highly sophisticated analytic models. Li and his collaborators ultimately arrived at a set of reciprocal pathways demonstrating the effect of both selection and socialization. Positive work–family experiences were related to growth of extraversion and reduction in neuroticism. However, there were only limited influences of work–family experiences on either conscientiousness or agreeableness. As the authors concluded, “This probably has to do with the fact that extraversion and neuroticism mainly represent affective traits, which appear more prone to affect-laden work–family experiences” (p. 17).

What also emerged from these findings was the potential for personality change to evolve over time in the period of life (mid- to later adulthood) that many theorists used to write off as having no potential for growth. The authors also point out that, in contrast to the literature in organizational psychology, people don’t just end up in jobs based on their personality and never change but, instead, show “reverse causality” in that work–family experiences may “cultivate personality adaptation” (p. 19).

Your Own Life’s Twists and Turns

There is much to ponder from this comprehensive study, which is rich not only in data but also in theory. The authors make a number of significant points intended to shake up the status quo in the fields of personality as well as developmental and organizational psychology. But what do the findings mean for you? There are two main object lessons.

essay about life change

In the first place, returning to that example of the little scribbles in your old notebook, these can provide a learning experience for you as you find tidbits to suggest where you thought your life would head. However, you can also reflect on how the early decisions you made ultimately put you in places that stretched and expanded your adaptive abilities.

Second, you can also take heart in the fact that people’s personalities, at least in the two domains of extraversion and neuroticism, are responsive to life experiences well beyond what you might think of as the “end” of development in your teens or 20s. There’s no reason to give up on the potential for you to become more adaptive because you do have the ability to shape the ways that your work–family balance plays out over time.

To sum up , where you start on life’s journey doesn’t have to define you forever. The ability to foster beneficial relationships between your life’s various spheres can continue to evolve in ways that shape and expand your fulfillment, no matter your age.

Li, W.-D., Wang, J., Allen, T., Zhang, X., Yu, K., Zhang, H., Huang, J. L., Liu, M., & Li, A. (2023, August 10). Getting Under the Skin? Influences of Work–Family Experiences on Personality Trait Adaptation and Reciprocal Relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Advance online publication.

Susan Krauss Whitbourne Ph.D.

Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D. , is a Professor Emerita of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her latest book is The Search for Fulfillment.

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Changes in Life: Positive and Negative Effects Essay

One of the invariable realities in life is that we are every in a state of change. These changes may be positive or negative but regardless of their nature, they are a fundamental part of our lives and it is important that we brace ourselves for them. In my life, I have had many changes; some of which have been inconsequential and other which have literally marked a turning point in my life.

In this paper, I shall narrate one of the significant changes in my life so as to highlight the fact that our perception of the change does at times determine whether the experience will be enjoyable or shall yield to discomfort and insecurity.

The particularly significant change in my life came about as a result of the announcement by my parents that we would be moving from Texas to New Mexico. What made this change so significant to me was that we had been living in the same neighborhood for as long as I could remember and the moving process felt like literally been uprooted.

As such, the change represented being taken away from what I was familiar with and loved to being placed in a foreign place which held a lot of uncertainty for me. My initial reaction was that of shock and distress at the prospect of what life in the new place would hold.

While I did enjoy visiting new places, I had never pictured myself moving from my home town on a permanent basis. In a bid to resist the change, I tried to reason my parents out of their decision. This was a futile attempt mostly because I had no solid reasons as to my opposition to our moving.

When it was finally clear to me that we were going to move regardless of my stance, I resigned myself to my fate and I recall wallowing in self pity as I expressed my predicament to my friends. However, one of my friends who happened to have come from New Mexico remarked that the place was actually enjoyable and held many a fascinating scenes for people.

In addition, he commented on the lovely neighborhoods and the tight knit communities that were there. His statements opened my eyes to the possibilities that the change in my life presented. I had been too indulged in the uncertainty and discomfort that would arise from the move that I had failed to consider the numerous possibilities that the change presented.

In my blindness, I had set out to avoid the change and failed to recognize the fascinating new possibilities. From this point on, I took up a more positive outlook and actually looked forward to the move.

On getting to New Mexico, I discovered that while everything was not as picturesque as my friend had suggested, the place was actually enjoyable and the community was not that different from the one in my previous neighborhood.

Due to the fact that I had braced myself for the change, I overlooked the negative aspects of my new home town and as a result of my optimism and high spirits, the change turned out to be one of the most memorable ones in my life.

From my experience, I learned that sometimes the changes in our lives are neutral and it is our perception that makes them either a joy to be looked forward to or a pain to be shunned. I also learnt that our fears of change in most cases spring from unfounded assumptions and our own prejudices.

