Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Walking the Walk

The Planetwalker's Commonwealth Club appearance in Silicon Valley was postponed, and it's too bad – we'll miss hearing from the legendary John Francis PhD. He's one of those people who helped build the Bay Area's international reputation and character.

Alongside other luminaries of the Bay Area's environmental movement like Paul Hawken, Dr. Martin Griffin, Jr., or the great Mrs. Elizabeth Terwilliger (to name only a few), Dr. Francis tackled and brought to light a challenging and sad aspect of our society.

He's best known for a personal saga. But that amazing story sometimes clouds a deeper message, so Hawken's work at the intersection of environment and commerce is further illuminated by Francis' writing.

Periodically mucking-up our oceans, beaches and marine life is a cost of doing business these days, and the global shipping industry grows ever-more ponderous without scrutiny. The container ship that struck the Bay Bridge in late 2007, leaked some 58,000 gallons of bunker oil into the bay, illustrating that point most recently. But that spill is one of many, and seems minor when compared to the 1971 spill that unfolded after two oil tankers collided beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, spewing hundreds of thousands of gallons of fuel.

Ports in Oakland and Long Beach rank among the most heavily trafficked in western North America, insuring that the treasured marine sanctuaries just off our coastline will continue to serve double duty as “on-ramps to the global economy.”

Francis' story reminds us that our willingness to regulate polluting industries – such as shipping – is constrained by our dependence on imported goods. Critics like Francis pin some of the blame for these environmental catastrophes on ship pilots or greedy executives, but their livelihoods are fueled by consumer demand. John Francis is out to change that.

Check out his latest books or watch his TED presentation below.

And keep an eye on The Commonwealth Club's program listings for your chance to hear him in person.

– A. Shaw


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