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Restoring Balance: The Great Mississippi River

under the patronage of

His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

18th – 25th October 2009
(Updated 08/10/09)

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 “One cannot tame that lawless stream, cannot curb it or confine it, cannot say to it go here, or go there, and make it obey; cannot save a shore which it has sentence; cannot bar its path with an obstruction which it will not tear down, dance over, and laugh at.”

Mark Twain

1. Symposium VIII
a. Introduction
b. Previous Symposia
c. The Symposia Process
d. Outcomes

2. The Great Mississippi River: Restoring Balance
a. Summary
b. The Mississippi River
c. Proposed Itinerary
d. Proposed Programme
e. Religious and Scientific Committee

3. Participants
a. List of proposed invitees
b. Sample of proposed media invitees
c. Participants in past Symposia

a. Introduction

Of the world’s greatest rivers, the Mississippi is among those which has fallen most completely under human domination. With a total length of 3778 kilometres (2348 miles) and the third largest drainage basin on earth – exceeded only by the Amazon and the Congo – it flows through ten of the United States of America and carries no less than 15 per cent of the nation’s freight. Without the natural barriers of major falls, gorges or rapids, the Mississippi has always been navigable throughout its length, from the Ohio River in the north down to New Orleans and its delta-outfall into the Gulf of Mexico.

From the launch of the first steamship on the river in 1811, the river has been continuously dredged, embanked and straightened, culminating in an enormous programme of building levees to contain its floods which drained many of its wetlands, and has blocked the growth of its delta. A chain of cities along its length has discharged domestic and industrial waste into the Mississippi for nearly two centuries. Its waters made possible the giant agricultural expansion of 19th-century America and transported its produce downstream: wheat from the north, cotton and maize from the south. More recently, oil and gas exploitation has eaten into the Delta, while the run-off of artificial fertiliser and pesticides from upstream agriculture is poisoning the marine ecology of the Gulf of Mexico, creating the world’s largest ‘dead zone’.

A river of this size is profoundly involved in the global environment. Its potential contribution to climate change is less than that of the Amazon, the Congo or the shrinking Greenland ice-cap. But the impact of global climate change on the Mississippi system may be enormous. Its waters depend on North American rains, which in turn are linked to the health of the Amazon forest cover. The increase in devastating hurricanes striking its Delta region seems, on growing evidence, to be linked to sea evaporation caused by weather change – again, deriving from the shrinking of the Amazonian forests. The predicted rise in sea-levels as the ice-caps melt threatens to submerge its low-lying delta and its down-river or coastal cities – including New Orleans.

But the fate of the Mississippi waters is more than one aspect of global warming. It is also, very acutely, an ethical crisis. The exploitation of the great river - its pollution, the disastrous confinements of its course and the draining of its wetlands – is starting to produce catastrophic human and natural consequences.

The Mississippi is a challenge to human responsibility for the environment.

b. Previous Symposia

c. The Symposium Process

Underlying RSE’s strategies is a core belief that the analytical tools of science and the spiritual messages of religion must work in harmony if the earth’s environment is to be safeguarded. The symposia take place afloat, bringing participants – international and regional religious leaders, scientists, environmentalists, policy makers, media representatives and other prominent figures in politics and business – directly to endangered bodies of water.

Policy and planning for the symposia are developed by the Religious and Scientific Committee composed of senior international figures from religion and science, under the chairmanship of The Most Revd Metropolitan John of Pergamon. Representatives from countries relevant to each Symposium are also part of the organising committee. Previous symposia have been attended by heads of state, environmental ministers, ministers of economic affairs and prominent intellectual figures.

Symposia participants live and work together over the course of intensive meetings in a number of forums, including formal plenary and informal briefing sessions. During these sessions, speakers present their views on various environmental and ethical themes involving the body of water on which the symposium is focused. In addition, and equally significant, participants visit sites of key environmental importance, where they are able to discuss specific issues with local experts.

