Are patio heaters the new environmental enemy, destroying the planet so we can enjoy a barbecue in T-shirts, or just an easy target?
By Tom Geoghegan
BBC News Magazine
"A sort of umbrella affair with an element that radiates heat so that we 'can enjoy outdoor entertainment in comfortable warmth,'" said the Financial Times in 1994, as if describing something from another planet.
It would be another five years before patio heaters became regularly mentioned in the mainstream press, and then in rather benevolent terms.
After all, here was an appliance which extended the al fresco dining season at home or in a restaurant, hours into the summer nights and weeks into the autumn.
But what was then considered a smart "must-have" appliance as the UK moved towards a more Continental style of dining is in danger of becoming a symbol of environmentally destructive consumerism, in a similar way to the 4x4.
Leading the backlash is the Energy Saving Trust (EST) which has urged retailers to stop selling the heaters because of the "substantial" amount of carbon emissions they produce.
"It just seems absolutely daft and a bad use of our resource that we have these heaters which heat the outside air rather than us putting on a jumper, getting a blanket or putting a wrap around us when we're outside in the summer," says spokesman Jon McGowan.
"Just to give you some idea of the scale, the average patio heater uses the same amount of energy as a gas hob uses in six months and we estimate that the average patio heater would emit around 50kg of carbon dioxide per year."
Wyevale Garden Centres and Marks and Spencer have stopped stocking them, and the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone has urged others to follow.
This "choice editing" by shops, should be adopted more widely, says Sally Uren of the Forum for the Future, a sustainable development charity. But consumers need to act too, she says.
"In some ways patio heaters are taking our desire for luxury and our desire to defeat the elements to quite a ridiculous degree because ultimately why don't you put a jumper on?"
Heaters are new to the UK, but Munich beer drinkers had them in 1955
Wanting to heat the outdoors is quite odd, she says, but picking out one product and vilifying it will not change behaviour.
"I think patio heaters are going to be one of these totemic products which say 'I've not thought this one through as an individual.'
"They will start to attract the disdain and discomfort you get with 4x4s. That's useful to some extent but stopping the sale of patio heaters is not going to end climate change."
Far more valuable, she believes, is that people look at the whole of their lifestyle - particularly heating the home, travel and goods and services - and try to do more of the "good" things and less of the "bad".
Our knowledge of carbon emissions and household appliances is still developing, so the products most visibly "carbon criminal" are the ones in the firing line.
Andrew Ford, corporate affairs manager at Calor Gas, which sells patio gas canisters as well as the full appliances, denies that providing warmth in a garden is ridiculous.
Household appliances are coming under greater scrutiny
"I'm not sure it's our job to say that. Heating the outside has been with us since the Stone Age. People enjoy sitting outside and there are health and well-being benefits associated with the outside."
He says it was about 14 years ago that a device suspended from the ceiling and used to keep baby chickens warm was adapted, put on a pole and made into something to heat people.
Calor sells fewer than 1,000 appliances a year, a small fraction of the annual market, although the size of that market is in dispute.
The EST says there are now 1.2 million in household gardens, set to rise to 2.3 million next year - enough to emit the same amount of CO2 in a year as driving from Lands End to John O'Groats 200,000 times. But the Market Transformation Programme (MTP), which provides data for government, estimates a more conservative 630,000 domestic heaters.
RESPONSIBLE PATIO HEATING
Turn down the thermostat in the home when you go outside
Switch the heaters off at the end of the night
Operate on half-power once fired up
Offset the carbon use on the Calor website
Over the last 18 months, their use in pubs and restaurants has increased with the smoking bans, to 12,500 according to MTP. But Mr Ford thinks that - counter to predictions - their popularity is now levelling off.
"They became for a while a must-have, but now it's tailed off a bit," he says. "Those who wanted them have bought them. There's a myth that with the smoking ban, everyone would have one. But most pubs with outside areas that wanted to use them have already got them."
He says patio heaters produce about 35kg of CO2 a year each and together are responsible for 0.002% of all UK carbon emissions. But like 4x4s, which have a use in some forms of terrain, they have become an easy target.
"Leaving them on all night would be a waste. But people dressed sensibly, not in T-shirts, trying to keep warm while watching an activity or playing bridge, that's not a waste of energy any more than watching a plasma screen television."
The Hoste Arms in Burnham Market, Norfolk, has had patio heaters since the 1990s. Its owner Paul Whittome says they are only on for about two hours, on summer nights when it gets a bit chilly.
Their existence, he argues, prevents some people getting on a plane to Spain and saves on air conditioning inside.
But not all publicans are happy with them, and not just because of their environmental stigma.
