Last year, perhaps because of covid-isolation, or possibly the related drinking-margaritas-for-breakfast, I had a crazy dream about an Alberta Energy Regulator employee catching Shell trying to leave the province. For whatever reason, the dreams are returning.
In this latest episode, the AER was on the same patrol across the grasslands, and made a similar catch. An AER employee spotted a guy crawling under a fence as though escaping. The whole thing looks suspicious, and since the portly guy was struggling to get through, the AER grabbed him by the leg and pulled him back.
“What did I do? What did I do?” the dusty, ruffled figure asks.
“I’m not sure,” AER said. “Last year I caught Shell trying to sneak out. They’d unloaded all the assets that were hurting their image and were trying to slide out the back door unnoticed.”
“Well, I’m no Shell.”
“That’s for sure. That dude had a serious wardrobe budget, some skinny-legged Euro-suit that looked like it cost a fortune. Pointy toed shoes. He smelled like flowers. You’re…not like that.”
“What’s wrong with my clothes? Winners not good enough for you? And so what if I smell like KFC? Can’t a guy crack now and then?”
“No no. No issues. Just not as fancy. And that guy had an expensive-looking briefcase. You don’t have anything except…what’s that stuffed in your pockets?”
“It’s not nothing. I can see it’s not nothing. What on earth would you be trying to smuggle out of the province?”
“The province? I’m not trying to smuggle anything out of the province. Don’t be so full of yourself. It’s the country I’m exiting, actually. And if you must know, it’s cash.”
“From what? Are you a drug dealer?”
“Do I look like a drug dealer? You think drug dealers shop at Winners? Or eat out of a chicken bucket? Or crawl under fences? I’m not that interesting. I’m a small businessperson.”
“I don’t get it. It looks like you’re trying to escape with a bunch of money. Where’d you get it from? Why so suspicious?”
“Look, I’m not proud of where I got it. Let’s just say I got it from a stranded asset.”
“Oh, I’ve heard of those. Like oil wells or something. Some people are calling those stranded assets, because they have no future in a low carbon world.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about. I don’t know nuthin’ about oil wells.”
“What kind of stranded asset then?”
The fence crawler looked over AER’s shoulder, nodding to something behind.
“That. Right there.”
“What, that building?”
“Is it something illegal?”
“No. I made stuff in it. All sorts of stuff.”
“Nice building. It’s huge. What’s so stranded about it? Looks like a perfectly good building to me.”
“It is. No one wants it though. It’s heated by natural gas.”
“So? So is my house. So is everything.”
“Yeah…well, the cost of natural gas is going through the roof. We used a lot of it, for heating, and manufacturing. It was one of our biggest costs, and when you double one of your biggest costs…”
“Why is the cost going up so much?”
“Carbon taxes. On top of everything else.”
“Oh yeah. I saw that on my bill. Irritating. But it wasn’t so bad, I got a carbon tax credit with my tax refund.”
“I got that too.”
“See? It all works. Since the carbon taxes get refunded I guess it all balances out.”
Fence crawler’s face suddenly looks like he just stepped in some too-fresh compost. “Weird kind of balance. My business pays a fortune in carbon tax and it goes to someone else to go get a tattoo or go on holiday. None of that comes back to my business, I can tell you. The big guys get some attention, but us little guys…”
“Well, I guess the trend is to lower consumption. It’s the thing now.”
Fence crawler laughs the laugh of the damned. “Well, there you go. I’m just a good citizen doing my part. Poke your head in my factory over there. See how much I’ve reduced consumption.”
“Looks like it’s consuming about zero.”
“That’s some excellent calculating. Yep. Zero. The government plan is working.”
“Why don’t you sell it?”
“Who’d want it? You want it? You can have it. There’s a doormat up front, the keys are under it.”
“I don’t get it. You’re just walking away?”
“Yep. Can’t afford to heat it, property taxes are high, costs are just going up. That’s why I said, I’m not proud of all this money.” He looks down at his stuffed pockets.