One of the key aims of the symposia is to enable its participants to bond together and develop networks that will serve as bases for future action. To facilitate this interaction, RSE convenes workshop sessions throughout the symposia that are designed to engage participants in dialogues about the body of water under study, its environmental needs, and the resources and actions that might be brought to bear in the years ahead. These workshops draw on the enormous diversity of skills and experiences offered by symposia participants and have yielded a variety of valuable proposals for continued action.

d. Outcomes

Many of the benefits of bringing together representatives of various professions are intangible and derive from the new bonds and working relationships established during the course of the symposia. A number of significant outcomes, however, have resulted directly from prior symposia.


An integral part of the symposia is the participation of international and regional journalists. In addition to providing an important critical perspective on the issues raised by the symposia, media participation enables the various messages to reach a broad audience.

The symposia have been the subject of extensive media coverage:

  • Hundreds of articles have appeared in print media, amongst others The Financial Times; The Economist; The New York Times; The International Herald Tribune; The Guardian; The Observer; newspapers subscribing to the Associated Press, Agence France Presse, DPA, and the Catholic News Service; and scores of major and local newspapers and periodicals.

  • Many major television and radio stations have covered the symposia during their visits to the various countries, creating special programmes or segments on e.g. The BBC World Service, Al Jazeera (English & Arabic), CNN Türk, ERT Greece, ORF Austria, Bulgaria National Television, TV GLOBO, Vatican TV & Radio, SKAI Greece. Two documentary crews from Canada, two Greek television stations, the Vatican Television station and crews shooting environmental documentaries have all travelled with the symposia. Television stations subscribing to the European Broadcast Union (EBU) throughout Europe, and their affiliates around the world, have used video news releases that were produced by RSE during the symposia.

  • The Religion, Science and the Environment website is: www.rsesymposia.org

Programmatic Developments

In addition to communicating to a wider audience the issues related to protecting and improving the environment, the symposia have enabled the formation of new strategic partnerships and the strengthening of existing ones. These partnerships have provided the basis for broadened environmental protection activity. These include seeding networks of concerned people around seas or along rivers – school pupils, teachers, journalists, theological students – who establish and maintain contact in campaigns to spread awareness of the plight of their waters.

The symposia introduce new ideas and provide broadened horizons for consideration of the many different areas of work and interest. They also offer the opportunity for participants to establish an efficient networking scheme that enables new ideas, collaborations and projects to emerge. Another facet of the symposia is the direct setting of the discussed issues in their physical and cultural context, through special visits and the involvement of the local community. The spiritual message carried by the religious leaders taking part has provided enduring inspiration and encouragement in the valuable work of environmental preservation.



2. SYMPOSIUM VIII: ‘The Great Mississippi River: Restoring Balance’

a. Summary
The Place: The lower part of the Mississippi
The Time: 18th – 25th October 2009

The People:
About two hundred participants – theologians, scientists, policy makers, environmentalists, representatives of business and NGOs, and the media – under the patronage of His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch. Shore visits and on-board plenaries will include many distinguished individuals and some 80 members of the international media.

The Purpose:
Throughout this Symposium the moral aspects of the ecological problem will be examined, as it is the case in all our Symposia, particularly in respect to the religious and cultural background of America and the world, to realise the extent and the way the religious communities can contribute in facing the ecological crisis through a unified approach, in order to meet the challenges of this important river and other major river and delta systems around the world.

b. The Mississippi River

The Mississippi River has a total length of 3778 km and runs through 10 states (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana).

Its source is Lake Itasca located in Clearwater County, Minnesota and it empties into the Gulf of Mexico about 160 km downstream from New Orleans. Part of the Jefferson-Missouri-Mississippi river system, it is the largest water system in Northern America and among the largest in the world. The river is divided into the upper Mississippi, from its source to the Ohio River, and the lower Mississippi, from the Ohio to its mouth into the sea.

The Mississippi has the third largest watershed in the world (exceeded only by the Amazon River and the Congo River). It drains 41% of the Continental United States. The drainage basin covers more than 3,225,000 km2.


