Sunday, May 22, 2011

17 Years of Listening

I learned this week about John Francis who in 1971 at the age of 27 was inspired by the 1/2 million gallon oil spill he witnessed in San Fransisco; he chose to stop using motorized vehicles -- driving or walking-- and started walking for the environment.  What began as an act of conscience became a new kind of vehicle as he began to draw attention to the cause. Then one day, after reflecting on how he was becoming defensive and argumentative, he chose to also take a vow of silence for the rest of the day.  And it lasted seventeen years.

His unusual journey with a backpack and a banjo took him on foot to Ashland Oregon where he completed a Bachelor's degree in Environmental Studies, then to Missoula Montana for his masters, then to Madison Wisconsin for his PhD.  He had sent word ahead that he would arrive in about two years to take classes.  He became a prolific, passionate writer about oil spills and sought-after writer of regulation.  When he arrived on foot in Washington DC (which took seven years and a day) he chose to speak his first words about what he was learning for the past seventeen years... In his address to government leaders on Earth Day 1990 he said "WE are the environment" and so we need to take care of how we treat each other while we are taking care of planet earth.   It all begins with listening.

John Francis has served as a National Geographic Fellow and as a UN Ambassador as a Planetwalker.  He says that he could  have never envisioned his future when he started walking east, that he'd have anything important to say or that anyone would listen.

May we learn some of his lessons without needing to walk exactly in his shoes!

Read a Q&A time with this profound conservationist posted on the Daily Good.