Ethics Experts:
The Human Factor in the Flooding of the Mississippi River

The news along the Mississippi River is grim: Flood one area to preserve another. As the waters rise, homes, crops and emotional ties are being lost. SMU experts weigh in on the moral and ethical issues involved.

Flooding along the Mississippi RiverThe news along the Mississippi River is grim: Flood one area to preserve another. As the waters rise, homes, crops and emotional ties are being lost. SMU experts weigh in on the moral and ethical issues involved: 


“It’s pretty sad that once again poor people are going to bear the brunt of this issue. Clearly the people making the decision to intentionally flood the region don’t want to put New Orleans or Baton Rouge at risk — especially New Orleans, that would be a public relations nightmare after Katrina.

"And yes, 25,000 people being flooded is better than hundreds of thousands of others, but who’s going to be looking out for these people, many of them poor and in rural areas. Where are these victims going to go? How will they be cared for? Who will help them now and then later? This is a real human rights issue.”

Rick HalperinRick Halperin is one of this country’s leading authorities on human rights issues and director of SMU’s Embrey Human Rights Education Program in Dallas. 

Halperin is a past chair of the board of directors of Amnesty International USA and continues as a member of that group. He served on the board of directors for several organizations, including the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Human Rights Initiative and Capital Punishment Investigation and Education Services.

News Media: Halperin can be reached at 214-768-3284 or He is available for a live or taped interview in the SMU News Broadcast Studio.


"It's worth remembering that the plans and infrastructure that allow a decision to flood some places in order to spare others have been in place for a long time. It's never easy when we have to implement those plans, but the alternative is to have no control over the destruction. That was what the Mississippi Valley experienced in 1927. Today's floods are not random natural events. They are the result of successful planning.

"The moral conclusion to be drawn from this is not that those whose fields and homes are at risk are responsible for their own fate, but that we are all in this together. Part of having this kind of control over the environment is taking responsibility as a society to make sure that people know the risks they are running and to bear the costs together.

"The homeowner in the path of the Morganza Spillway who posted a sign that read ‘Hope you appreciate this, Baton Rouge’ had the right idea: We should all be prepared to share the burden and show our appreciation.”

Robin LovinRobin W. Lovin is an internationally renowned scholar of Christian and social ethics and the Cary M. Maguire University Professor of Ethics at SMU in Dallas.

Lovin has been president of the Society of Christian Ethics, former dean of SMU’s Perkins School of Theology, editor-at-large for The Christian Century and an ordained elder for The United Methodist Church, North Texas Annual Conference. He is the author of three books, including Christian Ethics: An Essential Guide (Abingdon Press, 2000).

News Media: Lovin can be reached for questions via e-mail at


“How do you buy cheap land? By purchasing land in flood plains that pose risks. The tradeoff, of course, is that when that 100-year flood comes — and it always does — everything built there is lost.

"The desire to own something, to put down roots, runs deep in the American psyche — so deep that it is not difficult to imagine that while some saw the risks and knowingly took them, others were the victims of shrewd sellers. The ethical issues surrounding this flood force us to consider our value stance. Should we weigh in on the side of personal responsibility or public welfare? Is the land of wealthy farmers worth more than the simple homestead of a farm hand? Have we come to believe the myth that our technological society can mitigate the problems posed by nature?

Surely some of this suffering is a passive choice, but there is no doubt that the poor bear the heavier burden. That has been the life of the poor living in The Delta for a hundred years. Perhaps it is time to move to higher ground.”

SMU Professor Rita KirkRita Kirk is a distinguished political analyst, professor of Corporate Communications and Public Affairs at SMU in Dallas and director of the University’s Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Policy. Kirk, who has served as a political analyst for all major networks, is the author of numerous articles and three award-winning books, including Political Empiricism: Communications Strategies in State and Regional Elections; Hate Speech; and Solo Acts: The Death of Discourse in a Wired World.

News Media: Kirk can be reached at 214-768-2123 or She is available for a live or taped interview in the SMU News Broadcast Studio.

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