American cities from Boston to Baton Rouge are getting hammered by hurricanes, torrential downpours, and blizzards amped up by climate change. Maybe that’s why Americans are coming around to the idea that the climate is actually changing. But are all the floods, heat waves, and other disasters spurring cities to prepare for our overheated future?

Sabrina McCormick, a sociologist at George Washington University who once investigated how cities cope with disasters for the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, set out earlier this year to find out. Her study, recently published in the journal Climatic Change, breaks down 65 in-depth interviews with city officials and experts in six cities — Portland, Boston, Los Angeles, Raleigh, Tucson, and Tampa. It seeks to answer the etiquette question from hell: How does a city go about preparing for something that its residents would rather not think about, or even believe in?

In a recent interview, McCormick said she learned that many city officials believe the key to getting everybody on board to battle climate change is to avoid uttering the words “climate change.” It’s “a poisonous term to use,” one said.

sabrina-mccormick
Sabrina McCormick

Our interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Q.Is there any connection between how much at risk a city is from climate change and its efforts to be prepared?