Advanced science, Astrophysics, Environmental, Technical

How global warming is impacting on Earth’s spin

Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions might be affecting more than just the climate. For the first time, scientists at NASA presented evidence that the orientation of the Earth’s spin axis is changing because of global warming.

global_warming_1[1]The Earth spins from west to east about an axis once every 24 hours, creating the continuous cycle of day and night. The north-south spin axis runs through the North and South Poles and is tilted by 23.5 degrees from the vertical. The axial tilt causes almost all the seasonal changes.

But the tilt is far from constant. It varies between 21.6 and 24.5 degrees in a 41,000-year cycle. This variation together with small fluctuations in the Sun and Moon’s gravitational pull, oblate shape and elliptical orbit of the Earth, irregular surface, non-uniform distribution of mass and movement of the tectonic plates cause the spin axis, and hence the Poles, to wobble either east or west along its general direction of drift.

Until 2005, Earth’s spin axis has been drifting steadily in the southwest direction around ten centimetres each year towards the Hudson Bay in Canada. However, in 2005, the axis took an abrupt turn and started to drift east towards England at an annual rate of about 17 centimetres, according to data obtained by NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellites. It is still heading east.

After analysing the satellite data, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California attribute the sudden change in direction of the axis mainly to melting of Greenland’s ice sheets due to global warming. The reason: Melting of ice sheets and the resulting rise of the sea level are changing the distribution of mass on Earth, thereby causing the drift of the spin to change direction and become more oblique. The axis is particularly sensitive to changes in mass distribution occurring north and south of 45 degrees latitude. This phenomenon is similar to the shift in the axis of rotation of a spinning toy if we put more mass on one side of the top or the other.

Since 2002, ice sheets of Greenland have been melting at an annual rate of roughly 270 million tonnes. Additionally, some climate models indicate that a two-to-three degrees Celsius rise in temperature would result in a complete melting of Greenland’s ice sheets. If that happens, it could release the equivalent of as much as 1,400 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, enhancing global warming even further. It would also raise the sea level by about 7.5 meters. By then, the wobbling of the Poles would also be completely out of whack.

The ice in the Arctic Ocean has also decreased dramatically since the 1960s. For every tonne of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, about three square meters of Arctic’s ice were lost in the last 50 years. This reflects a disquieting long-term trend of around ten percent loss of ice per decade. Furthermore, Antarctica is losing more ice than is being replaced by snowfall. The influx of water from the melting of ice of the Arctic Ocean and Antarctica together with the melting of glaciers and the subsequent redistribution of water across the Earth is also causing our planet to pitch over.

What does this mean for us? Although something as small as we humans shook up something as massive as the Earth, it won’t turn upside down as long as the Moon, which acts as a stabiliser of the Earth’s spinning motion, stays in the sky as our nearest neighbour. However, if the shift of the spin axis maintains its present rate and direction, then by the end of this century, the axis would shift by nearly 14 meters. Such a large shift will have devastating consequences for climate change and our planet.

The orientation of the Earth’s spin axis determines the seasonal distribution of radiation at higher latitudes. If the axial tilt is smaller, the Sun does not travel as far north in the sky during summer, producing cooler summers. A larger tilt, as could be in the future, would mean summer days that would be much hotter than the present summer days. In addition, it would impact the accuracy of GPS and other satellite-dependent devices.

Since global warming is causing the Earth’s mass to be redistributed towards the Poles, it would cause the planet to spin faster, just as an ice skater spins faster when she pulls her arms towards her body. Consequently, the length of a day would become shorter.

Our biological clock that regulates sleeping, walking, eating, and other cyclic activities is based on a 24-hour day. Faced with a shorter day, these circadian rhythms would be hopelessly out of sync with the natural world. Moreover, a rapidly spinning Earth will be unstable to the extent that the Poles would wobble faster. This would create enormous stress on the Earth’s geology leading to large-scale natural disasters that will most likely be disastrous for life on Earth.

We may not witness the effects of a rapidly spinning Earth by the end of this century or the next. Nevertheless, the effects will be perceivable a few centuries from now if the global temperature keeps on rising and the ice sheets keep on melting in tandem.

