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Dr. McElwee's interests are in global environmental problems, broadly defined, with particular expertise in biodiversity conservation and climate change. She is most interested in how individuals and households respond to changes in the physical environment, and how their responses are shaped by external policies and other constraints. Most of her research combines household-level analysis of environmental decision-making and resource use with an examination of global institutional practices and norms that influence environmental policy. She has regional expertise in Asia, chiefly Vietnam. She was trained as an environmental scientist/geographer and anthropologist at Yale University (Ph.D in Forestry & Environmental Studies and Anthropology), Oxford University (M.Sc in Forestry) and the University of Kansas (B.A in Political Science). Before becoming an academic, she worked at the US Senate for Al Gore, in the Clinton White House on environmental policy, and at the US EPA. She has been a consultant for the World Bank, UNDP, and other UN agencies as well as for NGOs working on sustainable development in Asia.
Current research projects:
CLIMATE CHANGE: The most recent ongoing projects include a study of social adaptation and vulnerability to climate change scenarios in Vietnam, one of the top 10 countries in the world projected to be most effected by climate change this century. This project collected data in 2009-10 from several different landscapes in Vietnam facing physical threats like increased aridity, rising sea levels, and increased riverine flooding. A report on the Social Dimensions of Climate Change in Vietnam with our overall findings can be found here.
REDD: With funding from the NSF’s Geography and Spatial Sciences division, she is a PI on a new project to evaluate new forest carbon market policies in Vietnam, known as reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD). This project will analyze the ways in which payments for environmental services like carbon sequestration alter land-use decision making by smallholder households; evaluate if these changes in land use serve to increase or reduce overall social and biophysical vulnerability to future climate changes; and assess how local understandings of household decision making and land use influence subnational and national policy to implement global goals like REDD. A multi-scale, multi-method research design will be used, including observational data, surveys, household accounting diaries, key informant interviews, policy analysis, forest monitoring, and spatial analysis of land-use change. Collaborating institutions are the Center for Natural Resources and Environmental Studies in Hanoi and Tropenbos International Vietnam in Hue.
MIGRATION: An ongoing research project on migration, environmental change, and environmental security. Along with co-PI Chris Duncan, Arizona State University, and funded by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation‘s Program on Global Security and Sustainability, the project collected data from large-scale multi-sited field studies with migrant communities in Vietnam and Indonesia in 2005. The surveys were used to investigate the role migration plays in household land-use decisions, and the possible impacts of future climate change on adaptation and migration strategies.