Friday, February 02, 2007

Type 0.7

I'm shaking my head in bewilderment and handing you a book, open to page 307... trust me, you have to read this:

To understand the technology of civilizations thousands to millions of years ahead of ours, physicists sometimes classify civilizations depending on their consumption of energy and the laws of thermodynamics. When scanning the heavens for intelligent life, physicists do not look for little green men but for civilizations with the energy output of type I, II, and III civilizations. The ranking was introduced by Russian physicist Nikolai Kardashev in the 1960s for classifying the radio signals from possible civilizations in outer space. Each civilization type emits a characteristic form of radiation that can be measured and catalogued.

A type I civilization has harnessed planetary forms of energy. Their energy consumption can be precisely measured: by definition, hey are able to utilize the entire amount of solar energy striking their planet, or 1016 watts. With this planetary energy, they might control or modify the weather, change the course or hurricanes, or build cities on the ocean. Such civilizations are truly masters of their planet and have created a planetary civilization.

A type II civilization has exhausted the power of a single planet and has harnessed the power of an entire star, or approximately 1026 watts. They are able to consume the entire energy output of their star and might conceivably control solar flares and ignite other stars.

A type III civilization has exhausted the power of a single solar system and has colonized large portions of its home galaxy. Such a civilization is able to utilize energy from 10 billion stars, or approximately 1036 watts.

Each type of civilization differs from the next lower type by a factor of 10 billion. Hence a Type III civilization, harnessing the power of billions of star systems, can use 10 billion times the energy output of a type II civilization, which in turn harnesses 10 billion times the output of a type I civilization. Assuming a civilization grows at a modest rate of 2 to 3 percent in its energy output per year... we can estimate that our current civilization is approximately 100 to 200 years from attaining type I status. It will take roughly 1,000 to 5,000 years to achieve type II status and 100,000 to 1,000,000 years to achieve type III status....

To describe our present day civilization, astronomer Carl Sagan advocated creating finer gradations between civilization types. Type I, II, and III civilizations, we have seen, generate a total energy output of roughly 1016, 1026, and 1026 watts, respectively. Sagan introduced a type I.1 civilization, which generates 1017 watts of power, a type I.2 civilization, which generates 1018 watts of power, and so on. By dividing each type into ten smaller subtypes, we can begin to classify our own civilization. On this scale, our present civilization is more like a type 0.7—within striking distance of being truly planetary....

But the transition from type O to type I is also the most perilous, because we still demonstrate the savagery that typified our rise from the forest. In some sense, the advancement of our civilizations is a race against time. On one hand, the march toward a type I planetary civilization may promise us an era of unparalleled peace and prosperity. On the other hand, the forces of entropy (the greenhouse effect, pollution, nuclear war, fundamentalism, disease) may yet tear us apart. Sir Martin Rees sees these threats, as well as those due to terrorism, bioengineered germs, and other technological nightmares, as some of the greatest challenges facing humanity. It is sobering that he gives us only a fifty-fifty chance of successfully negotiating this challenge.

I could include the bit about type IV civilizations, but isn't your brain already hurting?

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