The shift in the Earth’s spin axis due to climate change highlights how real and profoundly large impact humans are having on the planet. The dire consequences of the shift in the axial tilt towards a larger obliquity, as noted above, is not a wake-up call, but an alarm bell. There is still time for our leaders to listen to the scientists and formulate a long-term approach to tackle the problem of climate change instead of a short-term Band-Aid approach, as outlined in the 2015 Paris Agreement, which will see us through only to the end of this century. Therefore, our foremost goal before the death knell should be to reverse global warming, or at the least, to stop further warming instead of limiting it to 1.5-degree in the next 75 years or so.

The author, Quamrul Haider, is a Professor of Physics at Fordham University, New York.

 

Advanced science, Bangladesh, Economic, Environmental, International, Technical

Harnessing the Solar Energy absorbed by ocean waters

solar_energy

The world’s oceans constitute a vast natural reservoir for receiving and storing solar energy. They take in solar energy in proportion to their surface area, nearly three times that of land. As the sun warms the oceans, it creates a significant temperature difference between the surface water and the deeper water to which sunlight doesn’t penetrate. Any time there’s a temperature difference, there’s the potential to run a heat engine, a device that converts thermal energy into mechanical energy.

Most of the electricity we use comes from heat engines of one kind or another. The working principle of such an engine is very simple. It operates between two reservoirs of thermal energy, one hot and one cold. Energy is extracted from the hot reservoir to heat a working fluid which boils to form high-pressure vapour that drives a turbine coupled to an electricity-producing generator. Contact with the cold reservoir re-condenses the working fluid which is pumped back into the evaporator to complete the cycle.

The idea of building an engine to harness energy from the oceans, mainly to generate electricity, by exploiting the thermal gradient between waters on the surface and deeper layers of an ocean is known as OTEC—acronym for Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion. With OTEC, the hot reservoir is an ocean’s warmer surface water with temperatures, which can exceed 25 degrees Celsius, and the cold reservoir is the cooler water, around five to six degrees, at a depth of up to one kilometre. The working fluid is usually ammonia, which vaporises and condenses at the available temperatures. This is analogous to choosing water as the working fluid matched to the temperature differential between a fossil-fuel-fired boiler and a condenser cooled by air or water.

The maximum efficiency of a heat engine operating between reservoirs at 25 and 5 degrees Celsius is 6.7 percent. This means efficiency of an actual OTEC engine will be much less, perhaps 2-3 percent. But low efficiency isn’t the liability it would be in a fossil-fuelled or nuclear power plant. After all, the fuel for OTEC is unlimited and free, as long as the sun heats the oceans.

The greater is the temperature difference, more efficient an OTEC power plant would be. For example, a surface temperature of 30 degrees would raise the ceiling on efficiency to 8.25 percent. That’s why the technology is viable primarily in tropical regions where the year-round temperature differential between the ocean’s deep cold and warm surface waters is greater than 20 degrees. The waters of Bay of Bengal along the shores of Bangladesh, a country that enjoys a year round warm, and at times very hot weather, have excellent thermal gradients for producing electricity using OTEC technology.

The world’s biggest operational OTEC facility, with an annual power generation capacity of 100 kW, was built by Makai Ocean Engineering in Hawaii. Tokyo Electric Power Company and Toshiba built a 100 kW plant on the island of Nauru, although as much as 70 percent of the electricity generated is used to operate the plant.

The US aerospace company Lockheed Martin is building an OTEC electricity generating plant off the coast of Hainan Island in China. Once operational, the plant will be able to generate up to at least 10 MW of power, enough to sustain the energy requirements of a smaller metropolis. India is building a 200 kW plant, expected to be operational before 2020, in Kavaratti, capital of the Lakshadweep archipelago, to power a desalination plant. Other OTEC systems are either in planning or development stage in Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and several countries along the Indian Ocean, mostly to supply electricity.

Like any alternative form of energy, OTEC has its advantages and disadvantages, but the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Among the advantages, the one that stands out is its ability to provide a base load supply of energy for an electrical power generation system without interruption, 24/7/365. It also has the potential to produce energy that are several times greater than other ocean energy options, such as waves and tides. More importantly, OTEC is an extremely clean and sustainable technology because it won’t have to burn climate-changing fossil fuels to create a temperature difference between the reservoirs. A natural temperature gradient already exists in the oceans. The gradient is very steady in time, persisting over day and night and from season to season. Furthermore, the desalination technology as a by-product of the OTEC can produce a large amount of fresh water from seawater which will benefit many island nations and desert countries.

