back to article How alien civilizations deal with climate is a measure of how smart they are. Just sayin'...

A team of scientists has proposed a new classification system that grades how advanced alien civilizations are by examining how an exoplanet uses energy. No concrete evidence of advanced life has been found beyond Earth, but that doesn't stop scientists entertaining the idea of extraterrestrial societies. The new system is a …

  1. Magani


    "That waste feedbacks on the state of the planet."

    Adam Frank, coauthor of the paper and a professor of physics.

    And presumably not a professor of English.

    1. hnwombat

      Re: Verbification

      "Verbing weirds language." --B. Watterson

  2. Anonymous Coward

    I always find it amusing...

    When people talk about "saving the planet"...

    Our planet doesn't need saving... it i'll be just fine without us...

    1. Pompous Git Silver badge

      Re: I always find it amusing...

      "Our planet doesn't need saving... it i'll be just fine without us..."
      As George Carlin so wittily pointed out:

      George Carlin on Global Warming

      1. Semtex451

        Re: I always find it amusing...

        " I'll..."

        And presumably not a professor of English either

        1. Pompous Git Silver badge

          Re: I always find it amusing...

          "And presumably not a professor of English either"
          I don't think malle-herbert ever claimed to be. Looks like a bit of predictive text to me...

  3. Katie Saucey

    Bring on class five!

    But without the carbon taxes and asinine 'green' subsides.

  4. hplasm

    Sounds like a Three Body Problem...

    If they're anything like us, the aliens would just look for somewhere new to move to and screw up.

  5. Pompous Git Silver badge

    "Class III: The planet has a light atmosphere, and exhibits some biological activity. But it has little effect on the planet. "
    Obviously never heard of

    The Great Oxygenation Event (Oxygen Catastrophe, Oxygen Crisis, Oxygen Holocaust, Oxygen Revolution, or Great Oxidation) ~ 2 billion years ago.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      That's small fry.

      The error bars on such a claim are nothing compared to "A Type 3 civilization is very advanced and uses all the energy of its home galaxy." As one is a mistake in numbers, the other a mistake in simple understandings in the limits of physics. You don't "use all the energy" of a *galaxy*. Light and gravity will mess you up big time in it's limits and that is before entropy and return on investment/reducing returns gets you.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: That's small fry.

        Who says you can't use all the energy of a galaxy? If you can use all the energy of a star by building a Dyson sphere around it, why can't you build a Dyson sphere around every star in a galaxy? Sure, some will eventually go supernova and bust up your nifty sphere, but you have lots of spares, and the shock wave hitting gas will eventually create new stars for you to build Dyson spheres around.

        Obviously the scale of such a civilization is beyond ridiculous to think about, but if you can build one Dyson sphere, you must have the ability to build self-replicating machines to accomplish that, so merely becomes a question of time and patience (lots and LOTS of patience) before you've done it for every star if that's your intent.

        OK sure some energy will "escape" down a black hole, due to supernova, or whatever so maybe you won't grab every single watt generated in that galaxy, but you can capture substantially all of it to the point where if we observed such a thing we'd wonder what the heck that galaxy sized object that radiates only in infrared is.

        1. Pompous Git Silver badge

          Re: That's small fry.

          "Who says you can't use all the energy of a galaxy?"
          Frank Tipler says you can and has been doing so for many years:

          There Are No Limits To The Open Society

          From The Critical Rationalist, a short-lived peer-reviewed journal archived at The Karl Popper Web.

  6. Chris G

    Equally as important as ecologically sound practices, is the need to generally improve on the efficiency of energy use. For example , cars have come a long way since they were invented but if they continue with fossil fuels they would need to improve a hell of a lot more. Instead of pouring money into oil profits.?

    Perhaps a measure of civilisation is how far beyond consumerism they are.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Vehicle efficiency

      Unfortunately there are limits to how much you can increase efficiency. If something is currently x% efficient then you can never increase its efficiency by a factor of more than 100/x, and in practice, for heat-engines at least, you will reach limits well before that. So if cars are 20% efficient now (this is a figure I just made up: I am not claiming they are currently 20% efficient), you can not, even in theory, make them more than 5 times more efficient.

      1. Rich 11

        Re: Vehicle efficiency

        I don't think anyone was claiming that something could be made 100% efficient, let alone beyond that.

