The thread increasingly surrounded by darkness Riding out the winter (decline) of industrial civilization

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Press Release:
There has to be an event—a reason to be delivering the release. A departure date, a fundraising event, ect.



Event—the meat of it

Summary/Background-- generic

Private message

The Illuminated Thread announces departure date for Stage Three

The Illuminated Thread, artist Brett Tracy’s multi-year bicycle-mounted look at the wonder and tragedy of the industrial age, is about to begin its third stage. A January 28 departure date has been announced for the forthcoming leg: a circuitous route connecting three of the desert southwest’s most car dependent suburban metroplexes: Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Houston. Tracy will visit and document aircraft boneyards, open-pit mines, an abandoned Salton Sea yacht club, the country’s largest nuclear power complex, and an 80,000-acre sludge ranch before reaching the Texas Petrochemical Patch east of Houston.
Rejecting the imperative of endless growth, Tracy positions the human species at the end of its industrial phase. Using video and audio field recordings, the artist reveals a world built with phenomenal amounts of fossil energy and imagines the more ecologically aware human-scaled world to come.

Project Background:

After receiving their MFA degrees from the University of Chicago in 2008, Tracy and his colleague, Joseph Miller, left the windy city behind and set off across North America on their Bicycles. During the 60-day ride to San Francisco via Portland, OR, the artist duo photographed sites of energy production, from wind and hydroelectric to coal and nuclear.

Going solo for Stage Two, San Francisco to the Mexico border, Tracy added megastructures and sites of industrial ruination to the itinerary. Abandoned shipyards, a derelict refinery, a defunct sugar plant, Disneyland’s 10,000 capacity parking garage, and the world’s most complex freeway interchange all made the list.
Tracy has global ambitions for the project, planning to crisscross Europe’s most industrialized nations after completing his loop around the US.
Visit the project’s website,, for more information.

Welcoming the phase, and the world he see that might follow when the oil runs out

image is a constructive one, welcoming of a new phase change. A chance to
A witness to the end of the age of cheap energy.
The research endeavor committed to documenting and interpreting a world built with fossil energy.
The Project’s foundation more generally
The Illuminated Thread is a bicycle-mounted research endeavor committed to documenting and interpreting the contraction phase of the Industrial Age.
A visual artist traveling the world by bicycle—telling a new story about mankind’s future—an alternative to the persistent myth of (perpetual) progress that has for too long been the filter through which we’ve seen the world.
As he crisscrosses the world’s industrialized nations, he’ll take a close look at some of the structures we’ve been able to build with the energy stored in hundreds of millions of years worth of ancient sunlight (hydrocarbons)—[maybe an amount here—half the world’s allotment]. It’s a story about the end of the industrial age and the beginning of the next phase of our specie’s history. But it doesn’t match the story we’ve been told—it’s a story about…

A year after arriving on the West coast after a tour from Chicago to San Francisco, a tour on which he documented power plants and other energy infrastructure.

Its been a year since artist Brett Tracy completed his first cross-country bicycle tour from Chicago to San Francisco, documenting power plants and energy infrastructure along the way. Drawn to their immense scale and the incredible investment of energy and resources they represent,
The next stage will take him across the deserts of the southwest. Stopping along the way to take in the sorrow of the Salton Sea, the mind-boggling aircraft boneyards of Tucson, an open pit copper mine, and a ___ acre sludge ranch before arriving in Houston—home to the world’s largest concentration of refineries, chemical plants, and storage tanks on Earth.
Using video, still photography, audio recordings and the written word, Brett interprets and documents a world built with vast sums of prehistoric sunlight (hydrocarbons). and pieces together a portrait of the world that will slowly replace it as the days of cheap energy fade into memory. There are no flying cars in his world—few cars at all actually. Rejecting the myth of perpetual progress and the economic imperative of growth—he (anticipates) the inevitable end of the industrial age—seeing it as an opportunity to re-connect with a living planet and each other—to enter the next phase of our specie’s development as we learn how to inhabit this planet more lightly-- without reeking havoc on the biotic systems with which we share it.
A chance to put the bad habit of needless consumption behind us and focus on attaining our highest potential as humans.
Challenging the species to move beyond its adolescent stage of self-centered materialism and on to adulthood—fully realize our potential as humans.

