Kardashev scale: Wikis


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Kardashev scale projections for human civilization ranging from years 1900 to 2030, based on data from the International Energy Agency World Energy Outlook
Various Kardashev scale projections covering 1900 to 2100. One results in a singularity.

The Kardashev scale is a method of measuring a civilization's level of technological advancement. The scale is only theoretical and in terms of an actual civilization highly speculative; however, it puts energy consumption of an entire civilization in a cosmic perspective. It was first proposed in 1964 by the Soviet Russian astronomer Nikolai Kardashev. The scale has three designated categories called Type I, II, and III. These are based on the amount of usable energy a civilization has at its disposal, and the degree of space colonization. In general terms, a Type I civilization has achieved mastery of the resources of its home planet, Type II of its solar system, and Type III of its galaxy.[1]


Energy use

Energy is a static quantity and is denoted in joules. Power is a measure of energy transfer over time, and is denoted in watts (joules per second). The three levels of the Kardashev Scale can be quantified in units of power (watts) and plotted on an increasing logarithmic scale.

  • Type I — a civilization that is able to harness all of the power available on a single planet — has approximately 1016 or 1017 W available.[2] Earth specifically has an available power of 1.74  × 1017 W (174 petawatts, see Earth's energy budget). Kardashev's original definition was 4  × 1012 W — a "technological level close to the level presently attained on earth" ("presently" meaning 1964).[3]
  • Type II — a civilization that is able to harness all of the power available from a single star, approximately 4  × 1026 W.[2] Again, this figure is variable; the Sun outputs approximately 3.86  × 1026 W. Kardashev's original definition was also 4  × 1026 W.[3]
  • Type III — a civilization that is able to harness all of the power available from a single galaxy, approximately 4  × 1037 W.[2] This figure is extremely variable, since galaxies vary widely in size; the stated figure is the approximate power output of the Milky Way. Kardashev's original definition was also 4  × 1037 W.[3]

Using nuclear explosion tests as a perspective, Tsar Bomba, the largest nuclear weapon ever detonated, released an estimated 57 megaton yield; even a Type I civilization makes use of roughly 25 megatons of TNT equivalent a second. A Type II civilization controls 4 × 109 times more energy (4 billion hydrogen bombs per second), and a type III 1011 times more yet.

Current status of human civilization

Human civilization is currently somewhere below Type I, as it is able to harness only a portion of the energy that is available on Earth. The current state of human civilization has thus been named Type 0. Although intermediate values were not discussed in Kardashev's original proposal, Carl Sagan argued that they could easily be defined by interpolating and extrapolating the values given above. In 1973, he calculated humanity's civilization type to be 0.7, in relationship to Kardashev's model for Types 0 and I.[4]

Sagan used the arbitrary formula:

K = \frac{\log_{10}{W}-6} {10}

Value K is a civilization's Kardashev rating and W is its power output in watts. Sagan used 10 terawatt (TW) as value W, which was considerably higher than present data suggests.[5] Sagan's overestimation makes little difference in regards to human civilization's K rating, effecting only a change of 1% in its value (See Table Below). International Energy Agency World Energy Outlook (2005)[5] and section 7 of Key World Energy Statistics[6] project values for planetary power production yielding these corresponding Kardashev scale estimates:

Year Energy production Fractional Kardashev
scale equivalent
exajoules/year terawatts Quads/year[7] Mtoes/year[8]
1900   21     0.67   20      500 0.58
1970 190   6.0 180    4,500 0.67
1973 260   8.2 240    6,200 0.69
1985 290   9.2 270    6,900 0.69
1989 320 10    300    7,600 0.70
1993 340 11    320    8,100 0.70
1995 360 12    340    8,700 0.70
2000 420 13    400 10,000 0.71
2001 420 13    400 10,000 0.71
2002 430 14    410 10,400 0.71
2004 440 14    420 10,600 0.71
2010 510 16    480 12,100 0.72
2030 680 22    650 16,300 0.73

As of 2007, the Fractional Kardashev equivalent is approximately 0.72, calculated using BP's primary energy consumption chart for 2007.[9] It is important to note that as Sagan's fractional Kardashev scale is base-10 logarithmic, a value of 0.72 means we are using approximately 0.16% of the total available planetary energy budget.

