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


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Oil Drum:

From a peak oil perspective, the notion of returning to days of vibrant economic growth is simply not in the cards. Economic growth takes oil; world production has already started to drop; and there will be much competition for that which is left. While gasoline is currently cheap, three to five years from now it won't be, as a combination of slowly increasing rates of oil depletion and lack of investment in new production will lead to shortages and growth-stifling prices.
Weight at departure: 129.4

I’m on the road after a one-day delay due to the catastrophic failure of my digestive system. I don’t know… maybe food poisoning, perhaps the stomach flu… certainly bad. Not to paint too horrifying a picture but my body has been liquefying everything I eat and passing it straight through. Anyway, it’s consistent with my established pattern of being in poor health at the beginning of long, physically demanding journeys.
I was planning to kick off stage two by documenting the iconic “mothball fleet,” a rusty assemblage of Navy and merchant ships anchored in Suisun Bay, but you can’t get anywhere near these vessels without a boat of your own. They’re part of the National Defense Reserve Fleet and can supposedly be readied for service within 120 days in the event of a national emergency (requiring a significant increase in shipping capacity). Probably most will end up being sold for scrap.

Just up the road from the floating rust buckets is Valero’s Benicia refinery. The sprawling facility is equipped with a subterranean network of bunkers built into a nearby hilltop. As far as I could tell, they’re meant to be the safest places for terrified refinery workers when things go to hell. Imagine being trapped underground while thousands of gallons of highly combustible liquid hydrocarbons burn hopelessly out of control on the surface. Although there were no towering infernos on this particular day, I did stop to watch the installation of a new pipeline: an improvement to the refinery’s asphalt producing annex.

Images of imported automobiles stockpiled at shipping ports have become alarmingly common lately. A company called AMPORTS, which “processes” imports at the Port of Benicia, has spots for 42,000 vehicles. They must be close to capacity because they had cars packed in just about everywhere they could park them.
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.

It was finally time to move on today after bumming around the bay area for over a week. Ryan, Sameer, and Carey were each incredibly generous and I will miss them and their homes immensely. Their kindness made it that much more difficult to leave a part of the world which I already adore.
The separation anxiety was tempered by a day of riding that couldn’t have been more different from the miserable experience that was day one. The sun was brilliant, the winds were favorable, and my body felt healthy and strong. I put eighty miles of hilly coastline behind me with effort to spare. In one exceptional moment of pure elation, I found myself being blown down a long steep hill, the windswept Pacific to my right, with BOC’s Dayvan Cowboy piped in from the shuffle.

After leaving the city, the first conspicuously tall structure to appear on the horizon was CEMEX's Davenport cement plant. During its 100+ years in operation, the facility has provided the primary building material for a long list of megaprojects. My favorite among them is the California Aqueduct, or as I prefer to call it: the river that flows uphill. Davenport residents are breathing a little less mercury this spring due to a scheduled six-month closure of the plant: undoubtedly the result of an economy that is not producing a whole lot demand for their product.

I’ll be hangin’ loose in Santa Cruz for the next few days, trying to figure out which of the town’s abundant coffeehouses is best for meeting girls working in.
Thanks Jeff-- $20

Thanks Ryan and Keely

Cary (and housemates)

Premises under which the project operates:

The reader may or may not accept the following premises as fact, regardless, they must be clearly stated. They form the foundation on which later points will be based.
1.) Growth is dead.

The main reason is that the global economy is being deprived of the single most important ingredient necessary to maintain growth.--
2.) The global human population is well beyond permanent carrying capacity. This overshoot has been made possible using phantom carrying capacity supplied by vast inputs of hydrocarbons.
3.) We are entering a new paradigm of numbers getting smaller—de-growth, de-industrialization, post-exuberance, etc.

1.) Gather and present evidence of an empire in decline:
2.) Highlight the aesthetics and spirituality of the post-exuberant age.
3.) Develop a skill set for post-exuberant living:

Being on the outside as a necessary point of reference from which to observe the decline. From the inside you are biased and prone to denial and self-deception—the unwillingness to accept that your support network is unsustainable and going to eventually become unrecognizable.

4.) Evidence of new support systems coming up through the cracks in the old system.

5.) To get people to stop torturing themselves and abandon the growth/money economy—this requires trust—evidence that it can be done. Forget about economic recovery, forget about your advertising career, just let go—reconnect with the world.

to get others (readers)—a relatively small group of individuals, to step forward—to draw these people out, to identify those ready to begin the process and to encourage them the be excited about rather than dread the coming age of contraction.
Why Abandonments?

