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Coconuts and Bolts: Start of an Airborne Green Revolution?

This past weekend, Virgin flew a 747 from Heathrow in London, to Schiphol in Amsterdam. Of course, this wouldn’t normally be such a big deal, except it was on time. No, I’m kidding. What was of note on this particular flight was that one of the four engines was powered by a mix of jet fuel and coconut and babassu palm oil. The idea, of course, was to test out using biofuel in the sky to try to cut back on what is an increasingly noted issue of air travel pollution. What is also noteworthy here is that, by using a biofuel that is not from a staple crop—like corn, we can avoid using both food supplies and some other crucial crops

While the irony is not lost that, in testing a way to minimize a plane’s impact on the environment, Virgin flew a passenger-less jumbo jet from England to the Netherlands, this is at least a step in the right direction. An article in The Guardian includes interviews and opinions from various sources claiming that biofuel is, to paraphrase, nonsense. The claim is that researching biofuel is expensive and not worth the tiny amount of change that it effects. Also, the paucity of babassu palms along with the immense number of coconuts needed to fill an engine make the premise ludicrous, and that to use an alternate source, such as algae, only creates more pollution.

Well, shoot.

At least they’re trying, no? For all you cynics out there, this may be merely a publicity stunt, but it is difficult to ignore the fact that consideration for our planet is now more in the forefront of discussion than ever before, and that’s a good thing. By and large, and almost by definition, travelers are aware of their surroundings—literally, the environment. Also, we are conscientious about what we do and how it affects where we are; it’s part of the love of travel that you want to leave things as you found them for the next person who comes along.

Everyone can try to do something to help offset air travel, but when it comes down to it, we all fly because it’s too convenient not to do so. We can assuage guilt by planting a tree or going to any of a variety of carbon offset sites, but is that really enough? The answer may be yes. I’m not the definitive source here; I’m but a cog who uses energy-efficient light bulbs and reusable shopping bags, but I still think that when a corporation as large and influential and intertwined with the world of travel as Virgin takes the time and resources to pitch in and start to do its part, things are starting to look up towards cleaner skies.

What’s your take?


My name: Charlie Davidson

How I earn my keep: Writing and editing for

First thing I do in a new place: Lace up the shoes, go for a run or a long walk, and find out what the best local beer is.

Best meal I've had while traveling: I was in Basel, Switzerland, with my family and we drove to Germany one night for their famous white asparagus. It cut like meat, but was tender and sweet. Accompanied by homemade condiments and some German lager, it's an easy way to eat your veggies.

Greatest travel lesson learned: Keep your eyes and mind open, avoid the beaten path, and when in doubt, smile.

When I'm not traveling, I'm: Playing any sport I can.

Travel ambitions: To visit all 7 continents in one continuous trip.

Who I am: An obsessed athlete. I'll try any sport there is. I picked up hockey at age 8, lacrosse at 13, squash at 18, Aussie Rules Football at 20, and marathon running at 23. Now, I do them all. I've also played cricket and rugby, football and baseball, and even some sport called soccer. No sport is too obscure. However, I don't think I'd cut it as a jockey.

Favorite way to get around: Either walking or running is the best way to see the sights, especially the ones you weren't necessarily looking for.

Fondest travel memory: All of them!

Favorite place on earth: Home is a big town on a small island. No matter what ends of the Earth I reach, I always come back to New York.

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