The Bunker bar in Glasgow got their four heaters installed last year for Scotland's smoking ban, and assistant manager Julia Jamieson says they will probably be coming down.
"They've made absolutely no difference at all. People say they're too hot and then half-an-hour later they're too cold and ask to turn them on again. We've been disappointed in them."
Add your comments on this story, using the form below.
This really is taking enviro-campaigning to the nth degree. These days we can't drive anywhere, fly off anywhere on holiday, watch TV, and now, it seems, enjoy our gardens in the evening. What's next? Banning books because they're made from trees?
Stephen Saville, London
A pointless extravagance, I don't like them anyway, feels like I'm getting sunburnt! My face gets fried while my toes are freezing. I was in a pub in Sweden recently where they had blankets available outside - far more effective and better for the environment.
I think it's ridiculous to say that heating the air outside is "odd". It's normal! If they're really that bothered about the carbon emissions of the heaters, why don't they plant several trees for each heater in the country?
Russell , Berkshire
Just the latest example of the politics of envy.
Bill, Bishop's Stortford UK
I was at a club at Brighton Marina recently, and went outside to sit on the terrace. It was a cool but not cold evening. There were about 10 patio heaters on full blast and everyone was trying to find a spot out of the reach of their fierce heat and all the tables directly under the heaters were empty. Most people had been dancing and wanted some fresh air! Crazy waste of energy.
I think this is yet another example of green issues gone mad. Your average car emits about 3000kg a year, and we're talking here 35kg. And that's average use - using a couple of time a week - I use mine a couple of times a year. Talking about banning these shows what a dictatorship this country is heading towards, it will have no impact on helping green causes whatsoever.
We've been purposefully heating the outdoors since man found fire could combat heat. Fortunately, that is no longer required since man could make clothing to keep us warm, and discovered we're killing the planet with our ridiculous waste of resources. THIS IS A NO-BRAINER. It's a pity the brainless people can't see that. Preventing their use will reduce carbon emissions, the amount is irrelevant.
Those selfish enough to use these devices are selfish enough to drive vehicles with unnecessarily high emissions to get themselves to the shop two minutes away for their morning paper. Legislation is required, if only we didn't have a spineless government.
Mike G, Edinburgh
Personally I am getting sick of these continual attacks on freedom and choice from the 'green police'
There is no conclusive proof that we have any substantial impact on the environment where man-made CO2 emissions are concerned. The oceans create more C02 than all of mankind. I'm all for preserving the environment (particularly eco-systems) and I think any waste of resources is just plain silly; but I think many people privately feel that this bandwagon is starting to get out of hand. What will they attack next? Foods that make people pass wind excessively? Methane is a greenhouse gas; this could be the beginning of the end for Baked Beans and the traditional English breakfast.
Nao Yoshino, London
Oh I get it... how many more ways can we punish smokers since the ban? This argument of "carbon emissions" is getting a bit tedious, in fact I think I will stop listening soon. Let's just ban everything, whatever happened to autonomy? Notice how all these arguments for banning things get everyone's attention because they affect "everyone" - very clever. I'm afraid the smoking ban and loss of some peoples rights have paved the way for more bans, and more losses of freedom we have enjoyed (oh ya, for the benefit of "everyone").
How long will it be before the enviro-fascists ask us to consider whether we should continue exhaling carbon dioxide into the atmosphere? After all, we are responsible for exhaling an extra 6,602,224 tonnes of the stuff every day!!!
It'll be just like the 4x4s. You can't deny that they do a lot of damage, but the focus on them is a bit out of proportion. Attacking these is just like carbon offsetting. It assuages our guilt but doesn't actually make any meaningful changes. Until people are willing to change the way they live then any enviromentalism is just trying to hold back the tide.
Douglas, EK, Scotland, UK
Look, we're all going to come up with excuses. The point is, many more people need to voluntarily give up the little pleasures that really are dispensable. Nail lacquer, for instance: largely frivolous, and a huge energy waster. Appliances are fair game. What about leaf blowers? Petrol-fuelled lawn mowing? Whatever happened to rakes, shoulders, humbler exertions? Snow blowers make sense for the elderly; young people, however, should simply use muscle. We must change, we really must!
Maria Amadei Ashot, Berkeley, California, USA
How surprising to note that PCism is now complaining about the CO2 emissions from patio heaters used to keep the smokers warm. Tough luck, you can't get everything your own way! You do-gooders are determined that you will stop everyone else doing what they enjoy and you disapprove of. The sooner ordinary people stop following this bunch of bird brains and realise that everyone has rights, and they should tolerate difference, the better.
P. Stoff (a non-smoker), Frome, UK
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