In the roughly 2.5 million years we’ve been on Earth, humanity has done a lot. We’ve been through several distinct time periods like the Stone age, the Bronze age, and the Iron age.
With the advent of modern technology, humans quickly began looking into ventures that take place outside of Earth. The space race kicked off in 1955 between the USA and the USSR which catalyzed our technology for space travel. In 1969, we managed to set foot on the moon courtesy of Niel Armstrong, Mike Collins, and Buzz Aldrin.
Our technology has grown exponentially in the last few decades. One might wonder, what is the possible limit of growth that we can achieve as a species? To answer that question, the Soviet astronomer, Nikolai Kardashev, invented a scale back in 1964 called the Kardashev scale.
What is the Kardashev scale?
The Kardashev scale calculates the level of advancement by the means of how much energy a civilization is able to utilize. As we continue to discover new ways to harness the energy around us, we gain points on the scale.
There are 3 levels defined by the Kardashev scale: Type-1, Type-2, and Type-3.
A Type-1 civilization is able to make use of all the energy available on its home planet. In our case, it’s the Earth.
Type-2 civilizations are those which manage to harness the entire energy of their home star. For humanity, that would be the Sun.
Type-3 civilizations are theorized to be the most advanced form of species out there. They are capable of taking advantage of all the energy available in their galaxy. In our case, it’s the Milky Way.
How much energy does each civilization use?
The figures are not exact, but estimates. A Type-1 civilization will consume 10^16 W of power. A Type-2 civilization will need 10^26 W of power and Type-3’s will need 10^36 W.
How do you calculate the civilization level?
Kardashev did not explain much. So, Carl Sagan came up with a formula that tells us how to calculate where we stand.
He suggested using the available data (power level needed for each type) as intermediate values in a scale and thus came up with the following formula:
P is defined as the current level of power consumption and K is the overall rating of the civilazation on the Kardashev scale.
Where does humanity stand?
In 1973, the scale calculated humanity’s level as 0.70. This means that we’ve progressed 70% on the scale and are only 30% away from attaining the Type-1 civilization status.
A calculation done in 2018 suggests that our civilization level is at 0.73.
The famous physicist and futurist, Michio Kaku, suggests that our current power consumption will propel us to a Type-1 status in about 100-200 years. It will take a few thousand years to reach Type-2 and about a million years to reach Type-3 status.
That is of course, if we don’t blow our planet up with nuclear warheads.
The inspiration to write this short blurb came from this amazing illustration done by Kurzgesagt. Be sure to check it out!
For more intersting science content, check out what happens when you talk to plants!