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


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California Valley

Much like Salton City, scheduled for early in Stage Three, California Valley is a failed development on the Carrizo Plain. Streets were laid out and lots sold, but almost no homes were ever built.
California Valley was an attempt at development of the high and dry Carrizo Plain, a wide, remote valley in the mountains west of the San Joaquin Valley. In the 1950's and 1960's, house lots were sold for small sums, often to buyers who were acquainted with the site only by brochures. Most of the lots were never built on, and the motel and gas station in town are open only occasionally. Much of this valley is now managed by the Nature Conservancy.

  1. Elk Hills Oil Field

The federal government operated this highly productive field for 86 years as part of the National Petroleum Reserve. In what is still the largest divesture in American History, it was sold to Occidental Petroleum in 1998 for $3.65 billion.

This is one of the most productive oil fields in the country, and for 86 years it was owned by the federal government as part of the National Petroleum Reserve. In 1998, it was sold to Occidental petroleum for $3.65 billion, the largest federal divestiture in American history. The National Petroleum Reserve was established in 1912 as a backup source of crude oil for the federal government, originally for the Navy (it is often still referred to as the Naval Petroleum Reserve). Four sites in the country comprised the Naval Petroleum Reserve: Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 2 is adjacent to Elk Hills, and encompasses another major oil field, the 30,000 acre Buena Vista field; No. 3 is near Casper, Wyoming, and No. 4 is in Alaska, and is shut down. The Reserve gained notoriety for the Teapot Dome scandal of the 1920's, which involved Elk Hills, but primarily the Teapot Dome reserve in Wyoming. Before being sold to Occidental, Elk Hills was owned by the Department of Energy, and had been selling its crude oil on the commercial market since 1977. In addition to producing over 1 billion barrels of oil since 1912, Elk Hills is the largest producer of natural gas and natural gas liquids in California, and is the11th largest oil field in the United States. Elk Hills is a 47,000 acre (75 square mile) field with over 1,000 individual oil pumping units, three power plants, and a co-generation facility.

  1. Lakeview Gusher

The single most productive oil well in California earned its title when it spewed an estimated nine million barrels before being brought under control a year and half after it was first tapped in 1910. A stone monument now stands in place of the 60-acre lake of crude that formed during that magical period of superabundance.
The most productive single oil well in California, spewed as much as 90,000 barrels of oil a day, for 18 months when it was first tapped in 1910. A 60-acre lake of oil formed on the site, on which several people floated about in small skiffs. Eventually 2000 wooden oil derricks were erected to drill for more in the area. Now marked with a stone monument.
Maybe—Frito Lay Kern Plant (tour)
Man made (the show)—crazy things that people built.
Dedicate stage three to that conservation biologist

Brownlands fire night

Buy the property for conservation purposes—it has to be found to be un-developable—worthless or it won’t be saved


The unfathomably gorgeous
That’s “tits”

But the actual reality is that they grew up together and fell in love in Petaluma the their lives took different paths but they’re hanging on even though its clear they got problems.—so it’s a love story in some ways

Small science fiction element on the level of ‘stalker’—remains vague, understated and under explained.
Always perfectly lit-- always
Point of view for this film—can’t be the male’s—makes is to autobiographical—I suggest otherwise

The protagonists version is that she’s a university student in anthropology, sophomore, dating this dude for research, they’re both looking into the “travelers”—a nomadic tribal group that lives off the scraps of humanity, him because he’s into their lifestyle as a survival method for the age of contraction.

Eric’s nightmare—climbing the hill—what’s on the other side is foggy greenbelt meadow.
About the one hair over dimension—the ideal reality—as you envision it—for most its relatively close to reality reality
The bicycling greenbelt grass/pavement analogy
The bicycle image as a gift from one’s ideal reality—leaking through—gorgeous frame shot in front of Amish fall background
Where is this going? What are the spiritual implications—
Cultural anthropology
Extremely beautiful
Always seen in perfect light

Fire light—on her face


Removing the hood when the fire flares up. Revealing golden hair— straight but with bounce.

