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Toward Kardashev Type I

It seems a good time to re-examine the venerable Kardashev scale marking how technological civilizations develop. After all, I drop Nikolai Kardashev’s name into articles on a regular basis, and we routinely discuss whether a SETI detection might be of a particular Kardashev type. The Russian astronomer first proposed the scale in 1964 at the storied Byurakan conference on radio astronomy, and it has been discussed and extended as a way of gauging the energy use of technological cultures ever since.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Jonathan Jiang, working with an international team of collaborators, spurs this article through a new paper that analyzes when our culture could reach Kardashev Type I, so let’s remind ourselves of just what Type I means. Kardashev wanted to consider how a civilization consumes energy, and defined Type I as being at the planetary level, with a power consumption of 1016 watts.

This approximates a civilization using all the energy available from its home planet, but that means both in terms of indigenous planetary resources as well as incoming stellar energy. So we are talking about everything from what we can pull from the ground – fossil fuels – or extract from planetary resources like wind and tide, or harvest through solar, nuclear and other technologies. If we maximize all this, it becomes fair to ask where we are right now, and when we can expect to reach the Type I goal.

Image: Russian astronomer Nikolai Kardashev (1932-2019). Credit: Physics-Uspekhi.

If the Kardashev scale seems arbitrary, it was in its time a step forward in the discussion of SETI, which in 1964 was an emerging discipline much discussed at Byurakan, for the different Kardashev types would clearly present different signatures to a distant astronomer. Type I might well be all but undetectable depending on its uses of harvested energy; in any case, it would be harder to spot than Types II and III, whose vast sources of power could result in stronger signals or observable artifacts.

Carl Sagan was concerned enough about Kardashev’s original definitions to refine them into a calculation, his thinking being that the gaps between the Kardashev types needed to be filled in with finer gradations. This would allow us to quantify where civilizations are on the scale. Sagan’s calculation would let us discover the present value for our own civilization using available data (as, for example, from the International Energy Agency) regarding the planet’s total energy capabilities. According to Jiang and team, in 2018 this amounted to 1.90 X 1013W, all of which, via Sagan’s methodology, takes us to a present value of Kardashev 0.728.

But let’s circle back to the other two Kardashev types. Type II can be considered a stellar civilization, which in Kardashev’s thinking means a ten orders of magnitude increase in power consumption over Type I, taking us to 1026W. Here we are using all the energy released by the parent star, and now the idea of Dysonian SETI swings into view, the notion that this kind of consumption could be observable through engineering projects on a colossal scale, such as a Dyson swarm enclosing the parent star to maximize energy collection or a Matrioshka Brain for computation. Jiang reminds us that the Sun’s total luminosity is on the order of 4 X 1026W.

Again, these are arbitrary distinctions; note that at the level of the Sun’s total energy output, we would need only about a fourth of that figure to reach the figure described in the Kardashev Scale as Type II. Quantitative limitations, as noted by Sagan, beset the scale, but there is nothing wrong with the notion of setting up a framework for analysis as a first cut into what might become SETI observables. Kardashev’s Type III, using these same methods, offers up a galactic energy consumption of 1036W, so now an entire galaxy is being manipulated by a civilization.

Consider that the entire Milky Way yields something like 4 X 1037W, which actually means that a Type III culture on the Kardashev scale in our particular galaxy would have command of at least 2.5 percent of the total possible energy sources therein. What such a culture might look like as an observable is anyone’s guess (searches for galaxies with unusual infrared signatures are one way to proceed, as Jason Wright’s team at Penn State has demonstrated), but on the galactic scale, we are at an energy level that may, as the saying goes, be all but indistinguishable from magic.

Let’s back down to our planetary level, and in fact back to our modest 0.728 percent of Type I status. Just when can we anticipate reaching Type I? The new paper eschews simple models of exponential growth and consumption over time, noting that such estimates have tended to be:

…the result of a simple exponential growth model for calculating total energy production and consumption as a function of time, relying on a continuous feedback loop and absent detailed consideration of practical limitations. With this reservation in mind, its prediction for when humanity will reach Type I civilization status must be regarded as both overly simplified and somewhat optimistic.

Instead, the authors consider planetary resources, policies and suggestions on climate change, and forecasts for energy consumption to develop an estimated timeframe. The idea is to achieve a more practical outlook on the use of energy and the limitations on its growth. They consider the wide range of fossil fuels, from coal, peat, oil shale, and natural gas to crude oil, natural gas liquids and feedstocks, as well as the range of nuclear and renewable energy sources. Their analysis is keyed to how usage may change in the near future under the influence of, and taking in the projections of, organizations like the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the International Energy Agency. They see moving along a trajectory to Type I as inevitable and critical for resolving existential crises that threaten our civilization.

So, for example, on the matter of fossil fuels, the authors consider the downside of environmental concerns over the greenhouse effect and changes to policy affecting carbon emissions that will impact energy production. On nuclear and renewable energy, their analysis takes in factors constraining the growth of these energy sources and data on the current development of each. For both fossil fuels and nuclear/renewables, they produce what they describe as an ‘influenced model’ that predicts development operating under historically observed constraints and the likely consequences.

Applying the formula for calculating the Kardashev scale developed by Carl Sagan, they project that our civilization can attain Kardashev Type I with coal, natural gas, crude oil, nuclear and renewable energy sources as the driver. Thus their Figure 6:

Image: Figure 6 from the paper. Caption: The energy supply in the influenced model. Note: Coal is minimal for 1971-2050 and largely coincides with the Natural gas line. Credit: Jiang et al.

Again referring to the Sagan equation, the paper continues:

A final revisit of Eq 1.1, which is informed by the IEA and UNFCCC’s suggestions, finds an imperative for a major transition in energy sourcing worldwide, especially during the 2030s. Although the resultant pace up the Kardashev scale is very low and can even be halted or reversed in the short term, achieving this energy transformation is the optimal path to assuring we will avoid the environmental pitfalls caused by fossil fuels. In short, we will have met the requirements for planetary stewardship while continuing the overall advancement of our technological civilization.

The final estimate is that humanity reaches Kardashev Type I by 2371, a date the authors consider on the optimistic side but achievable. All this assumes that a Type I civilization can be sustained as well, rather than backsliding into an earlier state, something that human history suggests is by no means assured. Successful management of nuclear power is just one flash point, as is storage and disposal of nuclear waste and global issues like deforestation and declining soil pH. That list could, of course, be extended into global pandemics, runaway AI and other factors.

…for the entire world population to reach the status of a Kardashev Type I civilization we must develop and enable access to more advanced technology to all responsible nations while making renewable energy accessible to all parts of the world, facilitated by governments and private businesses. Only through the full realization of our mutual needs and with broad cooperation will humanity acquire the key to not only avoiding the Great Filter but continuing our ascent to Kardashev Type I, and beyond.

The Great Filter, drawing on Robin Hanson’s work, could be behind us or ahead of us. Assuming it lies ahead, getting through it intact would be the goal of any growing civilization as it finds ways to juggle its technologies and resources to survive. It’s hard to argue with the idea that how we proceed on the Kardashev arc is critical as we summon up the means to expand off-world and dream of pushing into the Orion Arm.

The paper is Jiang et al., “Avoiding the Great Filter: Predicting the Timeline for Humanity to Reach Kardashev Type I Civilization” (preprint).

{ 83 comments… add one }
  • Michael Fidler April 29, 2022, 10:02

    There is something that has not really made a dent in our energy supply but has more power then all the sources mentioned. We sit on top of the largest nuclear reactor that continuously produces energy day and night without polluting the surface of the earth. Any intelligent civilization would prioritize using geothermal energy and earth has the ring of fire, the African splitting the middle east red sea the mid oceanic ridge, etc, etc. There seems to be very little advance research on how to control the release from geothermal heat but I do see occasional projects updates. Getting to level 1 thru geothermal would negate all the problems with pollution from nuclear, fossil fuels, wind towers and work 24 hours a day. So why has it been put so far down on the list? Maybe because Washington D.C. has no volcanoes??? Or is big oil just not into something that can wipe them out, at least you do not have to do Fracking to get magma. I can see why aliens do not talk to us when something so simple and obvious is ignored. Level one could be reached in fifty years if a crash geothermal program was initiated, pure and simple…

    • Martin April 29, 2022, 17:52

      The earth is essentially a slightly radioactive heat lamp. The total output from the decay of long-lived radioisotopes (potassiou40 etc.) has been calculated to be about 4 x 10^13 watts. That’s a lot of watts (a little bit more than twice what’s given here as our total energy usage), but the Earth is BIG. Effectively using it will be a challenge, except in local areas where the geology makes it easier (Iceland, for example).