The Mississippi valley was first settled by numerous Native American tribes, such as the Ojibwa, Winnebago, Fox, Chickasaw, Natchez and Yazoo, who traded with one another, farmed the floodplains, fished the waters and gave the river its name (in Alonquian Misi sipi means ‘Big water’).

The first Europeans to navigate the river were Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century followed a century later by French explorers and missionaries. The French were also the first to establish settlements in the Mississippi valley, founding several cities including New Orleans and St Louis.

In 1811 the arrival of powered vessels on the Mississippi was marked by the maiden voyage of the first steamboat, the New Orleans, which travelled the full length from the Ohio River to New Orleans.

In 1824, the US Army Corps of Engineers became involved with waterways and is still responsible, through its Civil Works Program, for the management and development of water resources in the United States. In 1879, Congress established the Mississippi River Commission (composed of Army and civilian experts) to create a comprehensive plan to facilitate navigation and prevent destructive flooding. One of the measures taken was the construction of a vast system of levees in order to limit flood damage. These levees mostly succeeded in restraining flood flows, but in both the devastating inundations of 1927 and that of1993, many levees gave way and large areas were flooded. Hydrologists believe that the floods may even have been worsened by the levees. There has been criticism too that the levee system has disrupted natural processes such as seasonal flooding and the flow of run-off, starving the ecosystems behind the levees of nutrients, sediments and fresh water.

Economic Importance

The Mississippi River plays a key role in the US economy. Many cities began life along the Mississippi and continue to depend on the river for their economic base. The river transports 15% of the nation’s total freight movement at just 2 % of the cost. About 282 million of freight tons are carried each year, the most important cargoes being bulk items such as coal, petroleum products, sand, gravel and grain. New Orleans is the country’s second largest port and a hub of international trade.

Agriculture is the number one industry along the Mississippi. The main crops are poultry/eggs, forestry, soybeans, corn, cotton and catfish. 



c. Proposed Itinerary (17th – 26th October 2009)
Please click on the itinerary tab on the left hand side of this page for full details



Sunday 18th October 2009

The Mississippi Symposium will begin in the historic city of Memphis as a preliminary stage for those interested in the historical and ecological background of the region.

Participants will arrive during the course of the day. That evening there will be a musical event featuring the Mississippi Delta Blues, a musical genre born out of the hard life of the Delta which had a major influence on jazz and has travelled the world.

Monday 19th October 2009

The participants will visit the National Civil Rights Museum at the former Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968. This excellent museum traces the history of the African-American experience. The question then was posed whether or not the movement for racial equality and the elimination of hunger and poverty would end with his death? With the election of Barack Obama to the Presidency of the United States, part of his dream, which he spoke of in his famous speech in Washington, has been realised. Fulfilling the dream of economic justice and what is termed today eco-justice, is of particular concern to the Symposium.

A dinner will be hosted on a Mississippi river boat.

Tuesday 20th October 2009

The participants will fly from Memphis to New Orleans.
Wednesday 21st October 2009

Official Opening of the Symposium:
Welcome by Louisiana Governor, Bobby Jindal, and by New Orleans dignitary
Address of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

1st Plenary: The interconnectedness of all things

Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans

Mr John M. Barry, Author: What Happened to New Orleans Threatens every Coastal Area in the World
Mr Hylton Murray-Philipson, Director, Wingate Ventures Ltd. UK
Turning Points and Tipping Points
Professor Mary Evelyn Tucker, Senior Lecturer and Senior Scholar, Yale University
The Universe Story and An Ecological Future Afternoon session: Can Religion Help Save the Planet?

During the Symposium, we will be exploring issues that need to be seen in the context of the complexity and diversity of life on Earth and above all in the temporal context.

The extraordinary meeting of the UNFCCC at Copenhagen this December is a defining moment for the future of human life on earth. We are beginning to run out of time in the battle to combat climate change (rising seas matched by rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere); in addition to technological solutions, we need to release spiritual energy in the search for harmony (heaven on earth).