We’ve demonstrated to ourselves that we can take over the planet—move trillions of pounds of carbon from under the ground to the air and the oceans. Construct gleaming cities, bridges, dam the world’s largest rivers, set foot on the moon, grow food on nearly every square mile—now it’s time to pull back—to consider how we might inhabit the planet long-term—within the limits of its regenerative systems and in a way that adds to instead of diminishes its glory.

Being ok with industrial ruination—not so quick to wipe out such sites—is a good step toward being able to leave the industrial age behind as we look upon what we’ve built with a melancholic nostalgia and turn to face what’s next.
The industrial sublime—image of the tiny figure passing through a sweeping industrial landscape. Nice image.

Bring into the loop:

Casey Fenton

Joe Shaw

Summed up by Bill Gate’s response to a question regarding the investment potential of alternative energies. “Just because it’s hot doesn’t mean it’s a good investment” meaning just because it’s hot doesn’t mean it will ever be profitable.
Producing energy takes energy, and thus is just as subject to rising energy costs as any other productive activity; even as the price of oil goes up, the costs of extracting it or making some substitute for it rise in tandem and make investments in oil production or replacement no more lucrative than any other part of the productive economy. Oil that has already been extracted from the ground may be a good investment, and financial paper speculating on the future price of oil will likely be an excellent one, but neither of these help increase the supply of oil, or any oil substitute, flowing into the economy.
I suspect that the unsteady but inexorable rise in energy costs over the last forty years or so may have had much more to do with the gutting of the American economy than most people suspect.
If this is correct, now that petroleum production has encountered the same limits globally that put it into a decline here in the United States, the same pattern of disinvestment in the production of goods and services coupled with metastatic expansion of the financial sector may show up on a much broader scale.

It's all too easy to foresee a future in which industry, agriculture, and every other sector of the economy that produces goods and services suffer from chronic underinvestment, energy costs continue rising, and collapsing infrastructure becomes a dominant factor in daily life, while the Wall Street Journal (printed in Shanghai by then) announces the emergence of the first half dozen quadrillionaires in the derivatives-of-derivatives-of-derivatives market.

This pattern produces more ruins as chronic “disinvestment” in the production of goods and services means factory closures.
So a global rise in the price of energy translates to a chronic disinvestment in the production of goods—factory closures then ruins.
NY times opinion piece on the need to have a persistent threat.
On the left, there’s an enduring fascination with the pseudo-Marxist vision of global capitalism as an enormous Ponzi scheme, destined to be undone by peak oil, climate change, or the next financial bubble. (I like how these are really huge things being treated like.. ah.. whatever.)
And it may be that the only thing more frightening than the possibility of annihilation is the possibility that our society could coast on forever as it is — (vulgar, decadent, cruel and eternal) -- like a Rome without an Attila to sack its palaces, or a Nineveh without Yahweh to pass judgment on its crimes.
Humankind fears judgment, of course. But we depend on it as well. The possibility of dissolution lends a moral shape to history: we want our empires to fall as well as rise, and we expect decadence to be rewarded with destruction.
Not that we want to experience this destruction ourselves. But we want it to be at least a possibility — as a spur to virtue, and as a punishment for sin.

This could be why we don’t celebrate the anniversary of 1989 quite as intensely as we should. Maybe we miss (I can’t miss this because I never experienced it—right) living with the possibility of real defeat. Maybe we sense, as we hunt for the next great existential threat, that even the end of history needs to have an end.

