John Francis is one of the heppest cats ever.

>This man is amazing and if there is a heaven…he has a place.


Ped Dispenser

John Francis, a 'planetwalker'

who lived car-free and silent for

 17 years, chats with Grist

By Mark Hertsgaard

10 May 2005

Read more about: green living

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How long could you survive without your car? For the many Americans

 who think nothing of driving 10 blocks to buy a gallon of milk, the answer

is obvious. But before any of you dedicated pedestrians and die-hard

cyclists start feeling smug, try this question: How long could you survive

 without talking?


John Francis.

Photo: Courtesy of Planetwalk.

Chances are, nowhere near as long as John Francis did. After a massive oil

spill polluted San Francisco Bay in 1971, Francis gave up all motorized

transportation. For 22 years, he walked everywhere he went -- including

 treks across the entire United States and much of South America --

hoping to inspire others to drop out of the petroleum economy.

Soon after he stopped riding in cars, Francis, the son of working-class,

 African-American parents in Philadelphia, also stopped speaking. For

17 years, he communicated only through improvised sign language,

 notes, and his ever-present banjo. The environmental pilgrim says

he took his vow of silence as a gift to his community "because, man,

I just argued all the time." But it may have been Francis who benefited

most of all. For the first time, he found he was able to truly listen to

 other people and the larger world around him, transforming his approach

 to both personal communication and environmental activism.

Francis started speaking again on Earth Day 1990. The very next day,

 he was struck by a car. He refused to ride in the ambulance, insisting

 on walking to the hospital instead. With a Ph.D. in land resources

(earned during his silence), he was later recruited by the U.S. Coast

 Guard to write oil-spill regulations and by the United Nations Environment

Program to serve as a goodwill ambassador.

Francis, the author of Planetwalker: How to Change Your World One Step at a Time,

 is now preparing for a second environmental walk across America. He

 spoke with writer Mark Hertsgaard about how social change happens,

 the decency he encountered among red-state Americans, and the

importance of bridging the chasm between white and black environmentalists.

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