John Francis: Planetwalker


Isha Shah, In-Depth Writer

John Francis, globally known as Planetwalker, did not use a single motorized vehicle for 22 years after witnessing a massive oil spill. He decided to travel across the country by foot in order to make a statement on conservation. During this time, he also took a vow of silence, and only communicated by drawing, written language and watercolor paintings. 


Early Life and Work

Francis was born in Pennsylvania and spent summers on his aunt and uncle’s farm, learning to take care of the land. As the farm had no electricity, the day was often determined by the rising and setting of the sun. According to Francis, this experience was very informative and influenced his outlook on life. At the age of 21, the collision of two oil tankers in the San Francisco Bay changed the course of his life. Even as Francis joined the cleanup efforts, he felt a yearning for a more personal commitment. In order to demonstrate his responsibility to our planet, Francis made the decision to stop using motorized vehicles, and traveled across the country by foot. In addition, he took a 17 year long vow of silence. During this time, Francis also earned a bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degree in various fields of environmental studies. 



Francis founded Planetwalk, a non-profit environmental awareness organization dedicated to “Saving the planet, one step at a time.” The organization’s core mission is the development of a global network of Planetwalkers. Francis inspired other young scientists and conservationists to create a sustainable future by combining environmental advocacy, scientific research and social justice. Planetwalk organizes walks all over the world and the quantitative and qualitative date that walkers discovered are put in a database and displayed on Google Maps. His goal is to form relationships between different cultures, businesses and organizations that may feel like they do not share values of environmentalism. Francis promotes equity between different cultures and races as he believes that all humans can connect through nature which is a manifestation of people in the world view one another. 



Francis has helped to rewrite oil transportation regulations and has encouraged environmental advocacy in schools all over the world. Francis has continued to commit to educating everyone about the environment through his writing and teaching. Francis has written a novel on his adventures, titled “Planetwalker: 22 Years of Walking. 17 Years of Silence” which describes his journey and the challenges he faced in greater detail. According to Francis, the environment reflects our larger problems as a society. As a piece of advice, Francis stated “We are all really part of the environment. How we treat each other is how we treat the environment.”