For “tell a story” section:

Part of your thing is to get to the bottom of why there’s this fascination with ending civilization—because it’s a scary thought that it might go on forever. But those with more than a superficial grasp of history knows that every generation believes they are living at the end of history—and are always proven wrong—the world is much too complex, and our systems too unstable to go on forever—great things end, small things endure. I’m not hunting for an existential threat, I simply know that the world around me cannot last. This sense permeates everything around us. I challenge anyone to stand on a freeway overpass, watching a stream of cars and trucks thunder along below—and argue that such a thing could continue indefinitely—with or without a clear “existential threat.”

It’s important to have a sense that there are forces at work that will change the way we live—that we are not at the end of history.

When you think about it, the most exceptional people should be the most generous. If you're truly confident in your ability to create things of value, you don't mind losing everything, because you can just make more.

We met at Numbers. I was cruising the floor in my skivvies. You bought me a drink. We chatted. As was revealed at the time: I’m not a gay porn star… I’m not even gay. I was a tourist that night, a visitor in a foreign land who had chosen a really intense way to make a few bucks.

I may have mentioned a bit about it already but I wanted to let you know what it is I actually do—I think you might be into it. I’m currently preparing to leave on the third leg of an extended bicycle tour dubbed The Illuminated Thread. The project’s primary goal is to document and interpret the contraction phase of the industrial age. I visit power plants, industrial abandonments, and anyplace with the potential to memorializing this very special period in human history. I’ve come many miles already, but have much farther to go. My next stage will take me through the deserts of the Southwest from LA to Houston where, among other sites, I’ll visit aircraft boneyards, abandoned Salton Sea developments, an open-pit copper mine, the country’s largest nuclear power complex, and an 80,000-acre sludge ranch.

While I’m doing this work on an extremely tight budget, I do need to eat, and the bike needs new tires. My goal is to raise $2000 before setting off on the two-month/1,800-mile journey sometime in December. Have a look around the site and if you like what you see consider supporting the endeavor. I’m trying to remain advertising free so donations from individuals have been crucial. Also, feel free to forward the site to any LA movers and shakers you think might find it interesting. Finally, I genuinely enjoyed our brief exchange and would love to meet for an espresso before I set out into the desert.
All the best,

Brett Tracy

Brett CC:

Brett’s great as the everyman. He’s invested in a home—has a family, including a young child. He has a 9-5 and is a ardent consumer. It’s interesting to watch his response to the idea that his son will have a tougher life than him with less available to him, more competition for resources, more manual labor, etc.

Brett’s into the human side—interactions—relationships—he responded to the images with people in them—the morning montage where we share a space and a meal with strangers.
It isn’t quite clear how the tips for living on the margins can be applied to anyone not already living nomadically--- think about how this can be framed in a scalable way so that a larger audience can benefit.

Move to the “tell a story” section:

Although you don’t use the words “collapse” or “chaos” or other’s like them Brett still doesn’t know how you can expect people to be into the idea of things falling apart. I tried to explain that the story I want to tell contains elements across the whole range of human experience—joy as well as sorrow and suffering—to be a really good story—believable—it has to contain both. Can’t be all sunshine and bunny rabbits. It has to contain elements of redemption and a fall—a cleansing of all the bullshit that’s accumulated during the industrial age.

The idea is to put the industrial age to rest—to face what’s coming next. To recognize and pay tribute to the heights we’ve reached, the accomplishments of the industrial age (to take a good look at what we’ve built then prepare to watch it crumble as we’re reminded of the cyclicality of all things—that great things end that worldly things are fleeting—including whole cultures and ways of living—but that new life springs from the ashes of the old. Recognize that it’s a living pattern not compatible with a living planet—or fulfilled humans, to move on a wiser species. To ask ourselves how we’d like to live and is that possible within the limits of the earth’s regenerative systems. To design a world with beauty, simplicity and elegance instead of greed and waste.
Also, I thought it interesting how Brett would refer to all sorts of adaptations that are essentially illustrations of contraction, but wouldn’t say the word—wouldn’t apply the term to the whole system at once—only small parts. Given, it goes against everything we saw and were told growing up. Interesting that he gave us plenty of time to make the necessary changes, to develop the technologies so that no turmoil or
He gives the American populace too much credit—what we need is nothing less that to adopt a whole new way of thinking about the world—not just a few new spiffy products for people to buy. Americans will cling to their entitlements until they absolutely have to let them go and in some cases not even then.