        1. stewate4

          Re: Vehicle efficiency

          Well it would be rather hard to go beyond 100% efficiency!

      2. Chris G

        Re: Vehicle efficiency

        If efficiency is measured as a percentage it would be fairly obvious to most that achieving better than 100% efficiency is not possible, it's called 'Over Unity', you are breaking laws of physics at the very least.

        Even 100% efficiencyis unlikely because that would assume perfect engineering zero friction, no need for cooling only 100% work done relative to energy in.

        My point was that in considering a high level civilisation, balancing the ecology to limit say, the carbon footprint while important is not really thinking it through, waste energy which is a pollutant in it's own right would be a significant part of a highly developed civilisation, how that energy is produced or gathered and how well it is utilised is important not just sustainability .

  7. Mage


    The previous scheme is just EE "Doc" Smith SF from 1930s.

    Those boffins deserve a beer.

  8. Mystic Megabyte

    A Type 2 civilization on the Kardashev scale that is super space-baring could live without a biosphere.

    Super space-baring aliens in the buff! Three or five breasted?

    1. Tom 38 Silver badge

      ISTM that (almost?) every living entity has symmetry, and the more complex the organism, the more likely its bilateral symmetry.

      So probably no uneven numbers of boobies.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re. Aliens

        Blue skin, copper based hemocyanin (ie similar to horseshoe crab) and capable of seeing mid infrared to low visible light, 930 to 681nm but otherwise very much like us. 41.17 LY distance, around an M dwarf with three large exoplanets and one Earth-sized exomoon, 1.22G units.

        Height: a little under 0.9 metres, bilateral symmetry and capable of limited photo-mimetic abilities.

        The interesting thing is that they are aware of us but chose not to visit for various reasons.

        1. Syn3rg

          Re: Re. Aliens

          Good think they haven't visited, because we all know what will happen when a Cajun sees a 3-foot crab: interplanetary incident.

        2. jelabarre59

          Re: Re. Aliens

          Blue skin, copper based hemocyanin (ie similar to horseshoe crab) and capable of seeing mid infrared to low visible light, 930 to 681nm but otherwise very much like us. 41.17 LY distance, around an M dwarf with three large exoplanets and one Earth-sized exomoon, 1.22G units.

          Funny, I thought Gamilas was in the Large Magellanic Cloud.

      2. Paul 195

        You could maintain bilateral symmetry and have an odd number of boobies if they were in a vertical line.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          From a "naive" viewpoint your suggestion seems reasonable, but the phylogeny doesn't work that way. Your basic pair of nursing organs are homologous with either the leg or gill branches on one segment of our early Bilaterian ancestors (probably). Some mammals retain milk glands on more than one segment, but not Homo Sapiens.

          The various segment features were always in pairs, and originally they duplicated on most or all body segments, at least for the external stuff. Then Evolution went to work on that plan, re-purposing, modifying, and eliminating parts wholesale, but almost always with the original paring intact. Just works better I guess.

          The process has continued so long that it's hard to realize we humans today are actually segmented creatures, if only as a vestigial trait.

          Pretty much every paired part we have originated this way, or in association with it, so a putative ventral line of boobies would massively break the pattern and represent a major mutation. Kinda like that insemenator dongle some of us have.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re. odd pairs

            You assume that they breastfeed. Birds do not, most other non-mammalian species do not.

            Its possible that on an alien planet with radically different gravity and atmosphere (spawned in a different sea etc) and metallicity would lead to something based on different biochemistry.

            Someone once did the extrapolation (D.Russell IIRC) for a dinosauroid and estimated that sapient life forms based on dinosaurs would feed their young on regurgitated food as birds do at least for a while.

            Also the body temperature would be lower which might have significant advantages but they would also have to use life support systems in many locations.

            The same mechanisms that lead to high intelligence would probably cause heat sensitivity so they would be quite vulnerable outside of their normal environment.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Unless perfectly centered.

  9. alain williams Silver badge

    What is meant by 'advanced civilisation'

    Most people think that this means that the boffins has worked out how to do all manner of technical wonders.

    Just as important is: have the politicians grown up enough to not destroy the planet. I used to think that this meant not throwing nukes around, but increasingly realise that it means controlling expansion and population growth to what the ecosystem can sustain.