Our industrial sites are tangible reminders of the process of succession as applied to human communities and living patterns. To highlight the beauty that’s revealed in this process of deterioration. These sites actually become more alive, richer, and more beautiful as time and the elements work their magic. They are a prelude the increasingly de-industrialized world in our future. We shouldn’t fear this place or consider the project of civilization a failure for having failed to reach it’s ambitions—(never did get those flying cars). Plus, seeing such structures as symbols of renewal and rebirth may help to mitigate the anxiety and frustration that is sure to characterize the post exuberant age. It’s comforting to know that these places naturally drift toward greater complexity, diversity, and beauty. We shouldn’t be so quick to destroy them and erect new ugliness in their place.
Why energy infrastructure/Oil?

Oil will be the limiter for the developed nations—it will be the essential substance in short supply—the first thing to limit carrying capacity.
Ran on the changes to come:

As I've said many times, I don't believe in the coming instant and obvious "Crash". Whatever future historians call it, we are in it now, and this is what it looks like: banks failing, people losing their jobs, weather getting more extreme, cities bulldozing abandoned houses to prevent the poor from living free, adaptable people learning to grow food and catch rainwater and repair things. These changes will continue for years, and bring new changes, until we're living in a radically different world.

Also, I don't think we're coming to the end of manufacturing, high technology, big systems, or suffering. The main thing we're coming to the end of is growth. The present system is designed for a world where the numbers keep getting bigger forever, and as the numbers get smaller, it will fall apart. And then the surviving parts will adapt and form new complex systems that do not require perpetual growth. I don't know if there will still be cars or computers in 50 years, but overall I expect the ongoing crisis to drive a surge in human creativity.
Marin Headlands:

The rugged terrain immediately north of the Golden Gate has, since the 1890s, been the chosen strategic position from which to defend the bay and bridge from enemy attack. The hillsides are littered with a variety of military fortifications built over seventy years to guard against a periodically updated list of potential threats. Having never been called into action, the abandoned bunkers and batteries are currently suffering the ravages of urine and spray-paint that befall such sites whose locations are widely known. Although it’s a bit disheartening to witness the accelerated decomposition of these structures at the hands of tourists and teenagers from the city, there’s consolation to be found in the fact that they were designed to withstand far more destructive forces.
wikipedia article

37°49'27"N 122°31'42"W

Getting in and out of this dark place was relatively difficult. At one point I found myself, having just negotiated a narrow gap between a pair of two-by-fours, hanging some distance off a concrete floor hidden beneath liquid of unknown depth. (The inevitable drop was unkind to my right ankle, which later swelled dramatically.) Fortunately, the visit was well worth the painful price of admission. The wooden planks that cover this basin have swelled and contracted enough that sunlight streams in through abundant gaps. Swirling dust is illuminated in diagonal shafts of light mirrored by the watery floor. Scraggily creepers, sent on a fruitless search for nutrients by healthy plants above, dangle from the ceiling. The white noise of city traffic is intermittently punctuated by the unusually distinct splash of drips percolating through from the surface. This dazzlingly beautiful place appears to wait patiently for the day when it will again be called upon to collect drinking water for the citizens of San Francisco.

I couldn’t resist the temptation to return to Hunter’s Point. It had been calling me back since the first visit and could no longer be ignored. I chose a quiet Sunday morning and emerged on the roof of the shipyard’s tallest structure in time to witness the sun clear the horizon across the bay. With not a soul around, I was free to explore at leisure. I poked into workshops where fragments of half disintegrated equipment littered the ground like leaves on a forest floor. I descended an escalator (allegedly once the world’s tallest) that led to a cavernous space drenched in enough light to support its own grassy meadow. “Blue room” was more orange and green in the a.m. light, with long golden shafts projected across its red-tiled floor.
Blue Room

On a wall in the stairwell leading up to this place, someone scribbled: "heaven this way." The otherworldly character of the space does imbue it with an undeniably spiritual, perhaps even divine, essence. At the very least it’s one of the most breathtaking interiors I’ve found myself in. Its ethereal beauty owes much to the thin layer of water that covers its floor. Of course, this feature was never part of the room’s original design. A sequence of changes, that began only after it was abandoned by its human occupants, had to occur for the space to be elevated to its current condition. Windows shattered, floor drains clogged with debris, and a leaky roof failed to keep out the pounding rains of winter.
Skills posts:

  1. shoplifting food

  2. shitting outdoors—the beday method—psychological barrier that prevents one from getting too far from plumbing for too long
  3. managing your small collection of personal possessions—each with a lot of value—when constantly changing locations.—don’t allow yourself to put things down in too many places—group them and you’ll be less likely to leave something behind. The only thing I’ve lost so far is a bar of soap in a plastic soap box.

  4. Sleeping in unusual locations

Add to SF Naval Shipyard text: Could somebody get on saving this place? I don’t know… lawyers?

