In Praise of Science & Education: Why Sandy's Death Toll Wasn't Worse

Image courtesy of CasualCapture via Creative Commons.
It may seem inappropriate, perhaps a bit crazy, to talk about what went right with superstorm Sandy, but I’ve been struck by how much worse things could have been were it not for the confluence of many good people and many good systems.

It is tragic that several dozen people have died from this storm, and I realize that the death toll has increased each day since the storm and likely will increase further. There are millions without power; there are elderly in high rises who cannot get help, heat, food, or water. But Sandy was a massive storm affecting tens of millions of people in the most populated region of the U.S., and the number of people who have died in the U.S. from this storm is smaller than the number who died from car accidents during the same time period. How is that possible given the magnitude of this storm?

A week prior to Sandy’s landfall, meteorologists predicted the storm’s path with an astonishing degree of accuracy. Sandy was called a “Frankenstorm” for a reason. It was influenced by Arctic air to the north and a cold front and storm to the northwest. Yet the scientists were right on the mark. And because they were, people could prepare. There was time for evacuations; time for sandbagging; time for boarding up buildings; time for Con Edison in New York City to turn off the power to lower Manhattan before the storm did more damage that would delay the eventual return of the subways; time for the Red Cross and FEMA and political leaders in the affected states to prepare and address the worst case scenario. The worst case scenario actually came to pass with the confluence of tide, full moon, wind direction, and Sandy’s landfall. And yet, it could have been so much worse. Far more people could have died.

If this is not a wake up call to deeply, fully embrace education and science I don’t know what is. The scientists proved themselves worthy of our respect and gratitude. And if this is not a wake up call to heed scientists' warnings about climate change I also don’t know what is. Let’s not forget how much we owe those teachers who trained those scientists; the federal money that has supported their work; and the peer review process that ensures that what is published and shared by scientists is as accurate as possible. Scientists are not perfect, and meteorology and climate science will always be unpredictable, but this is the best we have. In Sandy’s case, we’re lucky we had it.

~ Zoe

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind, and The Power and Promise of Humane Education
My TEDxConejo talk: "Solutionaries"
My TEDxDirigo talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach"
My TEDxYouth@BFS "Educating for Freedom"

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