She goes through her schedule, casually—not too much on it—but the sound of her voice is amazing.
yeah she did seem curious when I answered.
Documentation of the “bonfire event is audio recording—binaural—highlights, the entirety-- selections
Both from Petaluma

Knew in high school—not close

She went to school, he started traveling
Would like to be one of them but doesn’t connect, but for what reason—what is the foundation of her motivation? Something more deeply rooted than her area of study.
Had a feeling about both the bikes and that she was going to somehow be extremely attractive—or rather I’d hoped at least
Interested in “travelers”- nomadic tribes—traveling really light, with the seasons, dumpsters
Had that strange encounter
Surprise to see these two on the circuit—

So you live here in town, what do you do?

Go to school.


UCD. You?

I grew up here

Coming around the corner describing her beauty—it’s unclear whether or not she heard it.
We’re not going anywhere—we’re here riding our bikes around.

I’ll always have the skills to transport myself with relatively little help from any complex support systems that may not be functioning. Or functioning well at least

May you dream of sierra—
You cleared up your reality—you dissolved the unknown that was the source of anxiety in your dream
Tennis courts on right—people playing

There’s a hill—we look—it’s there

Trolley car filled with gymnastics girls—blue uniforms—trolley through the forest—awkward, given suspicious looks
Cement blue box metal door—girls deny him, saying no!
The recurring nightmare—over the hill—the unknown—what actually lies beyond is no nightmare but a beautiful foggy frosty greenbelt meadow that Brett goes riding across

The feeling of riding on frosty grass is like skiing, the sound is amazing, the bike drifts around corners. Induces giddiness

Both trying to become them but for different reasons—

Realize they’re after the same thing

Shakespearian in an un-tragic kind of way
Yeah how could they be a couple if this is true of her? Calls himself piss
Abducted by aliens – monkeys/chimps same experience of terror and confusion that humans would experience
This to further the parallel universe thread
I refuse to believe that people are only into stories with idyllic endings—they like tragedy, it appeals to they’re sensibilities. They like redemption, they like struggle as long as there’s beauty—as long as they can feel the earth healing
You would need to create.
Tiger in the rotted out boat.
Working in Corsica—one month to work on one project-- uninterrupted.
Another example of trying to write an interesting script by living an interesting life—by complicating your existence.
You could get close to Sierra by buying drugs from her.

even if most of these ventures miss their mark, as doubtless most of them will, the chance of finding useful strategies for a difficult future goes up with each alternative explored.

The end of the Age of Abundance promises to tip the world’s industrial economies into permanent contraction, leave political parties without the resources needed to buy support from increasingly needy constituencies, curtail the global military reach of industrial nations, and foreclose most of the options for the future on which industrial society relies.

The global warming story, if you boil it down to its bones, is the kind of story our culture loves to tell – a narrative about human power. Look at us, it says, we’re so mighty we can destroy the world! The peak oil story, by contrast, is the kind of story we don’t like – a story about natural limits that apply, yes, even to us. From the standpoint of peak oil, our self-anointed status as evolution’s fair-haired child starts looking like the delusion it arguably is, and it becomes hard to avoid the thought that we may have to settle for the rather less flattering role of just another species that overshot the carrying capacity of its environment and experienced the usual consequences.
It’s hard to think of a less popular claim to make these days.

The southern economy—all about suburban building. Motoring and air-conditioning. A dicey place. Allowed their towns and cities to commit suicide. Heedlessly destroy things.

Southwest—extremely troubled. Won’t support a population of any size.

Arizona, Phoenix, Tucson—AC, food, problems with heroic irrigation

Las Vegas already drying up and blowing away—construction projects just stopped—no horizon in the losses being incurred.

LA—water imported from elsewhere—entering a dryer period.

Boise, ID—better situation
Brownlands Settlement
To be used for stage three launch event when complete.
The object—to build a simple structure out of materials found on site

Cinderblocks, bricks, chunks of concrete, branches, mud,

Using an existing on-site form to build off of—


Passive solar heating

Maybe just an outdoor partly sheltered fire pit area.—ceremonial spiral

Possible stage three print adverts:

That image of you on the computer at dad’s new place: “probably how I’ll identify this time period many years from now.

