Human civilization has achieved some incredible things during its short reign on this planet. We’ve been to the Moon, we can create vaccines to fight-off pandemics and we’re even on the cusp of having flying cars. Oh, and we’ve had quite the effect on our planet’s climate. Not exactly an achievement to be proud of, but at least it shows that we’re a big deal, right?
Wrong. We’re not even a “Type 1” civilization and we won’t be until about 2371 according to NASA scientists. Even then it’s not inevitable; we could be on the cusp of being filtered-out of existence if we can’t stop destroying our own planet.
A new paper published online and supported by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory states that to reach even the basic level of a “Kardashev Type 1 civilization” we must do two things:
- Develop more advanced technology and save it with all responsible nations.
- Make renewable energy accessible to all parts of the world.
We’re talking governments and private businesses, and we’re talking cooperation. Otherwise, warn the authors, humanity cannot avoid the “Great Filter” and will not reach the status even of a basic cilivization.
What is a ‘Kardashev Type 1 civilization?’
As defined in 1964 by Nikola Kardashev, a Soviet astronomer, a Type 1 civilization is able to store and use all the energy available on its planet. We’re not even close to that. He actually defined three types of civilizations to aid those searching for signs of life elsewhere in our galaxy and beyond:
- Type 1 or “planetary” civilization: has harnessed all major forms of energy available from its home planet and also includes the energy received by the home world from its parent star.
- Type 2 or “stellar” civilization: can obtain and store all the energy its parent star releases, probably through things like Dyson spheres. Power consumption is ten orders of magnitude more than a Type 1 civilization.
- Type 3 or “galactic” civilization: can access and control much of the energy the entire galaxy generates. Any civilization that can do that can probably also manipulate space-time itself, creating wormholes to enable travel to any point in the Universe, say the authors.
Another paper published in 2021 predicts that we’ll reach Type 1 status in 2347, though the authors of this new paper disregard that as slightly optimistic. Not that they’re pessimistic. “Technological development over the past 5,000 years of human civilization has led our species to dominance of life on Earth and placed us on a pathway to achieving a Type I civilization – and perhaps beyond,” reads the paper. “Technological progress has placed in humanity’s hands the future of our world and every living creature upon it.”
However, there’s a problem.
What is the ‘Great Filter?’
Here’s the kicker—we might not reach Type 1 status because we may die-off long before, having ruined the planet we depend upon.
It’s all hinges on what happens next with our energy consumption, say the authors, as our civilization massively reduces its consumption of fossil fuels and transits to renewable and nuclear energy. “Humanity should strive to achieve a dramatic energy transition during 2020 to 2050 … to solve at least the most pressing of environmental problems which stand in the path of development to a higher order civilization,” reads the paper. “If this outcome holds, humanity may well avoid a future beset with the more severe environmental problems posed by excessive CO2 emissions.”
The other option is “the grim prospect of backsliding into a primal state,” according to the paper. “Such threats can arise from the reckless generation and usage of energy leading to environmental, biological and/or sociopolitical collapse and must be guarded against ever more robustly as humanity’s technical prowess continues to outrun our capability to manage our increasingly complex society.”
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.