The Kardashev Scale Type 0: Why Earth is a Level Zero Civilization
Getting out of the Stone Age isn't easy.
To measure the level of a civilization’s advancement, the Kardashev scale focuses on the amount of energy that a civilization is able to utilize. Notably, the amount of power available to a civilization is fundamentally linked to how widespread the civilization is (you obviously can’t harness the power of a star if you are confined to your home planet). In a previous article, we offered an overview of the various civilization types, Subglobal Cultures, Galactic Cultures, Multiverse Cultures etc.
Today, I want to talk about what it would be like to live in a Type 0 Civilization—A Subglobal Culture.
This might seem like a rather strange topic for discussion. After all, we are a subglobal culture. So couldn’t I just say, “What you are doing right now is living in a subglobal culture. Congratulations. Look out your window or something.” Wouldn’t that give you a much better understanding of this civilization type than any explanation that I could give? No.
Understanding Our World
Based on our energy use, in 1973 astronomer Carl Sagan estimated that Earth represented a Type 0.7 civilization, more current assessments put us at about 0.72. What does this mean? We’ve had 4.5 billion years and we still haven’t made it to a Type 1 civilization.
So there’s a lot more to a Type 0 civilization than simply what you see when you look out your window. What about what came before? And what will come next?
On our own planet, at the lowest civilization type (Type 0.1) you would be a proto-human. You would use sticks and other basic tools to hunt and forage for your food. You probably wouldn’t wear any clothes. Many of your fellow proto-humans would be eaten by proto-lions (which would not be terribly pleasant, I’m afraid).
However, as an individual in a proto-society, you’d have to fight to earn mating rights, protect your hunting territories, and establish leadership through a strength based dominance hierarchy…so your fellows getting eaten by proto-lions might actually work to your advantage. Warm showers would (of course) be out of the question. You’d have to rely entirely on natural resources such as hot springs, fires set by lightning, and your own muscle power.
But eventually a proto-human in your proto-society would start carving stones into tools. Thus, your little world would evolve into the Stone Age (how exciting for you!).
At this point, as you move to a Type 0.2 civilization and beyond, you figure out how to manipulate fire and use it to your advantage (like making roasted proto-lion). You also start wearing clothing and other items that protect you from the natural environment. Eventually, you harness animals and use them to herd and transport material (proto-Lassie and proto-Mister Ed).
You might use smoke signals to communicate to distant tribes as you expand across the planet. And so you would slowly evolve from relying on natural forms of energy to manipulating resources for use.
As your culture continues to develop, you will begin metalworking. But moving from the Stone Age into the Metal Ages takes time…a lot of time (the Stone Age on Earth lasted some 3.4 million years). But eventually you’ll stop using those ruddy stones, and you’ll progress through the Copper, Bronze, and Iron Ages, where metal tools replace previous devices (and you make swords to stab your enemies, which will be of great assistance as you continue to fight to earn mating rights, protect hunting territories, and establish leadership through an economic based dominance hierarchy). Better fuels, such as coal or oil secured from local tar pits, will replace wood in campfires (just be careful with your herds around those tar pits; if one of your animals slips in, it probably won’t be seen again until some bloody scientist from a Type 0.7 civilization unearths it in a few millennia).
As you form into a more advanced community, you develop large structures that allow you to harness water power and wind power. Populations around rivers and other water systems surge and cities begin to truly develop (which makes plague spreading a snap and sewage removal a serious problem). Assuming your civilization isn’t wiped out by dysentery (it’s caused by fecal contamination of food and water), you will plateau here for a bit, at about Type 0.4.
The large structures created to harness wind and water energy are really only capable of producing a tiny amount of energy. So slowly, ever so slowly, you transition into widespread use of fossil fuel burning. And as we all know, a tiny bit of oil or natural gas goes a long way: Cue the industrial revolution!
Of course, steam and electricity are soon to follow.
Once you have electricity, your subglobal culture will evolve at an amazing rate. With electricity comes the advent of instantaneous global communication systems, amazingly fast transportation systems (which enable people to traverse the planet on a whim), global markets and planetary trade activities…and the dawn of a global culture is at hand.
At this level, you begin to truly understand the processes that create the planet and cosmos (your archaeologists delve into the deep recesses of tar pits and learn much about the herding practices of your ancestors). Nuclear energy is soon to follow and, as the energy released by nuclear fission is a million times greater than that released in chemical reactions, it fuels industry and technology even further, bringing society ever closer to breaching the bounds of the planet.
And here we have the major test
Nuclear energy isn’t all fun and games. Sure, you can use it to power cities and expand world markets. But you can also use it to obliterate your enemies (and much of the planet in the process) as you continue to fight to earn mating rights, protect hunting territories, and establish leadership through an economic based dominance hierarchy.
If you pass the test, you will harness the power of your planet and advance to a Type 1 civilization—a united global society that is capable of harnessing all the solar energy that reaches your world, manipulating planetary weather systems, and you’ll start to pull energy from other objects in the cosmos. If you fail, you will quite literally bomb your society back into the Stone Age (assuming, of course, that you don’t completely obliterate every living member of your civilization).
So if we want to advance beyond a Type 0 civilization, we’re going to need to play nice with one another (and maybe invest in science and education; that helps too).