An auditory adventure—with your glowing ear and freshly cut hair.
Good first date question: have you ever tried to exploit your looks? Sent an image to a modeling agency, had portraits taken, or at least intended to?
Enormous bank built/owned skyscrapers (like B of A’s) green tower in Manhattan, represent enormous concentrations of wealth—like piles of money. It’s like we’ve run out of places to put all this accumulated wealth so were piling it up here in the form of a spire—an enormous “green” phallus.
Budget for drugs—at least $100 (pharmaceuticals)
Centralia, PA—abandoned due to underground coal fire—will is burn for another 1000 years? Really?



I need your brain (again). You probably remember—I’m the guy who did the refinery video; you warned me not to trust anyone who offered to help. No one did.


I’ve been following your work for a long time; we did an interview quite a while back. I said this before but my work as a visual artist is heavily based on your writings. If anyone is going to “steal” your ideas and take them on the road, it’ll be me.


Speaking of taking it on the road, I finished my master’s at University of Chicago and rode my bicycle from the windy city to Portland, OR then down the coast to the Mexican border—a project I titled: The Illuminated Thread ( Along the way I shot video of energy infrastructure—power plants and refineries, and industrial abandonments. The next stage will take me from LA to Houston. Sites along the proposed route have been pre-selected and are described on the “about the project” page. I’ve spent the last few months reevaluating the project’s goals and trying to figure out how to fund ongoing research and bicycle-based travel. The goal is to spend the next five or so years pedaling through the world’s industrialized nations—maybe ending up in china, documenting and writing about the post-exuberant age, the deindustrial revolution, the age of limits—numbers getting smaller as you might put it.


The problem seems to be (as Greer pointed out recently) the story I want to tell—regarding the contraction phase of the industrial age, is one people commonly have trouble with. I’ve opened up the project’s goals to include elements of spirituality (post myth of progress) and positive aspects of the world deindustrialization is leading us toward, but what I’m most into are the hydrocarbon-based systems that built the industrial world, as well as megastructures and their potential to memorialize this brief and very special time in human history (“look what we built with all that ancient sunlight!”). Also, I would hope people are into stories that aren’t all bunny rabbits and sunshine—that contain the full range of human experience: from suffering and hardship to great joy and pleasure.


I was hoping you’d take a look at what I’ve done so far, read the project’s goals, and offer any advice you might have before I complete the critical project statement. Perhaps most important, what would you want to see and hear if you were sending a scout armed with an HD camcorder, binaural microphones and a hi-res WAVE recorder out into the world during this strange time? Something about the tiny figure passing through the sublime industrial landscapes of container ports, sprawling refinery complexes and nuclear power plants is greatly appealing to me but I need others on board—at least watching if not offering support. I’ve had huge writing blocks lately and I think it’s due to having absorbed too much information in too short a time, having not allowed enough time to process it and boil it down to what’s most relevant. This correspondence is an attempt to push through that with some thoughts from someone who’s understanding of the subject matter is deeper than my own.


Part of the project is leaning how to live and travel on the margins—as disconnected from the money economy as possible (sound familiar?). Bicycle touring requires a ton of calories but I estimate I could continue this for less than $12,000 a year. There would undoubtedly be some overlap in our audiences and I’d love it if you could do a post when I’ve got everything finalized. Whatever insight, suggestions, epiphanies come to mind would be greatly appreciated. I hope you dig the project. Along with Kunstler, Orlov and Greer, you’re a cornerstone of its conceptual underpinnings.


All the best,



navigation notes:


You may not approve of the site’s structure. I intentionally compress the images only minimally so the pages are large and cumbersome. I believe they’re worth waiting for. The vids are hosted on vimeo. The best way to see them smoothly is to hit play then pause until they’re fully loaded (they look best full screen). If you can’t watch them at all or would prefer not to wait for them, send me your address and I’ll mail you a DVD.


