In honor of Black History Month we’re highlighting Black environmentalists who have made invaluable contributions to how we think about and understand the environment and nature. Today’s environmentalist is John Francis, also known as “Planetwalker.”

Environmentalist John Francis
John Francis is an environmentalist, educator, conservationist, and author. In 1971 he witnessed the collision of two Standard Oil tankers in San Francisco Bay. Soon after he vowed to never ride or drive a motorized vehicle again in protest of the environmental harm caused by fossil fuels. For the next 22 years Francis walked wherever he needed to go. This earned him the nickname “Planetwalker.” Two years after the tanker incident, Francis also gave up speaking—-a pledge of silence that lasted 17 years.
During that time, he walked across the United States, South America, and beyond, earning a bachelor’s, master’s and a Ph.D in land resources from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, all without speaking a word or taking motorized transportation.
After finishing his degrees Francis went on to work in Washington, D.C., writing oil-spill regulations. Later, he founded Planetwalk, a non-profit environmental awareness organization. In 2005, he published Planetwalker: How to Change Your World One Step at a Time. 
In a story in Yes! Magazine, Francis explains his thoughts about walking: “When I began walking, there were no smartphones or social media platforms, and the ‘environment’ was about pollution and loss of habitat and endangered species. During my journey I discovered that ‘environment’ is much more. People are a part of the environment, and how we treat each other is fundamental in approaching sustainability. I learned this viscerally during my walking pilgrimage. The environment, actually, is about human rights, civil rights, economic equity, gender equality, and all the ways that humans interact with not only the physical environment but also with one another.”

Read more about John Francis in a story he wrote for The Guardian.