In 1964, Russian astrophysicist Nikolai Kardashev figured that civilizations can be categorized by the total amount of energy available to them. The Kardashev Scale, as it is called, proposed in 1964 by Nikolai Kardashev and modified in 1973 by Carl Sagan, now consists of 7 levels of civilizations based on their power consumption, and implicitly on their technological advancement and extension. We are currently considered a sub-global civilization, technically Type 0, but on our way to Type one. We’re in the process of finding a large source of sustainable energy, though we still depend on crude, organic sources of fuel, including wood, coal, and oil. A Type 1 Civilization on the Kardashev scale would be able to harness and store all of the energy from its home planet; capable of interplanetary spaceflight and communication; mega-scale planetary engineering; medical breakthroughs to eliminate disease and slow aging; multi-planetary government and interplanetary trade; species is tech augmented; but is still vulnerable to extinction. We have not quite achieved this level yet, but it is believed we will probably reach it soon. Many consider humans to be somewhere around .07 or .08 on the scale from type 0.
The Kardashev scale, originally designed by the Russian astrophysicist Nikolai Kardashev. It has 3 base classes, each with an energy disposal level: Type I (10¹⁶W), Type II (10²⁶W), and Type III (10³⁶W). First, it is important to note that the human race is not even on this scale yet. Since we still sustain our energy needs from dead plants and animals, here on Earth, we are a lowly Type 0 civilization. A Type 0 civilization is one that has yet to harness all of the energy output of its planet. This type of civilization is still in the process of utilizing unsustainable energy sources like fossil fuels. A Type I civilization that is capable of harnessing the total energy of its home planet, this is where we’re heading, whether we want it or not. The good part would be that we’d achieve an ultimate peak, the bad part is that we’d then soon have more energy demand than supply because evolution can’t be so easily halted. Type II, an interstellar civilization, capable of harnessing the total energy output of a star- this is the next stage in the evolution of a civilization, and presumes a level of technological development that allows for gigantic constructions and utmost efficiency. Type III, a galactic civilization, capable of inhabiting and harnessing the energy of an entire galaxy- here we start to venture into truly sexy science-fiction territory. Dr. Michio Kaku tends to believe that, all things taken into consideration, we will reach Type I in 100 – 200 years’ time. We have a long way to go before being promoted to a type I civilization.
We like to believe our society is technologically advanced; we’ve mastered our environment and we’re progressing forward exponentially. And while Moore’s Law, the observation that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles about every two years, is holding up with the rate at which computing power has advanced, we barely rank on the Kardashev scale.
Kardashev developed this thought experiment in 1964. Although we haven’t quite reached the first level on his scale, we are a relatively new civilization by his standards. The scale is hypothetical, but it is plausible if we are to consider how we might inevitably ascend to the next level. That’s why Nikolai Kardashev devised his eponymous scale, ranking civilizations primarily on the ways in which they harness energy; from there it goes on to assume a number of other intriguing possibilities. The amount of time required to reach his successive stages often requires millions and sometimes even billions of years. If a civilization can survive long enough to ascend one level without self-destructing, its chances would dramatically improve in continuing to further levels. A type I civilization should be able to tap into the full energy content emanating from its parent star. It could be the panacea to all the energy crises we have faced so far; blazing the trail for a prosperous future for mankind. Being at a tipping point regarding our civilization, we are currently exploring the possible alternatives to substitute the use of non-renewable energy sources such as coal. With the advent of new technologies backed by political will power, we can motion ways to explore a plethora of avenues concerning new energy sources, far from our wildest imaginations. As Isaac Asimov beautifully puts it, “today’s science fiction is tomorrow’s science fact” – as evinced by the groundbreaking innovations humanity has brought forth.
Energy methods such as the ‘cold fusion’ and matter-antimatter annihilation are at the core of the revolutionary energy sources. Cold fusion differs from the standard thermonuclear in the sense that it can take place at room temperature instead of the harsher stellar conditions. Progress towards ‘cold fusion’ has been at a standstill for decades. Nevertheless, an increasing number of studies from numerous parts of the world are now suggesting that the reaction could be initiated by muons which are essentially elementary particles comparable to the electron but much heavier. Researches led by Francisco Caruso at the Brazilian Centre for Physical Research have evinced the efficiency of such a method of energy usage, coupled with the concept of sustainability when harvesting vast amounts of energy.
As to what ensues when humanity finally makes it to a type I civilization is a source of heated debates. How will it impact our lifestyle? What are the benefits we are going to reap? And what are the associated potential hazards? Currently, humanity has not yet made it to a type I civilization since we do not use all the forms of energy on Earth. Being a type I means we’ll no longer be relying on fossils to drive our economy since they cannot be replenished and are unsustainable. Instead, we could use the more accessible forms of energy such as solar energy and wind. We could also start using natural disasters to our advantage, for example, using Tsunamis to derive a plentiful supply of energy. Such catastrophic events would be a boon for us and not a bane! It has also been suggested that we would be able to control the weather. Casualties from natural disasters would greatly be reduced, as we’d be able to predict their occurrences with much accuracy.
There would be a paradigm shift from a zero-sum tribal, in which the gain for a particular nation ensues the loss for the other to a globalist community, whereby all knowledge is digitized and available to one and all. A world where all states are democracies in which everyone has a franchise would be our fate. Basically, a type I civilization is a win-win game compared to the win-lose tribal world we’re used to. As long as there’s ample political will and economic opportunities unfold, such a civilization is not far from our reach!
This is the type of change we should work towards and be optimistic about.
Written by : Tooshar Dommun Harshil Seetaram