      • Alex Tolley April 29, 2022, 23:04

        In addition, except for a few areas that are convenient and magma is close to the surface, the temperature gradient means that pipes have to be many kilometers deep before the temperature increases to be useful beyond space heating. This means that electrical generation will be very inefficient. Far better to use the various forms of solar energy which have a far greater total output can be collected almost anywhere on the planet and can be used to create electricity directly.

        How many places are like Iceland, sitting on a hot ocean ridge, and with a population? The “Ring of fire” plate subduction zones are not that close to populations, and for good reason, they are prone to create earthquakes and tsunamis.

        • Michael Fidler April 30, 2022, 9:55

          No, this is the problem, every place I have lived has geothermal potential, hot springs abound around the earth. From New Zealand to the tip of South America, Just because the Eastern USA thinks it’s the center of the earth does not mean the rest of the world has to follow it. Read the articles I have presented and learn. We are not talking about volcanoes, and both of you seem to know more about Mars then the potential of the Earth’s internal energy. All our power here in Bohol is geothermal and we are very populated here. My home in Oregon is close to Newberry Crater and this is where Quaise microwave drilling is being used to tap super hot rock. There is huge potential in geothermal and going down 20 kilometers means every population centers on earth would have unlimited geothermal energy! Solar does not work beyond 45 degrees north or south and where the weather is bad and is off more then 50% of the time. Look at your own California, where deep geothermal wells far from fault zones could power the whole state and have shorter high tension lines to population centers. I see that most people have closed minds and cannot see what I’m talkin about, the blind leading the blind is not a healthy lifestyle.

          ‘Super HotRock’ at Newberry Crater could be first renewable energy source of its kind.

          • Jeff Wright May 2, 2022, 2:49

            https://www.quaise.energy looks of interest as does the Petra Swifty boring robot..it uses gas to burn through rock.

            I have read of one way superconductivity at phys.org

            Now, Dyson Harrop solar powersats can allow protection against flares…tethers can drain Van Allen belts..cables for SMES as per the ASTEN space station concept power station….all these energy answers…along with geothermal…,might not show up well on telescopes like a Dyson swarms.

            Cables are invisible at a distance. Hollywood still uses wire work.

    • Michael Fidler April 30, 2022, 2:22

      There are new developments where geothermal energy can be developed and used any place on the planet. Quaise microwave drilling is working on drilling to 20 kilometers in the earth where temperatures reach 500 degrees Celsius or close to 1000 degrees Fahrenheit. At this depth you do not have to be near any geothermal source.

      Quaise’s ultra-deep geothermal drilling plans: Your questions answered.

      Vox gives a very good in-depth update on where geothermal energy is heading that may surprise many people.

      Geothermal energy is poised for a big breakout.

      • Alex Tolley April 30, 2022, 10:56

        One should always be skeptical of claims of costs of undeveloped, operating technologies. For example, the Vox article suggests that extreme geothermal will be cheaper than onshore wind.

        I am old enough to remember when nuclear power was going to be “too cheap to meter” (hah!) and is currently more expensive than just about any other power generating technology. My mid-1960s California stick-built ranch house has zero wall insulation and only relatively recently decent attic/roof insulation. This is a consequence of the belief in cheap energy at the time.

        Better to let the companies attract investors, build the systems, and let the operating experience expose the true costs and any unexpected external costs that should be accounted for.

        The universality of geothermal locations does make me wonder if the higher temperatures would end the need for natural gas in Europe, especially for industry. German industry is twisting the government’s arm to maintain Russian gas imports and finding ways to effectively break the EU sanctions with Russia using 3rd party rouble payments. How long would it take to replace gas usage for the industry with high-temperature geothermal energy if supported by government action?

      • charlie May 1, 2022, 17:19

        “One problem with hydrothermal reservoirs is that their visible manifestations — hot springs and fumaroles — remain the only reliable way to identify them; exploration and characterization of new fields is expensive and uncertain. (This is one area of furious technological development.)

        Another problem is that they are extremely geographically concentrated. In the US, geothermal electricity is mostly located in California, Nevada, Hawaii, and Alaska, where tectonic plates are grinding beneath the surface.”

      • Patient Observer May 1, 2022, 22:52

        Even if deep holes could be drilled and heat transfer fluids pumped through miles of well casing without losing appreciable temperature, the problem of conductance of heat to the pipe will limit the production of a given well. Unless the rock is very conductive, continuous heat removal may quickly cool the rock adjacent to the drill pipe to the point of being unproductive as a high temperature source.

        I suppose that the rock could be fractured and a heat transfer fluid can circulate through the fractured rock, similarly to hydraulic fracturing used for enhanced gas and oil recovery. But, a propant is needed to keep the fractures open which may not be able to keep the fractures open given the very high ambient pressure and relatively plastic rock (from high temperature) renders such fracturing problematic at best. There are other problems as well.

    • Michael Fidler April 30, 2022, 2:36

      We have a planet that is closest to us that is hotter then hell and probably has more capacity in geothermal energy then the earth. Cover the whole of Venus with solar arrays and it might just be cool enough to live on, after you get rid of the carbon in the carbon dioxide.

      • Alex Tolley April 30, 2022, 9:52

        The Vox article increased my knowledge of various geothermal systems and output a lot. Progress seems to have continued since I last took much interest. Thank you for this.

        Clearly, I was mistaken in believing that geothermal beyond space heating would be spatially confined due to achievable drilling depth. This appears to be obsolete. (I also look forward to this ultra-deep drilling allowing sample retrieval of lithospheric organisms from more locales.)

        So I look forward to some operating plants to get hard numbers on costs and operational lifetimes. If nothing else, it looks like a good solution to providing baseload power, and a better alternative than nuclear fission.

        For scfi, there is a Jon Pertwee era Dr. Who adventure in an alternate universe where such a deep drilling operation causes havoc. Dr Who: Inferno.

    • charlie May 1, 2022, 17:15

      Fracking to get magma… ? Any earthquake risk to get great this power of the Future ??

    • Michael Fidler May 5, 2022, 8:55

      Scientists find ‘radioactive’ exoplanets could be more habitable for life!

      Younger exoplanets are better candidates when looking for other Earths
      Some exoplanets found thus far may be too old to support temperate, Earth-like climates.

      “A key source of this energy is the decay of the radioactive isotopes of uranium, thorium and potassium.”


      Mantle Degassing Lifetimes through Galactic Time and the Maximum Age Stagnant-lid Rocky Exoplanets Can Support Temperate Climates.


      A problem with this is large impactors from stellar explosions and neutron star collisions with still radioactive hot elements can renew dead planets when interstellar collisions occur. The earth or any planet sweeping through the galactic arms may have large impactors like the recent ‘Oumuamua both stir the internal currents and and give rebirth to planets. The earth has several large continent size masses in its interior that may be the result of such impacts. The early large earth impactors are what started the plate tectonics in the first place…


      That would work great to get rid of those nasty dinosaurs. ;-}

  • Mike Serfas April 29, 2022, 10:28

    The Kardashev scale bothers me. The focus on energy distracts, I think, from a focus on efficiency or especially on entropy. For example, planets don’t just absorb sunlight; they also have to radiate the waste heat to disperse entropy. Creating a bit of information, the very essence of many notions of civilization, means creating a bit of entropy.

    Consider a solution of HDFC-CFDH, a deuterated difluoroethene. It’s chiral, and would have very little difference in properties between its two non-meso enantiomers. But suppose you could make or evolve a well-nigh magic catalyst that could specifically interconvert those two forms. Then the reaction would release a great deal of Gibbs free energy at the beginning, because that depends on the ratio of the concentrations of the two forms. Note this is a colligative property, not dependent on what the compound actually is, just that you’re going between two forms. (While this may seem strange, our nerves and muscles rely every instant on a somewhat similar process, exchanging two inert ions Na+ and K+ across a flimsy membrane) In other words, you could couple your enzyme to an endergonic reaction to store energy by allowing the reaction to go forward, to the extent of thermal energy present. The entropy present in the heat would be moved into the variety of chemical structure.