Re listen to Kunstlercast to pull out spirituality concepts

Generalists (and their role), generalism, generalizations

The danger of hyper-specialization

The traffic engineer—been allowed to do what they do—move traffic efficiently—and in the process destroyed the city

Statistical analysis and econometrics—we bring these arguments to all our problems—a terrible approach.

We use math and formulas for everything—econometric models as a substitute for reality.

You’re a generalist by default if you don’t have any official certifications.
You have the things your interested in--- which you’re mostly self-educated in
Your strength, your specialty must be capturing images—a refined way of seeing the world. Then you apply this to what you’ve interested in. It’s better that you don’t have training in geology, etc.
Tremendous unspoken boundaries in our culture that limit what’s ok to say, think. People take comfort in adhering to these boundaries because you can get on with your life without hassling people.

On working to break through these boundaries and foster conversation.

Hyper-individuality—can’t form a consensus, the battle of style. Self involved narcissistic form of design.

Design for us isn’t design—its shopping—go buy the materials

Hung-up on the idea that nothing can be any better than anything else—the universe is organized hierarchical. This admission is painful for some.
Inability to form a consensus on what is happening to us and what we’re going to do about it—inability to make collective decisions. Void in leadership.
This whole project of civilization has to do with the sacredness of the human life and this human project—whether were on the side of the angels
If were going to assume godlike powers do we owe it to ourselves to be good gods? Not demons—show goodwill to the universe

Formulate general rules about that—tough but we do it.

Sorting trash as spiritual ritual.

piece by Ugo Bardi on the fall of Rome. Bardi concludes that the best thing for the Romans to do, if they had understood their situation, would have been to go voluntarily into the Middle Ages, to decentralize, demilitarize, and regrow forests, through reform instead of through catastrophe.

And from Orlov:

I think that the lesson from all this is that we have to prepare for a non-industrial future while we still have some resources with which to do it. If we marshal the resources, stockpile the materials that will be of most use, and harness the heirloom technologies that can be sustained without an industrial base, then we can stretch out the transition far into the future, giving us time to adapt.

My position is that property is theft, and intellectual property is theft on stilts.

This is why Le Corre is a dick.

Orlov on the importance of not knocking down buildings—to create intentional ruins

Without much help from anyone, ruins can tell us of our history as a species. Every year millions of people flock to the Roman Forum, the Parthenon, the ruined medieval abbeys, cathedrals and castles, the pyramids at Giza, Cholula, and Chichen-Itza, and the temples at Angkor Wat.

The choice need not be between finding a new use for an old building and knocking it down: a better choice is to let it mellow, along with the rest of the country.

Even in their natural, entirely neglected state, ruins are, in fact, useful: they can provide a picturesque spot for a picnic, an instructive site for a school outing, a refuge for wildlife, a source of employment for tourist guides, and a place for archaeologists to dig around. A good ruin right in the center of a busy city is a poignant memento mori for the hurried people who rush about it. Should any of them find an empty slot in their schedules to be still for a moment, they could gain a precious bit of perspective by gazing at a ruin, thinking, sic transit gloria mundi. ("Thus passes the glory of the world". It has been interpreted as "Worldly things are fleeting.")

This shit ain’t funny anymore—it’s only in a culture of luxury—awash in cheap energy—that you can appreciate a vulgar building for its vulgarity. The ability to be ironic will vanish with the cheap energy culture.

Resentful of the bad choices that were made—same attitude toward burger king as the Nazi regime is to the Germans.