    Of the two: the harder is the politics. Politicians are just big children who have the gift of the gab and persuade the rest of us to vote for them (or self interested psychopaths who become dictators). They have little interest in the long term of anything (including the ecosystem) as long as they get what they want now.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What is meant by 'advanced civilisation'

      You're confusing the cause with the symptom. Politicians don't need to grow up, other people need to stop electing the ones that are unsuitable to be politicians. The problem lies with the non-politicians. You don't blame the apple for being wormy, you blame the picker that picked one up off the ground, because it "looked nice."

      1. Naselus

        Re: What is meant by 'advanced civilisation'

        "Politicians don't need to grow up, other people need to stop electing the ones that are unsuitable to be politicians"

        The irony of one of our most vocal Trump supporters saying this is not lost on me.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: What is meant by 'advanced civilisation'

          Dude, there is no irony if your assessment of Trump is inaccurate.

          Just sayin... ;-/

          1. Rattus Rattus

            Re: "Dude, there is no irony if your assessment of Trump is inaccurate"

            That's a DAMN big "if".

        2. Jtom

          Re: What is meant by 'advanced civilisation'

          I think the lesson that should have been learned by now is that politicians represent the most unsuitable group to hold elected positions, and no one should vote for any politician, ever. The worst non-politician on a ballot is less harmful to a country than the best politician.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Rearrange the following words into a well known saying:

    Bollocks old load of

  11. Robert Carnegie Silver badge


    If we detect a Class IV civilisation, we don't try to communicate - because it won't be there for long enough.

    If we detect a Class V, we ask how to be Class V.

    And we hope they don't follow the first rule, because we are Class IV.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: So

      But if we ask a Class V, they won't answer because it's a waste of energy.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    May I be the first to say:-

    Pass the rubber duck, number one.

  13. Fading


    Sustainability does not lead to advancement. Challenges and threats lead to advancement - if the planet is not under any known threat where would the desire to spread to other planets come from?

    Class fives would die as their sun dies as there would be no impetus to leave until it is too late. The universe would be populated by class IVs and any Vs would be a target.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: "if the planet is not under any known threat"

      There is always at least one known threat : planet-killer asteroids from the Oort cloud.

      I'm guessing that practically all stars have an Oort cloud. Astronomy is in the process of finding out that apparently most stars have planets. It would be very surprising if those planets did not have asteroid strikes every know and then.

      Our specific situation is that Jupiter is shielding us, but that doesn't keep asteroids from slipping past it and being a menace. One day, one of them will not miss us. We need to have a self-sustaining colony somewhere if the human race is to endure.

      The aliens, wherever they are, are most likely under the exact same menace. The only problem with this menace is that, as long as you don't have proof that an asteroid is on its way now, you don't have any real sense of urgency to get colonizing.

      The problem, of course, is that if you dawdle until the asteroid shows up, it's too late to start a colony and your race is screwed.

  14. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

    The Kardashev scale

    "Nikolai Kardashev, a Russian astrophysicist, argued that the amount of energy that could potentially be used by a planet's inhabitants was a good indication of how technologically advanced the society was.

    It's broken down into three types:

    A Type 1 civilization uses up all of the energy that reaches its planet from its parent star.

    A Type 2 civilization is capable of harnessing all the energy emitted by its star and planetary system.

    A Type 3 civilization is very advanced and uses all the energy of its home galaxy."

    So then with the inclusion of the word "all," does that makes us a Type 0.001? I mean we have at least figured out how to harness some of the parent star's energy so we're not a 0.0

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: The Kardashev scale

      Spider Jerusalem once commented on the Kardashev Scale in Transmetropolitan and noted his society is so self-absorbed it wasn't even a zero civilization.

  15. Zog_but_not_the_first

    What if?

    Advanced civilisations don't use energy at all? At least not in the sense that we do. What if they can manipulate, oh I dunno, say quantum foam to achieve their unfathomable purposes?

    Getting a message to a distant land used to take a lot of energy (riders, ships, messengers) compared to a phone call. And yes, I appreciate that the infrastructure required a great deal of energy to establish and maintain, but I hope you take my point.

    Aliens may be, well, alien.

  16. Howard Hanek

    Alternate Title

    .for 'Save the Planet'.........'Save My Grant Money'

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Alternate Title

      Possibly will work given he's obviously an AGW freak.