Water is an element that binds and connects diverse ecosystems and peoples. Rivers are living systems which provide important functions and services both for the environment and nature and for the peoples who live and work in the area of the river basin – the boundaries which define water flow.

The challenge lies in finding forms of governance and management which reconcile the conflicts and contradictions between using rivers for irrigation, hydropower, navigation, pollution disposal and for the provision of drinking water, while at the same time maintaining them as living systems.

Afternoon session: Can Religion Help Save the Planet

Professor Mary Evelyn Tucker, Senior Lecturer and Senior Scholar, Yale University

Dr Richard Chartres, Lord Bishop of London
H. E. Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington
Professor Oren Lyons, Native American Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan of the Seneca Nation of the Iroquois Confederacy
Professor of Philosophy Roger S. Gottlieb, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Dr Margaret Barker, Biblical Scholar
Ms Patricia Cochran, Former Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council
Reverend Richard Cizik, Environmental Evangelical Leader
Professor of Christian Ethics John Hart, Boston University School of Theology

To meet the ecological crisis threatening the planet, it is generally agreed that humankind must change its behaviour. Can religion as a moral force change hearts and minds and thus behaviour, as it did with the abolition of slavery and the American civil rights movement? Will citizens voluntarily modify their way of life? Will technology and science save industrial civilisation?

Thursday 22nd October 2009

2nd Plenary: Pollution

In essence pollution represents the failure of the human race to develop while recognising and honouring the unity of Creation. Belief in the unity of Creation means pollution should be tackled without harming ecosystems on which we all - and life itself - depend.

As in similar cases elsewhere in the world, the release of toxic materials in and along the Mississippi River poses a variety of threats to humans and to the environment. In most cases, it’s the poor and vulnerable living close to petrochemical industries along the Mississippi who are most affected by contaminants released into the air and water and on to the land. The tension between the economic benefits of petrochemical production and the rights of those living nearby represents one of the fundamental difficulties in achieving what has become known as environmental justice.

Dr Richard Chartres, Lord Bishop of London

H. E. Mr Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister of Australia (to be confirmed)
Dr Robert Corell, Chair of the Climate Action Initiative
Dr Gavin Schmidt, climate scientist, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies
Dr Peter Bridgewater, Chairman, Joint Nature Conservation Committee
Professor of Sociology Dr Robert D. Bullard, Director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center, Clark Atlanta University
Dr Robert Harriss, President and CEO, Houston Advanced Research Center
On-shore visits: ‘Chemical Alley’

Afternoon Session: Climate Change, Consequences (continued)

Dr Jerome Delli Priscoli, USACE senior advisor

Professor Dr Hans-Peter Duerr, Max-Planck Institute for Physics and Astrophysics
Dr Victor G. Gorshkov - Dr Anastassia Makarieva, Petersburg Physics Institute
Professor of Mathematical and Theoretical Ecology Larry Li, University of California at Riverside
Dr John Briscoe, Gordon McKay Professor of Practice of Environmental Engineering, Harvard School of Engineering and School of Public Health
Professor Minik T. Rosing, Natural History Museum, University of Copenhagen

Friday 23rd October 2009

3rd Plenary:
Katrina: What went wrong and lessons learned

Hurricane Katrina, a Category 3 storm, made landfall in Louisiana on August 29, 2005 and followed a northerly track 30 miles east of New Orleans. After the storm, 85 per cent of greater New Orleans was flooded, in some areas for six weeks. While the pre-storm evacuation was highly successful, about 160,000 residents remained. Of these 1,600 lost their lives while 60,000 were rescued from flooded neighbourhoods. One consequence of the storm was that approximately 200,000 families were rendered homeless - mostly families which had heeded evacuation orders. One hundred and sixty nine miles of the 350 miles of levees around greater New Orleans were either destroyed or damaged.

Many levee collapses reflected design failures: the levee system, still under construction 40 years after commencement, caused floodwall backside erosion and collapse; lateral slides due to soil instabilities and piping; protected side uplift pressure failures; front side collapse due to wave attack; and overtopping and lowering of levee crests.