However, recirculation of large volumes of water by OTEC power plants could have negative impacts on the aquatic environment. In particular, the introduction of nutrient-rich deep waters into the nutrient-poor surface waters would stimulate plankton blooms that could adversely affect the local ecological balance. Additional ecological problems include destruction of marine habitats and aquatic nursery areas, redistribution of oceanic constituents, loss of planktons and decrease of fish population.

Since OTEC facilities must be located closer to the shores due to cabling constraints, they could have significant effect on near-shore circulation patterns of ocean water. As a result, open ocean organisms close to the shores will be especially affected because they are known to have very narrow tolerance limits to changes in the properties of their environment.

The biggest drawback of OTEC is its low efficiency. This implies that to produce even modest amounts of electricity, OTEC plants have to be constructed on a relatively large scale, which makes them expensive investments. It’s the price we should be prepared to pay to curb global warming. Industry analysts however believe that in the long run, low operation and maintenance cost would offset the high cost of building OTEC facilities.

The current effort, as agreed in the 2015 Paris Accord, to keep our planet lovable is like taking one giant step backward before trying to move one step forward. If technology for OTEC and other eco-friendly renewable sources of energy are fully developed and globally commercialised, it would indeed be one giant step forward in mitigating global warming. They would also equip communities worldwide with the self-empowerment tools that are required to build an independent and sustainable future.

 

The author, Quamrul Haider, is a Professor of Physics at Fordham University, New York.

Bangladesh, Economic, Environmental, International, Life as it is, Political

Politics of climate change, sinking Bangladesh and floating houses

Climate change is real and permanent. There is no turning round as we have gone past the point of no-return. It can only get worse from here. Climate change is, therefore, an existential threat for our children and grandchildren for whom time is running out fast.

Floating house in BangladeshApparently, it isn’t a threat for those who abdicated leadership of a warmer world and yet formulate environment-damaging energy policies from the luxury of their cooler world—air-conditioned homes and offices. If they cared even a bit about their progeny, they wouldn’t be flying in ozone-layer-depleting private planes or riding fossil-fuel-guzzling stretched limos and SUVs.

A few world leaders led by Donald Trump believe that carbon dioxide makes the earth greener instead of creating climate crisis. Consequently, Trump deleted references to “climate change” from government websites, fired scientists from advisory boards and the Environmental Protection Agency. He seized on the uncertainty in climate models to reverse greenhouse gas emission regulations of the Obama administration and withdrew the United States from the 2016 Paris Agreement on curbing global warming. He even nonsensically blamed this year’s out-of-control California fires on environmental laws. Other climate change deniers are his bagful of deplorables, the well-paid operatives of organisations that take contributions from fossil fuel corporations and a colourful cast of self-styled “experts” who have made a living out of rejecting the scientific evidence of climate change.

They are perhaps not aware that one of the most alarming but reliable projections for global warming has been made by researchers at the prestigious Carnegie Institution of Science in Stanford in California. The results of their research, based on a decade’s worth of satellite observations concerning the net balance between the amount of energy entering and leaving the atmosphere, have been published in the December 2017 issue of the high impact, peer-reviewed journal Nature. They concluded that if large emissions of greenhouse gases continue unabated throughout the century, worldwide temperatures could rise nearly five degrees Celsius between 2081 and 2100.

It is an undeniable fact that episodes of raging wildfires, high-category hurricanes, ferocious cyclones, floods of biblical proportions, deadly mudslides, severe droughts, bone-chilling Arctic blasts followed by lethal heatwaves and the melting of Arctic ice at a rate never before seen are effects of a sub-one degree rise in global temperature since 1880. Heaven only knows what will happen if we, as agreed upon by the 2016 Paris Agreement’s stakeholders, take the free pass of heating up our planet by two degrees before the end of this century.

