What will Earth look like in 5,000 years?

By: Robert Lamb  | 
Hands holding the earth
How powerful will humans be in the 71st century? Rodolfo Parulan Jr./Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Human technology and energy consumption have significantly altered the Earth over the past 5,000 years.
  • The Kardashev Scale categorizes civilizations based on their ability to harness energy.
  • By 7010 C.E., humanity might achieve control over planetary or even stellar energy.

Human technology has advanced significantly over the past 5,000 years, and the Earth bears the scars to prove it. We've altered the landscape, the climate and the biological diversity. We've erected skyscrapers for the living and colossal tombs for the dead. Perhaps most important, we've learned to harness a portion of the planet's energy, but we still thirst for so much more power.

This insatiable appetite for energy will continue to chart the course of human civilization in the 5,000 years to come. As a result, it will also dictate what Earth will look like in A.D. 7010.


In 1964, Russian astrophysicist Nicolai Kardashev theorized that a civilization's technical advancement directly correlates to the amount of energy its citizens can manipulate. Along these lines, he defined three classifications for advanced civilizations in the galaxy:

  1. Type I civilizations are masters of planetary energy, meaning that they can harness the sum energy of an entire world.
  2. Type II civilizations can summon the power of an entire star system.
  3. Type III civilizations command energy on a galactic scale.

Cosmologists use this Kardashev Scale to predict the technical advancement of future and alien civilizations. Currently, modern humans don't even rank on the scale. We're essentially a type 0 civilization, but we'll eventually become a type I. Kardashev himself predicted that this transition would occur. But when?

Theoretical physicist and futurist Michio Kaku forecasts this transcendence occurring within a mere century. Physicist Freeman Dyson raises that estimate to less than 200 years. Back in the day, Kardashev envisaged that it would take only 3,200 years to reach type II status.

If humanity only reaches type I status by A.D. 7010, then it will still have the ability to manipulate and control atmospheric and geothermal forces. Warfare and self-destruction might still pose a threat to humanity's survival, but ecological concerns will be a thing of the past.

If we achieve type II status by that point, then 71st century humans will wield even greater technological power. Dyson proposed that such a civilization would be capable of encapsulating a star with a swarm of satellites to harvest its energy. Other theorized type II feats include interstellar travel and the ability to move entire planets -- and all this on top of whatever breakthroughs have occurred in genetics and computing.

Such future humans will likely differ greatly from us culturally or even neurologically. They may well be what futurists and philsophers refer to as posthumans or transhumans.

Regardless, a lot can happen in 5,000 years. We might destroy ourselves with warfare or unwittingly ravage the planet with nanotechnology. Perhaps we'll fail to mitigate the threat posed by asteroid and comet collisions. We might even encounter an alien type II civilization long before we achieve that level ourselves.

Explore the links on the next page to learn even more about humanity's future.


Frequently Asked Questions

How will achieving Type I Kardashev Scale status change humanity's ecological impact?
Achieving Type I status on the Kardashev Scale would allow humanity to manipulate planetary energy, which could reduce current ecological concerns.
What technological advancements are expected if humans reach Type II Kardashev Scale status by 7010 C.E.?
Reaching Type II status would enable interstellar travel, the ability to move entire planets, and the potential to harness the energy of an entire star system.

Lots More Information

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More Great Links

  • Berry, Adrian. "The Next 500 Years: Life in the Coming Millennium." W H Freeman & Co. February 1996.
  • Cain, Frasier. "How Advanced Can a Civilization Become?"Universe Today. April 16, 2004. (June 3, 2010)http://www.universetoday.com/2004/04/26/how-advanced-can-a-civilization-become/
  • "Earth may be too hot for humans by 2300: study." Associated Foreign Press. May 11, 2010. (June 2, 2010)http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jTXA_CTHXzXzc-HxwAVLW-nh-eww
  • Explorations in Science with Dr. Michio Kaku. (June 2, 2010)http://mkaku.org/
  • Hawking, Stephen. "Science in the Next Millennium." White House Millennium Council. March 6, 1998. (June 2, 2010)http://clinton4.nara.gov/Initiatives/Millennium/shawking.html
  • Perry, Charles A. and Kenneth J. Hsu. "Geophysical, archaeological, and historical evidence support a solar-output model for climate change." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Sept. 5, 2000. (June 2, 2010)http://www.pnas.org/content/97/23/12433.full.pdf