Television and a legion of internet gossip sites are about getting everyone to pay attention to the same (limited set) of things while there’s an infinite universe full of other things they could be focusing on and aren’t. There’s that feedback loop where the masses are given what they want—more of the same-- which translates to a distracted populace being fed information that has no bearing on reality—not getting the information they should have.

What are you really interested in? Has it changed, have you evolved again? Is it more specific now? What are you absolutely sure of? What are you not?
Industrial ruins—spiritual aspects of—witnessing the deterioration of as a way of letting go of the industrial age.
Other relics of the industrial age—waste piles, holes in the ground.
Megastructures as monuments to the industrial age.
What can be saved/salvage/recycled/adaptively reused—how?
What things, beliefs, structures, practices can be walked away from.
Spirituality is particularity important to this phase as we look for new direction and meaning in the human project—while we look for a new project for that matter.

Spiritual component of celebrating the earth’s limited carrying capacity—this is a total reframing—the earth is not for us to use. Figuring out how to live here longterm is the new human project.
It feels weird to repeat what’s already been covered so thoroughly by others—sounds awkward restated.
You need to come to terms with the fact that writing isn’t your strength—its adequate—perhaps more than adequate but you write much too slowly to make this a writing project. Say what’s required with words and the rest with images.

Searching for a Miracle:

From the press release: "An alarming new study jointly released by two prominent California-based environmental/economic think tanks, concludes that unrelenting energy limits, even among alternative energy systems, will make it impossible for the industrial system to continue operating at its present scale, beyond the next few decades. The report finds that the current race by industries and governments to develop new sustainable energy technologies that can replace ecologically harmful and rapidly depleting fossil fuel and nuclear technologies, will not prove sufficient, and that this will require substantial adjustments in many operating assumptions of modern society."


The same thing is happening now with TV and the internet, and not just on the level of emotions, but on the level of facts. Less and less of the content is derived from looking outward, exploring, investigating, and more and more is derived from feeding back what the audience wants.

We've come to the end of our ability in this world to increase energy inputs to the global economy.
Kunstler and Ran are essentially saying the same things—that people are not paying attention to the right things—they are looking only at what they want to see and the various media outlets are happy to provide the crap people are seeking in a sort of unhealthy feedback system. Meanwhile what’s actually going on is studiously ignored. Ran puts it this way: “the veering away of human perception from what we need to see to what we want to see.”
Celebrate the ultimate limits of earth’s carrying capacity—presently being dramatically exceeded.
An investigation of the hydrocarbon based systems which built industrial society—and brought us to this grave historical moment.
The status quo will not survive.

You’re bogged down and suffering form a lull brought on by the onset of winter. Write for the pleasure of it—write anything—just write. Fill up space, break through that last wall and get on with it—the world is out there—it’s waiting patiently for you. There’s no one here for you—if there is you would have found her by now. The universe wants you on the road—it believes in your ability to make meaningful things—to present your version of the world. Oh, the sweatshirt is working for you—it makes you more approachable. It’s pretty annoying that everyone comes here with other people—makes them difficult to meet. You should do on the spot mix CDs for people in the café—music you think they’d dig based purely on looks. Every time you stop to look at the music, she looks back. What nonsense you can produce—what meaningless chatter you can fill your hard drive with. What dribble! It’s a good thing it doesn’t actually take up any space. Maybe you need a book to read—nonfiction again—always be reading something they say—always be exercising that part of your brain.