Even a two-degree rise in global temperature would most likely set the stage for the greenhouse effect to spin out of control, eventually triggering a runaway greenhouse effect whose impacts would be cataclysmic, to say the least. Nevertheless, scientists at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change believe that there is virtually no chance of a runaway greenhouse effect being induced by human activities, despite the fact that greenhouse gas emissions are still moving in the wrong direction.

What triggers a runaway greenhouse effect? The increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide and water vapour, two of the dominant greenhouse gases, would raise the global temperature which, in turn, would cause more water from the oceans to evaporate and carbon dioxide stored in the soil and oceans to bake out. This would be in addition to the carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels. The positive feedback of continued emission of these greenhouse gases would ultimately snare our planet into a vicious cycle of a runaway greenhouse effect, which was responsible for raising the surface temperature of Venus to a blistering 480 degrees Celsius—hot enough to melt lead.

One of the countries that is already paying a hefty price for the climate sins of industrial nations is Bangladesh. It is predicted that the two-degree boost in temperature and the subsequent rise of sea levels would sink the coastal areas of Bangladesh, thereby resulting in an unprecedented human tragedy. Already, the intruding sea has contaminated groundwater which supplies drinking water for coastal regions and degraded farmlands, rendering them less fertile and at places completely barren.

Although engineering adaptations to climate change have been successful in other countries, such as the dikes constructed in the Netherlands, they won’t work in Bangladesh because the soils are sandy and constantly shifting. Thus, if the country does not want to see millions of her climate refugees migrating inland and ending up in decrepit slums, then the government should take a serious look at the “Dream House”—a flood-resistant floating house—built by a team of BRAC University students.

The concept of floating houses and floating villages is not new. There are many such villages in the world. They are communities with houses and other amenities of a town built on top of large raft-like structures or on stilts, as in the Tonlé Sap Lake in Siem Reap in Cambodia.

Floating houses in Bangladesh’s coastal areas could save the lives and livelihoods of millions from the catastrophic effects of anthropogenic climate change. Bangladeshi farmers have already developed techniques for building floating farms, known as “dhaps,” with duck coops, fish enclosures and vegetable gardens anchored by ropes to the riverbanks where the water rises at least three metres during the monsoon season.
The arduous life of the people living in the floating dwellings that would gently rock and roll with the ebb and flow of the Bay of Bengal would not only be a paragon of adapting to climate change but also a modern-day example of Darwin’s “survival of the fittest.”

 

The author, Quamrul Haider, is a Professor of Physics at Fordham University, New York.

 

 

Bangladesh, Cultural, Environmental, Life as it is, Political

Well done, Sir!

Dhaka trafficThe The on-duty police officer pleads with a flag-carrying car on Hare Road on June 6. The photo was shared on the ‘Traffic Alert’ Facebook Group. COURTESY: SHAMOL JAHANGIR HUSSAIN.On-duty police officer pleads with a flag-carrying car on Hare Road on June 6. The photo was shared on the ‘Traffic Alert’ Facebook Group. COURTESY: SHAMOL JGIRIN

There are iconic pictures that sometimes capture an age, define a moment in history, exemplify beauty, tragedy, or joy, in ways otherwise impossible to evoke. Who can forget the naked, screaming Vietnamese girl fleeing the napalm attack on her village in 1972; the Chinese man standing in lonely defiance in front of a column of tanks at the Tiananmen Square in 1989; the Times Square kiss; or the raising of the US flag at Iwo Jima, heralding the end of WWII?

The picture published in The Daily Star on June 7 on Page 3 of a police officer pleading with a flag-bearing car to not go the wrong side of the road certainly does not have the same drama or historical resonance. But it is remarkable nonetheless for it not only portrays the exemplary integrity of the officer but also reveals a subtle but stark truth about our political realities. The first gives us hope, the second makes us cringe.

We can be justifiably proud of the fact that an officer could, on his own cognisance and authority, exert the supremacy of law and insist that even the privileged classes follow the standard procedures established for everyone else. This is most reassuring. Moreover this took place in a posh area. The people who live or visit here are the ministers and secretaries, power brokers and high rollers, the insiders and deciders. This is where wealth and power seduce each other, and remain locked in intimate, if illicit, embrace.

