Gas-burning patio heaters continue to glow in Paris

Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Patios have always been part of the Parisian scene, and became more popular than ever when smoking was banned in restaurants in 2008. According to Jacqueline Feldman, living in Paris and writing in the Atlantic Cities, the heaters were supposed to be banned by now.

On January 24, the Paris Administrative Court overturned a ban on gas-fueled heaters for café terraces, which was supposed to take effect this June 1. The decision is a victory for café owners who consider themselves the cultural stewards of immortal Paris. For environmentally minded politicians, it is an outrage.

So what is the big deal with patio heaters? They burn fossil fuels for the silliest of purposes, to heat the outdoors. TreeHugger was all over them a few years ago when they were banned in Britain. As a British politician noted during the UK campaign:

"Patio heaters are an absurd invention. It is ludicrous that people are trying to heat the open air, as well as being irresponsible in the light of the climate change challenge we face. Instead of reaching for the gas canister people should reach for another jumper [sweater] instead."

It is one of those issues that we should take seriously; each heater produces 2.6 kg of CO2 per hour while not exactly providing an essential service. Yet whenever we have written about it on TreeHugger the response is "I mean seriously, this is absurd - this issue is too small beans to be spending time writing about." It's not. In Britain they ran the numbers:

A modelling exercise by MTP on the energy use of the 630,000 UK domestic patio heaters calculated that they could produce a total of 140,000 tones of carbon dioxide per annum. This is roughly equivalent to the CO2 emissions from all the homes in Bath.

Back in Paris, Feldman finds a lot of resistance based on tradition:

“The terrace is an essential element of the Parisian café,” says Xavier Denamur, who owns five restaurants in Paris, four of which have terraces with a combined total of eleven outdoor heaters. “It is the place where one loiters, where one falls in love.”

I seem to recall that people did this in Paris on terraces before there were patio heaters. There is another way to deal with this, as suggested by Mayor Jacques Boutault:

Eh bien, when one goes to have a coffee on a terrace, one doesn’t heat the street, because this pollutes, this is wastefully expensive. One puts on a little sweater, one puts on a little blanket, and one is outside, and it is cold.”

More in the Atlantic Cities

Tags: Carbon Footprint | Energy | Paris