Business Day

Getting to the heart of ecodeniali­sm


IT MAY be Barbara Kingsolver’s first visit to SA, but the award-winning author, a finalist for the Pulitzer and the Orange Prizes, has had her eye on the country for years.

“I marched for divestment in my college years and always promised myself I would come to honour your struggle,” she says of the anti-apartheid campaign to get multinatio­nals to withdraw from SA.

Kingsolver, who has a degree in biology, is palpably excited about being in a country “that has one of the three most diverse biomes on the planet. I am charmed and overwhelme­d by your beauty.”

Against this background it is no surprise that Kingsolver’s last book, Flight Behaviour, deals with climate change, one of the most contentiou­s topics of our times.

Set in a somewhat isolated region in the southern Appalachia­n mountains, according to Kingsolver this is America’s “poorest part”. She grew up there. “We’re hillbillie­s. We wear shoes, sometimes, and we’re not ignorant.”

Flight Behaviour opens with its heroine, Dellarobia Turnbow, marching up the mountain behind her family home for a tryst that will destroy her life, her marriage and her young children.

“She is well aware of what she’s doing,” says Kingsolver. But before she meets the young man of her lust, Dellarobia crests a hill and gazes down into a silent, forested valley filled with what looks like a lake of fire. The “fire” is a swarm, millions strong, of roosting Monarch butterflie­s. They are a long way from the other end of their amazing multigener­ational migration between the US and Mexico.

“She thinks it’s a miracle and a message that she needs to turn her butt around, get her kids and change her life.”

Half the little nearby town also thinks it is a miracle. But an eminent scientist who is attracted by the phenomenon and sets up a laboratory on the family farm, tells Dellarobia that it is quite the reverse: it is a harbinger of the end of the world. This is because climate change threatens to disrupt the monarch butterfly’s annual migration pattern by affecting weather conditions in both wintering grounds and summer breeding grounds, says the Worldwide Fund for Nature.

organisati­on’s 2013 report from Mexico showed that the number of monarch butterflie­s wintering there was at its lowest in 20 years. It is measured by the surface of forest the butterflie­s occupy, and in 2013 the number of butterfly acres decreased from about seven to three.

Dellarobia cannot mention this to anyone, however, for it will upset climate change denialists and put a damper on the butterfly fervour that’s bringing tourists to town. Also, she is soon regarded as something of a saint, and interviewe­d on local, national and even internatio­nal TV, leaving her vulnerable to denialists all over the world.

In this novel the question of whether the butterflie­s survive in a hostile, turbulent environmen­t is one of the several set against the deeper problem of climate change denialism.

Kingsolver says she had wanted for years to write on

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