These are not people used to hearing the word “no”, or being stopped, or being told that they are engaging in an illegal act, or being made to feel accountable for their actions, or (heaven forbid) being asked to correct their behaviour or reverse their decisions. Power in Bangladesh is usually defined, and often expressed, as the ability to flout the law and face no consequences, or as Erich Segal had put it in Love Story in a slightly different context, “never having to say you are sorry.”

Thus, driving on the wrong side of the road becomes a metaphor of our political times. It is an “in your face” raised middle finger which indicates both an entitlement that is casually assumed, and an attitude that is sneeringly demonstrated.

The reason the picture acquires such enormous significance is because it contradicts our typical experiences and expectations. We are not generally used to the rule of law being duly respected and publicly enforced. In these matters we are more likely to being disappointed and, sometimes, outraged. We read of the increasing numbers of extrajudicial killings in the country where those entrusted with enforcing the law take upon themselves the roles of prosecutor, judge and executioner all rolled into one. We also see pictures of stricken family members holding up photographs of people who have “disappeared”.

Some of these supposed “victims” in both groups are/were presumably horrible individuals who deserve to be removed from our midst. But, no amount of public anger and frustration about supposedly “bad people” can, ever, justify the suspension of the human rights and liberties guaranteed in the constitution. We must never forget that the concept of democracy entails a nation governed by law, not a nation governed by “men” (however well-intentioned the latter may be).

The public confidence in the rule of law is also a bit shaken by the lack of enthusiasm in bringing the full force of the law against the high and mighty. There are the bank-swindlers, the land-grabbers, forest-cutters and water-polluters, the money launderers, the drug kingpins, the local “investors” who park their money in dodgy deals and shady holdings abroad, the real estate scammers, the tax evaders, the corrupt contractors offering shoddy work at inflated prices, and the ubiquitous “gatekeepers” of the rentier state who command its resources and extract payment for services to which citizens have a right. These people are not particularly concerned about being “caught” and, in fact, flaunt their (mostly ill-gotten) wealth in rude and taunting swagger.

Moreover, the citizens see inordinate delays in the investigation of crimes and bringing perpetrators to justice. In the last several years alone the murders of young Taqi in Narayanganj, college student Tonu in Comilla, journalists Sagar and Runi in Dhaka, and many progressive bloggers and social media activists, remain shrouded in ambiguity and confusion.

Crimes against women and minorities are particularly vulnerable to foot-dragging and seeming indifference. The attacks on temples and ashrams, or communal violence in Ramu in Cox’s Bazar, Shantia in Pabna, Nasirnagar in Brahmanbaria, Thakurpara in Rangpur, or Longadu in Rangamati, have not seen much prosecutorial headway. Similarly, of the 4,541 allegations of rape brought to the much-vaunted one-stop crisis centres over the last 16 years, only 60 have been found guilty. And when one is both a woman and “indigenous” (e.g., Kalpana Chakma who was abducted in 1996), the wait for answers can be long and cruel.

The clogged and sluggish nature of the legal system was revealed in the law minister’s own statement in Parliament in January 2018, when he indicated that there were more than 3.3 million cases pending in courts, with more than 476,000 in the High Court Division and 16,565 in the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court. More importantly, almost a million cases have been languishing for more than five years. Not only does this provoke the old dictum of “justice delayed is justice denied” but it also indicates a court system almost overwhelmed by the pressures put on it.

There are also some public concerns about the use of law enforcement agencies as partisan instruments serving the agendas of particular governments, rather than as autonomous institutions serving the interests of the State. Cases may be initiated or withdrawn because of political considerations (even indemnifying entire classes of crimes committed at certain times), and judicial orders may, at times, be held in abeyance. In an unprecedented affront to the Courts, it is even possible for an individual, who had been duly charged, convicted and sentenced for a capital crime by the legal system, to receive a political pardon and then be spirited out of the country in the cover of darkness.

But this litany of criticisms and complaints should not blind us to the fact that most law enforcement personnel are generally honest, dedicated and competent. They toil in thankless, often dangerous tasks, are usually overworked and underpaid, and receive little appreciation even when they take huge risks and make personal sacrifices to uphold the principles of law and justice. Moreover, the system has to contend with a colonial legacy which had defined its structures and priorities; struggle with inadequate resources, training and incentives offered to it; and function within a larger moral environment which neither rewards nor encourages integrity and talent. To expect these people to be saints, when most others around them are not, is both unrealistic and unfair.

