Stellar Evolution

Born a bookworm, I soon started to look through my grandparents' bookcase during the summer holidays. One of my favourites was a book called "Flickan och stjärnan" (The Girl and the Star) by the Swedish author Per Westerlund, published in 1949.

Set in rural India, it's a classical story about the poor but good-hearted young girl who in the end gets married to the rich Swiss maharaja, as predicted by an astrologer. He also said that the girl's fate was connected to a particular star, and when it died so would she. Very romantic, very sad.

From Pilane 2015
In 2009 the novel Q and A was turned into the surprise smash hit movie Slumdog Millionaire also set in India. Some children from the slum were recruited to play rather leading parts in the film, and although they got paid the press commented on the fact that they still lived under poor conditions.

Apparently, they were paid less than the child actors in The Kite Runner, set in Afghanistan. One of these actors, Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada, is now living alone in Sweden, after he and his family had to flee from their home in Kabul because of the controversial rape scene in the film.

In both these cases, the film company and the producers went to great lengths to help the children, but how much can be expected and for how long? And how much responsibility lies with us, the audience?
From Moderna Museet Oct 2014
Filmmakers are always particular with using the “No Animals Were Harmed”® disclaimer.  Perhaps they should also develop some kind of sustainability rating for films? Apparently, BAFTA is on their way at least when it comes to helping filmmakers consider environmental issues setting up the Media Greenhouse and so is Hollywood. However, when will social issues get the same consideration?


Micro S(m)ells

When weeding at the allotment, sometimes something else than the scent of flowers and manure finds it ways through the air. Its the ecological coffee roasting establishment at Råda Säteri, Nordiska Kafferosteriet, in full swing. Although I don't drink coffee, the aroma sure has its merits. Coffee is celebrated September 29 in Sweden.

From Slug War 2015
It seems that there has been a rise in the number of small food-oriented businesses in Sweden the last years. Lots of local bakeries are selling tasty sourdough bread now, like Ekologisk Bakverk, not far from where I live. There is even a sourdough bread day (April 14) according to the bread lobbying organisation, Brödinstitutet.

There are now more than 100 micro-breweries in Sweden, of course lobbying for being able to sell alcohol directly at the production site, still a controversial question in Sweden. However, for us who wants to keep the Systembolag monopoly, it's a no-brainer. Of course, we have a local brewery in Mölnlycke: Rådanäs. They celebrate Beer Day July 15.

Also local ice cream makers pop up, many of them focusing on using only natural ingredients. I love the many flavours from Råda Gelati, especially the chocolate sorbet. Apparently, ice cream is celebrated March 24 and according to Arla, more than 70% of the Swedish population eat ice cream once or more every week from March to September. This is even a day celebrated in the whole EU called the European Artisanal Gelato Day.

Regional development is often focusing on making small businesses grow. Perhaps some of them actually should stay small in order to keep the quality and customer focus?


From Researcher to Activist

As mentioned in my blog post Tales That Sting, I was looking forward to reading Dave Goulson's book "A Sting in the Tale". Now I've done that and the book was as wonderful as its cover was beautiful! An excellent mix of facts, stories, self-distance and English humour. I've recommended it to all my friends and colleagues and also bought the sequel: A Buzz in the Meadow. Also a delight! And so thought Nicolas Lezard at the Guardian too.

For an innovation advisor in academia, as I am, it is also a very pedagogical story Goulson tells. Starting out as a PhD student just wanting to know more about insects (and to finish his thesis within the stipulated project timeframe) he describes how his research made him more and more aware of the fragility of the eco-system and how he started to take action.
From Peter Korn's Garden 2015
In addition to publishing more than 200 scientific articles on insects, he started the Bumblebee Conservation Trust in 2006. He has also bought a farm in France in order to create a haven for insects and wild flowers, and to be able to do the kind of longitudinal studies no funding agency is willing to support. Although it took a while to convince a publisher, his books are now really popular and have been translated to several languages (even Swedish, although we must be a very small market, demonstrating the power of The Long Tail). It would be very interesting to know if all this utilisation work also has paid off in terms of more research funding, attracting students and partners, and formulating better research questions.

