• Image about John Francis
SEAN MCCORMICK

AFTER 22 YEARS OF WALKING THE PLANET AND 17 YEARS OF SILENCE, JOHN FRANCIS LEARNED THAT THE BEST WAY FOR US TO SAVE MOTHER EARTH IS SIMPLY TO CARE FOR ONE ANOTHER. NOW HE’S SPREADING THE WORD.


JOHN FRANCIS is a sponge when it comes to environmental education. Armed with knowledge to spare, he could talk all day about the scourge of forest burning in Brazil, the mercury in our fish, the pollution in our water, and the lead in our paint.

But, ironically, he’s not one to go on about these things. An earth-friendly, full-court press just isn’t the way to go for this contemplative and unorthodox environmental crusader. In fact, he believes we’re missing something by chewing aggressively on the media-fueled touchstones of planetary concern.

Yes, these issues require addressing, but Francis believes the starting point to environmental rescue is less directly tethered to gas-hogging SUVs, reusable shopping bags, and the like than you might think.

Says Francis, “When people ask me, ‘What’s the bottom line? Where do we go from here?’ I tell them it’s about how we all treat each other.”

Emotionally gutted by the destruction caused by a 1971 oil spill in the San Francisco Bay, Francis swore off motorized transportation for 22 years, walking as a form of protest and to raise awareness. During those two decades, he logged more than 20,000 miles, walking across the United States and Central and South America. And two years after he started walking, he stopped speaking. (Along the way, he also educated himself, formally and informally, collecting a master’s degree and a PhD -- not an easy feat even under the most normal of circumstances.)

Launched as a tiny, personal stand, Francis’s journey evolved into what would become an important environmental pilgrimage. He may not have known it at the time, but his lamenting that filthy beach would eventually turn him into an environmental folk hero who would successfully elevate eco-awareness through books, speeches, radio and TV interviews, and magazine articles.

Today, Francis, 62, has an office above the old Western Saloon in the scenic town of Point Reyes Station, next to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. As the founder and director of Planetwalk, a nonprofit environmental-education program, he still busily travels the continents, cultivating his latest mission: helping people connect the dots, demonstrating that how we treat the environment is inextricably linked to how we care for one another.

Francis believes that individuals -- following their own conscience and at their own personal velocity -- can inspire change. “Each person has tremendous capability to make a difference,” he says with pleasant assurance.

This past April saw the release of his second book, Planetwalker: 22 Years of Walking. 17 Years of Silence. His newest endeavor is Planetlines -- an environmental-studies curriculum for grade schools, high schools, and colleges that’s based on his amazing and extensive walking expeditions.

Even if Francis’s ideas on an environment under stress don’t align directly with mainstream thinking, we should probably pay attention to them anyway. After all, he’s spent more than 35 years in studious contemplation of it all.