Energy development

Methods by which a civilization could feasibly advance to Type I:

  • Large scale application of fusion power. Type I implies the conversion of about 5 kg of matter to energy per second. This can be achieved by fusing approximately 1,000 kg of hydrogen into helium each second, a rate roughly equivalent to 3 × 1010 kg/year. A cubic km of water contains about 1011 kg of hydrogen, and the Earth's oceans contain about 1.3 × 109 cubic km of water. So this rate of consumption can be sustained over geological time scales.
  • Antimatter production is still beyond our civilization's ability to utilize as a power source,[10] but any civilization with the technological ability to produce or collect antimatter[11] in large quantities cheaply, would have a mechanism to produce power on a scale several factors above our current level of technology. In antimatter-matter collisions, the entire rest mass of the particles is converted to kinetic energy. The energy per unit mass is about 10 orders of magnitude greater than chemical energy (compared to TNT), about 4 orders of magnitude greater than the energy that humans liberated today using nuclear fission, and about 2 orders of magnitude greater than the best possible from fusion.[12] The reaction of 1 kg of anti-matter with 1 kg of matter would produce 1.8 × 1017 J (180 petajoules) of energy (by the mass-energy equivalence formula E = mc²), or roughly the equivalent of 47 megatons of TNT. For energy comparisons see anti-matter as a fuel source.
  • Solar energy — converting sunlight into electricity by either solar cells or indirectly through wind and hydroelectric power. Currently, there is no known way for human civilization to successfully utilize the equivalent of the Earth's total absorbed solar energy without completely coating the surface with man-made structures, which is presently not feasible. However, if a civilization constructed very large space-based power satellites, Type I power levels might be achievable.
Figure of a Dyson swarm surrounding a star

Type II civilizations might employ:

Type III civilizations might use the same techniques employed by a Type II civilization, but applied to all of the stars of one or more galaxies individually.[16] They may also be able to tap into the energy produced from a supermassive black hole which are believed to exist at the center of most galaxies.

Civilization implications

There are many historical examples of human civilization undergoing large-scale transitions, such as the Industrial Revolution. The transition between Kardashev scale levels could potentially represent similarly dramatic periods of social upheaval, since they entail surpassing the hard limits of the resources available in a civilization's existing territory. A common speculation[17] suggests that the transition from Type 0 to Type I might carry a strong risk of self-destruction since, in some scenario, there would no longer be room for further expansion on the civilization's home planet, similar to a Malthusian catastrophe. Excessive use of energy without adequate disposal of heat, for example, could plausibly make the planet of a civilization approaching Type I unsuitable to the biology of the dominant life-forms and their food sources. If Earth is an example, then sea temperatures in excess of 35 °C would jeopardize marine life and make the cooling of mammals to temperatures suitable for their metabolism difficult if not impossible. Of course, these theoretical speculations may not become problems in reality thanks to the application of future engineering and technology.

Extensions to the original scale

The sub-Type I state that human civilization currently occupies was not originally included in the Kardashev scale but is now referred to as "Type 0" or by its K value using Sagan's logarithmic formula (described above).

Zoltan Galantai has defined a further extrapolation of the scale, a Type IV level which controls the energy output of the visible universe; this is within a few orders of magnitude of 1045 W. Such a civilization approaches or surpasses the limits of speculation based on current scientific understanding, and may not be possible. Frank J. Tipler's Omega point would presumably occupy this level, as would the Biocosm hypothesis. Galantai has argued that such a civilization could not be detected, as its activities would be indistinguishable from the workings of nature (there being nothing to compare them to).[18]

However, Milan M. Ćirković has argued that "Type IV" should instead be used to refer to a civilization that has harnessed the power of its supercluster, or "the largest gravitationally bound structure it originated in."[19] For the Local Supercluster, this would be approximately 1042 W.

Dr. Michio Kaku has discussed a type IV civilization, which could harness "extragalactic" energy sources such as dark energy, in his book Parallel Worlds.[20]

In contrast to simply increasing the maximum power level covered by the scale, Carl Sagan suggested adding another dimension: the information available to the civilization. He assigned the letter A to represent 106 unique bits of information (less than any recorded human culture) and each successive letter to represent an order of magnitude increase, so that a level Z civilization would have 1031 bits. In this classification, 1973 Earth is a 0.7 H civilization, with access to 1013 bits of information. Sagan believed that no civilization has yet reached level Z, conjecturing that so much unique information would exceed that of all the intelligent species in a galactic supercluster and observing that the universe is not old enough to effectively exchange information over larger distances. The information and energy axes are not strictly interdependent, so that even a level Z civilization would not need to be Kardeshev Type III.[4]

Examples in science fiction


Type I

  • The Pierson's Puppeteers from Larry Niven's Known Space books. Their society consumes so much power that surface temperatures are maintained by waste heat, even after the planet is moved 1/10th of a light year away from its star. Power production must therefore be equivalent to the previous insolation.
  • The Borg Collective introduced in Star Trek: The Next Generation (although they are often considered type III).

