Our species is facing a pivotal moment in human history. Either we develop the technology to safely harness the energy needed to escape our planet, or we kill ourselves in a great cataclysm, according to a brutal new study.
But, according to the new paper, if we can achieve the first and avoid the second, then we could become a true interplanetary species in as little as 200 years.
“Earth is a small dot surrounded by darkness,” lead study author Jonathan Jiang of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory told Live Science. “Our current understanding of physics tells us that we are trapped on this tiny rock with limited resources.”
To leave our planet for good, humans must dramatically increase the use of nuclear and renewable energy, and simultaneously prevent these energy sources from being used for malevolent purposes.
And the next few decades will prove crucial: if humanity can safely move away from fossil fuels, it may well have a chance, the study suggests.
The Kardashev Scale
In 1964, Soviet astronomer Nikolai Kardashev proposed a measurement scheme, later modified by Carl Sagan, to estimate the technological capability of an intelligent species. It all comes down to energy and how much (from whatever source) a species can use for its own purposes, whether exploring the universe or play video games.
A Type I Kardashev civilization, for example, can use all the energy available on the species’ home planet, including all energy sources in the ground (such as fossil fuels and materials that can be used for nuclear fission) and all the energy falling on this planet from its parent star. For Earth, this is around 10^16 watts.
Type II civilizations consume 10 times more energy and are able to harness the entire energy output of a single star. Type III species can go even further and use most of an entire galaxy’s energy.
Needless to say, the human species is well below the Type I threshold, but our energy consumption is increasing year by year. More and more people are consuming more electricity per capita, but this electricity has a price: namely, the threat to our biosphere posed by the release of carbon and pollutants, and the risk posed by the ability to use powerful means of energy storage and distribution for destructive purposes, such as nuclear bombs.
The big filter
The danger posed by increased energy consumption may explain why scientists have found no evidence of advanced extraterrestrial civilizations. If Earth isn’t very special, and the development of life and intelligence isn’t so unique (and there’s no reason to assume it is), then the galaxy should be teeming with intelligent creatures. Of course, we haven’t been around very long, astronomically speaking, but the Milky Way billions of years old. Surely by now someone somewhere should have reached the Type III stage and begun to seriously explore the galaxy.
This means that by the time humans became intelligent, there should have been someone to meet us, or at least leave a welcome gift.
But as far as we can tell, we are alone. Life, and especially intelligent life, seems extremely rare. So maybe a set of processes knocks intelligent life off the stage before a civilization can reach higher stages of development. Most of these so-called “great filters” are different forms of species self-destruction.
Indeed, we are already capable of self-destruction as a species, and we haven’t even made it to the first rung of the Kardashev ladder. A handful of countries now have the nuclear capability to eliminate every human being on the planet.
“We are our own Great Filter,” Jiang said.
The trick is to avoid self-destruction while we increase our energy consumption to the point where we can reliably exist on multiple worlds at once, even if only in the solar system, Jiang said. Having a human presence on more than one planet serves as a strong bulwark against self-destruction. But achieving multiplanetary status requires an enormous amount of energy, not just to establish short-term settlements, but also to maintain fully-fledged, self-sufficient cities.
The edge of the knife
Jiang and his team explored the best way to achieve Type I status in an article uploaded in Avril at the arXiv journal preprint server. The researchers followed the recommendations of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which established clear consequences for the continued and unrelenting use of fossil fuels. In short, unless humanity quickly switches its energy supplies to nuclear and renewable options, we will cause too much damage to our biosphere to continue climbing the Kardashev ladder.
The study also assumed a 2.5% annual growth in the use of renewable and nuclear energy and found that over the next 20 to 30 years these forms of energy use will gradually replace fuels. fossils. Nuclear and renewable energy sources have the potential ability to continue to increase their production without putting additional pressure on the biosphere, and if we continue at our current rate of consumption, we will reach Type I status in the year 2371. , the team discovered.
Jiang acknowledges that the calculations included many assumptions and that the uncertainty in the estimate was probably around 100 years. The calculations had to assume that we would identify safe ways to manage nuclear waste and that the increased ability to harness energy would not lead to disaster. Yet if we can stay on course, we can set the stage to potentially protect our species for generations to come over the next few hundred years.
Originally posted on Live Science.
#Humans #true #interplanetary #species #years #physicists