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George Monbiot's campaign against Agas

d3I received an email today from Alice Wyllie, feature writer for the Scotsman newspaper. She was asking for comment on a piece written by George Monbiot in the Guardian yesterday in which he declares a combined class/environmental war against Aga cookers. If you're interested in the Guardian article click here.

The section I was asked to comment on was:

"It would be stupid to claim that environmentalism is never informed by class. Compare, for example, the campaign against patio heaters with the campaign against Agas. Patio heaters are a powerful symbol: heating the atmosphere is not a side-effect, it's their purpose. But to match the fuel consumption of an Aga, a large domestic patio heater would have to run continuously at maximum output for three months a year. Patio heaters burn liquefied petroleum gas, while most Agas use oil, electricity or coal, which produce more CO2. A large Aga running on coal turns out nine tonnes of carbon dioxide per year: five and a half times the total CO2 production of the average UK home. To match that, the patio heater would have to burn for nine months. So where is the campaign against Agas? There isn't one. I've lost count of the number of aspirational middle-class greens I know who own one of these monsters and believe that they are somehow compatible (perhaps because they look good in a country kitchen) with a green lifestyle. The campaign against Agas - which starts here - will divide rich greens down the middle."

Here's the response that I sent Alice:

"Monbiot's main thrust is that compared to a patio heater an Aga is more detrimental to the environment. He's probably right about that but from the environmental perspective we need to look at both products in terms of numbers. I suspect that if we compared the environmental impact of all patio heaters and all Agas the latter would not seem so much of a problem. That is why one could consider a campaign against patio heaters a more urgent issue.

There is also another missing part of Monbiot's puzzle. If an individual decided to end their use of an Aga they would soon find that they needed to replace it with an alternative oven. One would have to subtract the impact of that replacement item on the environment, and its very regular use, from the "benefit" of throwing out the Aga. The Aga might also have been heating the household water, a radiator or two, a towel rail, certainly the kitchen. The home owner will need to continue to do these things using alternative methods. There's another subtraction from the perceived benefit of throwing out an Aga.

Further, an Aga can last decades. The last one we had was over 40 years old and had decades more in it. Monbiot should consider the environmental impact of manufacturing and delivering new non-Aga style cookers on a more regular basis than many, many decades as it is for an Aga. Last we come to the cost of removing an Aga from existence.

I would be very interested to hear Monbiot's figures on the environmental impact of an Aga cooker once the correct cost to the environment is established."


The Scotsman has their article up here. gets a brief mention.

William McGrath, chief executive of the Aga Rangemaster Group, replies to Monbiot's article here.

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