However, it is undeniable that there are some widespread anxieties and scepticism about the rule of law in the country. It is in this particular context that this picture is so memorable and the officer so heroic. He serves to reaffirm our faith in the system, and reminds us once again that there are honourable people in law enforcement willing, and daring, to do the right thing.

The only aspect of the photograph that is bit awkward, but which also speaks volumes, is that the officer has his hands folded in front of him in a traditional gesture of submission and forgiveness-seeking. Sir, it is the occupant of the vehicle who should be assuming that posture, not you. The law is on your side. So are we. Stand tall.

 

The author, Ahrar Ahmad is the director-general of Gyantapas Abdur Razzaq Foundation.

 

Advanced science, Astrophysics, Cultural, Environmental, Life as it is, Religious, Technical

Ranking of Human Civilisation

Despite what the great ‘Divine Books’ such as Torah, Bible, Quran, Bhagavat Gita and so on and so forth say about the existence of life on earth, scientifically life on earth originated from single cells which then mutated to form multi-cellular organisms. The evolution of primates (comprising apes, chimpanzees, gorillas and eventually humans) can be traced back to over 65 million years. Primates are one of the oldest of all placental mammal groups, which withstood the vagaries of life.

There is now a consensus of opinions among the evolutionary scientists that evolution of Hominidae (apes) took place around 28 million years ago and then subsequently subfamilies – homininae (humans, chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas), homo genus (humans, Neanderthals, homo erectus), homo sapiens (intelligent humans) and finally anatomical modern humans took place about 8 million years, 2.5 million years, 0.5 million years and 200,000 years ago respectively. This chronological development of evolutionary chain is what is accepted now as incontrovertible scientific fact.

The anatomically modern human beings who first appeared in South West Africa – near the coastal borders of Namibia and Angola – were intelligent animals with highly developed brains, and this intelligence led them to become savage animals in the rough and tough world to survive. Around 50,000 years ago, they started migrating to other continents (as permafrost offered them land migration routes) and colonised other areas. When they came across Neanderthals (a subspecies of homo genus) in Europe and other hominins in Asia, they were systematically eliminated. Neanderthals completely disappeared around 30,000 years ago. The victorious modern human beings were, nonetheless, hunter gathers competing for food with four legged animals like wolfs, hyenas, dogs etc. That was the time when one can call human civilisation at level 0.

Since that time, human brain rather than brawn evolved drastically, which is directly attributable to evolutionary mechanism. Although evolutionary process was in action for millions of years, it took a step change. Humans as a distinct species (two legged animals) coalesced together and started to fight jointly against other species. They developed cooperation, communication, collectivism etc, all of which gave them superior strength which no other animal species could muster. Human civilisation was gradually progressing, but still it was stuck at the primitive level 0.

A step change in civilisation came about at around 10,000 years ago, when ice in the Ice Age started to recede after hundreds of thousands of years of permafrost. As ice melted, soil started to surface and vegetation, plants, grasses etc appeared. The human beings with their ingenuity started to farm land, domesticated animals such as cows, horses, dogs etc., produced agricultural products, formed communities and tribes. The hunter gathers were no longer solely reliant on animals for food, they developed diversified food products and eating habits. Whereas previously they used animals for food, now they started to produce food with their own hands. The energy they expended per capita could be estimated as around quarter of a horse power (~200W). This development can be designated as level 1 of type 1 civilisation.

From that time on, human civilisation started to progress at accelerated pace. Humans started to appreciate, admire and even worship the powers of nature; wondered about the might of the sun, rain, storm, fire, earth and so forth and created in their minds and thought processes various deities, gods etc, who were perceived to be more powerful than mere mortal human beings. These fictitious constructs gradually got embedded in the minds as irrevocable entities and these formed the seed corns of numinous undertakings, which flourished eventually as religions.

About 5,000 years ago, Abraham in the land of Canaan (in the Middle East) merged all these disparate and conflicting gods and divine constructs into a single entity and created a unitary God. That was the beginning of monotheism which culminated into three major Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The unitary God was proclaimed to be all powerful, all knowledgeable, all pervasive, eternal creator of everything. Over the centuries, these three versions of the unitary God fought for supremacy and allegiance of human beings.

