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When you start a new shell, it sources /etc/bashrc to set the default variables, which can then be modified as Aeperezt wrote. Once the shell is active, there's no way to change those variables from the outside, even by root. This is not a bug, it's a security feature, because it prevents any user (Remember, Linux and Unix were developed to be used by multiple concurrent users.) from messing up anybody else's session.+