After witnessing an oil spill in San Francisco Bay in 1971, John Francis gave up riding in cars and other motorized vehicles and began walking nearly every place he went. Several years later, he decided to stop talking, initially for just one day. “For the first time,” he says, “I began listening.” And so his self-imposed silence stretched to 17 years.
During that time, he walked across the United States, sailed and walked through the Caribbean, traversed South America from Venezuela to Argentina, and walked through Cuba. He also earned graduate degrees in environmental science and land resources.
On the 20th anniversary of Earth Day, Francis began speaking once more. He now rides in cars and flies as well, but he continues to lead long walks—Planetwalks, he calls them. And he’s expanded his message of conservation and environmental stewardship to encompass relationships among people. “How we treat the environment,” he says, “is how we treat each other.”
Francis shared highlights of his inspiring personal journey at the 2008 TED Conference (watch the video above), and chronicles it in detail in a National Geographic book—Planetwalker: 22 Years of Walking, 17 Years of Silence.
His latest journey is with a film crew, recreating portions of the voyage of the Beagle as it carried Charles Darwin to the Galapagos. Follow Francis’s dispatches from the trip on his Planetwalk website.