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Miserable Brits declare War on Comfort

Politician joins the patio heater jihad

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Comment All the year round, but especially during the summer, British newspapers love to serve up stories of American idiocy. These involve US citizens exhibiting strange overreactions, or cult-like behaviour, or generally imposing themselves in an irrational or hysterical way. In a nation as big as the USA - or even a state so rich in fruits and nuts as California - such stories aren't hard to find.

So as a gift to our many American readers, here's one in return.

Ten weeks of relentless UK rain abated this week, but not before the deputy Mayor of London had promised to pile on a bit more misery.

"Patio heaters are an indulgence too far," declared Nicky Gavron, London's Deputy Mayor. Gavron quotes the globally-recognized thermodynamics expert Ken Livingstone to support her claim that the heaters " are really inefficient" - in an article entitled, quite amazingly, "Not in my back yard". She thus became the most prominent British politician to lend her weight to the miserabilist movement.

Now, you're probably already thinking that Gavron is bonkers. Outdoor heaters are designed to be anything but inefficient. They're very efficient indeed at warming your mitts when you're trying to roll a cigarette outside a pub on a frosty English autumn evening. They're far less damaging than chopping down the nearest tree - or setting fire to a passing local politician. (And public houses turn them off for the winter, because they find them too expensive to justify). But Gavron is on a roll:

"Future generations will look at patio heaters as a symbol of our collective urge to self-destruction," she rants.

The justification for this claim is that outdoor heaters emit unreasonable amounts of carbon. Now, if you subscribe to the view that increases in carbon are a primary cause, rather than a consequence of our ever-changing climate (and judging by your Comments, many of you don't), then surely you need to tackle the emissions where they matter. Alas the battlefield of the patio really isn't the front line.

China, I learned today, sees 1,000 new cars on its roads every day, or around 350,000 new vehicles a year. So there's surely a reason why London's Deputy Mayor isn't constructing a roadside protest in Shanghai and urging us to join her - and we soon find out what it is.

"It's not as if patio heaters are a pleasant way to keep warm," asserts Gavron, who's obviously never so much as unfurled a Rizla. "Why not wear a jumper and enjoy fresh air" she asks.

Unnecessary discomfort, for the Gavrons, is an integral part of human existence! If you read the comments, you'll find this view is widely shared. One wonders why she doesn't keep a really sharp stone in her sandals. Maybe she does.

At Heathrow airport, a camp of miserabilists plans to gather to remind holiday makers of the evils of flying . Which left me wondering if airlines couldn't freeze and pre-pack their "blue ice" for a low-level, strategic ejection.

Could any readers explain why such well-meaning people have turned to hysteria and misanthropy so rapidly?

I'll merely add one or two observations.

Firstly, it could be that no one is listening anyway. This particular hysteria mystifies the rest of Europe, and even in the UK the view that "we're to blame" is only shared by a minority. Hence the English tendency, when faced with incomprehension, to repeat THE SAME THING BUT LOUDER. Or it could be that the issue is only of concern to the media elite, who usually only ever meet members of the media elite just like themselves, and egg each other on to be ever more hysterical, like children playing a game of ghost. Or it could be a bit of both.

Secondly, the miserabilists seem to be very coy about the implications of their new miserabilism for the developing world. Over here, where material excess isn't hard to find, the Puritans' message of attrition and self-denial taps into a general sense of unease. On my recent trip to Africa, however, I can confirm that feeling guilty about being comfortable and having nice stuff, isn't quite so widespread - because most people don't have much stuff, and they could use a bit more comfort.

The miserabilists, however, will ensure they never get that chance. ®

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