As such, it is important for us to adopt an open minded and optimistic outlook as we undergo the numerous changes that life presents to us. By doing this, we will be increasing our chances of leading a satisfying and fulfilling life.

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IvyPanda. (2023, October 31). Changes in Life: Positive and Negative Effects.

"Changes in Life: Positive and Negative Effects." IvyPanda , 31 Oct. 2023,

IvyPanda . (2023) 'Changes in Life: Positive and Negative Effects'. 31 October.

IvyPanda . 2023. "Changes in Life: Positive and Negative Effects." October 31, 2023.

1. IvyPanda . "Changes in Life: Positive and Negative Effects." October 31, 2023.


IvyPanda . "Changes in Life: Positive and Negative Effects." October 31, 2023.

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Essays About Change: Top 5 Examples and 10 Prompts

If you are writing essays about change, see below our best essay examples and writing prompts to help expand your horizon on this topic.

The only thing constant is change. It could be good or bad. It could be short-term or have a lasting impact. The best we can do is to ride on this inevitable and never-ending cycle of change and try coming out of it still standing, thriving, and smiling. This ability to cope with change is called resilience. 

However, some changes – such as the loss of a loved one or a livelihood — are too overwhelming to deal with that some fall into trauma and depression, in which case psychological support is highly encouraged. Read on to see our round-up of rich, well-written essays about change, and a list of helpful prompts follows to help you start your essay. 

1. “The Psychology Of Dealing With Change: How To Become Resilient” by Kathleen Smith

2. how prison changes people by christian jarrett, 3. six ways the workplace will change in the next 10 years by jordan turner, 4. “social movements for good: what they are and how to lead them” by derrick feldman, 5. “the right way to make a big career transition” by utkarsh amitabh, 1. changing your lifestyle for the better, 2. be the change the world needs, 3. adapting to life-changing events, 4. addressing climate change, 5. how did technology change our daily lives, 6. people who changed the world, 7. if you could change the world, 8. dealing with resistance to change, 9. coming-of-age novels, 10. changing your eating habits.

“If you can learn to cope with change, you’ll lower your risk for anxiety and depression. Your relationships will flourish, and your body will feel healthier. But if you can’t cope with change, only a minor amount of stress can make you feel overwhelmed by life. You might also struggle to set and meet the goals you have for yourself.”

Instead of fixating on events and people over which we do not have the power to control, we should focus on ourselves and how we can embrace change without fear. Some tips in this essay include practicing self-care, being in the present, and focusing on your priorities, such as health and well-being. 

Check out these essays about being grateful and essays about heroes .

“Ultimately, society may be confronted with a choice. We can punish offenders more severely and risk changing them for the worse, or we can design sentencing rules and prisons in a way that helps offenders rehabilitate and change for the better.”

In an environment where you are forced to follow the rules to the letter and worry about your safety and privacy daily, prisoners could develop a kind of “perpetual paranoia” or “emotional numbing” and deteriorate cognitive abilities. The essay suggests a rethink in how we deal with law-breakers to encourage reform rather than punish and risk repeat offenses.

Check out these essays about police brutality and essays about assessment .

“As technology closes the divide between geographically separate people, it introduces cracks in relationships and cultures. The remote distribution of work means that many employees will not build the same social relationships in the workplace, leading to issues of disengagement and loneliness.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has already disrupted our way of work in our new normal, but more changes are yet to unfold. This essay looks into the future of work where responsibilities and demands will see a sea change; machines will be co-workers; and the best employee is defined by digital skills, not years of experience.

You might also like these essays about cinema and essays about jealousy .

“Social movements for good establish a mass platform of action for a population, which helps inform and cultivate the awareness necessary to help prevent an issue from affecting more people. True social movements for good have the power to generate awareness that produces tangible results, helping the general population live longer, more productive, happier lives.”

A social movement for good aims to bring social justice to an aggrieved community by calling for tangible support and resources. To accelerate a movement’s momentum, an effective leader must possess certain qualities in this essay.

“There were so many questions running through my head during this time. Why should I quit to make this my full-time job? Is this what I really want? When should I quit? Poet Mary Oliver’s words kept ringing in my head: ‘What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’”

Deciding on a career change is more complex than deciding whether you want to do something different. A career shift entails lifestyle, mindset, and motivation changes, each of which has to be carefully reassessed and prepared for. This essay guides you in deciding when or why it is right to leave your job.

