The undeniable and significant impact of humanity has ushered in a new geological epoch that has turned Earth into a hybrid planet.
In 1964, Soviet astronomer Nikolai Kardashev designed a scale that categorizes the planets of theoretical but advanced extraterrestrial civilizations into three types. According to this scale, named after Kardashev, a Type 1 civilization is able to utilize all the energy resources of its home world. Type 2 can utilize all the energy resources in its star system. Type 3 is far more advanced, capable of controlling the energy resources in its entire galaxy.
Earth itself is far from reaching a Type 1 classification. Researchers, however, have devised a new scheme for the stages of planetary evolution. This new scheme is based on non-equilibrium thermodynamics, taking into account a planet's out-of-sync energy flow—something which is caused by the presence of life. According to the study and its new scale, Earth has entered the Anthropocene, signaling the beginnings of our technologically-advanced future.
Will we ever be able advanced enough to be able to control the energy resources of our galaxy?
The researchers were of the opinion that the Kardashev scale was based on technologically unencumbered exo-civilizations. Thus, the scale measured energy consumption alone and was somewhat unrealistic. The new scale, however, has five evolutionary states instead of three. It considers planetary sustainability in the Anthropocene epoch, the period in which humans significantly impact Earth.
“Our premise,” the researchers write, “is that Earth's entry into the Anthropocene represents what might, from an astrobiological perspective, be a predictable planetary transition.
"In our perspective,” the researchers continue, “the beginning of the Anthropocene can be seen as the onset of the hybridization of the planet—a transitional stage from one class of planetary systems to another."
In the new scale, planets are sorted into five classes. Class I includes planets with no atmosphere. Class II includes planets with a thin atmosphere but without life forms. The next category, Class III, includes planets with a thin biosphere as well as life forms that haven't had an impact on the planet's evolution. Class IV includes planets that have healthy biospheres with life forms that have been causing planet-wide changes. Class V includes planets greatly affected by advanced, “energy-intensive” life forms.
According to the researchers, we have left Class IV and are now heading into Class V. This is why right now, Earth is a hybrid planet.
Utilizing renewable energy resources is our ticket to attaining Class V classification
"Our thesis is that the development of long-term sustainable versions of an energy-intensive civilization must be seen on a continuum of interactions between life and its host planet," the researchers say.
It follows, therefore, that if we want to enter Class 5, or even be eligible for Type 1 classification in the Kardashev scale, we must be able to fully utilize renewable energy resources. This can play a vital part in ensuring that we'll be able to live long enough to be more technologically advanced.
Earth may be a hybrid planet now, but it shouldn't be for too long. Knowing where we have to be might make it easier for us to actually get there.
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