Raised in rural Kentucky and trained as a biologist, Barbara Kingsolver was perhaps destined to write Flight Behavior, her new novel about a young woman in backwoods Tennessee whose life is upended by ecological disaster.
Why did you choose to make climate change such an important part of Flight Behavior?
I live in southern Appalachia, and I'm surrounded by farms and coal mines. Our agriculture here has gone through one disaster year after another, so climate change is not some kind of abstract future threat. The people most affected by climate change already are people among whom I live: rural, conservative farmers. And it strikes me that these are the same people who are least prepared to understand and believe in climate change and its causes.
Does that cultural identity make people less accepting of the message coming from climate scientists?
I wanted to write about that. I wanted to write about how science works and how it doesn't work, how religious faith works and how it doesn't work. And why this particular conversation about global warming is proving so difficult for us. If I had to sum up the heart of this novel in a sentence, I would say it's about why [different] people can look at the same set of facts and come away with absolutely different convictions about what we've seen.
How do you break this resistance to the facts?
There isn't a single answer. But throwing more facts at people clearly isn't working, and there is an element of condescension in assuming that people who don't agree with you need more facts that you have. We decide what we believe first, and then we go looking for facts that support what we believe.
Do artists have a responsibility to address issues as serious as climate change?
The only responsibility artists have is to understand the power of our craft and use it carefully. It's something like owning firearms. Pay attention to where it's aimed. Make sure you're using it carefully and well. A novel has--fiction has--enormous power. It has the power to bring the reader inside the mind of another person. Only fiction can do that. So I try to use that power as well as I can.