10 Interesting Writing Prompts on Essays About Change

Below are thought-stimulating prompts to help with your essay: 

Committing to regular exercise or getting to bed earlier may be easier said than done. Moreover, the determination that was burning at the start of your lifestyle change journey may wane in the latter part when things get tough. So, for your essay, provide practical tips from wellness experts and your own experience on how to sustain a routine toward a better lifestyle. You can split your essay into sections for each health and wellness tip you recommend.

This is the gist of the famous quote by Mahatma Gandhi: “be the change you wish to see in the world.” Unfortunately, many of us get frustrated over people refusing to change but fail to see how this change should start with our perception and action. In this essay, write about what an individual can do to focus more on self-improvement and development. 

Have you ever faced a situation where you had to adapt to a drastic change? It could be moving to a different city or school or dealing with losing a loved one. Share your experience and list the traits and practices that helped you through this challenging phase. You may also research what psychologists recommend people to do to keep from falling into depression or developing anxiety. 

To offer a unique highlight in your essay, tackle what your school or community is doing to fight global warming. Interview city councilors and mayors and learn about ongoing initiatives to keep the city clean and green. So this essay could help entice others in your community to work together and volunteer in initiatives to slow climate change.

Essays About Technology

List down the advantages and disadvantages technology has presented in your life. For example, seeking clarification from teachers about an assignment has been made easier with the many communication channels available. However, technology has also enabled a work-at-home or distance learning arrangement that is causing burnout in many households. 

Feature a person who has revolutionized the world. It could be a scientist, artist, activist, writer, economist, athlete, etc. Preferably, it is someone you idolize, so you do not have to start from scratch in your research. So first, provide a short profile of this person to show his life and career background. Then, write about their ultimate contribution to society and how this continues to benefit or inspire many. 

If there’s one thing you could change in this world, what would it be? This sounds like a question you’d hear in pageants, but it could be a creative way to lay down your life advocacy. So, explain why this is where you want to see change and how this change can improve others’ lives.

Resistance to change is most common when companies modernize, and the dinosaurs in the office refuse to learn new digital platforms or systems. Write about what you think leaders and human resource units should do to help employees cope with changes in the new normal.

A coming-of-age novel tells stories of protagonists who grow up and undergo character transformation. From being eaten up by their fears, the main heroes become braver and better at confronting a world that once intimidated them. For this prompt, share your favorite coming-of-age novel and narrate the changes in the hero’s qualities and beliefs. 

Delivering fast food has become so easy that, for many, it has become a way of life, making it an enormous challenge to replace this practice with healthy eating habits. So, research and write about nutritionists’ tips on creating a lifestyle and environment conducive to healthy eating habits.

If you’re still stuck picking an essay topic, check out our guide on how to write essays about depression . For more ideas, you can check out our general resource of essay writing topics .

essay about life change

Yna Lim is a communications specialist currently focused on policy advocacy. In her eight years of writing, she has been exposed to a variety of topics, including cryptocurrency, web hosting, agriculture, marketing, intellectual property, data privacy and international trade. A former journalist in one of the top business papers in the Philippines, Yna is currently pursuing her master's degree in economics and business.

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The 3 Phases of Making a Major Life Change

  • Herminia Ibarra

essay about life change

Thinking about your new life isn’t enough. Here’s how to follow through on your plans — even if you’re going back to old routines.

The lockdown that we’ve all just lived through created a period during which a lot of people had the opportunity to reflect on plans for a career change. But reflection alone doesn’t get people very far. Those who are mostly likely to act during this kind of period are those who actively engage in a three-part cycle of transition — one that consists of separation, liminality and reintegration. The author explains how to make the most of each of these stages to effect real change.

Many of us believe that unexpected events or shocks create fertile conditions for major life and career changes by sparking us to reflect about our desires and priorities. That holds true for the coronavirus pandemic. A bit over a year ago, when I asked people in an online poll to tell me how the pandemic had affected their plans for career change, 49% chose this response: “It has given me downtime to rest and/or think.”

essay about life change

  • HI Herminia Ibarra is the Charles Handy Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School and the author of Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader , revised edition (Harvard Business Review Press, forthcoming), and Working Identity , revised edition (Harvard Business Review Press, forthcoming). HerminiaIbarra

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essay about life change

Life Changing Events: Personal Experience

If you are about to write a short narrative essay about something that changed your life forever, you’ve come to the right place! Check out our “childhood experience that changed my life” essay sample to get some ideas and inspiration for your paper.

Life Changing Event: Essay Introduction

Life changing experience: essay main body, life changing event: essay conclusion.

In life, certain experiences present challenges that change the way people relate to themselves and their families. Certain life events mark life-changing moments that alter lives either positively or negatively. It matters how people handle their relationships at such critical moments. 

Relationships, especially with family members, are the most important aspects of handling change. I have experienced life-changing events that turned me into a better person.

