Science 5 min read

Sustaining Humanity's Growth With a 'Full Earth'

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jaredfromspace |

Humanity is heading toward a Full Earth scenario, a population-saturated terrestrial environment marked by severe scarcity. A team of researchers proposed the use of the entire sunlight spectrum to meet the world needs of food, energy, and water.

“… the power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man.” Said late-18th century philosopher Thomas Robert Malthus in his book “An Essay on the Principle of Population

Harvesting the entire sunlight spectrum can solve overpopulation.Click To Tweet

Full Earth: The World is not Enough!

It had taken around two million years for humanity to reach the one-billion-person threshold in the early 1800s. Afterward, it took only a few decades to hit the two billion mark in the 1920s.

In 1960, 3 billion people lived on Earth and only fifteen years later, there were 4 billion. Now we are about 7.3 billion and, by 2050, the number is projected to reach 9.7 billion, and then over 11 billion by 2100.

Scientists project the Earth to have a population of 11 billion people by 2100.Click To Tweet

Overpopulation is often referred to as a major threat to Earth as a planet and humanity itself as a species. The growth of global population is so fast that we can’t predict all the ramifications. Our current understanding and level of knowledge in that regard is limited because of the simple reason that such situations have never happened before.

It’s on everyone’s mind, and some have radical propositions.

Take the Georgia Guidestones for example, erected in Georgia in 1980, it’s a structure of granite slabs with 10 “guidelines” inscribed in eight modern languages and four ancient ones: Babylonian, Classical Greek, Sanskrit, and Egyptian hieroglyphics.

The stones are also a calendar, clock, and compass. They were commissioned by a shady group of self-proclaimed American Protestants, led by a man using the pseudonym Robert C. Christian.

The stones, among other things, suggest that Earth’s human population should be kept under 500 million. Obviously, something catastrophic would have to happen to follow such strict guidelines.

While the Guidestones obviously aren’t a good indication, one thing is for sure: we’re closer than ever to a Full Earth scenario.

The Earth itself is not going to grow to meet the increasing needs of its inhabitants. Space is limited, also are the resources necessary to sustain human life (food, water, energy).

Instead of the number of people, it may be more appropriate to speak of the number of “consumers.”

So it is not the increase in population that is the main problem, but the even more rapid increase in world consumption that puts a strain on the planet’s capacities.

Case in point, the United States consumes 3.89 trillion kWh of electricity annually, which is six times more than India, who has almost three times the population.

Sunlight Spectrum, the Panacea for Humanity’s Resources Scarcity and Full Earth?

With current methods, much of light spectrum is wasted because a certain part of sunlight is used solely for one purpose at one time, be it agriculture, energy generation or water purification.

At Purdue University, a group of researchers, led by Rakesh Agrawal, professor at Davidson School of Chemical Engineering, proposed a new system that would enable using the entire light spectrum.

Here’s a table of the entire light spectrum from Wikipedia:

Class Freq-
γ Gamma rays 300 EHz 1 pm 1.24 MeV
30 EHz 10 pm 124 keV
HX Hard X-rays
3 EHz 100 pm 12.4 keV
SX Soft X-rays
300 PHz 1 nm 1.24 keV
30 PHz 10 nm 124 eV
EUV Extreme
3 PHz 100 nm 12.4 eV
NUV Near
Visible 300 THz 1 μm 1.24 eV
NIR Near infrared
30 THz 10 μm 124 meV
MIR Mid infrared
3 THz 100 μm 12.4 meV
FIR Far infrared
300 GHz 1 mm 1.24 meV
EHF Extremely high
30 GHz 1 cm 124 μeV
SHF Super high
3 GHz 1 dm 12.4 μeV
UHF Ultra high
300 MHz 1 m 1.24 μeV
VHF Very high
30 MHz 10 m 124 neV
HF High
3 MHz 100 m 12.4 neV
MF Medium
300 kHz 1 km 1.24 neV
LF Low
30 kHz 10 km 124 peV
VLF Very low
3 kHz 100 km 12.4 peV
ULF Ultra low frequency
300 Hz 1 Mm 1.24 peV
SLF Super low
30 Hz 10 Mm 124 feV
ELF Extremely low
3 Hz 100 Mm 12.4 feV
Sources: File:Light spectrum.svg [1][2][3]
γ = Gamma rays MIR = Mid infrared HF = High freq.
HX = Hard X-rays FIR = Far infrared MF = Medium freq.
SX = Soft X-rays Radio waves LF = Low freq.
EUV = Extreme ultraviolet EHF = Extremely high freq. VLF = Very low freq.
NUV = Near ultraviolet SHF = Super high freq. VF/ULF = Voice freq.
Visible light UHF = Ultra high freq. SLF = Super low freq.
NIR = Near Infrared VHF = Very high freq. ELF = Extremely low freq.
Freq = Frequency


The concept, as described in a paper published in the journal Scientific Reports, would utilize specially designed photovoltaic panels to harvest the entire spectrum and maximize FEW (crops, energy and water) production from a given area. Harvesting the whole sunlight spectrum over the same land area for the three purposes simultaneously, the system would save up to 60% of land required to produce the same results with current practices.

Accommodating local communities aside, especially in areas where the most population growth is expected, the novel approach would also reduce the global environmental impact resulted from meeting the needs of energy, food, and water.

Are you concerned about the prospect of a Full Earth?

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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