A Nobel Prize winner with an eye for biodiversity

Tomas Tranströmer, probably Sweden’s most famous insect collector. Photo: Ulla Montan.

Saturday is the big day for the Nobel Prize and all week Sweden has been full of discussions, talks and media coverage as the prize laureates come to Stockholm to give their Nobel lectures.

Anyone who heard the shouts of joy at the announcement of the Literature prize winner  (if not, watch the short video here) can tell that the poet Tomas Tranströmer has a special place in many Swedish hearts.

But mr Tranströmer is not just a gifted writer, he is also an (and now Sweden’s probably most famous) entomologist (someone who knows a lot about insects) and has a strong connection to nature and issues like biodiversity. In an article about Tranströmer and insects, the author (himself a dedicated entomologist, one might assume) happily concludes that insects were mentioned in no less than 21 per cent of the 168 poems in one of Tranströmer’s retrospective collection of poems.

Tomas Tranströmer has even got a beetle named after him, the “Tranströmers tornbagge”, found at the island of Gotland earlier this year.

Right now the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm is showing Tomas Tranströmer’s insect collection that he gathered as a child during the 1940:s in Stockholm’s archipelago. Among butterflies and beetles are also some of Tranströmer’s poems, clearly inspired by nature, and giving a feeling of how the curiosity of nature can influence a person’s life, no matter what direction it takes later in life.

In one of his books, Tranströmer describes this himself (freely translated by me):

“I was always out on excursions – an outdoor life without the slightest health motive. Of course I did not have any eastethical opinions about my catches – they were Science – but I got a lot of experiences of beauty without knowing it. I traveled in the great mystery. I learned that the ground lived, that there was an endless crawling flying world that lived its own rich life without paying any attention to us.”

Children being inspired by Tranströmer's insect collecting as a child. Photo: Annica Roos.

Huang Ming.

In parallel to the Nobel prizes, we also have The Right Livelihood Award, often called “The alternative Nobel prize”. This year’s winner is the Chinese “sun king” Huang Ming. He started his career as an engineer at the Petroleum Research Institute of Dezhou, but when his daughter was born he became worried about how the pollution affected her and other children’s health. This resulted in a big change of life. Today, Huang Ming is among the world leaders in solar thermal energy, running one of the world’s largest solar city development projects.

Huang Ming’s Solar Valley.


More reading:
About the Nobel Prize.
About Tomas Tranströmer’s work.