One such event occurred in my childhood, while the other occurred in adolescence. In both cases, my family was there to support and help me go through the tough times. Looking back at the influence of these events, I am always glad that my family was with me in overcoming the challenges. I am a better person because my family stood beside me and gave me strength and support in moments of weakness and helplessness.

The first event that had a remarkable impact on my life was the loss of a dear friend. This event changed my world and made me a better person. It taught me how to appreciate friends, family, and relationships. In childhood, I had a cousin who was my best friend.

Our friendship was so deep that we usually spent holidays and weekends visiting each other’s families. To my family, she was like one of the members. I was like one of her family members, too. We used to spend a lot of time together, playing, studying, traveling, and doing many other fun activities.

One day, while returning home from school, she got knocked down by a motorcyclist speeding off, trying to escape from a police officer. She was hit from behind and knocked her head on a large stone on the side of the road upon landing on the ground. When I received the news of the accident, I was devastated.

The morning after the accident, I visited her in the hospital and received the sad news that she was in a coma after suffering severe brain damage. I lost my appetite, could not sleep for weeks, and spent several nights crying and wishing she would be fine. She was in the hospital for six months. During that period, I became stressed and lost weight.

I missed school for many days, thus affecting my academics. Even though my family was also affected, the effect was greater on me because of our long-time friendship. Every day I woke up expecting to hear good news from my parents of her miraculous recovery, but that did not happen. As I became more depressed, I started to avoid social gatherings and experienced difficulty sleeping.

One morning, just after breakfast, we received news that she had passed away. At that moment, a hot flush of blood flowed into my head, and I fainted. The long period of endless waiting had come to an end. That morning was one of the lowest moments. I was rushed to the hospital, and the doctors said I had collapsed due to sudden shock. The grieving period was excruciating.

However, my family stood by me and offered consolation. My family members provided emotional and physical support and helped me overcome the incident. The event had severe emotional effects. My mum spent most of her time comforting me. I could cope with the situation because my family understood what I was going through, were patient, listened to me, and offered psychological help.

My parents were not angry at me for missing school. They allowed me to stay home until I was ready to go back. It took four months of grieving to get over the death of my cousin and best friend. This incident changed my life and brought me closer to my family. I now appreciate relationships and more. As a result, I am more loving, caring, compassionate, and appreciative of the people in my life.

The other defining moment that changed me involved a disagreement with my parents regarding joining high school. When the time came for me to enter high school, I was not prepared and wanted to stay home for a year before joining. My parents were concerned that I would lose a year of schooling since, at my age, I was not ready for a job. They feared I would have nothing to do for an entire year.

The reasons for delaying my entry to high school were fear, anxiety, and uncertainty. I was not ready to enter a stage of life where I was expected to be responsible for my life and actions. I refused to talk to my parents and other family members because I felt that they were imposing their principles on me. The truth is that I was afraid to enter a phase that would require me to be responsible for my decisions and actions.

I avoided my parents and always ensured they never got a chance to question me. My decision changed when my dad confronted me. Our discussion focused on the reasons that were informing my decision. At first, I was unwilling to tell my dad the truth, but as the debate progressed, I had no choice but to open up to him. I was afraid that he would be disappointed with me.

However, he assured me that it was normal to experience fear and anxiety, especially when making a life-changing decision. He narrated a story about how he had reacted the same way when his dad asked him to move out of their family house to find a place to live after joining college. Throughout the entire experience, my family was very understanding.

They helped me to overcome the fear and anxiety of embracing responsibilities. That incident changed my life, attitudes, and perspectives regarding life. My family has always supported me during tough times. That incident improved my relationship with my family and introduced me to adulthood. Whenever I face a challenge, I discuss it openly with my family because of the awareness that they are always ready and willing to listen and offer assistance. 

My elder brother introduced me to high school life and offered numerous tips on adjusting to the new environment. My family is my greatest source of joy and happiness. This incident taught me responsibility, trust, humility, and the importance of family. The aforementioned events changed my life tremendously because they played a crucial role in molding me into a responsible, caring, and compassionate person.

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All the photographs in this article are black-and-white. David Obura holds finger coral.

the Climate Issue

The Scientists Watching Their Life’s Work Disappear

Some are stubborn optimists. Others struggle with despair. Their faces show the weight they carry as they witness the impact of climate change.