    Life and civilization both do this – they take a range of simple precursors that are available according to the kinetics of a barren world, and help them to cross energy barriers and increase the range of chemical entropy to include all the compounds that are thermodynamically stable. How much usable work can be extracted from that, I don’t know; I don’t really imagine it would be much but I’m not sure. But I have a suspicion that in high-grade civilizations this component might become dominating – once the absolutely miniscule entropy and energy values per bit of information have been multiplied exponentially to a sufficient degree. Such entropy, being valuable information, doesn’t need to be beamed off into space, and it also might be made without much external energy input because it is itself a source of Gibbs free energy.

    Simply by controlling their planet in ever final detail – coding which way the hydrogen atoms point in an ice lattice, which way the silicon and oxygen atoms are arranged in sand – they would conceptually be able to progress intellectually without limit, finding ever more varied and condensed ways to encode their entropy. Primitive life might even arise on such a world, unaware of the information present even within its own crude cells, and seek to make contact with alien worlds, never suspecting it dwells within a much greater community of consciousness.

  • Alex Tolley April 29, 2022, 10:31

    If we are currently at 73% of KI, given the chart, why does it take between 350 and 400 years to reach KI, just 50% higher than where we currently are? This seems intuitively wrong.

    On a cosmic timescale, given the likely separation of ETI in space and time, isn’t the definition of KI requiring unsustainable fossil energy production? The chart suggests that the real growth with be nuclear and renewables, but even fissile material has a finite limiting capacity before it is exhausted. Only solar energy in all its usable forms and fusion has any long-term sustainability.

    Lastly, we should ask why we are producing the energy. Historically, energy use is associated with economic growth. This has been sustained at far higher rates since industrialization but has been accompanied by an economic system that demands endless growth. Reaching KI, our system requires continuing to grow th economy and energy use propelling us towards KII. But using simple exponential growth models of th economy, that gives us just a few millennia before we reach it. But growth must continue towards KII. Here unfortunately growth must slow as the limitations of c limits the economic growth rate. Out galactic empire must of necessity be fairly static in economic growth rate terms compared to today. If such a civilization can continue with almost no growth, then we might question why we need to keep the economic growth engine running. The only answer I have is to pull the global population up to western levels of comfort, although this would require more than one Earth to satisfy. Hard limits. Maybe we exploit the other resources of the solar system, but we have to be careful about local pollution as a result of planetary consumption. Is it worth destroying much of the biota to satisfy this consumption level?

    I have to wonder whether older ET civilizations have already confronted this and found ways to limit their economies and economies to remain sustainable on a single planet. The population might be small (think Asimov’s Solaria) but very affluent, and very efficient at recycling and maintaining a healthy biosphere. This may seem like an anathema to our post-industrial civilization, but there are limits to growth that are close to exhaustion once we reach KII status which could happen in less time that we have recorded history.

    • Ron S. April 29, 2022, 16:57

      “If we are currently at 73% of KI, given the chart, why does it take between 350 and 400 years to reach KI, just 50% higher than where we currently are? This seems intuitively wrong. ”

      The scale isn’t linear. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kardashev_scale#Current_status_of_human_civilization

      • Alex Tolley April 30, 2022, 11:01

        Log scale. Thanks.

      • Tiens van Greuning April 30, 2022, 20:50

        So if I understand correctly, our 2019 consumption of 18 Terawatt must increase by a factor of 550 to reach Type 1 levels?

    • George King April 30, 2022, 18:19


      . . . .

      “Lastly, we should ask why we are producing the energy. Historically, energy use is associated with economic growth. This has been sustained at far higher rates since industrialization but has been accompanied by an economic system that demands endless growth. . . . . [W]e might question why we need to keep the economic growth engine running. The only answer I have is to pull the global population up to western levels of comfort, although this would require more than one Earth to satisfy. Hard limits. Maybe we exploit the other resources of the solar system, but we have to be careful about local pollution as a result of planetary consumption. Is it worth destroying much of the biota to satisfy this consumption level?

      I have to wonder whether older ET civilizations have already confronted this and found ways to limit their economies and economies to remain sustainable on a single planet. The population might be small (think Asimov’s Solaria) but very affluent, and very efficient at recycling and maintaining a healthy biosphere. This may seem like an anathema to our post-industrial civilization, but there are limits to growth that are close to exhaustion once we reach KII status which could happen in less time that we have recorded history.”

      [END QUOTE]

      I wholeheartedly agree with (at least how I read) these sentiments, including as applied to our 0.728 of KI civilization.

      The Kardashev scale speaks to me far more about circa 1964 Terran civilization than it does about some cosmological behavioral constant as to how civilizations across the universe necessarily must – or even should – develop.

      The early ‘60’s was all about largely as yet unquestioned energy production and consumption on a massive scale, with, e.g., ever more powerful muscle cars and ever bigger rockets.

      Are we not going to be satisfied until we’ve replaced every unique ecosystem – each with its multiple varied species – with the same set of box stores every 4.7 miles clear across the globe? And then also on the Moon, as in the scene from Ad Astra? And then on a terraformed Mars – after hastily erasing a unique planetary environment that took billions of years to develop as quickly as we can once we figure out the engineering after our boots finally hit Martian regolith?

      To what purpose? Is that the highest end of humankind – to just consume the maximum possible amount of energy and turn worlds into a mind-numbingly homogeneous mush with a Home Depot and a Bennigan’s always within a short drive, everywhere?

      I remember Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young joyfully singing the chorus “Everybody I love you, Everybody I do . . .” back in 1970 on the Four Way Street live album. Well, there were “only” approaching 4 billion on the planet back then. I’m not so sure that they’d be as enthralled with (at least all of) the now approaching twice that number just within their lifetimes.

      I mean, has the world – or even just the human condition – been made better by having twice as many of us well within a single human’s lifespan, with the accompanying expansion of energy usage?

      I’m not seeing that continued growth of energy consumption ad infinitum either is necessarily a good thing or an essential feature of an advanced civilization, here or elsewhere in the cosmos.

      There’s a recurring refrain in the financial press about how a particular country or region’s slowing rate of population growth threatens its economy. As a species, we need to reset that dynamic, one way or another, so that our economies are not inherently grounded in maintaining unsustainable population growth and accompanying energy consumption.

      It just seems that we can do better than blindly cramming billions and billions more people on this world, and then others, for its own sake – with concomitant energy usage and those same box stores every 4.7 miles.

      “I have become Home Depot, the destroyer of worlds,” may be an overstated paraphrase of Oppenheimer’s famous quotation from the Bhagavad Gita. But metaphorically it’s not necessarily that far off the mark, extrapolating from current trends.

      Kardashev spoke to and of his age, not to all ages.

      • Alex Tolley April 30, 2022, 21:41

        Context: Humans are evolved apes. We are social, with a hierarchical structure. Reproductive success, driven by the “need” to spread genes, depends on the position in the hierarchy. Human societies are all based on this model.

        The distribution of females and food depends on the individual’s position. We can bend those rules with laws (legal monogamy and illegal polygamy). We can constrain, up to a point, the slope of the power-law distribution of wealth, however that is measured, and power (e.g. term limits, constitutions, etc.).

        Piketty has shown that wealth accumulates faster for asset holders than for the lower rungs of the social ladder if economic growth is lower than the rate of return on assets (r > g). It is usually reversed when the economy grows faster than the rate of return (r < g).

        From this we can see that:
        Economic growth since the industrial revolution has lifted us out of the Malthusian trap that applies for all life, including humans.
        If one wants to improve the general lot of the population, it is best to try to raise economic growth. This might be called the r < g trap.

        Trying to seriously change this with different social structures, e.g. Communism, fails to work in practice. In our western nations, particularly the Anglo-speaking ones, those at the top have discovered how to game the system – particularly by raising r to be consistently higher than almost any possible g.

        So what to do?

        We can "eat the rich". Find ways to expropriate their wealth (hard even to effectively sanction Russian oligarchs). If we reduce economic growth then we must find some enforceable way to divide up the wealth and income much more equally to prevent the horrors of the prior ages from returning.

        What is the solution that will work against this reality?

        • George King May 1, 2022, 12:36

          Yeah, Alex, on point queries; and I wish I knew the specific answer myself.

          The thing that gets me is that so often the query is not even being made. The “we need incessant population growth in our country/region/world for continued economic growth” mantra is just accepted — regardless of where that ultimately leads for the planet and species.

          The road to a solution does begin with asking the questions you pose rather than just accepting the mantra/premise and perpetuating the cycle.

