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Climate supremo deploys knitwear in war on patio heaters

Scratchy pullovers will save us all - Woolas

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Confronted some days back by the out of control menace of patio heaters, Britain's first line of defence against global warming - Climate Change Minister Phil Woolas - urged the public to fight back by deploying strong knitwear. Don't use an outdoor heater, said Woolas, wrap up warm - "the official line is... when outside, wear a jumper."

And, er, that's it for DEFRA policy on outdoor atrocities bucketing CO2 into the atmosphere, not even an additional suggestion that smokers might find fingerless gloves handy as well. Those buying patio heaters for their garden should be aware of the harm they cause the environment, the Mail on Sunday quotes him as saying, adding that neither DEFRA nor the EU has plans for banning outdoor heaters, despite claims that the number of heaters in use has increased tenfold as a consequence of the UK's smoking ban.

So, the minister says they're a menace but his department isn't banning them. How come? Well, as we noted earlier, the extra CO2 produced under even the highest of the official estimates of heater deployment means they're a very small menace indeed. The government's Market Transformation Programme suggests emissions of 141-282 ktCO2 for gas heaters and 96-192 ktCO2 for electric, which would give you a worst possible case figure of 474 ktCO2.

But assuming, reasonably, that higher electric sales would mean lower gas sales or vice versa, then we'd guess it wouldn't be likely to be more than 350-400 ktCO2, against the UK total of 554.5 million tonnes (DEFRA 2006 figure).

DEFRA itself, when not boosting knitwear, is unperturbed by outdoor heaters. Earlier this year Lord Rooker observed: "While patio heaters are wasteful, they account for a relatively small amount of energy use in comparison [to other energy-using products]". Woolas himself covered the matter last November, referring to the MTP estimates.

So DEFRA knows the impact is negligible, the European Commission knows the impact is negligible, and as he's been giving MPs the numbers and he's the Climate Change Minister, Woolas knows the impact is negligible. One is therefore driven (oops...) to the conclusion that he deems it insufficiently miserabilist to say, 'they're doing little or no damage, and you'd be better off expending energy on bigger and more pressing problems.'

Meanwhile one possibly larger problem, the requirement for daylight running lights on cars, is estimated by the government to be likely to cause a 0.5 per cent increase in fuel consumption. That number is on the low side of the estimates made by the European Commission a few years ago, and of those produced for the Department for Transport around the same time. But the 0.5 per cent is approximately what you get if vehicles are fitted with dedicated daylight running lights, while the larger (more like 1.5 per cent) is what happens if you require dipped lights during daylight hours (the DfT's analysis of likely effects can be found here).

The 'small' extra cost for the UK in terms of CO2 will be 340-1,100 ktCO2 per annum for passenger cars alone (based on DEFRA 2006 figures). It will be compulsory for new vehicles to be fitted with daylight running lights from 2011, thanks to a European directive (the process is a little more convoluted than the usual, as the Commission can blame the UN this time).

Curiously, the Energy Saving Trust has yet to denounce the fitting of these wasteful appliances to motor vehicles, while Phil Woolas has yet to suggest reflective jackets for cars as an ethical alternative. Funny that. ®

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