In the early 1970s John Francis gave up using motorized vehicles after witnessing the devastating effects of an oil spill in San Francisco Bay. Soon afterwards he took an even more radical step: a vow of silence that lasted 17 years, during which he undertook a pilgrimage by foot across America on behalf of the environment and world peace, earning a Ph.D. in environmental studies along the way. Through his silence and walking, he learned to truly listen, both to other people and the world around him.
Since ending his silence in 1990, Francis has served as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Environmental Program, contributed to the U.S. Coast Guard’s Oil Pollution Act of 1990, rewriting transportation regulations in the wake of the Exxon Valdez spill, and founded Planetwalk, a nonprofit environmental education organization. He relates the experience of his quiet protest in his book Planetwalker: 22 Years of Walking. 17 Years of Silence. In March 2011, National Geographic published his second book, The Ragged Edge of Silence: Finding Peace in a Noisy World.
Accompanied by his ever present banjo and his gentle but determined demeanor, Francis communicates a surprisingly pragmatic message of pilgrimage and social change.