          I don’t believe either that the answer is as simple as adopting communism or socialism in place of capitalism. Without getting down into a political discussion that Paul will need to then tamp down, I’m not persuaded that capitalism — at least inherently in all possible societies — necessarily is the root of all evil. The core understanding of capitalism that people are most productive when it is beneficial to their own self-interest, at least within some limits, may be its strongest insight. And as you note, communism hasn’t worked well in practice to date. Moreover, in a species/society that tends to be hierarchal, every system gets gamed by those close to the seat of power; and the elites in that system — whichever one it is — tend to consolidate and expand their advantage.

          So I personally don’t know the answer; but the question to me needs to be asked, and continually asked, so that as a species we can work through to an answer. So many theretofore well-established and accepted patterns are being disrupted these days by new technologies and new ideas. But when the query is not even being asked, and the growth mantra is accepted without question, it’s hard to see our species working through to beneficially disruptive change before we dollop on several more billion people, consuming ever more energy, in relatively short order.

          I haven’t been able to find a (reasonably-priced) non-virtual copy of The Troika Incident that I read back in it probably was the 70’s. Perhaps if I read it again now decades later, I might instead think the work to be entirely naive.

          But one of my takeaways at least in my now decades-old recollection of its admittedly utopian vision — and the original “Utopia” by More in 1516 literally meant “no place” — was the decentralization and localization of governance and power.

          We’re of course going quite the opposite way. And the overriding narrative tends to be that more centralized — even global — governance and power is needed to provide a top-down solution to the sundry collateral detrimental consequences of unrestrained growth. (A centralized global authority that then very likely will be gamed by those close to the seat of power, and be all the more remote and inaccessible to those on the outside looking in.)

          Perhaps changing the paradigm to decentralization and localization is the disruptive idea that breaks the growth cycle. Smaller groupings can more easily reject the stereotypical call of political candidates, etc. for more jobs and more growth — saying, e.g., that: “Well, for our local community, we really don’t want another set of box stores every 4.7 miles, with more jobs and population growth, which tends to result eventually in more crime (as a matter of, inter alia, percentages in larger populations), which will then lead to the need for more of an authoritarian police presence and our whole community being lit up at night like a Wal-Mart parking lot. We’d rather that our children be able to see the stars at night and learn the lessons of life by seeing its examples play out over time in the different character types of their neighbors in a smaller community.”

          Perhaps. Perhaps not. But I would like to see your questions being widely posed and the discussion of how to change the longstanding paradigm at least starting in earnest.

          Another piece that comes to mind — from those days immersed in the extensive science fiction section of the library in Danvers, Mass., with its creaking wood floors and the late afternoon autumn sun glinting through the window panes — is a story where a community of explorers was stranded on Mercury. Under the moving premise of the piece, the Mercurian proximity to the Sun with its shorter orbital period resulted in shorter lifespans for the succeeding generations, something like maybe eight days total. (Hey, it was fiction; and it was from that early age in science fiction that was less constrained by all the hard science that has followed.) There still was rocket ship left with which they could escape back to Earth, and a normal lifespan. But the distance from their stranded community back to the ship was prohibitive in relation to their short Mercurian life spans. So each succeeding generation instead was consumed with the day-to-day (with there not being many of those days) cycle of coming of age, rearing children, etc. The protagonist, however — against the consensus of all of his contemporaries — successfully makes the break for the ship and breaks the cycle.

          Metaphorically, we as a species similarly need to break the cycle, in one manner or another.

          • Alex Tolley May 1, 2022, 14:03

            There has been some economic work (more ideas than proposals, IMO) to create a more sustainable, close to a zero-growth economy, with lots of care for externalities and keeping within biosphere constraints. (c.f. Donut Economics by Kate Raworth). But I have lived long enough (as you seem to have too) to have lived through all sorts of proposals only to see countries opt for high growth to solve solutions. With aging, we need more support for the post retirement age group. Yet all one sees is suggestions to raise the retirement age, as well as wrongheaded ideas like fully privatizing social security. (France has a generous retirement age of 60, and just look at the pushback against Macron’s proposal to raise that age. In the US, it is now 67 for the age cohort behind me.) How do we pay for this? How can the retired’s cognitive power be used productively?
            In the UK, back in the 1980s, the unions pushed back strongly against lower growth as they saw the consequences for their members and their retirement.)

            The Western world did change somewhat after WWII. Eyes were opened, and the people did demand changes that resulted in more equality. It took time. But I still recall when women had almost no career options and could only hope for marriage to gain security. Britain had few immigrants when I was a child, but the racism was appalling – so much so that the government had inspectors to deal with it to some extent. (And now it is back, or at least more overt).

            So I agree that we should still have capitalism in so far as it does demonstrably improve life. But it needs more regulation to prevent the egregious problems that the greedy create. Piketty thinks taxation is the main answer, and the world is trying to close tax evasion and wealth-hiding loopholes. But the pushback is still strong, and the gaming continues. For a goal, Finland is the happiest place to live (according to polling) and part of that is taxation to reduce inequality of income and wealth distribution. They also have one of the best education systems on the planet.

            Mindless growth is ultimately self-defeating, even if it comes with a static population and zero biosphere destruction. Once we become a “glorious” KII civilization, with everyone living like kings, what happens when that state is reached? Zero energy growth. Even trying to reach KIII doesn’t help as growth has to be slow simply because of lightspeed limitations (unless that is avoidable).

            OTOH, I do want growth to improve conditions for everyone. I want to repair the biosphere rather than continue to destroy it. I want everyone to be educated, secure in the basics – food, shelter, etc. to the level they want as individuals. That will require growth, although redistribution is an important part of that. [Even back in the 1970s, there was enough food production to ensure there was no starvation, and yet…]

            Americans are proud of the success of the Revolution (actually nearly lost but for a mistake by Cornwallis), but it is one of the very few successful revolutions. France followed, much more violently, and yet reverted to the pyramid hierarchy almost immediately, with the ascent of Napoleon. It does seem like the most stable social configuration and hard to change. It can be temporarily made less unequal, but it seems that inequality quickly reasserts itself by various means, and not just by the obvious sociopaths, but by every stratum of society.

            I do hope that humanity can become a starfaring species, but I fear that the conditions may look nothing like the happy, egalitarian visions of earlier decades. Ian McDonald’s Luna trilogy of a libertarian lunar society controlled by a handful of families looks all to probable. Most of the characters live well because they are at or near the apex of the family hierarchies. The destitute, unable to breathe because they cannot pay for oxygen are barely mentioned. I can imagine rough Heinleinian justice for those causing harm in colonies, perhaps not unlike conditions on ocean sailing ships in the past. Captain Blighs might be common.

      • charlie May 1, 2022, 17:27

        “It just seems that we can do better than blindly cramming billions and billions more people on this world, and then others, for its own sake – with concomitant energy usage and those same box stores every 4.7 miles.”

        couldn’t have said it better …

      • Gramaglia Paolo May 16, 2022, 7:53

        Spot on.

  • Al Jackson April 29, 2022, 11:11

    One points out that Kardashev’s classification in the original paper* was constrained to the energy a civilization applied to electromagnetic communication. In the years since this has morphed into a general classification of a ‘level’ of civilization, a measure of a civilization’s level of technological advancement. ‘Technological advancement’ is bit a vague generalization. When I think of an ‘advanced civilization’, I think, one gets not only the creation of an instrumentality but also an enlightened social-economic-political entity. One not only gets technological agency but also art and philosophy, a complex way of life. Human civilization is about to be pulled through a knothole, will we be able to master the wisdom needed for long term survival? I don’t know. To me trying to predict feels nonlinear with a horizon of predictability. Could be most civilizations don’t survive to Type I.

  • Alex Tolley April 29, 2022, 12:01

    Reading the paper I see that their aim is more like that of modelers trying to find a viable energy path that doesn’t mean the Great Filter is just in front of us. I do think they have got their cause and effect wrong. They model energy type consumption on what can be changed, rather than assume economic growth and try to fit the energy type constraints to that growth. The result is that the authors end up with a near-constant, but lower, growth rate, to reach KI in 2371, close to Namboodiripad et al estimate of 2347 [ref 14].

