John Francis is known the world over as the “Planetwalker” and was appointed the United Nations Environment Program’s Goodwill Ambassador to the World’s Grassroots Communities.
John Francis’ environmental work began in 1971, when he witnessed a tanker collision and oil spill in San Francisco Bay. It was then that he gave up the use of motorized vehicles and began to walk. He started walking because he felt partly responsible for the mess that washed up on the shore. Several months later, on his 27th birthday, fed up with the arguments his decision to walk seemed to create with friends, John took a vow of silence lasting for 17 years. During that time, he founded Planetwalk a non-profit environmental awareness organization, received a B.S. degree from Southern Oregon State College, a Master’s degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Montana-Missoula, and a PhD in Land Resources from the Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Ending his silence, John served as project manager for the United States Coast Guard Oil Pollution Act Staff of 1990, in Washington, DC, where he assisted in writing oil spill regulations. For this work, he received the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Public Service Commendation.
Over the years, John Francis has walked across the US, walked and sailed through the Caribbean, Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile. He recently began a walk studying organic agriculture and sustainable development in Cuba, and is developing Planetlines, an environmental education curriculum based on the walking pilgrimage for high school, college and civic organizations.
His two books that chronicle his period of silence, Planetwalker and The Ragged Edge of Silence, have been published by National Geographic Society. Since John Francis began using motorized vehicles to return to and from his walking pilgrimage he speaks and consult with a variety of audiences around the world, including redefining environment for the travel and tourism industry, introducing the role of ethical advisor for civilian/military humanitarian operations, and encouraging diversity and inclusiveness within traditional conservation and environmental organizations.
On Earth Day 2005, he began a walk retracing his route back across the United States, looking for differences in the landscape and the conversations. His goal is to redefine the environmental problems we face into an inclusive concept, and to form partnerships among Native and non-Native people, cultures, businesses and organizations across America and the world that might traditionally feel they do not share the objectives and values of environment and conservation. His thesis is that if we as human beings are an integral part of the environment, then how we treat each other and ourselves directly and indirectly effect the physical environment.