Ok—make another plan and a schedule you can commit to. Feels good. Satisfies a need.
In order of priority:
Project description writings—keep them short

Welcome writing/video

Write press release
Personal emails

Mass email

Post to blogs


Dream within a dream piece

Stage 2 thank you post

I hope this finds you well. It’s been some time since our chance meeting at that pretty picnic spot above the Carquinez Straights. You had just moved to the Bay Area and had your adorable daughter and wife with you—both sleepy from the car ride. I was in the middle of my first day back on the road—stage two of an extended bicycle tour that’s been my world for the past year and a half.
I wrote this that night:
Although most of the day consisted of headwinds, rain, and desperate searches for suitable shit spots, there was a clearly identifiable high point. Meeting Jeff and his adorable daughter at a picnic site overlooking the Carquinez Straight vastly improved an afternoon characterized by difficulty and discomfort.
Here it is in context:
The fact is, it was the day’s only bright spot and had I not encountered you and your family that afternoon, I very likely would have ended my journey prematurely. I wanted to thank you again for your generosity and the enthusiasm you showed for the project.

In case you’re wondering, I made it to LA. Documentation of the breathtaking sites I visited along the way are all in the site’s ‘archive.’ (I highly recommend ‘Blue Room’ and ‘The Joy of Infinity.’) Unable to cross the deserts of the Southwest before the heat arrived, I spent the summer orbiting around Southern California. The fall has been mostly research and a re-evaluation of the project’s goals and I’ve arrived at a much more clearly defined sense of what I hope to accomplish. Have a look at the ‘about the project’ page.

So you’re all caught up. The next stage (stage three) will take me 1,800 miles from LA to Houston. I’ve pre-selected some fascinating sites along the route—among them are aircraft boneyards, abandoned Salton Sea developments, an open-pit copper mine, the country’s largest nuclear power complex, and a sludge ranch. I’m physically and mentally ready for the ride, but haven’t yet raised the $2000 I need for bicycle repairs and food for the month and a half long journey. If you’re still interested in supporting the endeavor I’d be eternally grateful. Also, I’d love to send you a compilation DVD with all the video work the project has produced so far—just send me your address. Finally, feel free to forward the project’s site to anyone you think might be interested. I wish you and your family the best; have an amazing holiday season.
Much Love,

Next to read:

Catton’s sequel to overshoot: Bottleneck: Humanity's Impending Impasse (Paperback)

Maybe you frame the project in a way that’s not based on conclusions already made—you want to find out what all this talk of collapse is really about, because no one knows for sure. Is the human species entering an unprecedented phase change, where might the evidence for or against this assertion be found? What would it even look like? Is the human species evolving the wisdom to handle the industrial world it’s built or did we build something that will be our undoing?

On Population and scarcity:

The key element is scarcity which first was created by humankind’s total demand exceeding the earth’s “ability-to-carry.”

“However, as scarcity increases it causes increases in conflict and redistribution. Redistribution increases the separation between the rich and poor which creates more scarcity. This new scarcity creates more stress and conflict.

“Conflict diverts resources from supporting people to aggression or defense and this creates more scarcity. More scarcity creates more conflict. More conflict creates more scarcity. The two variables pump each other up until civilization collapses.

“This figure shows that to prevent civilization collapse, with all its attendant injury, scarcity must be ever-decreasing.

“My suggested process to create “ever-decreasing scarcity”, (described in SKIL Note 41) is ever-decreasing population.

“In notes 42-65 I explain that a one child per woman behavior must be adopted until population is so small there is essentially no meaningful scarcity. My estimate for earth’s sustainable human population (where scarcity does not lead to civilization collapse) is below 100 million.”

It is about the possibility of having another life, of letting go of the stuff around us and examining our deepest fears.

Its about making connections with others—about networking, about supporting each other.

People seem to think that their possessions somehow validate their existence when in fact this isn’t true at all.
Again, what are your fears:
Never falling in love again


Failing to meet your potential
At least two of those contain elements that are beyond your control
A bittersweet goodbye to the industrial age as we celebrate its accomplishments and recognize the terrible price paid for reaching such incredible hights.
An affirmation of its conclusion and a turn to face what’s coming next.

The bicycle as the image of the tiny figure in the sublime landscape.—the industrial sublime. To accept nature’s will—to be forced to move with the seasons and the rhythms of nature.

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