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UNM alum keeps spirit of Earth Day 43 years ago

Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal

When he realized Earth Day was coming up, Dave Wallerstedt, stirred to dusty memories, plucked a scrapbook from a shelf in his hall closet.

His wife, Cheryl, has been meticulously compiling scrapbooks since they were married in January 1969. The volume Wallerstedt grabbed was from early in the series – 1972.

He flipped through the pages until he found the picture, a photo clipped from the April 22, 1972, issue of the Albuquerque Journal. In it, Wallerstedt, then just weeks shy of his 25th birthday, is smiling at the camera, a spiked stick in one hand, a sack in the other.

Dave Wallerstedt talks about the environment and his plan to commemorate Earth Day today by picking up trash in the University of New Mexico’s Yale Park, which he was photographed doing 43 years ago when he was a UNM student. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Dave Wallerstedt talks about the environment and his plan to commemorate Earth Day today by picking up trash in the University of New Mexico’s Yale Park, which he was photographed doing 43 years ago when he was a UNM student. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

The caption notes that Wallerstedt, a University of New Mexico architecture student, is doing his bit for Earth Week by cleaning Yale Park south of UNM’s main campus.

Wallerstedt, 67 now and retired, has been an environmentalist at heart since his Boy Scout days in Albuquerque. And in the past 10 years, he has become increasingly concerned about climate change and more and more ardent in his support of energy conservation.

Prompted by that 43-year-old newspaper photo, he decided to return to Yale Park today, Earth Day, and continue that trash patrol he started back then.

“I like to set an example,” he said Tuesday as he sat at a table in his Northeast Heights home. “I believe when somebody sees an old guy like me picking up trash, maybe it might make them think about throwing something in the trash can instead of on the ground. It might make them think of other things, like making only one trip in their car instead of three.”

He’s concerned about the state of the Earth today.

“I think we have overpopulated it to the point of all it can stand,” he said. “We have created so many material objects on this Earth – particularly carbon dioxide – that 97 percent of the scientists in the world believe it is changing the climate, making it warmer.”

He said he hoped working in Yale Park today will give him an opportunity to talk about things that can be done to mitigate the situation.

The first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, is considered by many to be the launching point of the modern environmental movement.

In 1972, Wallerstedt, a Navy veteran of the Vietnam War, had not yet heard of Earth Day. He learned about it in a UNM class taught by a professor from California.

“He had long hair, and he was completely out of the box,” Wallerstedt said. “In this class, he was teaching us to be sensitive to the environment in our buildings. He asked us if we would be interested in doing something for Earth Day.”

So that’s how Wallerstedt and 20 to 25 of his classmates, men and women, found themselves in Yale Park picking up trash. Albuquerque that year, like many American communities, celebrated Earth Week, rather than Earth Day.

“I didn’t know there was going to be a photographer,” he said. “I was really into it, so maybe that’s why they took a picture of me.”

He’s more into it than ever now. He drives a Toyota Prius, a hybrid car. He insulated most of the windows in his three-bedroom home to keep precious energy from escaping. He had a furnace installed that captures 97 percent of the heat it produces. He has toilets that conserve water. Twelve photovoltaic panels on his roof provide about half the electricity the home uses.

He picks up trash in nearby Sister Cities Park during his daily walks with Misty and Maggie, the family Shih Tzus.

Although discouraged by the state of the planet, he is encouraged by efforts to make things better.

“We have done some remarkable things with our recycling program,” he said. “And it seems like every week I’m hearing about new ideas for reducing energy use.”

One thing he knows for sure is that he won’t have as much ground to pick up in Yale Park today as he did 43 years ago.

“I think the UNM Bookstore is right where that picture was taken,” he said.

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