Type II

Type III

Type IV and above

  • The backstory of The Dancers at the End of Time series by Michael Moorcock describes a civilization which consumed all the energy in all the stars in the universe, save Earth's own sun, in order to fuel an existence in which the inheritors of Earth lived as nigh-omnipotent gods.
  • In the Doctor Who book The Gallifrey Chronicles, the Time Lord Marnal - in a rare mention of the Scale within a work of fiction - asserts that "[t]he Time Lords were the Type-4 civilization. We had no equals. We controlled the fundamental forces of the entire universe. Nothing could communicate with us on our level."
  • The Xeelee and Photino Birds from the Xeelee Sequence had power over multiple galaxies, and constructed a ring of superstrings to enter a higher dimension.

Connections with sociology and anthropology

Kardashev's theory can be viewed as the expansion of some social theories, especially from social evolutionism. It is close to the theory of Leslie White, author of The Evolution of Culture: The Development of Civilization to the Fall of Rome (1959). White attempted to create a theory explaining the entire history of humanity. The most important factor in his theory is technology: Social systems are determined by technological systems, wrote White in his book, echoing the earlier theory of Lewis Henry Morgan. As measure of society advancement he proposed the measure energy consumption of a given society (thus his theory is known as the energy theory of cultural evolution). He differentiates between five stages of human development. In the first stage, people use energy of their own muscles. In the second stage, they use energy of domesticated animals. In the third stage, they use the energy of plants (which White refers to as agricultural revolution). In the fourth stage, they learn to use the energy of natural resources - such as coal, oil and gas. Finally, in the fifth stage, they harness nuclear energy. White introduced a formula P=E×T, where P measures the advancement of the culture, E is a measure of energy consumed, and T is the measure of efficiency of technical factors utilizing the energy.


It has been argued that, because we cannot understand advanced civilizations, we cannot predict their behavior; thus, Kardashev's visualization may not reflect what will actually occur for an advanced civilization. This central argument is found within the book Evolving the Alien: The Science of Extraterrestrial Life.[23]

On a more direct level, since the Kardashev scale rates a civilization according to how much energy it is capable of harnessing, it "penalizes" a civilization that invents ways of making more efficient use of the energy already available to it, instead of simply harnessing yet more energy. An extremely advanced civilization might also chose to forego either the projects or the materialistic growth (expansion) humanity associates with high energy demand.

See also

Further reading

  • Kardashev, Nikolai (March 1997). "Cosmology and Civilizations". Astrophysics and Space Science 252. 
  • Supercivilizations as Possible Products of the Progressive Evolution of Matter: also by Kardashev
  • Search for Artificial Stellar Sources of Infrared Radiation, by Freeman J. Dyson
  • The Radio Search For Intelligent Extraterrestral Life, by Frank Drake
  • Freitas Jr., Robert A.. Energy and Culture (chapter 15). 