    In reality, we really have little idea of the likely economic growth going forward. As the pandemic death toll and the Ukraine war make clear, there will be many bumps along the way. Global heating effects are already causing migration increases and water shortage conflicts will worsen this. Previous civilizations have collapsed in the path when seeming to be strong due to various factors – the Mayans from drought, The Mediterranean bronze age culture due to a confluence of earthquates and war, Rome due to internal conflict and “imperial overstretch”, etc, etc. We think we are more sophisticated, but the Ukraine war that is constraining fossil energy supply, and spiking grain and vegetable oil prices is already indicating recession in Europe, and we have barely recovered from the 2008 global financial meltdown. Hopefully, these will prove short-term issues and growth will resume, but we cannot be sure. We seem to have evaded the predicted consequences of Ehrlich’s “Population Bomb” crisis of inadequate food supply (although Borlaug’s Green Revolution is being questioned today), and the energy and material exhaustion predicted by the 1972 Club of Rome forecast. But we cannot count on these escapes indefinitely. We might experience a death toll from a biological plague as severe as the Black Death, or a global nuclear conflict (a renewed possibility). With 1/2 of the global population now in cities, and China’s demonstration of what can happen with food shortages in the locked-down Shanghai, the possibility of mass starvation is once again possible if civil society breaks down. The world of Soylent Green is again seeming like a possibility.

    As I stated earlier, even if we safely reach KI in a few hundred years, with a large but manageable population, and a cleaner planet, then what? Do we continue to grow an energy-supported economy and aim toward KI status, or do we find another path? Science fiction offers many possible scenarios, a few of which include human expansion into the galaxy. Will we reach that point at the end of Korda’s version of Well’s :The Shape of Things to Come” when Cabal asks:

    “But for Man, no rest and no ending. He must go on, conquest beyond conquest. First, this little planet and its winds and ways. And then all the laws of mind and matter that restrain him. Then the planets about him, and, at last, out across immensity to the stars. And when he has conquered all the depths of space, and all the mysteries of time, still he will be beginning…All the universe or nothing. Which shall it be, Passworthy? Which shall it be?“

  • Simon April 29, 2022, 12:37

    “Instead, the authors consider planetary resources, policies and suggestions on climate change, and forecasts for energy consumption to develop an estimated timeframe. The idea is to achieve a more practical outlook on the use of energy and the limitations on its growth. They consider the wide range of fossil fuels, from coal, peat, oil shale, and natural gas to crude oil, natural gas liquids and feedstocks, as well as the range of nuclear and renewable energy sources. Their analysis is keyed to how usage may change in the near future under the influence of, and taking in the projections of, organizations like the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the International Energy Agency. They see moving along a trajectory to Type I as inevitable and critical for resolving existential crises that threaten our civilization.” This is very interesting because the meditation teacher Brad Laughlin, whose youtube channel I subscribe to, argued for exactly this in one of his monthly Spiritual Weather Reports. As a matter of fact it’s because of him that I have taken such an interest in the Kardashev Scale. I wondered where he had it from and it’s interesting to know that there is a body of research which can point to this exact conclusion.

  • Gary Wilson April 29, 2022, 14:55

    The reproduction of figure 6 from the paper (and I assume the original figure) gives no useful information about the transition to renewables and nuclear (including fusion at some point in the future I hope) until about the year 2120 or 2130 or so. That’s when I see a small change in the slope of some of the lines moving upward from horizontal. We had better hope this is wrong as continuing to use fossil fuels for another 100 years or more will be disastrous. We have only a few years now to drastically alter the planet’s energy mix. Predictions show we are on the 3.5 C average global temperature increase if we continue our current trends. This is well into the range of uncontrollable temperature increases due to feedback loops such as arctic and Antarctic melting which changes the planets albedo as well as continued release of methane from vast areas of now frozen tundra which are rapidly melting, not to mention the continued release of billions of tons of CO2 annually (over 36 billion tons last year alone). Forget Kardashev type I if we continue on our current path. We’ll more likely be at Kardashev type 0 (if there was such a thing).

    • Ron S. April 29, 2022, 17:00

      “Kardashev type 0 (if there was such a thing)”

      There is. See the same link I provided above in response to Alex.

      • Gary Wilson April 29, 2022, 20:51

        Thank you Ron S. My main points remain the same though. If we continue on the current path we will reach a point where environmental stresses from climate change begin to seriously degrade both our population and our ability to harness more and more power. These projections are firmly rooted in science and have been published repeatedly for decades now. This is not intended for you Ron. It is intended for those that continue to deny the factual reality of human induced climate change. I hope we don’t have to go through the same exercise of asking those who deny to provide peer reviewed publications in well accepted scientific journals which support their contention that climate change is not a risk to our civilization (and our Kardeshev level of 0.73 or whatever the exact number is).

      • Alex Tolley April 30, 2022, 11:05

        Of the order of 1/millionth the current energy usage. Low population, pre-industrial civilization.

  • Geoffrey Hillend April 29, 2022, 18:32

    Reaching the type one goal also does require more energy efficient technology. This has already been happening looking at the change from the incandescent light bulb which is really nothing but a controlled short circuit of two wires with tungsten which gets white hot which very energy inefficient. Most of the EM is in the infrared thermal. If we get one of those incandescent light bulbs which has clear glass so we can see the white hot filament, and look at it with a spectrometer connected to a computer, the infra red light brightness will show on the screen, the temperature bar scale from 4352 to 489 degrees F without even using a thermometer just looking at the light. Florescent lights are more energy efficient. We saw those first in the back lighting of the computer screens of laptops and then desktops. Now lights and computer screens use LED backlighting which is more energy efficient. It looks like this trend will continue with all of our technology just based on the cost of their use. Nuclear reactors will be around for a long time. New technology probably must figure into the type II civilization maybe fusion reactors combined with fission reactors will increase our energy output.

    Recently, I have had a problem accepting the need for a civilization to have more energy than a star and whether or not it is even possible for any civilization to have the energy of a galaxy. What would it need with that much energy? I will admit I don’t know the math or how that need was figured. It seems like a lot more than needed.

    • Alex Tolley April 29, 2022, 23:17

      Unfortunately, not all processes can be made more energy-efficient. As a result, building with concrete is now a very significant part of the global energy demand. All we can do is substitute other building materials where possible, like engineered wood instead of concrete and steel, or fired bricks.

      We also have the issue of Jeavons paradox. In this case, make energy use more efficient, which reduces costs, so we use more energy.

      I have always assumed a KIII civilization is the same (or similar) to a galaxy full of KII populations/civilizations. Going from a KI to a KI civilization is about the same energy leap as a KII to a KIII. However, for an expanding population from a homeworld, the speed of light limits the eexansion front velocity, so that the growth rate of KII->KIII is very much lower than from KI->KII.

      • Geoffrey Hillend April 30, 2022, 15:21

        Concrete is made mostly of limestone or calcium carbonate and silicon dioxide, but I did not realize it was so energy costly to make. Using solar power would help since we get free energy from the Sun. I saw on PBS that the machines that can capture carbon dioxide from the air were used to make the CO2 into a liquid. It was combined cement and the cement was made harder.

        • Alex Tolley April 30, 2022, 17:32

          Portland Cement, one of the 3 ingredients for concrete, starts with mostly CaCO3 and must be changed to CaO (lime) amongst other non-carbonate salts. That is where most of the energy goes.

          The lime will slowly convert back to the carbonate when exposed to CO2. I believe this also weakens the concrete (which isn’t important if its primary role is to absorb CO2).

          Interestingly, where CO2 is more available in the oceans, the increased CO2 which pushes the equilibrium to greater acidity makes it energetically harder to deposit CaCO2 for vertebrate skeletons and invertebrate shells. This favors organisms like jellyfish and squid.

          • Geoffrey Hillend May 1, 2022, 16:56

            The concrete with added CO2 was tested with a hydraulic compactor so it was not guesswork. A concrete cylinder was placed into and crushed and the breaking point was measured in psi. as compared to ordinary concrete. It made the concrete stronger, just one use for the bicarbonate from carbon scrubbers or capture machines.

          • Geoffrey Hillend May 1, 2022, 17:37

            Yes, I heard about that Alex Tolley, the increase in CO2 intake in our oceans 30 million tons a day makes has increased it’s acidity making it harder for oysters and other animals which need calcium carbonate to make their shells which cant grow. PBS, Lethal Seas. It’s different with concrete though because we can control the what we put into the chemical reaction. We can put as much concrete and water as we want, but oysters and shell can’t. They are stuck with the calcium carbonate levels in the ocean which aren’t very much and when CO2 combines with water it turns into carbonic acid which breaks apart the water molecule releasing hydrogen ions which combine with the calcium carbonate taking it way making it into another chemical resulting in less calcium carbonate in the ocean.