Past stages are available in the 'archive' but if you don’t feel like exploring I recommend these two:


‘Blue Room’

and ‘The Joy of Infinity’


the five project goals as they currently stand are at the top of the ‘about the project’ page.

I’m the project’s sole creator, creative director, videogragher, web designer, staff writer, photographer, audio technician, bicycle mechanic, and researcher.

I have no research assistants, no copy editors, no video editors, no web designers, no travel coordinator, no audio technician, no PR person, no financial advisor

I find the micro-movements required to pilot an automobile

I’m into the freedom of movement provided by the bicycle. Auto’s are

It’s not subject to the same regulation and ordering that keeps automobiles channeled in narrow grooves. There is much more improvisation, room for different kinds of maneuvers, use of different surface types—navigation of narrower spaces, against the regular flows—things that if you tried in a car you’d probably kill somebody, or at least end up in their living room.

Improvised use of space means turning when you want to, in whatever direction, going against sanctioned or established flows within the urban environment.
Skateboarders and rollerbladers enjoy a similar freedom from regimented use of urban space.
I like having an intimate knowledge of the cracks and bumps in the pavement along the paths and streets I use most often. This is a kind of tactile knowledge that doesn’t accompany driving.—this goes along with the awareness while riding thing.
Car post support—industrial ruins page 84
Re: demolition montage piece

The message seemed to be that there was no going back. If industrial demolition served to confirm this transformation at a local level, its message was communicated far and wide by the media and the Internet. The cultural meaning of deindustrialization is embedded in these universalized images of falling smokestacks and imploding factories.

Plant closings and their subsequent demolition are secular rituals that dramatize North America’s transition from industrialism to post-industrialism.

Not just about the inevitability of change, but about the obsolescence of the past.


The post-industrial ethos is graphically represented by the “wrecking ball,” the falling smokestack, the pulverized grain elevator, and the shattering implosion.

Falling smokestacks

Many of the cultural symbols, beliefs, and values that once fortified a sense of industrial order were cast into doubt by the demolition of industrial landmarks.

Public spectacle, festive mood, visual drama

But this innate appeal does not fully explain the continued fascination.

“provide the occasion for an important kind of ritual communication.”

A ritualized marker of economic change.

In viewing industrial demolition as a sign of social progress. Falling smokestacks, like other ritualized moments marking the economic transformation underway, are thus contested symbols.

Falling smokestacks have marked the triumph of the post-industrial era.


They make North America’s transition from industrialism to post-industrialism appear natural and inevitable.

***The importance of appearing honest and earnest***
New Reader Orientation
Welcome to The Illuminated Thread: a journey by bicycle into the murky unknown of the deindustrial age. You’ve come at an exciting moment. The first decade of the twenty-first century is behind us and Stage Three: Los Angeles to Houston is just over the horizon. If it’s your first time here let me suggest a few places to dig in:
The project’s goals and upcoming sites can be found on the ‘about the project’ page. If you’re thirsty for more, there’s a thorough Q & A section at the bottom.
A lot of ground has been covered already (Chicago, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego) and it’s all waiting for you in the ‘archive’.
Blue Room and The Joy of Infinity are video favorites from Stage Two. Stage One’s golden boy is Sonata 38. They look great full screen and the best way to avoid infuriating lag is to hit play then pause until they’re completely loaded. If you’re missing a plug-in or would prefer not to wait, I can send you a DVD. The whole collection can be viewed on my Vimeo page.
Down with words? There’s Brea: anatomy of an oil town, Simplot Soilbuilders,
and ____ as well as reams in between.
Finish the tour on the support page, pick out a donation gift and help get this bird off the ground. I’d like to be on the road again by the end of January but it won’t happen before another $1,700 is channeled into the project. Yes I realize it’s winter (not traditionally the best time for bicycle touring), but the days are already getting longer and I’m headed for the desert.

