Barbara Kingsolver's 'Flight Behavior' Brilliantly Weaves Fiction And The Climate Change Crisis
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Boyle has explored environmental themes in many of his novels and short stories. "I am obsessed with our relationship to the world: Why are we here, and what gives us the right to dominate other animals?" he said in an interview. But his goal, he emphasized, was not to educate readers. "I write stories to interpret the world as best I can. Whether it will help raise awareness or not, I can't say," Boyle said.
Another best-selling author, Ian McEwan, wrote "Solar" (2010) after visiting the Arctic Circle on an expedition organized to educate writers and artists about climate change impacts. His leading character, Michael Beard, is a Nobel laureate in physics who is researching artificial photosynthesis – attempting to make fuel directly from water and sunlight. Beard, although brilliant, is a compulsive womanizer whose personal crises undermine his career.
"The best way to tell people about climate change is through non-fiction," McEwan said in a 2010 interview. "But what I wanted to get across [by writing about a highly flawed character] is a sense of how difficult this task is going to be."
"How do we choose what to believe?" she asked her audience. "Why is it that the more we know, the less we talk across the widening divisions in our society?""Flight Behavior" is also about human failings that impede progress – in this case, communication gaps. At a reading in Cambridge, Mass., last month, Kingsolver said she wanted to write a book about "the great non-conversation we're having on climate change."
The story does include a healthy dose of science. Kingsolver earned a master's degree in ecology and evolutionary biology and was partway through a dissertation before deciding to become a writer.
She chose displaced monarch butterflies because the concept was dramatic, evocative and plausible, she said: climate change and deforestation threaten monarchs' ranges in the United States and Mexico. Several academic experts helped Kingsolver develop her scenario and reviewed a draft of the book.
'Novels can't preach'
But Kingsolver cautioned that she did not set out to sell climate science to readers. "Novels can't preach," she said. "Flight Behavior" describes how scientists work and think – and also how unsatisfying their explanations can be. When Ovid Byron asserts that "Science doesn't tell us what we should do. It only tells us what is," Dellarobia replies, "That must be why people don't like it."
Kingsolver believes that climate change is happening ("There's no serious doubt," she said in Cambridge), but "Flight Behavior" sympathizes with those who have far more immediate concerns.
The book shows how alien a concept climate change is to Feathertown's low-income residents. They are caught in "the great slog of effort" to get from one day to the next, battered by the economy and freak weather patterns. "If Ovid Byron was torn up over butterflies, he should see how it felt to look past a child's baby teeth into this future world he claimed was falling apart," Dellarobia reflects.
In such conditions, climate denial is a logical response.