David Obura with finger coral originally from the southwest Indian Ocean. Credit... Thea Traff for The New York Times

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Interviews by Catrin Einhorn

Photographs by Thea Traff

  • Oct. 26, 2023

Amid the chaos of climate change, humans tend to focus on humans. But Earth is home to countless other species, including animals, plants and fungi. For centuries, we have been making it harder for them to exist by cutting down forests, plowing grasslands, building roads, damming rivers, draining wetlands and polluting. Now that wildlife is depleted and hemmed in, climate change has come crashing down. In 2016, scientists in Australia announced the loss of a rodent called the Bramble Cay melomys, one of the first known species driven to global extinction by climate change. Others are all but certain to follow. How many depends on how much we let the planet heat.

The seven scientists here document the impacts of global warming on the nonhuman world. Their work brings them face to face with realities that few of us see firsthand. Some are stubborn optimists. Some struggle with despair. To varying degrees, they all take comfort in nature’s resilience. But they know it goes only so far. These scientists are witnesses to an intricately connected world that we have pushed out of balance. Their faces show the weight they carry.

essay about life change

Kristin Laidre Narwhals and Polar Bears

Laidre is an ecologist who specializes in arctic mammals, which are especially cornered by global warming.

The Arctic is warming much faster than the rest of the planet. I study animals that are inextricably tied to the sea ice, which is disappearing. Narwhals spend most of their time in deep water, in and under dense ice. They need cold water. The other species I study is polar bears. Everything about being a polar bear is tied to the ice. It’s how they move around. It’s how they find mates. It’s how they find food and eat. It’s how they get enough nutrition to successfully reproduce. It’s just their platform of life, basically.

I’m dedicated to this place, and I work hard to objectively understand it as a scientist. I also have made my peace with being able to personally mourn the damage I’m documenting.

I think a lot about the Indigenous communities I work with, who rely on these animals for subsistence. I feel anger and sadness for those communities. I think about the future a lot. I wonder what the future will be like for my young friends. But I try not to dwell on it. Because if I did, it would be pretty hard to do my daily work. Nature is beautiful and brings me joy. I try to focus on that.

Keith Parker Salmon

Parker is a senior fisheries biologist for the Yurok Tribe in Northern California. Across the West, salmon stocks have been devastated by dams, water diverted for agriculture and climate change.

I grew up fishing on this river. I remember massive amounts of fish that used to come in, salmon in particular. It would be so noisy, you would actually hear it. They would leap into the air, splash and fin. Finning is when they break the surface with their dorsal fin. As they made their way upriver, it was amazing to see hundreds of salmon backs finning together.

We are known as salmon people, like all the tribes in the Klamath River Basin. Salmon and the Klamath River are the lifeblood of our culture and our community. Unfortunately, since the late ’90s, we’ve seen this gradual decline. The state and federal agencies closed the fishery this year, based on the low predicted returns. Our Yurok Tribal Council also closed our fishery for the year.

I think it was the right decision, but it’s devastating to our community to not be able to harvest salmon. I notice that when we have really good salmon runs, people are happy. And years like this, where we have a closed salmon fishery, we see increases in drinking, domestic violence and a lot of detrimental things.

The loss of the size of the run has hurt not only people, but Mother Earth. All those fish were breaking down and being absorbed into the forest. That’s how you get ocean nutrients in trees hundreds of miles upriver.

All the terrible things I’ve seen, all the detrimental changes to the environment, all the impacts of climate change — I use it to fuel my motivation to be a better scientist, to be a better human being, to be a better steward of the land. And honestly, part of it is anger. That’s fuel, OK? I get mad, and I turn that anger into fuel that motivates me.

Andrés Rivera Mountain Glaciers

Since Rivera started studying glaciers in the 1980s, a series of globally monitored glaciers have gone from losing almost seven inches a year to losing almost three feet a year.

The first time I saw a glacier, I was 15. It was 1982, and I traveled to Western Patagonia. The trip was like an initiation. I felt overwhelmed by witnessing something so remote, wild and unknown to me. I was shocked by the force of nature. The contrast of colors was incredible, since the dense evergreen forest extends down to the ocean, with trees growing very near the blue and white glacier. I felt like at any moment a dinosaur was going to appear through the morning mist.

Then I saw a number painted at the margin separating the trees from the glacier: 1979. It was a mark painted by a scientist indicating the position of the glacier three years before. The glacier was retreating. It was my first clue that something was going on. Now the glacier is about three kilometers farther away than it was in 1982.

I’m a skeptic about the world’s capability to deal with the climate crisis. But I’m a professor, and with my students I try to be objective. I tell them what’s happening, that we are the cause. I say, Let’s work with what is feasible: trying to teach people to adapt, to use less water, to reduce pollution.

Hanna Mounce Hawaiian Forest Birds

Mounce leads a team trying to save forest birds on Maui, where warmer weather is expanding the range of mosquitoes that transmit bird-killing avian malaria. Her main focus is a species called the kiwikiu. Only about 130 are left.

