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Five things you (probably) don't know about Earth Day

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The sun rises over Emmarencia Dam in central Johannesburg, South Africa, April 22, 2014. As Earth Day is marked …

Earth Day turns 44 on Tuesday, and it's more popular than ever. One might suspect the holiday was created by eco-warriors in tie-dyed shirts and leather-fringe vests. Not so. Read on for a collection of facts you (probably) didn't know about Earth Day.

1. Earth Day was started by politicians

The holiday and celebration of all things Mother Earth was founded by a Wisconsin politician named Gaylord Nelson. Over the course of his political career, Nelson served as governor of Wisconsin and a three-term Democratic senator. Nelson passed away in 2005, but he left behind a legacy of sensible environmentalism and bipartisanship.

It was a visit to California during which he witnessed an oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara that inspired him to do something about the growing problem of air and water pollution. Nelson did his best to make the movement a nonpartisan one by asking Rep. Pete McCloskey, R-Calif., to serve as his co-chair, according to

2. One in four deaths globally can be attributed to the environment

Even though the importance of a clean environment is obvious, some of the numbers might surprise you. One-quarter of all deaths and diseases around the world can be attributed to environmental factors, according to the World Health Organization. In 2008, approximentally 127 million Americans lived in counties with air quality that didn't match national standards.

3. There are a lot of ways to make money while helping the planet 

50 Ways to Help lists a bunch of simple changes people can make. Here are a few to start with: Don't bother rinsing your dishes before you put them in the dishwasher (it wastes water and you probably don't need to). Wash your clothes in cold or warm (not hot) water to save on your heating. Turn off your computer at night (instead of putting it in sleep mode). That alone can save you $14 a year. Not exactly enough to retire on, but every bit helps.

4. The recycle symbol was created as part of a contest

You know those three arrows you see on plastic, paper, cardboard, and more? The logo was created by Gary Anderson, a 23-year-old design student as part of a contest sponsored by Container Corporation of America.

Anderson won the contest, and his logo went on to become one of the most recognizable symbols in the world. He got $2,500 for his work, which is in the public domain and can be used royalty-free by just about anyone.

5. Earth Day isn't just celebrated on Earth

Three astronauts aboard the International Space Station donned green polo shirts and participated in a quick zero-gravity microphone pass to celebrate the holiday.

In the 44 years Earth Day has been around, it has grown into a global phenomenon, celebrated (appropriately enough) around the world. Over 1 billion people in over 190 countries celebrate Earth Day. This year's official theme — Green Cities — will focus on what it takes to transform urban environments into more efficient and eco-friendly places to live and do business in the years to come.

Follow Mike Krumboltz on Twitter (@mikekrumboltz).

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