Many lessons can be learned from the Katrina catastrophe - lessons which can be applied to similar threats around the world to: 1) improve the effectiveness of risk evaluation and communication with the public at large; 2) review individual countries’ levee funding and construction cultures; 3) improve and adapt numerical models for levee stability analysis and surge/wind wave field simulations; 4) improve disaster response and recovery strategies; 5) learn from each other’s experiences with similar disasters and the varying approaches to living with unpredictability.

Mr Tom Spencer, Vice Chairman, Institute for Environmental Security

Lt General Robert L. Van Antwerp, Chief of US Army Corps of Engineers
Dr Tran Thuc, Chairman, Vietnam Institute of Meteorology, Hydrology and Environment, Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Mekong River
Dr. Mihir Kanti Mazumder, Secretary, Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of Bangladesh Ganges-Brahmaputra River Delta
Ms Lucia Varga, Committee for Public Administration Territorial Planning and Ecological Balance Romanian Parliament, Danube Delta
Representative of China (to be announced)
Professor Gerald E. Galloway Jr. Glenn L. Martin Institute, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering University of Maryland

Afternoon Session: Should Inhabited Coastal Areas be Defended or Abandoned? Global-Warming Refugees

This topic becomes relevant in the face of rising sea levels and increasing storm intensities. And the direct question at hand is should New Orleans be defended as it stands or resources be applied to protect a safer inland area?

Chair: Professor Minik T. Rosing, Natural History Museum, University of Copenhagen

HE Mr Mohamed Nasheed, President of the Maldives (to be confirmed)
Professor Gerald E. Galloway Jr. Glenn L. Martin Institute, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering University of Maryland
Dr Jerome Delli Priscoli, USACE Senior Advisor on international water issues
Dr Ivor van Heerden, Deputy Director of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center and Director of the Center for the Study of Public Health Impacts of Hurricanes

Saturday 24th October 2009

4th Plenary Energy: Pollution Represents the Failure of Economies to Develop without Harming Our Ecosystem

Chair: John Grim, Senior Lecturer and Scholar, Yale University

Professor Joseph E. Stiglitz, Columbia Business School (video projection of interview)
Professor Herbert Girardet, co-founder and Director of Programmes, World Future Council
Mr Tom Spencer, Vice Chairman, Institute for Environmental Security
Mr Mark Schleifstein, Journalist, The Times-Picayune
Mr Andrew Mitchell, Executive Director Global Canopy Programme
Reverend Jim Ball, Ph.D, Senior Director, EEN Climate Campaign

Small boat visits, wetlands

Afternoon session: Can Contemporary Global Corporate Capitalism and a Habitable Planet Coexist?

Chair: Dr Robert Corell, Chair of the Climate Action Initiative

Dr Vandana Shiva, Physicist, environmental activist and writer
Mr Benedict Haerlin, Director of the Foundation on Future Farming and Director of Save our Seeds initiative
Professor Aaron T. Wolf, Department of Geosciences, Oregon State University

Sunday 25th October 2009

5th Plenary:  The Future, Restoring and Protecting

Chair: Mr Hylton Murray-Philipson, Director, Wingate Ventures Ltd. UK

Mr R. King Milling Chairman, America’s Wetland
Ms Anne Milling, Founder, Women of the Storm
Ms Anne Rolfes, Founding Director, Louisiana Bucket Brigade
Ms Wilma Subra, Louisiana Environmental Action Network
Ms. Margie E Richard, Environmental Activist
Ms Beth Galante, Director, Global Green's New Orleans Resource Center & Office
Professor Herbert Girardet, co-founder and Director of Programmes, World Future Council
Mr Charles E. Allen, III, MSPH, Associate Director, Center for Bioenvironmental Research Tulane and Xavier Universities
Ms Daphne Derven, Executive Director, New Orleans Food and Farm Network
Ms Denise Byrne, Director, Friends of New Orleans
Ms Sandy Rosenthal, Founder and Director of Levees.org
Concluding session: Can Religion and Science collaborate to mitigate the crisis?