When we used to go into the forest, as soon as the helicopter would disappear, the forest was full of birdsong. You would hear kiwikiu when you woke up in the morning. You would hear them in the forest. It’s a trailing song, “chewy-chewy-chewy-chewy,” and it’s pretty loud. Now when we go out there, you might hike half a day before you encounter one of the birds.

Our office sits up above 3,000 feet. When I started working here, we didn’t have mosquitoes. And now they’re in our office every single day. The birds used to have refugia up in the higher elevations. We used to describe it as this invisible mosquito line around the forest, where it was too cold for mosquitoes. But that line is moving farther and farther up the mountain, and this disease is being transmitted all the way to the top of the mountain in some instances. We’ve run out of mountain.

To be honest, we cry a lot. At the end of 2019, I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I didn’t give a single presentation. We turned down every media request, because we could not give people any hope.

At least right now we have a tool that we’re pursuing. The easiest way to explain it is kind of like mosquito birth control. It’s not guaranteed that it’s going to work.

But what I told my staff is that if we lose kiwikiu, it’s not going to be for lack of trying. If we lose them, at least we’ll know that we did everything in our power.

Dee Boersma Penguins

For 40 years, Boersma has studied a single colony of Magellanic penguins in Argentina’s coastal desert, documenting a decline of about 1 percent a year.

My study site is about halfway down the Argentine coast. When I first went there in 1982, I was overwhelmed with the number of penguins. It was just throbbing with penguins. It’s still throbbing with penguins, but it’s half of what it was.

Penguins nest in deserts because chicks don’t do well if they get wet. They haven’t grown any of their juvenile plumage, which is waterproof. We get more rain now than we did 40 years ago. After a rainstorm, you go to a nest, and both parents are away foraging for food. Often the chick is on its back with feet up in the air, totally wet. You can go from nest to nest, and they’re all dead.

Penguins die from heat strokes too. A couple of years ago, we had the hottest day we’ve ever recorded, 111 degrees in the shade. The best way for the penguins to get cool is to jump in the ocean, but some of them have to walk more than a kilometer to get there. We had 264 dead penguins just littered over the colony. Some were within five feet of the water, but they just couldn’t make it.

My view is that the penguins have a right to exist. I think we have too many people for the Earth’s resources. Overpopulation and overconsumption.

David Obura Coral Reefs

Obura has been studying coral reefs since 1992. During that time, the world’s oceans have lost perhaps a quarter of their coral.

In 2000, I got the chance to go to the Phoenix Islands in Kiribati. The good reefs had 80 percent coral cover, really vibrant and colorful and bright. And the fish were incredible. There were highways of fish swimming up and down the reefs, sharks everywhere and dolphins. We thought, OK, these reefs are so far away from everybody, we can help protect them. And then there was a mass bleaching event in the Central Pacific.

By the time we could go back, a few years later, they had been completely hammered by warming. They were just decimated. The corals were all rubble and broken up by the waves. It was all brown with algae. Fish were still there, but not the same coral-dependent fish. It was so much more bland and drab. Of course, intellectually I knew that nowhere would be safe from heat stress and bleaching and climate change. But this was a place that had been safe so far from everything else. And yet it wasn’t immune. To me, that was a wake-up call.

I’m working really hard to point fingers at what we need to do. What’s driving the decline of coral reefs is carbon dioxide and fossil fuels and overconsumption. The consumption levels in the top 10 percent are so high and capture so much of the planet’s resources. Energy is not the primary thing; it’s just a facilitator. It facilitates this desire for consumption: for fashion, for burgers, for products. In real physical terms, we need to shift how we consume on the planet, because we have exceeded the limits.

Patrick Gonzalez Trees in the Sahel

Gonzalez is a forest ecologist and climate-change scientist who studies tree deaths in the Sahel region of Africa.

In 1993, I was in a sparsely inhabited part of the Sahel, a savanna south of the Sahara. I stood at the foot of a tree called yir in Wolof, the local language. Normally yir has a moist green crown of leaves. But this tree was gray and lifeless under a beautiful blue sky. It had no ax marks or insect tracks or signs of disease. No signs of death by local human hands. And it was one in a stand of dead trees. Villagers told me that many trees like these had died.

Species that had fruits — fig, jujube — were the ones that died first, because those need more water. The thorny species were left.

The people consistently told me how much they missed a more verdant past. The death of trees has, by their own account, reduced people’s well-being both materially and emotionally.

Seeing those dead trees in Africa and the hardships of the local people motivates me to work even harder to take action on climate change, to cut my own emissions, to encourage others to live more sustainably.

