Sabrina McCormick, PhD, is a sociologist who investigates how human behavior and institutions determine the address of climate change. She seeks to develop effective climate communication strategies and is an award winning filmmaker.
McCormick's research on climate change lawsuits reveals how the courts have become a central battlefield with high stakes.
Recently published in Science Magazine, the American Journal of Public Health, and Nature Climate Change.
McCormick's research on how cities are taking action on climate change.
“One of the first efforts to systematically assess how cities are preparing for climate change shows that city planners have yet to fully assess their vulnerability to climate change, leaving serious risks unaddressed.”
- Popular Science
McCormick's first feature film, TRIBE, is in post-production.
Set in the Brazilian Amazon, it follows one indigenous girl whose life is turned upside down when her family's home is destroyed by the world's third largest dam.
PROTECTING PUBLIC HEALTH FROM CLIMATE THREATS
Illness is not what first comes to mind when we think about climate change; yet, it is the greatest threat to public health in the 21st century, causing illness and death for millions every year. Those lives are the evidence of how climate change gets under the skin. I investigate the processes that drive these new or newly exacerbated illnesses, and see how protecting human health transforms the way we address climate change. I focus primarily on the most critical health threats to the United States, and several case studies that have become health emergencies – heat waves, West Nile Virus, Zika, and Valley Fever. The evidence from this work offers insight to why we don't stop climate-related illnesses before they start, and guidance to how we build more effective measures to protect public health. Funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Climate change is the most critical threat to public health of the 21st century. How can we stop it?
CITIES: THE MOST EFFECTIVE SCALE FOR ACTION?
Eighty percent of Americans live in cities, and a growing proportion of the world's population lives in mega cities, globally. Cities are places that must be protected from climate threats, and are often the quickest to act. However, in many cities, there is discussion of climate change without action, while in other cities, the term climate change cannot even be raised. In the context of strapped budgets and many, competing agendas, how can cities take action on climate? My research investigates this question by assessing six American cities of diverse geographic, political, and demographic characteristics. We find that politicization of climate issues, often in conservative contexts, present critical obstacles even in the face of scientifically-substantiated threats, possibly resulting in the most conservative cities facing the most costly effects. Assessments of vulnerability are generally ad hoc, leaving cities with a limited understanding of how they will be affected. We have identified a series of strategies that can facilitate the address of climate-related risks. Funded by the Environmental Protection Agency.
This project investigates how six cities across the United States are responding to climate change.
Raleigh, North Carolina
Los Angeles, California
CLIMATE LITIGATION AND SOCIAL CHANGE
The most historic climate policy has been made in the courts. Each case is a struggle between two sides and their supporters. Many cases are thrown out before they even begin. Others have taken years to be won with massive economic, health, and technological ramifications. Yet, to-date, there is little assessment of how litigants make their case and what that means for the future. In the fight over greenhouse gases, who wins and who loses? Why? In order to answer these questions, we are constructing an extensive database of climate change lawsuits in the United States, based on an index of lawsuits created by Columbia University Law School. We are also conducting interviews with litigants in key cases across the country. This research will be the basis of a documentary film portraying how climate change litigation gets done. Funded by the National Science Foundation.
The aim of this project is to investigate how social movements on both side of climate issues use the courts to affect climate change.
renewable energy in the amazon: protecting people and forests
Can renewable energy be developed in the Brazilian Amazon without destroying the forest and its peoples?
Brazil has long been a nation leading the usage of renewable energy. Historically, hydroelectricity has been the central energy source, and more recently, biomass has developed. While energy resources have long existed outside of the legal Brazilian Amazon, both types of energy development have recently increased within that region. Yet, expansion of energy development there threatens the rainforest with potentially tremendous ramifications for Amazonian sustainability and climate change. The expansion of these energy types also affects local populations who are actively attempting to shape energy development. I investigate the social dynamics of energy decisions in this contentious and critical context. My most recent film, TRIBE, offers a fictionalized account of one indigenous girl's journey in the midst of these controversies. Funded by UNU and NREL.
a transition to renewable energy for the cement industry
The cement industry is responsible for six percent of greenhouse gas emissions. How can this massive industry shift to contribute less to climate change?
We examine regulatory factors that affect the process of renewable technology adoption in the cement industry. Our research is based on interviews with representatives of key stakeholder groups including cement companies, industry trade associations, engineering design firms, government agencies, NGOs and academia. We present examples of the process through which these social and regulatory factors come together to create change within the cement sector in different contexts. These findings provide a roadmap to key regulatory factors shaping the adoption of renewable energy in one of the world’s most polluting industries and are used to develop recommendations for further study. Funded by the National Science Foundation.
After the cap: community impacts of the BP OIL SPILL
How can citizen science reveal the true risks of fossil fuels?
I got in my golf cart yesterday and rode down a block, went to the water and there’s oil. But yesterday they said there’s no oil. How can that be? - Resident of Grand Isle, LA
When the BP oil spill struck, contention arose amongst corporate, government, and community representatives about what had happened and what the risks were to local populations. These differences became critical distinctions in how risks should be addressed and compensation offered. My research investigated the differences between risk evaluation and monitoring processes for government agencies (EPA) and lay people, and analyzed how crowdsourcing was a new form of citizen science designed to assess risk for community members. Funded by National Science Foundation.