Experts: Cost of global warming to be born by refugees

SMU experts say the cost of global warming will be born by refugees and the fossil record confirms natural causes not to blame.

Bonnie Jacobs and James Hollifield

DALLAS (SMU)SMU faculty are available to lend their expertise to journalists reporting on the latest news of the day. A full list of available faculty and their areas of expertise is available here.



On whether global warming is a result of the earth’s natural cycle…

“My take on that argument is the same as the take from the federal government, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – natural causes of climate change over the past many decades have not been strong enough to account for the warming we’re seeing. If we take all the natural impacts and add them up – things like volcanos, changes in the tilt of the earth, minor violations in solar output and so on – it doesn’t equal what we’ve seen. We can’t explain the warming in our simulations without calling upon human causes.”

On why this rapid warming is more dangerous than natural warming…

“There have been times in the past with no ice caps at all on the earth’s surface – so certainly warmer than now – but the difference is now we have 7 billion people on this planet. Also, when those past changes happened – and they happened at a slower pace than the world is warming now – things like extinction events occurred. Marine fauna went extinct. Resources like fresh water became more scarce. That’s the issue.”

Jacobs is a professor of paleobotany in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences at SMU

Books published:

  • 2011: Currano, E., Jacobs, B.F., Pan, A.D. and Tabor, N.J.  Inferring ecological disturbance in the fossil record: A case study from the late Oligocene of Ethiopia.  Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology. doi:10.1016/j.palaeo.2011.06.007
  • 2011: García Massini, J.L. and Jacobs, B.F. Palynological assemblages from a Late Oligocene tuff sequence as indicators of ecological change through time. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 164: 211–222.
  • 2010: Jiménez-Moreno, G., Anderson, R.S., Desprat, S., Grigg, L.D., Grimm, E.C., Heusser, L.E., Jacobs, B.F., López-Martínez, C., Whitlock, C., Willard, D.A.  Millennial-scale variability during the last glacial in vegetation records from North America.  Quaternary Science Reviews 29: 2865-2881.
Bonnie Jacobs


James Hollifield co-authored an article titled “Environmental Refugees” for the Wilson Center in 2015. Excerpts from the piece are below. Hollifield is currently in Tokyo, but can be reached via skype for comment at

“One of the hidden costs of climate change is the displacement of millions of people in some of the poorest regions of the globe.  The existing international refugee regime is ill-suited to cope with those seeking refuge from environmental disasters. Countries must get serious about developing coordinated plans to address the issue, lest they be caught by surprise when another humanitarian crisis hits.”

“Since 2008, an average of 26.4 million people per year have been displaced by natural disasters, according to an estimate by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center.  Displacement will likely increase as repeated drought forces people off their farms; sea-level rise inundates coastal areas and low-lying islands; and tropical storms devastate communities.  Most of those displaced will remain in their own country or flee to a neighboring state, but a share of them will attempt to migrate to Europe, North America, Australia, Japan, and other wealthy states.”

Hollifield is a professor for political studies and director of the John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies at SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences

Can discuss:

  • Migration Theory, Talking across Disciplines, James F. Hollifield & Caroline Brettell, eds. Routledge, 2015
  • A Global Perspective, Controlling Immigration, James F. Hollifield. Stanford University Press, 2014
  • Immigrants, Markets, and States, James F. Hollifield. Harvard University Press, 1992
James Hollifield


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