Scientific Earth Conscientious

Scientific progress makes moral progress a necessity; for if man's power is increased, the checks that restrain him from abusing it must be strengthened (Madame de Stael)

Archive for May, 2012

Britain’s food industry: unpleasant exploitation in some fields and poor health and safety

Posted by Scientific Earth Conscientious on May 31, 2012

As a Joseph Rowntree Foundation study concludes that migrant workers in the food sector continue to suffer appalling exploitation, perhaps a UK version of the pioneering ‘Food Justice’ certification scheme should be considered, says Andrew Wasley.

As a Joseph Rowntree Foundation study concludes that migrant workers in the food sector continue to suffer appalling exploitation

Exploitation in the food industry is alive and well. That’s according to the latest grim report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation which studied the experiences of some of the migrant workers (almost invisibly) toiling in our fields, factories and restaurants.

According to the report’s authors, who interviewed more than 60 migrants – from China, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland – many of Britain’s hidden army of overseas workers live in a climate of fear, are subjected to inhumane conditions, racism, sexism and bullying, and forced to work long hours for less than the minimum wage.

Some have paid (presumably steep) fees to agents in order to secure the work in the first place, but quickly find themselves continually indebted to gangmasters who – in an apparently widespread scam -‘overhire’ the number of workers needed, in doing so providing just enough employment for each to repay their debts, but keeping migrants locked in a cycle of poverty and exploitation. Such are the levels of despair some migrants have been driven to self harm, according to the foundation.

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New materials could slash energy costs for CO2 capture Study IDs ‘zeolite’ minerals that are one-third more efficient for carbon capture

Posted by Scientific Earth Conscientious on May 30, 2012

A detailed analysis of more than 4 million absorbent minerals has determined that new materials could help electricity producers slash as much as 30 percent of the “parasitic energy” costs associated with removing carbon dioxide from power plant emissions.The research by scientists at Rice University, the University of California, Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) was published online this week in the journal Nature Materials.

New materials could reduce the energy required to remove CO2 from power plant emissions.

Coal- and natural-gas-fired power plants account for about half of the carbon dioxide (CO2) that humans add to the atmosphere each year, but current technology for capturing that CO2 and storing it underground can gobble up as much as one-third of the steam the plant could otherwise use to make electricity.

In the new study, researchers found that commonly used industrial minerals called zeolites could significantly improve the energy efficiency of “carbon capture” technology.

“It looks like we can beat the current state-of-the-art technology by about 30 percent, and not just with one or two zeolites,” said study co-author Michael Deem, Rice’s John W. Cox Professor of Bioengineering and professor of physics and astronomy. “Our analysis showed that dozens of zeolites are more efficient than the amine absorbents currently used for CO2 capture.”

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New study reveals groundwater depletion from irrigated agriculture in some areas of California

Posted by Scientific Earth Conscientious on May 29, 2012

Groundwater depletion has been most severe in the purple areas indicated on these maps of the High Plains and California’s Central Valley. These heavily affected areas are concentrated in parts of the Texas Panhandle, western Kansas, and the Tulare Basin in California’s Central Valley

The nation’s food supply may be vulnerable to rapid groundwater depletion from irrigated agriculture, according to a new study by researchers at The University of Texas at Austin and elsewhere.

The study, which appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, paints the highest resolution picture yet of how groundwater depletion varies across space and time in California’s Central Valley and the High Plains of the central U.S. Researchers hope this information will enable more sustainable use of water in these areas, although they think irrigated agriculture may be unsustainable in some parts.

“We’re already seeing changes in both areas,” said Bridget Scanlon, senior research scientist at The University of Texas at Austin’s Bureau of Economic Geology and lead author of the study. “We’re seeing decreases in rural populations in the High Plains. Increasing urbanization is replacing farms in the Central Valley. And during droughts some farmers are forced to fallow their land. These trends will only accelerate as water scarcity issues become more severe.”

Three results of the new study are particularly striking: First, during the most recent drought in California’s Central Valley, from 2006 to 2009, farmers in the south depleted enough groundwater to fill the nation’s largest man-made reservoir, Lake Mead near Las Vegas—a level of groundwater depletion that is unsustainable at current recharge rates. Second, a third of the groundwater depletion in the High Plains occurs in just 4% of the land area. And third, the researchers project that if current trends continue some parts of the southern High Plains that currently support irrigated agriculture, mostly in the Texas Panhandle and western Kansas, will be unable to do so within a few decades.

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