          • Geoffrey Hillend May 1, 2022, 18:04

            I am not the expert in chemistry, but the chemical reaction is different with concrete because because the ratio of water is much smaller and there are other elements like silicon, iron, oxygen, etc. in concrete and also carbon dioxide CO2 is not the same as calcium carbonate CaCo2. Oysters have to make their shells on the molecular level and use what is available in the sea.

          • Brett Bellmore May 2, 2022, 5:39

            Just as a note, it’s worth remembering that shell forming organisms evolved about 530M years ago, and, at that time, and for most of the subsequent time, atmospheric CO2 levels were, in fact, a lot higher than at present.

            It is, in fact, probably impossible for us to drive the level of CO2 in the atmosphere as high as it was at that time, because a great deal of that CO2 is now sequestered in the form of limestone created by those organisms, the reason CO2 levels are as low as they are today.

            This does not, of course, establish how fast shell forming organisms can adapt to rising CO2 levels, just that it’s possible for them to. Perhaps research rather than alarmism is in order?

            • Geoffrey Hillend May 2, 2022, 19:35

              Actually, we can control our weather. We can put as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as in anytime in Earth’s history and even more than anytime in history. What happens is the carbon dioxide levels can increase much faster than the sea can take it in and the carbon cycle through the Urey reaction can convert it into limestone which is happening right now. This has happened in history, but not in any time in history of our Earth have the carbon dioxide levels risen as fast has the anthropogenic carbon dioxide because we do it unnaturally with machines, energy inefficient machines which burn coal to make power. The coal is the carbon dioxide that from the dead animals like plants, micro organism have captured from the air since they take in carbon dioxide and convert it into oxygen through photosynthesis. The good news is that we can take it out of the air just as fast with carbon scrubbers and carbon capture machines.


            • Geoffrey Hillend May 2, 2022, 19:43

              Also oysters have only been around for 15 million years. The CO2 levels were 500 ppm 30 Myr and 1600 ppm 50 Myr and much greater in the past when there were not oysters yet. Also the carbon dioxide levels were reduced by natural process took millions of years and shelled animals could adapt to the CO2 levels in our ocean, but they can’t adapt to the rapid changes today caused by the fast rise in anthropogenic CO2.

    • Gary Wilson April 30, 2022, 14:11

      Need is the key word Geoffrey. For humans the word is so often confused with want and greed for more of everything. We are an avaricious, rapacious species. Controlling the power output of an entire galaxy is a ludicrous goal. As we have seen here on Earth so-called control of Earth’s resources has become a hugely damaging goal which is destroying ecosystems and undercutting our own ability to survive. Do we want that for an entire galaxy? Time to grow up humans.

      • Alex Tolley April 30, 2022, 17:44

        I am ambivalent about this. The reason behind deploring greed is because it is so destructive to the biosphere, as well as to others of our own species.

        If the resource was a sterile asteroid, I wouldn’t much care how it was consumed as long as the result wasn’t a lot of dust and gravel causing a hazard. So doing this across the galaxy, and tapping stellar energy from lifeless systems is just a matter of degree, not kind.

        The social effects of greed are another matter. That can only be controlled by organizing the society/civilization. Back 1987 when the movie “Wall Street” was released, Bud Fox says to counter Gekko’s “Greed is Good” approach : “How many yachts can you waterski behind, Gordon?”. 3 decades later and the greed with accompanying inequality has only increased more, corrupting government and giving the superwealthy ever more power to do as they please. Piketty showed that only WWII reversed the trend, but we really don’t want such a destructive event to correct the current extreme inequality in some countries.

        • Gary Wilson May 1, 2022, 16:59

          But can we control ourselves and restrict our exploitation to only lifeless systems and sterile asteroids Alex? I have strong doubts about that and a lot of data that would back me up. When have we ever not exploited a new region despite the presence of indigenous peoples for example? What economic system that we actually use today suggests we will ever do otherwise? Unconstrained capitalism is a nightmare as we see by the consequences to the Earth’s biosytems. The big dictatorships are even worse if that’s possible. I see small regions of hope such as Scandinavia as possibly offering some hope for a more equitable distribution of income, but the big powers don’t now and probably never will accept socialism (which the conservative groups I’m aware of hilariously equate to communism in order to frighten their populations). It’s a very cynical age we live in I’m afraid.

          • Alex Tolley May 1, 2022, 23:37

            But we do know that the asteroids do not have biospheres, and almost certainly no life of any kind. As John Lewis has long pointed out a href=”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mining_the_Sky”>Mining the Sky, the material in the asteroids would allow us to build space habitats and create material wealth for a vast population – quadrillions of people. While I doubt it would work out that way, the point is that humanity could exploit space resources without worrying about displacing indigenous people and destroying ecosystems. It doesn’t matter how awful capitalism is, the resource exploited would not come at a cost of others. This isn’t certain, because I could foresee poor mining could produce a lot of asteroid fragments that could damage ships, and in the worst case, cause an intercept with Earth. Despite claims bty corporations of no dangers, accidents from the Exxon Valdez to Deep Horizon show that errors due to negligence or cost cutting can create untold damage.

            • Gary Wilson May 2, 2022, 16:46

              Based on the breadth and depth of your knowledge Alex I think you are in all likelihood a polymath. It’s a pleasure and a privilege to read your comments.

              • Paul Gilster May 2, 2022, 19:59

                ‘Polymath’ well describes Alex, whose contributions in these pages have been immense. As always, Alex, thanks.

  • Michael April 30, 2022, 1:18

    I believe Gregory Benford looked at the idea of a concave lens at the L1 point to reduce the solar insolation to mitigate ‘climate’ change. If he reversed the lens into a concentrator which defocuses the light at the earth so it reduces the light upon earth mitigating ‘climate change’ we could also use the total energy as it passes through the focal point say half way to earth. 1 % concentration of light allows us to exceed the K1 point where we could have solar cell collectors to retransmit energy across the solar system as laser light. In fact lens could be used around Venus and Mercury etc., mercury would deliver 10 thousand times more energy to the surface than we currently use and if a planet wide laser system was build there a very effective interstellar power system.

    • Alex Tolley April 30, 2022, 11:13

      That would be one huge lens, and massive even if of a Fresnel type. While lenses have been suggested as concentrators for SPS energy, I suspect that the mass of radiators to dump the heat will obviate the gains.

      Sunshades with or without solar PV might be a better, albeit expensive solution. Reducing energy intensity on Earth, rather than techno-fix bandages seems like a better way to go. Do we really want this scenario to be possible?

      • Michael April 30, 2022, 17:02

        I recon it’s around a million tons as we can make nano thickness lens now.

        • Alex Tolley April 30, 2022, 21:46

          So at least 10,000 launches of SLS plus workers and robots to construct just the lens if the pieces are constructed on Earth. May be easier if constructed from materials in space if the fabricator is <<< than the lens mass.

          • Michael May 1, 2022, 11:08

            If built it would produce the equivalent of around 50 000 tons of coal per second in energy every second that’s multiples of the mass of a SLS. Perhaps only a small start up will provide enough energy to bring the rest of the mass up.

    • Mike Serfas May 1, 2022, 9:59

      I can’t see the benefit in sending a large lens rather than a smaller total surface area of mirror. Even a thin surface can completely block light, and a fraction of that light could be redirected to alleviate the long nights in Antarctic settlements. Practically sized mirrors would still be too small to show up on a kid’s backyard project to project sunspots, and they could easily maintain a stable traffic pattern using light pressure. Any project or settlement attached to the solar panels for any one mirror could periodically dock with any other project at L1, so they could act as a single community.

      • Michael May 1, 2022, 13:57

        With a lens there is less sunlight pressure as it goes through so less counter trust is required than a mirror would need by significant amount.

        • Mike Serfas May 2, 2022, 11:11

          We’re talking about L1 here. A small deviation from the metastable L1 point will provide all the counterthrust needed. A mirror with thrust balanced against that should be *better* than a non-reflective satellite right at L1, because small changes in the angle of the mirror can adjust the average net thrust up or down. With a little solar power to the reaction wheels, no propellant would be needed to stay approximately on station (or if desired, to describe a complex trajectory over time allowing meetups between probes)

          • Michael May 3, 2022, 1:15

            The same can apply to lens but also less thermal control is needed as most of the light just goes through. With some electrical embedded control of the surface the light direction and reflectivity can be controlled to maintain stability. Mercury has the ability with L1 and L2 lens and mirrors setups to far exceed our energy generation requirements for a very long time.

