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How Earth Day evolved from an idea to a global holiday

Earth Day started in the United States in 1970 and has been embraced by nearly every country in the world over the past 50 years.

Earth Day events happen all over the globe and this year's theme is to end plastic pollution. It’s hard to imagine now, but fifty years ago, environmental issues weren’t really considered "issues," smokestacks were a sign of economic prosperity.

In 1969, a massive oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, California started to make the public aware of the impacts humans had on the environment.

Gaylord Nelson, a United States Senator from Wisconsin initially came up with the idea of designating an annual day to focus on the environment. He was inspired by witnessing the damage caused by that oil spill and the anti-Vietnam War student movement that had been thrust into the national spotlight.

The climate was right for Sen. Nelson's initiative. He had bi-partisan support and interest from urban and rural communities. There was a big effort to publicize the first Earth Day and 20 million Americans came out to peacefully demonstrate healthy and sustainable practices.

The first Earth Day brought awareness to things like oil spills, factory emissions that were polluting our air, toxic waste, and extinction. Earth Day ultimately led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, and environmental legislation like the Clean Air, Clean Water, and the Endangered Species Acts.

In 1990, Earth Day went global when 200 million people from over 140 different countries put environmental issues on the world stage and gave a huge boost to worldwide recycling efforts.

There are many different ways to get involved, especially at the local community level. See how to celebrate Earth Day in your community.