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John Francis

writer, environmental activist

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 a vow of silence lasting 17 years, during which he undertook a pilgrimage by foot across America on behalf of the environment and world peace, earning a PhD 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 vow of silence in 1990, Francis has served as a goodwill ambassador for the UN Environmental Program, contributed to the US 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.