Humanity has for a long time considered itself the most important species on the planet. We are quite happy to share the world with other species, but we think we know who's in charge. At least for now. Is this mere anthropocentric arrogance? A newly developed classification system for planetary development may shed some light.
Beyond the Kardashev Scale
Until now, the gold standard of this kind of civilization classification was the Kardashev scale. This metric was proposed by Soviet astronomer Nikolai Kardashev in the 1960s. It classified hypothetical alien civilizations according to the degree of power they could harness. Our civilization was not advanced enough, according to Kardashev, to even appear on the scale.
The new scale, proposed by a research team including the University of Washington's Marina Alberti, works quite differently. The team considered civilizational development as something closely tied to the planet – hence "hybrid". Because of this, the scale begins with hypothetical planets completely without atmosphere or life (Class I). And it ends with planets strongly impacted by the activities of advanced species harnessing a great deal of energy (Class V).
So where are we on the scale? According to the researchers, human civilization is currently somewhere at the border of Class IV and Class V. Class IV involves a state of affairs in which planetary life strongly determines the world's energy flow, but not to the highly advanced extent it would in Class V. We are apparently in the midst of the transition to this higher stage.
What does this mean for us? Having a big impact on the planet, as we are learning in recent years, is not necessarily a good thing. Knowing that we are so high on this new scale of civilizational advancement might make us proud, but more than that, it should make us thoughtful. We are changing the world, whether we intend to or not. The task for the future is to envision ways of changing it for the better.
Image via NASA