France to Ban Patio Heaters

Haven't we heard this song before?

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Patio heaters in South Beach, Miami
Patio heaters in South Beach, Miami.

 Lloyd Alter

It's déjà vu all over again as the French ecology minister, Barbara Pompili, bans gas-powered patio heaters as of 2021. She says “What’s at stake is ending ecologically aberrant practices that lead to totally unjustified energy consumption.” She continued:

We cannot air-condition the street in the middle of summer when it’s [86°F] 30°C outside, nor can we heat terraces in the middle of winter, for the simple pleasure of staying warm while drinking your coffee on the terrace.

Patio heaters became popular in France in 2008 when smokers were forced outside. Each one puts out 3.3 tonnes of CO2 per year, and they really only cover a few tables so there are a lot of them. They were actually banned in France in 2008 but the restauranteurs appealed it and won in court. "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."

They were a very big deal on Treehugger, with Sami Grover calling them "absurd, if it's not warm enough to sit outside, why not move indoors?" I took the photo above in 2009, noting "on the sidewalks of Ocean Drive in Miami Beach, it is 65 degrees and you can't ask the customer to put a sweater over their Versace top. So out come the patio heaters by the hundreds." A British politician nailed it:

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.

We used the word "absurd" a lot, because it is, but many disagreed. Readers like Dan complained that we were getting all worked up over a trivial matter:

I mean seriously, this is absurd - this issue is too small beans to be spending time writing about. As I always say, focus on the big issues first, and avoid nitpicking on these kind of trivial subjects that will do nothing to promote a stronger eco-movement.

And of course, nothing has changed in a dozen years, people are still using the same argument, calling the ban a distraction from bigger issues. Professor of Environment Miranda Schreurs complained in CGTN:

It's something that needs to be addressed but it's not so high in the priority list from my perspective, we really need to tackle the big problems right now. I think the argument that it's 'green-washing' is basically to say that it's distracting the attention away from the bigger problems.

But it is a big problem, 75% of restaurants in Paris have heated patios. That's a lot of heaters, a lot of propane, a lot of emissions, doing such an obviously ridiculous job of heating the outdoors.

What's also absurd is that a dozen years on, we are still talking about this instead of acting.