  1. ^ Zubrin, Robert, 1999, Entering Space — Creating a Spacefaring Civilization
  2. ^ a b c Detectability of Extraterrestrial Technological Activities by Guillermo A. Lemarchand
  3. ^ a b c Kardashev, Nikolai (1964). "Transmission of Information by Extraterrestrial Civilizations" (PDF). Soviet Astronomy 8: 217. http://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-iarticle_query?db_key=AST&bibcode=1964SvA.....8..217K&letter=.&classic=YES&defaultprint=YES&whole_paper=YES&page=217&epage=217&send=Send+PDF&filetype=.pdf. 
  4. ^ a b Sagan, Carl (October 2000) [1973]. Jerome Agel. ed. Cosmic Connection: An Extraterrestrial Perspective. Freeman J. Dyson, David Morrison. Cambridge Press. ISBN 05-21-7830-38. http://books.google.com/books/cambridge?id=lL57o9YB0mAC&pg=PA156&sig=jb28BQKb9M7yxd_FqHM6xRkxxog. Retrieved 2008-01-01. 
  5. ^ a b [$$3121. (2005). "8" (PDF). World Energy Outlook. Paris, France: International Energy Agency. pp. 82. ISBN 92-64-1094-98. http://www.iea.org/textbase/nppdf/free/2005/weo2005.pdf. Retrieved 2008-01-01. ]
  6. ^ "Key World Energy Statistics" (PDF). International Energy Agency. 2004. http://www.iea.org/dbtw-wpd/textbase/nppdf/free/2004/keyworld2004.pdf. Retrieved 2006-08-10. 
  7. ^ Quads: 1 quadrillion BTU
  8. ^ Mtoes: Million tonnes (metric tons) of oil equivalents
  9. ^ BP Primary energy consumption chart for 2007
  10. ^ Landua, Rolf, [Magazine] & CERN. Interview. Anti-matter is the ultimate energy source.... Is this true?. Italy. 2005-09-01. Retrieved on 2008-01-29.
  11. ^ Weidenspointner, Georg (2008-01-08). "An asymmetric distribution of positrons in the Galactic disk revealed by big gamma-rays" (Journal). Nature. doi:10.1038/nature06490. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v451/n7175/abs/nature06490.html. Retrieved 2008-02-19. 
  12. ^ Borowski, Steve K. (1987-07-29). "Comparison of Fusion/Anti-matter Propulsion Systems for Interplanetary Travel" (PDF). Technical Memorandum 107030. San Diego, California, USA: National Aeronautics and Space Administration. pp. 1–3. http://gltrs.grc.nasa.gov/reports/1996/TM-107030.pdf. Retrieved 2008-01-28. 
  13. ^ Dyson, Freeman J. (1966). "The Search for Extraterrestrial Technology". Perspectives in Modern Physics (New York: John Wiley & Sons). 
  14. ^ Newman, Phil (2001-10-22). "New Energy Source "Wrings" Power from Black Hole Spin" (web). NASA. http://www.gsfc.nasa.gov/topstory/20011015blackhole.html. Retrieved 2008-02-19. 
  15. ^ Schutz, Bernard F. (1985). A First Course in General Relativity. New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 304, 305. ISBN 0521277035. http://books.google.com/books?id=qhDFuWbLlgQC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Bernard+Schutz+%22A+First+Course+in+General+Relativity%22&sig=ANhQ9t-d7EOu7T35omnoTvrY-IA#PPT1,M1. 
  16. ^ Kardashev, Nikolai. "On the Inevitability and the Possible Structures of Supercivilizations", The search for extraterrestrial life: Recent developments; Proceedings of the Symposium, Boston, MA, June 18–21, 1984 (A86-38126 17-88). Dordrecht, D. Reidel Publishing Co., 1985, p. 497–504.
  17. ^ Dyson, Freeman (1960-06-03). "Search for Artificial Stellar Sources of Infrared Radiation". Science (New York: W. A. Benjamin, Inc) 131 (3414): 1667–1668. doi:10.1126/science.131.3414.1667. PMID 17780673. http://www.islandone.org/LEOBiblio/SETI1.HTM. Retrieved 2008-01-30. 
  18. ^ Galantai, Zoltan (September 7, 2003). "Long Futures and Type IV Civilizations" (PDF). http://longfuture.inno.bme.hu/long_futures_article1.pdf. Retrieved 2006-05-26. 
  19. ^ Milan M. Ćirković (February 2004). "Forecast for the Next Eon : Applied Cosmology and the Long-Term Fate of Intelligent Beings". Foundations of Physics (Springer Netherlands) 34: 239–261. doi:10.1023/B:FOOP.0000019583.67831.60. ISSN (Print) 1572-9516 (Online) 0015-9018 (Print) 1572-9516 (Online). 
  20. ^ Kaku, Michio (2005). Parallel Worlds: The Science of Alternative Universes and Our Future in the Cosmos. New York: Doubleday. pp. 317. ISBN 0713997281. 
  21. ^ http://hallawiki.a.wiki-site.com/index.php/Eelong#Technology
  22. ^ Stapledon, Olaf Last and First Men [ 1931 ] and Star Maker [ 1937 ] New York:1968—Dover Chapters IX through XI Pages 346 to 396
  23. ^ Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart: Evolving the Alien: The Science of Extraterrestrial Life, Ebury Press, 2002, ISBN 0-09-187927-2

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