By Don Corrigan
April is now known for Earth Day and green lifestyles. Author Patrick Fleming thinks it’s time for a good “cli-fi” read, but as a psychotherapist he also counsels for hope in a time of climate crisis.
Fleming, a familiar figure in Kirkwood after 25 years of counseling at his office on Clay Avenue, is doing presentations on his novel, “Gaia’s Revenge.” He laces his talks with advice on coping with climate crisis.
“Medical research shows startling rates of pessimism over wildfires, floods, mega-storms,” said Fleming. “A recent survey by The Lancet found 75% of people are frightened for the future and 56% agree with the statement: ‘humanity is doomed.’
“Young people are especially discouraged,” added Fleming. “Almost 40% report being hesitant about the idea of bearing children because of threats to the future presented by a warming planet.”
Fleming’s upbeat response is a psychological counselor’s talk entitled, “Keep Your Brain Cool, Your Heart Warm, and Set Your Soul on Fire.” He offers a seven-point program for staying positive.
Among his advisements is to take a deep breath and be grateful for the present moment. Stay informed about global warming, but avoid “doom-scrolling” on the Internet and traumatic over-exposure to bad climate news.
Fleming also advises keeping “your brain cool” by looking for significant signs of hope – and find ways to do something! Act pro-planet and vote pro-planet. Avoid the temptation to withdraw into helplessness.
A man with plenty of acronym credentials for work in counseling, Fleming has been a hospital chaplain, a hospice counselor and a psychotherapist for more than 30 years.
He grew up in Kirkwood and attended St. Peters Elementary School. He studied for the priesthood at Kenrick Seminary in Shrewsbury, but his career destination took a secular turn to counseling.
Climate Fiction Irony
The irony is inescapable: Here is a man who counsels keeping your cool in a climate crisis, but who ends up joining the growing number of authors who write about climate disaster.
“It’s become a very popular genre of writing. There is even a national cli-fi writers group,” said Fleming. “Many of the writers offer solutions to our crisis.
“I’m impressed by ‘The Ministry of the Future.’ It’s by cli-fi’s Kim Stanley Robinson. It’s kind of nerdy, but the book offers solutions,” Fleming said.
Fleming’s own book has plenty of destructive wind, incessant rain, violent earthquakes and tsunami-like flooding. Some of the weather mayhem is set in St. Louis, where floodwaters climb up the Gateway Arch.
Four unlikely heroes, a Catholic nun, a Hindu priestess, a Protestant minister and a marine biologist receive a shocking vision for heading off the global apocalypse. They join forces to stave off climate disaster.
“The term ‘Gaia’ in the title of my book comes from scientist James Lovelock’s idea that the Earth is an alive, functioning system in itself,” said Fleming. “There are two sides of Gaia, or Mother Nature, in my work.
“There is a destructive side, and she will hurt us, if we continue to abuse her,” said Fleming. “There is a life-giving, life-restoring side, if we choose to live in harmony with her.”
Fleming said he was inspired to write the book after a bout with cancer several years ago. He said he was very weak after his surgery and spent a lot of time in recuperation monitoring climate events.
“Right here in St. Louis, I was personally affected by the floods in 2015 and 2016,” recalled Fleming. “I could not get to my chemotherapy treatment, because all of the highways were closed with flooding.”
Therapy Books for Survivors
Fleming and his wife, Suzanne Lauber-Fleming, have co-authored several books for survivors of abuse and trauma, including “Soul Light for the Dark Night” in 2019 and “Shattered Soul: Five Pathways to Heal the Spirit after Abuse and Trauma” in 2011.
In addition, the writing couple have led numerous workshops and trainings nationally and internationally for survivors and professionals working on post-traumatic syndrome issue.
In addition to his healing work with survivors, Patrick Fleming has worked for 18 years with Catholic priests and brothers, and other clergy who are perpetrators of clerical sexual abuse.
He has also worked as a consultant to a variety of religious and mental health groups who work with survivors, addicts and perpetrators. He was appointed to the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors based in Vatican City, Rome.
“I’ve always had a mission – for more than 30 years it was to heal people who have been abused or abusive,” said Fleming. “I guess now my mission is to help the planet and those upset by our predicament.
“I am an optimist,” added Fleming. “We now have the smarts, and the technology that is green and renewable, that can save us. The only question is: Do we have the political will to make it happen.”