“What do you mean?”
“I didn’t reinvest anything over the past few years. Just sold off everything that wasn’t nailed down, and saved up all I could. The writing is on the wall for us old school businesses.”
“Too bad. All this gas around and we can’t even use it.”
Fence crawler shrugged. “There’s lots of it, I guess. But using it is another thing. They really seem to get mad when we do that.”
AER mulls over the abandoned factory like it’s about to become a modern-day ghost town. His mind comes back to business. “Well, I’d better go check it out.”
“What do you mean check it out? You’re AER, right?”
“Check it out for what? And what are you doing driving around in a truck like that?”
AER looks a little sheepish. “It’s not that bad. A bit old. Budget cuts.” He tries to change the subject. “Sheesh. Getting kind of chilly out here. I better run.”
“No, I mean the picture of a rat on the side. And the same logo on your shirt. Is that some kind of weird sponsorship?”
AER’s shoulders slump. He sighs. “All right. If you must know. More budget cuts. They merged us with the rat patrol. They were going to change the department name to AERR – Alberta Energy and Rat Regulator – but the PR gurus shot it down. Still, we got the trucks and these clothes…Hey, I still have a job so…”
“How’s it going? With the rats? Is Alberta still rat-free?”
“Meh. Rats are different these days. A few years ago we had one show up in downtown Calgary. Not sure how he got there. Popped up at a pancake breakfast, flipping pancakes of all things. Stupid little cowboy hat on, grinning like a fool. It was almost like he wanted to get caught, like he was posing for pictures. He cleared out by the time we got there. Was never seen in Alberta again.”
Fence crawler suddenly feels bad for the guy. He hands over the bucket. “Want some chicken?”
That gets AER’s full attention. He’s been prowling the grassy prairies for hours. “That would be much appreciated. It smells so good.”
“I know, right? Grab a couple.”
“Thanks. Want a…” He looks back at his truck, mentally inventorying anything he could reciprocate with. Pickings are slim. “Want a rat trap?”
They eat in silence for a minute.
“What are you going to do now? With all that money?”
“Head across the border. I might retire or might set up a business. I like business. But they might do the same thing down there.”
“Then what? If they do?”
Fence crawler shrugs. “Put the money in the bank I guess. Chase a golf ball around like my life depends on it. Doesn’t create many jobs doing that, but…”
“There’s a lot of green energy ideas, lots of money flowing into that.”
“Yeah…too much. It’s like a crazy bubble. No one’s thinking, they’re just spending, and that never ends well. Plus, I just like to make stuff. That’s why I had a factory.”
“Pretty hard to compete, isn’t it? All our rat equipment is made in China.”
Fence crawler nods. “Not just me either.” He flicks his head to the side. Scattered across the horizon, three or four more can be seen crossing the fence, headed south.
“Holy crap. Are you businesspeople all like lemmings?”
“Bad analogy there, pal. The lemming legend is that they move in a pack and commit mass suicide. We’re all doing this because we want to live.”
Fence crawler looks sadly back at his factory, thinking of the memories of building the place, the successes, and the failures. A pair of rat-decorated coveralls flies across his field of vision. He turns back to see AER standing there in his underwear.
“Me too. I’m coming with you. Can we stop at Winners first?”
Disclaimer: The AER does not capture and interrogate people on the bald prairie. They are not on rat patrol, nor do they abandon their duties and clothes no matter how hopeless the cause seems. On the flip side, I have been made aware of two businesses, not in a dream, with combined revenues of hundreds of millions and employing hundreds, that are mulling some sort of longer-term liquidation as a potential business strategy.
Ethnocentric vapidity rules in North America and Western Europe. The other 7 billion have other plans…which is why the ‘energy transition’ is like turning an aircraft carrier with a dinghy. Read more in “The End of Fossil Fuel Insanity” at Amazon.ca, Indigo.ca, or Amazon.com. Thanks for the support.