I live a car-free life. I eat a plant-rich, meat-free diet, specifically to keep my carbon pollution low. Every kilogram of carbon you avoid helps.

Interviews have been edited and condensed.

Thea Traff is a New York-based photographer and photo editor who frequently contributes to The Times. Her portraiture focuses on the emotional complexity of human life through the use of dramatic lighting and sculptural poses.

Catrin Einhorn reports on biodiversity for the Climate and Environment desk. She has also worked on the Investigations desk, where she was part of the Times team that received the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for its reporting on sexual harassment. More about Catrin Einhorn

Learn More About Climate Change

Have questions about climate change? Our F.A.Q. will tackle your climate questions, big and small .

Singapore is rethinking its sweltering urban areas to dampen the effects of climate change. Can it be a model for other cities ?

New data reveals stark disparities in how different U.S. households contribute to climate change. See your neighborhood’s climate impact .

Did you know the ♻ symbol doesn’t mean something is actually recyclable ? Read on about how we got here, and what can be done.

The United States is pivoting away from fossil fuels  and toward wind, solar and other renewable energy, even in areas dominated by the oil and gas industries.

Overuse of America’s groundwater  in a changing climate is draining and damaging aquifers nationwide, a New York Times data investigation revealed.

Half the world could soon face dangerous heat. We measured the daily toll it is already taking .


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Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shake hands as Bill Clinton gestures expansively

What are the roots of the Israel-Palestine conflict?

Recent events are the culmination of a decades-long clash in the disputed region of the Middle East

  • Israel and Palestine: a complete guide to the crisis

As with almost everything to do with this conflict, it depends on whom you ask. Some will begin with the Romans. Others will start with the late 19th-century Jewish migration to what was then the Ottoman Empire – to escape the pogroms and other persecutions in eastern Europe – and the rise of Zionism. Or the Balfour declaration by the British government in 1917 in support of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine and the ensuing conflicts with Arab communities there.

But the starting point for many people is the United Nations’ vote in 1947 to partition land in the British mandate of Palestine into two states – one Jewish, one Arab – following the destruction of much of European Jewry in the Holocaust.

Neither the Palestinians nor the neighbouring Arab countries accepted the founding of modern Israel . Fighting between Jewish armed groups, some of which the British regarded as terrorist organisations, and Palestinians escalated until the armies of Egypt, Iraq, Transjordan and Syria invaded after Israel declared independence in May 1948.

With Israel’s new army gaining ground, an armistice agreement in 1949 saw new de facto borders that gave the fledgling Jewish state considerably more territory than it was awarded under the UN partition plan.

What happened to the Palestinians who were living there?

About 700,000 Palestinians were expelled or fled – about 85% of the Arab population of the territory captured by Israel – and were never allowed to return. Palestinians called the exodus and eradication of much of their society inside Israel the Nakba , or “catastrophe”, and it remains the traumatic event at the heart of their modern history.

Arabs who remained in Israel as citizens were subject to official discrimination. They were placed under military rule for nearly two decades, which deprived them of many basic civil rights. Much of their land was expropriated and Arab Israeli communities were deliberately kept poor and underfunded.

What is the Palestine Liberation Organisation?

In 1964, a coalition of Palestinian groups founded the Palestine Liberation Organisation under the leadership of Yasser Arafat to pursue armed struggle and establish an Arab state in place of Israel. The PLO drew international attention to its cause with high-profile attacks and hijackings.

How did the occupied Palestinian territories become occupied?

In 1967 Israel launched what it said was a pre-emptive defensive war against Jordan, Egypt and Syria , as they appeared to be preparing to invade. The attack caught Arab governments by surprise and saw Israel achieve rapid victories including seizing the Sinai peninsula and the Gaza Strip from Egypt, the Golan Heights from Syria, and the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan.

The six-day war was a spectacular military success for Israel. Its capture of all of Jerusalem and newly acquired control over the biblical lands called Judea and Samaria opened the way to the construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which became central to the conflict. Israel placed the Arab population of the West Bank under military rule, which is enforced to this day.

When did Hamas enter the picture?

The PLO was a generally secular organisation modelled on other leftwing guerrilla movements of the time, although most of its supporters were Muslim.

A boy stands behind a portrait of a man.

Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood had previously avoided armed conflict and were largely dedicated to working for a more religious society. But that position shifted under the leadership of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin , a charismatic quadriplegic living in Gaza who helped found several Islamist organisations in Gaza including Mujama al-Islamiya, which won support by establishing a network of social services including schools, clinics and a library.

Shortly after the outbreak of the first intifada, Yassin used support for Mujama al-Islamiya as the foundation for the formation of Hamas in 1987 in alliance with other Islamists.