If you’d like to be added to the mailing list, have a burning question, or just wanna get in touch, I encourage intelligent communication. The email is brett [at sign] burnthefurniture [dot] com.

navigation note:

No, it’s not your connection or your imagination: the pages are large and cumbersome. I’ve intentionally applied only minimal compression to the site’s images. I hope you’ll agree they’re worth waiting for.
short clarifiers under each project goal:
Industrial ruins, refineries, power plants, heroic water diversion projects, mines, chemical dumps, megastructures, container ports, heavy industry, and boneyards: a long last look at the industrial world.
I’ll take a look improvised ground-up support systems as they emerge in the cracks of the old industrial model. Expect images of organic farms, co-ops, innovative recycling, repurposing and retrofitting efforts, intentional or lifeboat communities, sustainable building models, squatting, alternative modes of exchange including gift and barter economies, decentralized energy production, technological garage tinkering, and sites of ecological recovery.
Shitting outdoors, sleeping in marginal places, living on an extreme shoestring budget, being a good houseguest, dumpster diving, time management, situational awareness, intuitive navigation, the effect of transience on relationships, working with the weather and the seasons, and bicycle maintenance all fall into this category.

Were not going to do anything about overpopulation.

Process of attrition

Lower birth rates



Compromised immune systems
We see nothing around us that doesn’t indicate a breaking down of the old system—a transition to something new we don’t quite understand yet.

What to expect/what you’ll see:

As the old system disintegrates, bottom up efforts to provide for people’s needs will be increasingly common. These People growing their own food, creative repurposing, squatting, sustainable building practices, cooperatives, gift and barter economies, garage tinkering,

Anything local or ground-up intended to

this is mostly implicit in the project but…

OKCupid Profile:

I am evolved, adaptable, and composed.

My Self-Summary

I’m pretty convinced that industrial civilization has begun a long slow decline and that the complex systems that sustain us will falter and eventually fail in an energy scarce future. Air travel for the masses won’t be around much longer and we’ll all be growing our own food and milking goats in a decade or so. I might be living in a fantasy but it’s my fantasy, it’s comfortable, and it’s no more delusional than the managerial economics major who thinks there’s a job waiting for them when they graduate.

I went to graduate school in Chicago where I made instructional videos on how to destroy oil refineries. Then I rode my bicycle back to California.
I spend a lot of time alone and an abnormally high percentage of my budget on espresso.
I see human babies as larval intruders I’ll have to compete with for increasingly scarce resources. There are more than enough of us here already.
I’m a good listener, usually relaxed and easy going, sensitive to design and aesthetics, articulate and periodically hilarious.

I take exceptionally good care of myself and consume large quantities of kale and kefir.

What I’m doing with my life

I'm almost never asleep before three AM or awake before noon. I'm currently spending most of my hours in a cafe working on a long-term project called 'The Illuminated Thread': a multi-year bicycle tour through the world's industrialized nations ( Otherwise i'm cycling, running, shooting/editing video, at the market, listening to a KunstlerCast, or watching the sunset from the top of an abandoned water tower. I just started a side project: building an elaborate fire ring at a local brownfield site using only found materials.

I’m really good at

Giving relationship advice, photographing industrial ruins, cutting my own hair, detailing bicycles, accessing restricted areas, dancing like its 1987, whistling, building campfires...

The first things people usually notice about me

I'm eating cereal.

My favorite books, movies, music, and food

'The Picture of Dorian Grey' was incredibly influential (not in the "good" way) and the only book i've read twice. Catton's 'Overshoot' turned my world upside down.
Andrei Tarkovsky is far and away my favorite director: 'Stalker' and 'Nostalgia'
Really into female voices at the moment.

Chelsea Wolfe, El Perro Del Mar, Beach House, Chromatics, Sharon Van Etten, The XX

you can borrow my shuffle.

The six things I could never do without

My bicycle

My computer

A good facial moisturizer

(oh that's only three)

I spend a lot of time thinking about

The world that will supplant the industrial one.

On a typical Friday night I am

Tuesday is my Friday: dancing at Old Ironside's 'Lipstick' in Sacramento.

The most private thing I’m willing to admit here

I signed up because i thought the name was a reference to Radiohead's masterpiece. Wait... is it?

You should message me if

you're down to bundle up and pedal around on a moonlit night, chat about the collapse of industrial civilization, or picnic on abandoned private property.

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