  17. ecofeco Silver badge

    This will not end well

    The human race is notoriously well documented for not fixing large scale problems until many people have died.

    In other words, this will not end well for many people.

  18. Phukov Andigh Bronze badge

    when all you have is Climate Panic

    every problem becomes on of Creating Climate Panic. Climate Panic the coloring book, Climate Panic the T shirt! Climate Panic the Flamethrower! (kids really love this one!)

  19. Pirate Dave Silver badge

    "More trees will need to be planted to soak up carbon dioxide and pump out oxygen, or even creating genetically modified trees with leaves that can convert the sun's energy into electricity."

    Or, you know, we could just find more efficient ways to kill more humans to reduce our carbon levels. Less people driving around, less people wasting electricity, less people needing to jet to the other side of the planet just to sit on the sand by the ocean. That would go a long way towards getting us up to class V. Then the Intergalactic Preservation Committee could print out a certificate for us to hang on the wall. Maybe even put a brass plaque on the Moon so other civilizations passing by would know we are worth stopping to look at.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I vote you as the first on that kill humans list Pirate Dave.

      Now why oh why do we always have to revert to kill off humans as a solution... We have the technology and have had the technology for at least 2 decades to get people off this planet and colonize your solar system... it would take many centuries if not millennia to out grow our solar system... Let me ask you a question and I will guess the answer; Q:Who should be on that list? A: Old people, as long as it isn't my (grand)parents. Correct...

      Now what would your rather a for sure death on earth or a slightly shortened life (and possibly not since we could science the shit out of it) because of radiation.

      Space colonies is the only real answer, all others are short term fixes that people can see in their life time (and they would also have to live with it...recipe for many mental illnesses), it has taken humanity many centuries of abuse of the ecosystem to get it to where it is today it will take at least that many centuries to fix it... it won't happen in one or 10 life times for that matter deal with it.

      1. Pirate Dave Silver badge

        Perhaps my sarcasm was a bit too subtle for you AC...

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How alien civilizations deal with climate the glut of pseudo-scientists churned out by their degree mills is a measure of how smart they are.

    Just fixin'...

  21. Chris Tierney

    Wrong tense used here.

    We used to be a Class V planet now were just a Class IV who is merrily on our way to becoming a Class II skipping a whole Class III bit. Sound about right?

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What next, we tell them what gender they are as well?

    FFS, you cannot convince everyone on this planet that we are all doomed unless we give all our money to the "green economy" so why try to enforce the same propaganda on any civilizations that may exist Out There?

    Any intelligent life will look the Earth, look at the number of us who seem to believe that paying people like Al Gore or Adam Frank horrendous amounts of money to tell a mixture of lies, half-lies and half-truths(*) and decide we really are not worth bothering with...

    (*)mathematical models that do not match reality, "scientific proof" that consists of shouting down any heretical non-Believers, proof from artic ice cores that show climate has changed more in the last couple of hundred years than the previous few thousand (but which they mysteriously forget to mention also proves that the Earth has had very wide swings between hot and cold long before mankind ever appeared)... I could go on but since most pro-AGW "campaigners" seem to rely on "BECAUSE WE SAY SO!!" to support their quasi-religious beliefs I won't bother...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What next, we tell them what gender they are as well?

      "but which they mysteriously forget to mention also proves that the Earth has had very wide swings between hot and cold long before mankind ever appeared"

      But that can be ascribed to a younger, more seismically-active world. How about a silver bullet? Conclusive proof of wild temperature swings AFTER mankind appeared but BEFORE major civilizations appeared, meaning man would have to have been the world's worse polluting nomads?

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re. aliens

    Actually it looks like FTL is possible but dropping out near a planet does massive damage comparable to a gamma ray burst.

    On the flip side if aliens ever do invade then we will see them coming, from light years off.

    They'd probably drop out around 100 AU away behind Jupiter wrt Earth while we are on the opposite side of the Sun so combined mass somewhat shields us.

  24. rbb

    I suggest that they also should consider biological models for civilizations. For example, yeast in a vat with some sugar and hops would be a class 1 civilization model. It consumes all of the resources in the vat and eventually dies in its own excrement.

    Perhaps a class 2 model would be lichen, which provide a space for algae to live and both the lichen and algae live off of each other.

    Disclamer here, I am not a biologist, I just like consuming yeast excrement and can appreciate the beauty that is life.

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