Efforts to develop a global understanding of the functioning of the Earth as a system began in the mid-1980s. This effort necessitated linking knowledge from both the physical and biological realms. A motivation for this development was the growing impact of humans on the Earth system and need to provide solutions, but the study of the social drivers and their consequences for the changes that were occurring was not incorporated into the Earth System Science movement, despite early attempts to do so. The impediments to integration were many, but they are gradually being overcome, which can be seen in many trends for assessments, such as the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, as well as both basic and applied science programs. In this development, particular people and events have shaped the trajectories that have occurred. The lessons learned should be considered in such emerging research programs as Future Earth, the new global program for sustainability research. The transitioning process to this new program will take time as scientists adjust to new colleagues with different ideologies, methods, and tools and a new way of doing science.