Thursday, July 31, 2008

Skeptic Michael Shermer Article

Toward a Type 1 civilization

Our civilization is fast approaching a tipping point. Humans will need to make the transition from nonrenewable fossil fuels as the primary source of our energy to renewable energy sources that will allow us to flourish into the future. Failure to make that transformation will doom us to the endless political machinations and economic conflicts that have plagued civilization for the last half-millennium. We need new technologies to be sure, but without evolved political and economic systems, we cannot become what we must. And what is that? A Type 1 civilization. Let me explain.In a 1964 article on searching for extraterrestrial civilizations, the Soviet astronomer Nikolai Kardashev suggested using radio telescopes to detect energy signals from other solar systems in which there might be civilizations of three levels of advancement: Type 1 can harness all of the energy of its home planet; Type 2 can harvest all of the power of its sun; and Type 3 can master the energy from its entire galaxy. Based on our energy efficiency at the time, in 1973 the astronomer Carl Sagan estimated that Earth represented a Type 0.7 civilization on a Type 0 to Type 1 scale. (More current assessments put us at 0.72.) As the Kardashevian scale is logarithmic -- where any increase in power consumption requires a huge leap in power production -- we have a ways before 1.0. Fossil fuels won't get us there. Renewable sources such as solar, wind and geothermal are a good start, and coupled to nuclear power could eventually get us to Type 1.Yet the hurdles are not solely -- or even primarily -- technological ones. We have a proven track record of achieving remarkable scientific solutions to survival problems -- as long as there is the political will and economic opportunities that allow the solutions to flourish. In other words, we need a Type 1 polity and economy, along with the technology, in order to become a Type 1 civilization. We are close. If we use the Kardashevian scale to plot humankind's progress, it shows how far we've come in the long history of our species from Type 0, and it leads us to see what a Type 1 civilization might be like:,0,5301697.story

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