Thinking the Future: Kardashev Scales and the possibility of sub-scales

Open Left put up this video today by Michio Kaku on the Kardashev Scale:


Currently, the Earth as a whole  is ranked at roughly a 0.7 on the Kardashev scale. We are not even a Type I civilization yet.

I was very intrigued by Kaku’s discussion of the evolution of structures such as the European Union as stages of development towards a Type I civilization. Clearly the development of a global energy economy, and the concurrent political structural development, are key to driving this change. But they are not the end points. Which leads to the need to begin discussing scenarios for how we may achieve Type I civilization. To do this, we need to understand which aspects of our current globalizations are leading us closer to Type I and which are driving us further away. In order to do this, I believe, we need to begin understanding subtypes on the path to Type I civilization. If we are indeed at a 0.7 level, we need to have a firmer classification system to understand why this is the case, and not just rely upon measures of energy consumption. As Kaku is pointing out, there are a whole set of political and ethical structures which surround this subtype. Wedges, in other words. How do we then begin to think in terms of moving smaller wedges to achieve the larger goal of Type I civilization?

I don’t have the answer here. I just wanted to throw out the idea for further thought. As someone who teaches Kentucky and Appalachian Politics as well as Political Theory, it interests me to think about how we might classify global regions on a Kardashev-type scale. What variables, other than energy, might go into this? How do we measure progress, so as to more efficiently guide our efforts?

(I wish more Political Scientists would begin to incorporate some selements of Futures thinking, or Futurism, into their work.)

But I think the most important part comes at the very end of Kaku’s talk. We always blather on about how “the children are our future,” but rarely do we talk about WHY this is the case, other than some vague notion of DNA transmission and continuation of the species. In other words, the biological meatware answer, not the civilizational software answer.¬† Kaku suggests that the children are our future (and our grandchildren) because we are at a unique historical vantage point for either reaching for Type I Civilization or falling back into something much more primitive. It will be OUR generation, as well as the following two, which figure out how to use the available fossil fuel/carbon energy economy to get us to Type I without killing us through rapid global climate change. Or not.

As others have indicated, we get one shot at Type I. We either wisely use the available carbon resources to build a sustainable future and then rapidly wean ourselves off of them, or we continue to use carbon until it runs out or we kill off our existing sub-Type I Civilization¬† because we just couldn’t make the leap. It will take nature millions of years to sequester all that additional carbon again (which is what the Age of Dinosaurs and beyond was all about, really) to stabilize the atmosphere and concentrate the carbon into usable energy. On that timescale, you see, humanity really doesn’t have any alternative. We either use what we’ve got to get to Type I, or its an EPIC FAIL.

So to get there, we need to be thinking about Wedges now. Which Wedges are the best to use, the most effective and efficient, will largely depend on developing scenarios for achieving Type I. This means understanding sub-Type I scales more thoroughly, and using them to build a Type I blueprint.