Israel has always denied encouraging the rise of the Islamist movement in Gaza but it saw the groups as a way of undermining support for the PLO and recognised Mujama al-Islamiya as a charity, allowing it to operate freely and build support. Israel also approved the creation of the Islamic University of Gaza, which became a breeding ground of support for Hamas.

What was the first intifada?

Israel regarded the Palestinian population under its control as largely quiescent even as it went on expanding Jewish settlements in Gaza and the West Bank and expropriating Arab land. Palestinians were also treated as a cheap source of largely manual labour inside Israel.

That illusion was shattered in 1987 as young Palestinians rose up. The uprising was marked by mass stone throwing. The Israeli army responded with large-scale arrests and collective punishments.

The intifada is largely recognised as a success for the Palestinians, helping to solidify their identity independently of neighbouring Arab states and forcing Israel into negotiations. It also strengthened Arafat’s hand to make compromises with Israel, including adopting the principle of a two-state solution.

Whatever happened to the peace process?

As the first intifada wound down in 1993, the Oslo peace process started with secret talks between Israel and the PLO. Israel’s prime minister at the time, Yitzhak Rabin, signed an agreement with Arafat aimed at fulfilling the “right of the Palestinian people to self-determination” although Rabin did not accept the principle of a Palestinian state.

The Oslo accords established the Palestinian National Authority, granting limited self-governance over patches of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Further negotiations were intended to resolve issues such as the status of Jerusalem, the future of the Israeli settlements and the right of return for the millions of Palestinians still classified as refugees after their forebears were never permitted to return to their homes.

Some prominent Palestinians regarded the accords as a form of surrender while rightwing Israelis opposed giving up settlements or territory.

Among Israelis, the political charge against Oslo was led by the future prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu , who fronted rallies at which Rabin was portrayed as a Nazi. Rabin’s widow blamed the two men for her husband’s assassination by an ultranationalist Israeli in 1995.

What caused the second intifada?

Peace negotiations sputtered along until the failure of Bill Clinton’s attempts to broker a final deal at Camp David in 2000, which contributed to the outbreak of the second intifada . The uprising was markedly different from the first intifada because of widespread suicide bombings against Israeli civilians launched by Hamas and other groups, and the scale of Israeli military retaliation.

By the time the uprising ended in 2005, more than 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis were dead.

The political ramifications of the intifada were significant. It led to a hardening of attitudes among ordinary Israelis and the construction of the West Bank barrier. But it also prompted the prime minister Ariel Sharon to say that Israel could not go on occupying the Palestinians’ territory – although he did not say that the alternative was an independent Palestinian state.

Is Gaza still occupied?

One consequence of the second intifada was Sharon’s decision to “disengage” from the Palestinians beginning in 2005 with the closing of Israeli settlements in Gaza and parts of the northern West Bank. It is not clear how much further Sharon would have gone with this policy as he had a stroke and went into a coma the following year.

The status of Gaza since the disengagement remains disputed. Israel says it is no longer occupied. The United Nations says otherwise because of Israel’s continued control of airspace and territorial waters, and also access into the territory, along with Egypt. Israeli has also blockaded the enclave since Hamas came to power in 2006.

In addition, many Palestinians in Gaza do not see themselves as a separate entity from the rest of their territories in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and so argue that as a whole they remain occupied.

Why does Hamas control Gaza?

Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections in part because of a backlash against the corruption and political stagnation of the ruling Fatah party. The Hamas leader Ismail Haniya was appointed prime minister. Israel began arresting Hamas members of the Palestinian parliament and imposed sanctions against Gaza.

Deteriorating relations between Hamas and Fatah resulted in violence. An agreement to form a national unity government fell apart and Hamas led an armed takeover of Gaza while Fatah continued to control the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. There have been no elections since.

Hamas has continued to attack Israel from Gaza, mostly using rockets until the latest ground incursion. Israel has maintained a tight blockade of the territory which has contributed to deteriorating living conditions and deepening poverty.

Where are we now?

Although western governments still pay lip service to a two-state solution, there has been no progress toward an agreement under Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu , who has repeatedly said he will never accept a Palestinian state.

His present government includes far-right parties that openly advocate the annexation of all or part of the West Bank to Israel and the continued governance of the Palestinians without full rights or the vote. Israeli and foreign human rights groups say Israel has increasingly carved out a form of apartheid in the occupied territories.

The killing by Hamas of more than 1,400 people in Israel, and retaliatory Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, which Palestinian authorities say have killed more than 10,000 people, have moved the conflict into uncharted territory.

  • Israel-Hamas war
  • Palestinian territories
  • Yasser Arafat

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