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John Francis Walks the Earth

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John Francis, still from 2008 speechIn 1971, John Francis witnessed two oil tankers collide under the Golden Gate Bridge. Francis was so disturbed by the half a million gallons of oil spilling into the bay, he decided to give up riding and driving in motorized vehicles.

As Francis began to walk around his town, he encountered argumentative drivers. Why had he completely given up driving? Was he just doing it to make drivers feel guilty? Francis found himself arguing, and decided to stop talking for just one day and listen instead.

"It was a very moving experience because for this first time, I began listening, in a long time," Francis says. He decided to extend the experiment for another day, which turned into a year, which turned into 17 years without speaking, during which time Francis traveled the globe mainly by foot and earned a master's in environmental studies and a doctorate in land resources.

Francis began talking again because after all his listening and thinking, he had an important message to spread: "I started talking because I had studied environment at this formal level, but there was this informal level. At the informal level, I learned about people and what we do and how we are," Francis says. " Environment changed from just being about trees and birds and endangered species to being about how we treat each other. Because if we are the environment, then all we need to do is look around us and see how we treat ourselves and how we treat each other."

Francis authored Planetwalker: How to Change Your World One Step at a Time and founded the Planetwalk Foundation, an environmental nonprofit that works on sustainable development and environmental education for youth. founded the

“I want to encourage you to go to that next place," Francis says. "To let you out of any prison that you might find yourself in, as comfortable as it may be, because we have to do something now. We have to change now.”

This speech was given during a February 2008 conference in Monterey, California, for TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design), a nonprofit "devoted to ideas worth spreading."

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