Thursday, April 28, 2011

Trees and Tornadoes: Planting Hope

Arbor Day 2011

This April in many parts of the country has been a month of all sorts of record-breaking severe weather events, including the devastating tornadoes of the past couple of days. At the time I’m writing this, the death toll is estimated at 280 and is expected to rise. We in Nebraska have been spared the worst of it. We do know, however, the sort of loss and trauma that can remain after a tornado or severe storm, and we have much sympathy and many prayers for the people who have suffered losses in April’s storms.

Along with tornadoes and high winds this week, there has been excessive rainfall several places, leading to flood warnings and watches in several states. All in all, April 2011 has been a record-breaking month for both tornadoes and other severe weather events in the United States. As atmospheric warming continues in coming years, heavy flood-producing rainfalls are expected to increase in frequency, while drought spreads in other areas.

While no single weather event can be attributed to climate change, the fact that the sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico are at least 1 degree Celsius above average this year means that there is abundant moisture to feed developing storms. The catastrophic damage we have seen this week across a wide area of our country is sobering when we think about predictions that this sort of severe weather might well become the norm as global temperatures increase.

Tomorrow is Arbor Day. The first Arbor Day was observed in Nebraska in 1872. Other states soon picked up the idea and began observing this special day for planting and caring for trees. When we see trees that been damaged or destroyed by severe weather, we appreciate even more the trees we have. This time of year, most trees are in bud, and the first fresh leaves of spring are starting to appear. There will be a day very soon when groves and neighborhoods where several trees stand together will have the look of a sort of soft green haze.

Besides their aesthetic value and their usefulness as windbreaks, shade producers, and shelters for wildlife, trees soak up carbon. Deforestation speeds an increase in climate change. Along with praying for people and with supporting relief efforts through Episcopal Relief and Development and other aid agencies, planting a tree is a good response to this week’s severe weather. While a single tree may not have much impact in the overall scheme of things, it’s a good sign both of our thanksgiving for the new growth of spring and of our intentions to be better stewards of the earth.

Planting a tree – or planting any sort of growing thing – is always a sign of hope in difficult times. Perhaps Martin Luther (and perhaps someone else) said that if he knew the world would end tomorrow, he would plant a tree today. Planting is always a sign of hope, and it can serve as both a sign and a means of healing and renewal.

Let’s keep the people who have suffered loss and trauma in this week’s severe weather in our prayers, and let’s also go outside and plant something.