Friday, April 20, 2007

The ELE Series—Measuring Our Future

I recently mentioned the Kardashev Scale and how it classifies our civilization as a Type 0.7, where a Type 1.0 civilization can harness the energy of an entire planet. Within my life, we've rocketed from a Type 0.67 to a Type 0.71 civilization and we'll likely exceed a Type 0.74 by the time I'm pushing up the daisies. Some scientists suggest we'll reach a full Type I civilization by 2200, followed by Type II by 5200, and finally a Type III by 7800.

Uh, what?

Okay, here's all that in kidspeak:

Type I = Harnessing a planet's energy = Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy (where Mars is terraformed)

Type II = Harnessing a solar system's energy = United Federation of Planets in Star Trek

Type III = Harnessing energy from multiple solar systems = The Galactic Republic in Star Wars

Type IV = Mastery of space-time itself = the Time Lords in Doctor Who or the Q Continuum in Star Trek

Most of these projections are (of course!) wildly hypothetical, but there must be some use—or comfort, at a bare minimum—in knowing where our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren are headed... even if it's off course by a few decades.

How does all this relate to extinction level events? Because over the course of Earth's history, several ELE's nearly signaled the complete termination of life on Earth... which would have obviously slammed the brakes on any civilization advancement at all. Most ELE's aren't one trick ponies, either—they're return customers, meaning we've got to cowboy up if we're going to survive—and thrive. So far, thanks to blind luck (or divine protection, if that's your preferred flavor), we keep bouncing back after these catastrophic close calls, even if it does take millions of years. The fact remains, though: any one of those ELE's could change that in a hurry.

So what are these ELE's, exactly?

Tomorrow, you'll meet the first terrifying monster in the closet—The Oort Cloud.

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