2009 Nobel Conference to focus on water ethics

Water is not usually seen as an issue to be debated by theologians. However, Larry L. Rasmussen, emeritus professor of Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary and an environmental theologian, will lecture on the ethics of clean water at the 45th annual Nobel Conference at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn.

“That’s a rule we have in inviting a speaker:  we always intentionally invite one person who will bring to the front the moral, ethical or theological issues,” said Nobel Conference director Chuck Niederriter. “The idea is to try to capture everything and put it in the framework that looks at the science along with theological. It’s something that we as a college built into the conference.”

The conference titled “H2O Uncertain Resource,” held Oct. 6 and 7, will focus on the state of water in the world and discuss the ethics of water as a human right.

Niederriter said that because water has a connection to issues such as climate change, energy and the world economic system, the faculty committee at Gustavus Adolphus felt this was the most important topic of the moment.

“This was the topic that had been on our list the longest,” Niederriter said. “This topic, we decided, needed to be approached right away.”

The first conference took place in 1963, and previous conference topics have included prescription medication, the legacy of Einstein, globalization and genetics.

Also lecturing at the conference is Rajendra K. Pachuari, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In 2007, the IPCC shared the Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice-President Al Gore.

Other presenters at the conference are Asit Biswas, president of the Third World Centre for Water Management; Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute; William Graf, chair of the geography department at the University of South Carolina, Columbia; Nancy Rabalais, executive director of the Louisiana Marine Consortium; and David Sedlak, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California, Berkley.

Between 4,000 and 6,000 students, faculty and guests attend the conference each year. Classes are canceled at Gustavus Adolphus for the two-day event to allow everyone to participate.

While the conference focuses on science, students from all disciplines are encouraged to participate. Niederriter said that the student musicians provide prelude music, art students create exhibits based on the theme and  theater and dance groups perform.

For more information on the event, including ticket and reservation information, visit http://gustavus.edu/events/nobelconference/about/.