However, what impressed me most was the way Goulson and his colleagues took on the fight against Big Business such as Bayer regarding the use of neonicotinoid insecticides. Without funding, they managed to do a study demonstrating the devastating effects this widely distributed (in more than one sense) insecticide has on bumblebees AND get an article published in Science. This in turn eventually led to a two-year EU suspension on three of the poisons. Apparently, it has now been demonstrated that bird populations are affected too, with starlings, tree sparrows and swallows among the ones most declining.

A researcher at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences contributed to a study made by the European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC) further demonstrating the harm done by these pesticides to bees. Instead, another method is recommended: Integrated Pest Management. This means that you combine mechanical, biological and chemical methods in order to protect plants from insects, weed, and fungi.

The countries that voted against the ban were: the UK, Czech Republic, Italy, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Austria and Portugal. Ireland, Lithuania, Finland and Greece abstained. Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Spain, France, Cyprus, Germany, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia and Sweden (thanks!) voted in favour.


Killing Compassion

In a rather recent podcast episode of Philosophy Bites, Harvard philosopher Christine Korsgaard defends a Kantian account of the status of animals. She rejects the traditional picture of Kant's ethics as a cold vision of the moral life which emphasises duty at the expense of love and value. Instead she views Kant's work as providing a resource for addressing not only the metaphysics of morals, but also for tackling practical questions about personal relations, politics, and everyday human interaction.

Kant derived a prohibition against cruelty to animals as a violation of a duty in relation to oneself. According to him, man has the imperfect duty to strengthen the feeling of compassion, since this feeling promotes morality in relation to other human beings. Since cruelty to animals deadens the feeling of compassion, man is obliged not to treat animals brutally.

Kant's Formula of Humanity states that all human-beings should be treated as ends-in-themselves. Korsgaard takes this one step further and argues that we should treat animals as ends in themselves and not as means. She still considers humans to be distinct from animals, in that they are rational beings (humans that is). However, according to Korsgaard human moral standards and nature are at odds when it comes to pests.

Personally, I find some comfort in that. I do not take killing animals (or plants for that matter) lightly, but when it comes to defending my garden against slugs I use all kinds of means, including various kinds of killing methods. I use beer traps, where they at least drown happy, and poison. If I come across a slug I cut it in half with my pruning shears. However, I also use passive defense systems like pallet rims with cloth (as suggested by Trädgårdstisdag) or roofing felt at the top, plastic bottles covering the small plants and toilet paper rolls to protect the stem when they grow larger. I've also tried spraying plants with oil mixed with garlic although apparently the sweet peas didn't like it either. I have removed the places where they like to sleep and breed, by digging up the yellow raspberries and lifting up the rhubarb leaves, putting wood chips all over the place. The grass is also kept short. By this I believe I send a clear message to the slugs: scram. They don't listen.
From Slug War 2015
It's not that the seeds cost that much and I don't need the vegetables in order to survive. It's about the work and care that goes into growing the small defenseless seedlings, having feelings of anticipation suddenly replaced by loss.

However, most of all I hate the thought of them munching on the plants my mother brought from her previous gardens. Some of them even originating from my grandmother's place. They are more than mere plants, they are containers of history and memories. For example, there's the peony that always blossoms on my mother's birthday. The rhubarb and I grew up in the same garden in Mölnlycke. We keep the dahlias in the basement all winter, and hope they survive. Also, the Nodding Avens were brought all the way from a meadow owned by good friends in Småland and the small blue flower called "snake eyes" in Swedish comes from my uncles place at the coast. And so on.

However, I must admit I'm a bit worried because I strongly sense that killing the slugs do diminish my capacity for compassion. I can just hope I had a vast amount to start with. Or that someone will get filthy rich by inventing a cure for slugs. I'm still not convinced that nematodes are the solution.

"Choice is our plight, our inescapable fate, as rational beings." Creating the Kingdom of Ends

From Slug War 2015