Donation Gift Additions:

  1. Celibacy

  2. Dream Water Bottle—the London square Karla dream

  3. Diablo Canyon Package:

    • Photograph stolen from the Diablo Canyon Information Center

    • Point Buchon Trail Map

    • Brochures

    • Sample Nuclear fuel pellet

  4. A place to settle down: I’ve been asked several times if any place I’ve been to has really called to me to stay. A place with just the right combination of attractive elements to make it desirable enough to give up the road. i’ll send you the name and location of the place I find the most appealing as a place to settle— (maybe top three) this may also be the most difficult place to leave. You can either keep it a secret, potentially moving there yourself of you can intentionally ruin it by posting it on FaceBook. Note: this one may take several years—in the butane category—take ambiguous image of SB architecture and landscaping for this gift

  5. Take ecstasy with me…

External Posts:

  1. And why is everyone picking on the homeless?

  2. Trampled in the shopping rush

Thank You:

  1. Lorenzo Parra, Bicycle Connection, Lompoc, CA: inner tube

  2. Tony and Shalini Tolani: Vegetarian Restaurant Meal

  3. Marion: $20—80 years old and heading to Patagonia
  4. Ellie at Diablo Canyon Information Center: Taking my calls and providing information

  5. Jeff Palumbo: $20

  6. Sameer—food and “watch out for bears” mix

  7. The kids at for the food, wine, and sharing your campfire.

  8. Terry in Gorda for the extra shot of espresso

  9. Dennis (the guard at the mine): for allowing forbidden photography

  10. Jessica Iverson

  11. Alex Z

  12. Stephanie—for the pair of fiber-one bars

  13. Nick, Leslie, Nathan, Jessica

Things to relate:

  1. Color-changing pen and the woman

  2. “Oh, my prosthetic third eye—yeah, it was taking too long to evolve an eye in the back of my head by traditional means.


  1. Domestic nightmare at ryan’s

  2. Retard hike/girl/boy scout award (family guy head)

Ran on the new territory of the coming age:

In the coming age, the money economy will be shrinking, or stable, or bouncing up and down, but never steadily growing. The rich will no longer have the political support of the middle class, because without a "rising tide that lifts all boats", middle class people will no longer believe that they'll be rich some day. There may not even be a middle class! But it won't be like the 20th century third world, because those societies were dominated by economic growth in the first world. We are entering completely new territory: an age with high technology, highly complex societies, cities, corporations, governments, socialists, anarchists, pirates, global commerce and communication, but without increasing numbers. How it will play out is anyone's guess.

see, Kunstler thinks a return to early 20th century morality is the best way to deal with our changing circumstances. Like if the builders of new structures would just take responsibility for making sure they’re of high quality—civic beauty. But we’ve been doing things as cheap as possible for so long that it’s anyone’s guess as o whether these values will ever return to practice.
Davis Brownlands:
When I was growing up in this valley town, a food processing plant stood here. I believe they made ketchup. When the north wind blew it filled our neighbor with the pungent smell of boiling tomatoes. I came back one day after being off in the world for several years and the site had changed dramatically: the buildings were gone. It was like a bomb had gone off and everything over fifteen inches just blew away. What remains is a vast concrete slab with hearty primary colonizer plant species exploiting its cracks.
For some reason, the bulldozers spared a water tower that’s now a favorite hangout for teens looking to escape the prying eyes of parents and law enforcement. The view from the structure’s top is quite lovely and provides a good aerial look at the piles of concrete rubble and twisted rusty rebar.
My first experience with this variety of odd urban void was in Chicago. A large parcel of land, just south of the loop, has been left undeveloped because whatever industrial process was removed left a legacy of contaminated soil that can’t be built upon at it’s current level of toxicity. The high cost of removing and properly disposing of thousands of tons of dirt and debris makes redevelopment a prohibitively expensive proposition.

Spending time in the Brownlands, a term borrowed from the Chicago site, one feels removed and isolated despite proximity to a population center. I also associate being there with exclusiveness: an impression that has much to do with squeezing through a small gap in a fence in order to gain access. The chain-link barrier filters out everyone but the most modestly sized, as well as anyone unwilling to become a trespasser. But the reward is worth the risk. Once inside, it’s possible to observe (up close) the forces with which nature is reclaiming the space: reshaping it according to it’s own vision. The gradual process of ecological succession is a process of healing. Perhaps in patiently bearing witness to its subtleties, we might augment the restoration of ourselves.