  • Robin Datta April 30, 2022, 2:47

    How many living individuals of the species Homo sapiens is enough for this Universe? Obviously a whole lot more to colonize the galaxy than to reside comfortably on Earth. And to what end? One may argue that we won’t know until we get there. But is that the way to conduct ourselves? Is that the way of the yeast in the vat of grape juice/sugar water magnified by so many orders of magnitude? Perhaps one could look to raise the living standards of the underprivileged to that of the “First World”: howeer that will at present entail harvesting the resources of 2.5+ Earths.

    A sufficiently advanced technology may well be indistinguishable from magic, yet that may be insufficient: a non-disruptive technology would be so advanced that it is inddistinguishable from Nature. Could that be a solution to Fermi’s Paradox.

    Sone recent musings along such linesby John Michael Godier:
    Fermi Paradox: All Alien Civilizations Become Nanotechnological

    • Dimjo April 30, 2022, 9:14

      We have to look for cold star dust?
      Or a cold “Dyson dust cloud”?

    • Alex Tolley April 30, 2022, 11:29

      If the universe is mostly sterile and empty of mind, I don’t see any objection to increasing the number of thinking beings. I don’t think we have to assume some Malthusian population explosion as in Asimov’s short story The Last Question. Homo sapiens [1.0] will be long gone, and I think that artificial intelligence will be dominant. Will there be the same drive to reproduce like unconstrained Von Neuman replicators, or will they be more like god-like entities, in a hive mind, perhaps transcendent rather than material? They may be worthy descendants to populate the universe.

  • Dave Moore April 30, 2022, 16:36

    I don’t think we will become a Kardashev Type I civilization on planet Earth. A Kardashev Type I civilization uses 10,000 Terawatt of power. We are currently using 19 TW of power. At the end of this century, it is estimated we will be using 100 TW of power. If things go reasonably well, by them the population will be falling and most of the world will be middle class, and I don’t think our power consumption will go over that as further increases in power consumption would entail further environmental disruption, and I suspect our environment will be in tatters by then and need a lot of care.

    If a civilization produces an excess of 4800 TW of waste heat, this would raise the global temperature by 3° C, which is considered an unacceptable level of global warming–and that would be on top of any other sources of global warming. A civilization on Earth using 10,000 TW of heat, would need extensive solar shielding to counteract the waste heat from nuclear and the decrease of Earth’s albedo that huge fields of solar cells we would have. Beaming power in from space would also have to 100% counteracted.

    So, I would expect it will take about 100 space bodies / moons-planets-space habitats using energy at Earth’s expected maximum to reach a Kardashev Type I level.

    • Michael May 1, 2022, 7:00

      It’s the CO2 and methane that reflects heat back in that contributes to the temp rise.

    • torque_xtr May 2, 2022, 5:27

      Totally agree. Kardashev I, or more exactly, a few percent of total absorbed solar energy, is a turning point when civilization has to relocate into space because that’s when global warming really kicks in. Some mitigation could be done to push this value, perhaps, to 20-30%, but in any case, K1 is the ultimate hard limit to groundside energy consumption because of warming by waste heat. And it has to leave curcumplanetary space as well, to avoid absorption of waste heat from space-based activities by the planet. Even K1,2 civilization must be heliocentric.

  • Henry Cordova April 30, 2022, 21:36

    I have trouble with the “Great Filter” concept, at least as related to suicidal or self-destructive behavior. Why should an advanced civilization be necessarily vulnerable to self-inflicted injury? You would think they would have eliminated themselves, in some Darwinian fashion long before they developed advanced technology. As far as mismanaging planetary resources on such a scale as to threaten their own existence, surely no intelligent species would be stupid enough to do that–especially after they recognized they were doing it!

    Now, I’ll be the first to admit we humans seem well on the way to destroying ourselves in a variety of ways. But perhaps that is not a common feature of all civilizations, just one trait that is peculiar to our own.

    Consider, we are arboreal creatures that adapted to savanna life, and we seem evolved as members of small hunter-gatherer kinship bands and slash-and-burn agriculturalists.. We are torn between strong individual initiative and leadership of a charismatic alpha individual. Only very late in our history did we develop plow and hydraulic agriculture and large urban populations. Perhaps this dynamic leads to suicidal social dysfunction that manifests itself as our technology allows the formation of large, specialized communities. The same sources of our strengths may also be responsible for our weaknesses. Other species may have taken different paths, or had more malleable histories.

    But surely, this may be just a human characteristic. Other civilizations did not necessarily inherit these contradictions. They may be more cooperative by nature, or more motivated by group survival than individual supremacy. Intelligent species do not eradicate themselves in pointless wars, or pollute their environments or overpopulate their habitat. They eventually learn to monitor and manage their surroundings and modify their behavior and organization to coexist with it. Then again, maybe this issue is cultural, not biological. The Egyptians were extremely stable for millennia. They never had predatory capitalism, although they certainly waged imperialistic warfare,

    In other words, self-destructive behavior at the species level may not necessarily be characteristic of all civilizations, just of those like ours. I don’t believe that civilizations are inherently self-destructive and need to ‘learn how to change’. Maybe its the other way round, and cultural selection quickly eliminates toxic forms of social organization and only those who are stable and well-managed tend to last long enough to create high levels of technology.

    Maybe there is no “Great Filter”, and the last term in the Drake Equation, the average lifetime of a civilization, is very large.

    • Robin Datta May 2, 2022, 5:26

      Could there still be some relevance to musings such as these?

      The nine planetary boundaries

      Redefining Development in the Anthropocene

      Great Acceleration

      • Henry Cordova May 2, 2022, 8:02

        The issue doesn’t seem to be about the ability to recognize upcoming crises, its the lack of political will to do something about them once they are recognized. I believe this is due to a fundamental flaw in human culture: Individuals and collectives are willing to sacrifice the benefit of the community if they believe they can optimize their own personal success. Examples: tobacco and fossil fuel companies sabotaging attempts to regulate the lethality of their products even though they are perfectly aware of how toxic they are to the community as a whole. And it forces us to join up with one side or the other, rather than pursue a reasonable middle course. We all know how this works; “We can’t afford to save the planet, it might threaten the economy.”

        I don’t mean to pick on those industries in particular, we’ve seen the effect manifesting itself throughout human history, its just that these examples are recent, and dramatic. When the public good and private profit conflict, the latter always finds its champions.

        And I’m not making an ideological statement here, I believe it is just a consequence of human psychology/culture, probably a result of our biological and evolutionary history. This dichotomy was probably a survival trait when our species’ impact on the global environment was negligible, but today, when we are approaching finite limits, it has become problematic.

        We are all individuals, but we also organize into competing communities. It is a fundamental contradiction in our nature.
        But its not necessarily a characteristic of all civilizations in the cosmos. Its more of a simian thing..

  • Jean Schneider May 1, 2022, 4:28

    Note that “This version is not peer-reviewed”:

  • Brett Bellmore May 1, 2022, 7:49

    Being a K1 civilization doesn’t imply that we ARE using the total power available on Earth. It implies that we control that amount of power.

    But we could be using not much more power on Earth than we do now, and have a lot of off planet industry and settlements, and still qualify as a K1 civilization if the total power involved was of the right scale; We don’t need to turn Earth into a powerplant to qualify.

    My concern is that we want to advance up the scale because of the amazing things you could do with that much power, but if our population were growing at the same rate, we could become a K1, then K2 civilization, and never have any huge surplus for amazing projects. Just lots of people living ordinary lives.

    What we really want is to see to it that our power grows substantially faster than population, (Almost trivial at the moment, given the birth dearth; Human population may have already peaked unless we find a cure for people not having children.) so that the surplus power available is maximized, and available for grand projects like interstellar colonization and moving more planets into the habitable zone.

    The key development here is self-replication, so that available infrastructure is no longer stuck being proportional to population, and we’re limited to just messing about with the proportionality. We need to decouple population and infrastructure, so that the latter can grow to K2 much faster than population.

    If we can just achieve self-reproducing technology, becoming a K2 civilization would take centuries, not millennia.

    • Dave Moore May 1, 2022, 16:17

      I did a rough back-of-the-envelope calculation on what it would take to reach a Kardashev I level with our expected power consumption and population at the end of this century. We need 100 times the power consumption, so the population at this rate would have to 1 trillion. If we put them in O’Neil colonies, each one having a population of 1 million, then we would need 1 million of these colonies scattered around the solar system to reach a Kardeshev I level.