Whether the advent of religions, either monotheistic or polytheistic, is a progress in human civilisation or a sheer retrogressive step is open to question. This religious mindset, relegating human beings to moronic state totally reliant on the whims of abstract all-powerful non-existent God is delusional, to say the least. This transfer of human accountability to this God is so tempting and enduring that religions have taken over the thread of civilisation in a way that no other philosophical undertaking could possibly do. For centuries since Abrahamic time, through Jesus Christ and Mohammad, literature, art, culture, architecture, philosophy etc were dominated by religious ideas. Numerous sculptors, painters, poets, authors and so forth all eulogised the existence and powers of God.

Around 300 years ago, another civilizational step took place with the coming of industrial revolution. Steam engines started to drive machines and locomotives. No longer humans were dependent on their bare hands or on animals. Cars, trucks, trains etc were driven by steam engines or internal combustion engines. Electricity was produced by steam engines (turbo-generators) due to the motion of electromagnets. Industries of various sorts started to develop, human population increased, towns, cities started to develop. Population grew not only due to the availability of food but also due to the advancement of biological/medical sciences taming all diseases in general and diseases like cholera, TB etc, in particular, causing epidemic among population. Progress in science and technology steamed ahead and civilisation went up few notches.

Another enormous step change came during the past few decades. This time it was not the physical expansion of wealth generation and prosperity, but the increase in information technology. No longer humans were dependent on mode of communication by notes on papers, letters, telegrams or even fixed line telephony, but on electronic communication, where electrons danced through cables, fibre-optics etc. People now communicate live in various continents, send photos, documents etc instantaneously. A man in the UK can talk simultaneously to people in Japan, Australia, America and Argentina all at the same time. People can move from one place to another at enormous speeds.

Satellites in the sky can detect an object anywhere on the ground as small as few meters. Satellite navigation is a common mode of identifying location, particularly for transport vehicles, replacing age-old traditional maps. Letters, parcels etc can be delivered by drones, flying in air and descending at the back of gardens within a matter of hours. Although drone technology is available now, but it could not be put in practice until some safety provisions and regulatory requirements are enforced. This advanced state of civilisation can be placed as level 7.

There are yet many more technological advancements to be had in this world and we can gradually move towards civilisation levels 8, 9 and 10. At that stage, human beings would be looking beyond our planet into the outer skies.

Now the readers must be admired at this stage who had come this far without knowing what this ranking of civilisation is and what are these levels? Back in 1964, a Russian astrophysicist by the name Nikolai Kardashev was probing the outer skies – planets, stars, galaxies etc – for signs of civilisation. But then he was confronted with the very fundamental question of ‘what is civilisation’? Is civilisation just an abstract concept which cannot be quantified and ranked, only felt and sensed? If that is the case, are we not constrained in categorising a civilisation as to its level of achievement?

Kardashev realised that different professions would tend to define civilisations differently – an artist might define a civilisation by the creative flavour of paintings by its inhabitants; a poet might define it by the quality of poems, culture and the society; a philosopher might try on the basis of abstract theological ideas, its society, government and so on. A physicist might like to quantify on the basis energy it needs. And that is how the scientific ranking of the civilisation is portrayed here.

According to Kardashev if the civilisation of a planet or heavenly body is solely dependent on the energy or power it receives from its primary source – Sun in the case of Earth – then that civilisation is Type I. He then quantified that a ball point figure of 1017 watts as the limiting power for Type I civilisation. A Type II civilisation is one which harnesses stellar energies – energies beyond the constraints of the planet itself. A Type III civilisation is galactic, harnessing energies in the outer skies coming from millions and billions of stars and galaxies.

The human civilisation has not even reached the zenith of Type I civilisation. With all the advanced technologies, we may be hovering around level 6 or 7 and so we have three more levels to go before we could be harnessing around 1017 watts to reach the end of Type I civilisation. It might take a century or two before we reach that stage.

Two more articles will be presented here dealing with Type II and Type III civilisations. So, watch out readers for stellar and galactic civilisations!

 

A. Rahman is an author and a columnist.