Day Fourteen: Santa Cruz, CA to Moss Landing, CA
An unintentional sleep-in translated to a late start out of Santa Cruz. I had been up till all hours sitting in the backyard darkness reading National Geographic’s cover article: Our Vanishing Night. Collin and her housemates (and their boyfriends) were incredibly good hosts and I rolled out of SC with nothing but fondness for the place. I’d selected a favorite coffeehouse, strolled a farmer’s market with my fingers covered in sticky sweet dates, and gotten way too stoned.
The breeze that carried me out of town smelled of strawberries and heather. I passed the KOA where I had long ago camped with a girlfriend and another couple. It triggered the memory I have of us waking up in the middle of the night on hard ground after our air mattress sprung a leak and deflated.
The town of Moss Landing is Monterey Bay’s midpoint and an easy thirty miles from Santa Cruz. It has a small harbor and a sleepy downtown with a couple of restaurants and a few struggling antique dealers. There was still plenty of daylight left upon arrival and I went to work documenting the power plant I’d come to behold.
As extended twilight gave way to darkness I scrambled down a steep bank to the harbor-side campsite I’d selected earlier. Although the site felt secluded, it was directly across the highway from the plant and steam could be seen drifting seaward above a canopy of Eucalyptus. A cushy matt of edible wild lettuce (I planned to munch on in the morning) added extra comfort to my normal bedding.

Tucked in and preparing to drift off, I took stock of all the ambient sounds I could positively identify. Among them: a fog horn, the barks and grunts of sea lions, the squawks of gulls, small harbor waves lapping against nearby rocks, Highway One road traffic, the high-pitched whine of plant turbines, and the wind rustling leaves overhead. Earplugs were never such a godsend.

Moss Landing Power Plant
Those twin 500-foot stacks with the lovely blue tips belong to supercritical steam units 6 and 7. Approaching half a century of service, the units employ outdated technology and are only run during periods of high demand. Even with the addition of selective catalytic reduction and digital control systems in 1998, the units and their iconic towers are nearing the end of their working lives. The plant added two shiny new combined-cycle units in 2002 that have since done most of the work.
wikipedia page

36°48'17"N 121°46'57"W
Day Fifteen: Moss Landing, CA to Lucia, CA
It was not to be the luxurious night sleep I had hoped for. The cacophony catalogued the night before induced some exceptionally odd dreams and there were several early morning events impossible to sleep through. I remember being woken first by the blinding lights of a fishing trawler leaving the harbor, then again some time later by a pair of loud steam bursts released from the plant. A shower of fine mist followed each blast, adding to the terror and confusion of being ripped from sleep by thirty seconds of deafening white noise. Listening to a sea otter choke on his breakfast was what finally compelled me to give up and greet the day.

With my breakfast of leafy greens looking much less appetizing in light of the power plant’s midnight sneezes, I packed up and left my hidden grove. My first stop was the plant’s security gate where I inquired about the availability of a tour. The pudgy woman in the booth (apparently not accustom to visitors rolling up on bicycles; asking to be “shown around”) was a bit taken aback and responded to my request with a line I’ve come to despise: “Not since 9/11.”

The first magical moment of the day was spotting this pair of cell phone towers. Beyond what appeared to be a redundancy in placing them so close together, one screamed its identity while the other was poorly disguised as an evergreen.
I’m delighted to report that the economic downturn does not seem to have affected life on the Monterey Peninsula. People were out in droves, golfing, painting the seacoast, walking their dogs, and riding around in large vehicles. The wildflowers were blooming and the weather was perfect.
Beyond Pebble Beach Golf Mecca and the old money village of Carmel-By-the-Sea is the rugged

Big Sir Coastline. This dramatic landscape is normally experienced through the windows of an automobile flying along at whatever maximum speed the hairpin turns and steep grades will allow. Abundant pullouts and vista points provide opportunity for crappy digital photography. What ends up occurring is a kind of spasmodic movement of autos along the route as everyone stops for the same view then tries to make up time by gunning it to the next one.
I realized while biking this section of coastline that the people in the cars passing me all day must form one of two very different impressions of the kind of time I’m having, and that which impression they got was likely based on whether I was climbing or descending when they passed. For example, descending: “Shit, he’s really moving—what a rush!” And climbing: “Yeah that looks really hard—why would anyone do that?”
While we shared a pullout, a gentleman driving an RV told me I was crazy. My response: “No sir, for it is you who is crazy. To see this land by any other means is to deny its glory.” Actually… that’s a lie; I laughed and agreed with him.

I arrived at a rather full Kirk Creek Campground in time to watch the sun sink into the Pacific. Everyone was anxiously awaiting “the green flash” that never seems to occur. I was delighted to discover that, having arrived under my own steam, I had priority in claiming one of four “hike in/bike in” campsites.
I had planned to eat the absurdly expensive zucchini bread I’d purchased from the only store within thirty miles then turn in, but a group of incredibly great people changed the course of my night. What started as an invitation to share their campfire quickly became hot food, wine, and a chance for me to talk about the project. The three couples were down from Berkeley where they maintain Among them was Casey Fenton, the service’s founder.

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