Humanity faces what many see as the most important decision in its history – to move from nonrenewable fossil fuels as the primary source of energy to renewable sources that could, some believe, allow us to achieve higher civilization status.
In 1964, astronomer Nikolai Kardashev devised a method to categorize future civilizations based on energy consumption. Type 1 utilizes all solar energy striking its planet, Type 2 controls all the energy in its solar system, Type 3 harnesses power from multiple stars in its galaxy, and Type 4, a category added recently by other scientists, derives power from its entire universe.
Researchers list characteristics for each category. Type 1 citizens have become a global village with a single voice. They enjoy a scarcity-free economy, without strife; and have eliminated earthquakes and destructive weather. In the brief video below, physicist Michio Kaku says we could reach Type 1 in 100 years.
Type 2, reachable in 200 years, some say, can build space colonies throughout their solar system. Type 3, achievable by millennium’s end, forward-thinkers believe, can control wormholes and black holes, allowing travel instantly to anywhere in the universe, and backwards and forward through time.
Type 4 lives in a world beyond our wildest imaginings of science fiction. They can visit their ‘other selves’ in parallel worlds create new universes and play ‘creator’ to lifeforms that evolve (think Star Trek’s “Q”. It may take several millennia to reach this wonder-time, but experts say this is humanity’s future.
Today, physicists rate Earth at Type .7. In The Runaway Universe, astronomer Don Goldsmith reminds us that we receive only one billionth of the suns energy, and we utilize just one millionth of that.
In order to see a clearer picture of how we might advance in the future, Kardashev-type ratings have been assigned to past evolutionary events. We begin at the dawn of humanity:
400,000-250,000 years ago, Type .0 – Wikipedia identifies this period as the time when Homo sapiens split from the great apes and evolved as modern humans in Africa.
150,000 years ago, Type .1 – In Cooking and Cognition: How Humans Got So Smart, anthropologist Philipp Khaitovich explains how emergence of the hearth allowed humans to eat cooked food for the first time. This raised caloric intake, sent more energy to the brain, which boosted human intelligence levels.
100,000 years ago, Type .2 – A Sumatra volcano eruption caused a 1,400-yr freeze, which nearly drove humans’ extinct, reducing populations to fewer than 10,000. This prompted cooperation between tribes. Illinois anthropologist Stanley Ambrose calls this the “troop-to-tribe transition.”
90,000 years ago, Type .3 – Humans left Africa for the Near East 90,000 years ago; then to Australia 50,000 years ago, Europe 40,000 years ago and America 12,000 years ago. This desire to explore new lands is still with us today as we dream of one day developing colonies in space.
50,000 years ago, Type .4 – Physiologist Jared Diamond in The Third Chimpanzee says this is when humans first made clothes from hides, buried their dead, and created artistic cave paintings.
10,000 years ago, Type .5 – Human culture began, with agriculture and political hierarchies, including primitive economic divisions of labor.
2,000 years ago, Type .6 – Local communities merge into larger cities, led by dominant leaders, with lower-class members producing food and products consumed by the upper-class.
Today, Type .7 – We’ve mapped the human genome, conquered deadly diseases, equipped most people on Earth with cell phones, and are about to create space colonies on the Moon and Mars.
However, to be considered Type 1, we must build an economy where people can trade freely, create global democracy with equal rights for everyone, and harness all our planet’s renewable energy sources. This is a tall order, but positive futurists believe that technologies will enable humanity to achieve this miracle by 2100, and enjoy what promises to become an amazing “magical future.”
Dick Pelletier is a weekly columnist who writes about future science and technologies for numerous publications. He's also appeared on various TV shows, and he blogs at Positive Futurist.