  • Afterthought May 1, 2022, 13:18

    K1 civilizations use space-based lenses and mirrors to control the weather.

  • wdk May 1, 2022, 13:56

    It just seems notion that Kardeshev markers main basis is for identifying huge extraterrestrial entities – because they would be detectable. But that does ot make them necessarily reasonable.
    And recalling the origin of the system being derived from examining the SETI communication problem, it just seems to hightlight (sic) this.

    If there were a human element ( such as ourselves) in a Kardeshev I civilization, I would suspect that the power radiated would be peaked somewhere in the infra red. We probably all agree that for one terrestrial planet this would place a large onus on getting rid of all that radiance. Aso, as a goal for civilization so narrowly defined based on our more immediate environmental concerns, it reads like a strategy for suicide. Perhaps other civilizations are better placed for dealing with the problems. E.g., Were there a K-I at Trappist 1, maybe the inhabitants would commute between planets for living and working.
    Still, it is not clear to me that advanced civilizations need to take on more and more power output.

    What might be the case is that K series civilizations are more like flare-ups. Perhaps akin to beavers that somehow get diverted from the constructing dams once they discovere an intoxication such as spinning a turbine. All we know from afar is that at some epoch and for a time, they master a large power output, but it is not possible to determine the purpose or signal content. It could be just a continuous display – and it might become unstable in a short period of time. Moreover, we might not be able to determine whether the energy output has benefitted a greater number of beavers than in the days of lakeside
    wooden constructions. It might even be that the only message we get from across the interstellar void is that other ccreatures beside ourselves like to stoke the embers of a fire.

    • Alex Tolley May 2, 2022, 0:01

      Let’s remember that the energy intensity of the economy has been falling as we progress towards a post-industrial state. We still do stupid energy-wasting things like Bitcoin mining, but there is still plenty of room to reduce energy consumption via efficiency gains and continue to add value with outputs that use little energy. But at some point, we will reach a limit, and I would hope that this isn’t achieved with vastly larger populations on Earth. We should be realistic and understand that vast numbers of people will not migrate off the planet to live in space, even if exhorted to as depicted in Blade Runner. Life might be very restrictive and more like that on Ceres as depicted in The Expanse. If the asteroid mining is done primarily with robots and the riches returned to Earth, it may be more like the situation when Spain was plundering the New World and returning with galleons full of gold. If the Earth’s population peaked at 10 bn, became primarily a post-industrial society, and energy use was highly efficient and mainly produced and consumed in space, then we might never become a KI civilization based on energy consumption. ETI would not be able to detect any obvious IR excess from our system, and we would not need a Dyson swarm to generate the energy and signal our presence. Whether we build crewed starships may depend on the propulsion which in turn may constrain the type of crew – biological, machine, or nothing. Energy efficiency and miniaturization suggests that huge starships may be a relic of Victorian thinking, and that tiny probes will be the means to explore the galaxy, and our civilization will remain sub KI, let alone KII.

      • wdk May 5, 2022, 13:28

        The Kardeshev level system seems something akin to a pledge drive.
        Before an off-world civilization rached the next level from our current, it is quite possible it could achieve exploitation of a couple of planets, several moons and numerous asteroids to build other infrastructure.

        And that’s a worthwhile objective in itself – for reasons such as AT describes above. And for such a civilization which might be able to explore nearby stars with system-based detectors or small probes, that just might have to be a state of equilibrium to be sustained for millennia. If our descendants are like us in temperament that will be a challenge itself. Should humans make the transit in one form or another, actual interstellar transits are unlikely to reduce the solar system population pressure in any direct manner -barring spatial or energy workaround diminishing the problem by orders of magnitude.

        As a number have noted, the idea of Kardeshev indexed civilizations arose in an era which was more disposed toward megaprojects like the Aswan or Kuibishev Dam ( also known as the Samara Reservoir). For some time prior to this year had been reading Russian literature, often to maintain some basic knowledge. And coincidentally while trying to sort out what was going on Vasilij
        Grossman’s work “Life and Fate”, my attention was turned to a recent translation of the work to which it is a sequel, “Stalingrad”.
        While there is much to contemplate in what he said of 1942 eighty years late, I was struck by some paragraphs in chapter 12 of this work, written perhaps between 1946 and 1955. One character (among a host), an old Bolshevik named Mostovskoj, contemplates the changes in his country. Enumerating all the new vocations that arisen among the masses of his country:

        “(it) had attained an unprecedented level of literacy and general enlightenment, a sudden leap whose power can only be compared with that of some cosmic force; if there were an electromagnetic equivalent for [its] cultural explosion since 1917, astronomers in other galaxies would have registered the birth of a new star ever brighter…”

        Maybe Nikolai Kardeshev had encountered this passage.

  • Christopher Phoenix May 1, 2022, 21:13

    This is an interesting look at the Kardashev scale. Simple exponential models really are far too limited to provide any insight to practically attaining Type I or II, as basic physical limits and socioeconomic factors will affect growth.

    One of the basic assumptions of the Kardashev scale is that technological civilizations will expand into space. There is no other way to maintain continuous expansion of energy generating capacity without running into a hard limit.

    One basic limit is that all energy generated ultimately is dissipated into the environment as waste heat. On a planet, this will place a firm upper limit on energy usage, as that waste heat will eventually have a damaging effect on ecosystems. Taken to an extreme, eventually the surface of the Earth would become to hot for humans (or even computers) to comfortably survive, and of course refrigeration produces yet more waste heat.

    In fact, basic thermodynamics is already a problem. Modern nuclear reactors already dump significant amounts of thermal pollution into rivers and lakes. This has been shown to harm aquatic life, damaging local ecosystems.

    Of course, this leads us back to SETI. Even technologies “indistinguishable from magic” will produce an infrared signature as that civilization dissipates waste heat into space. It’s sobering to think that our first evidence of intelligent life in space could be an unavoidable byproduct of industrial activity, rather than an effort at communication.

    • Mike Serfas May 2, 2022, 16:19

      Thermodynamics should have some loopholes. To begin with, heat can simply be circulated out and radiated by fins. Picture a beefy space elevator that lifts massive buckets of water from ocean to space and back again, together with ships that can sail onto them with no increase in mass. (Like https://www.scottishcanals.co.uk/falkirk-wheel/about-the-wheel/ but a bit taller…) The water brings cheap warmth and nutrients to tropical habitats, and returns to Earth from the chilliest polar waters of space.

      But we could do better. Invent a method of pair production for electron neutrinos, using a tiny amount of free energy to make their miniscule mass, and loading each one up with three degrees of freedom of waste heat, invisibly departing the planet. Maybe you could do the same thing with some *completely* dark matter also.

  • Robin Datta May 2, 2022, 7:48

    The economy has two phases. The resources naturally present, mineral, arable land, water, forests, etc. are extracted and distributed by the primary economy, then processed by the secondary economy which distributes the products. The wastes from each phase have to be also disposed. Even with “no growth” there is a continuous flow. Growth implies an increase in the flow: faster extraction of resources, faster production of wastes. Running all the processes requires energy. Some processes may become efficient, like the smartphone replacing a building full of computng equipment. But this is an exception rather than a rule.

    Growth may support more consumers, the same number of consumers at a higher standard, or provide discretionary wealth to be spent on arts, sciences, etc. Spare energy can translate into spare wealth, but is not necessarily synonymous with prosperity.

  • Patient Observer May 2, 2022, 21:57

    It’s quite easy to achieve a level 3 Kardashev civilization:


    Still a few true believers . .

    I believe that this group is/was inspired by The Millennial Project

  • Adam Crowl May 4, 2022, 20:04

    Hi Paul

    Waste heat will be a problem if we reach Kardashev I and confine our efforts to the Earth’s surface. We’re already suffering from a few watts per square metre of IR forcing of the climate. Imagine if that was from *just* waste heat? Earth intercepts 174,400 TW from the Sun, absorbing 122,200 TW of that, reflecting the rest back into space. Some is absorbed in the oceans and atmosphere, sending a net flow from the equatorial zones to the Poles, to dissipate as a net loss to space. About 5,000 TW from both Poles (from memory). Humans use about 12 TW. If we peak at 10 billion people, then at present use we max out at 16 TW or so. Just 0.03 W/m^2. K-I means 240 W or so. So either 8,000 times more people or 8,000 times more energy release per person.

    What does that world even look like?

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