Afternoon session: Media, Successes And Failures

Chair: Professor Brian Cathcart, Kingston University

Daniel Howden, The Independent
Mark Schleifstein, Times-Picayune, New Orleans
Paul Brown, The Guardian

Concluding Session

Professor Oren Lyons, Native American Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan of the Seneca Nation of the Iroquois Confederacy
Professor Minik T. Rosing, Natural History Museum, University of Copenhagen

Monday 26th October 2009

Departure of Delegates from Newark Airport*



Executive Committee:

Honorary Chair:

His Eminence Metropolitan John of
Pergamon, B.D., S.T.M., Dr Theol.
D.Theol h.c.


Mr Leonard Alsfeld, President and CEO, FBT Investments, New Orleans, Louisiana

Mr Neal Ascherson, Writer and lecturer at University College London, UK

Dr Margaret Barker, Biblical scholar and Writer

The Revd Canon Sally G. Bingham
Interfaith Power and Light

The Revd Deacon Dr John Chryssavgis, Boston, USA

Dr Ivor van Heerden, Director,Center for the Study of Public Health Impacts of Hurricanes, Louisiana State University

Mr Philip Weller, Executive Secretary of the International Commission for the
Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR)

Committee Members:

The Revd Jim Ball
Evangelical Environmental Network

The Rt Revd & Rt Hon. Richard J.C. Chartres, Lord Bishop of London

The Revd Richard Cizik,
Environmental Activist

Ms Jacquelyn Clarkson
President, New Orleans City Council

Ms Mary Fontenot
All Congregations Together

Professor John A. Grim
Yale University

The Revd Dr Michael Kinnamon
General Secretary, National Council of Churches

Dr Graeme Kelleher
Vice President of the Commission on National Parks & Protected Areas, Australia

Dr G. Paul Kemp
Center for Coastal, Energy and Environmental Resources, Louisiana State University

Professor Robert Lange
Associate Professor of Physics, Brandeis University, USA

Ms Marylee Orr
Executive Director, Louisiana Environmental Action Network

Mr Thymios Papayannis
Honorary President of WWF Greece

Mr Carl Pope
Director, Sierra Club

Ms Margie Richard
Activist, winner Goldman Prize

Ms Anne Rolfes
Louisiana Bucket Brigade

Mr Frits Schlingemann
UNEP, Regional Office for Europe

Ms Amanda Shaw
Wetland Activist, Musician

The Revd Larry Snyder
President, Catholic Charities, USA

Mr Tom Spencer, Vice Chairman, The Institute for Environmental Security, The Hague, the Netherlands

Ms Jessy Tolkan
Executive Director of Programs
Energy Action Coalition

Dr Paul H. Templet
School of Coast & Environment, Louisiana State University

Professor Mary Evelyn Tucker
Yale University

Coordinator for Louisiana:

Mr James Brooke, Executive Producer
Swift Street Productions

Special Advisers:

Mr Bruce Clark, Journalist,
The Economist

Dr Antonio Nobre, Senior Scientist,
National Institute for Amazonian Research

Film Coordinators:

Mr James Becket, Lawyer and Film

Mr James Whitney, Film Producer,
Film Editor, Sage Mountain Films.

Media Advisers:

Mr Paul Brown, Journalist, former
Environment Correspondent,
The Guardian

Mr Brian Cathcart, Professor of Journalism at Kingston University, London

Mr Kieran Cooke
Financial Times
BBC / Spectator / Irish Times

Mr Mark Schleifstein, Journalist,
Times-Picayune, New Orleans


Mrs Maria Becket : Symposia Co-ordinator - Religion, Science & the Environment
Walton House, Walton Street, London SW3 2JH, UK, Tel:  +44 207 589 1094 
Skoufa Street 5-7, GR-10673 Athens, Greece, Tel:  +30 210 3636092 
Email: rsecommittee@rsesymposia.org

3. Participants
For participant information please download the dossier in PDF format here.