The Constellation Project

"A constellation is a group of stars connected by the imagination.  We look up at the night sky and see a map of stories created by our need to understand the world around us and beyond.  

And yet at home, on the ground, our perspectives can be limited.  

We are at a critical moment in human history. We are only just beginning to comprehend the significance of what Martin Luther King described as “the fierce urgency of now.”  Most of human civilization has taken place during a geological epoch: the Holocene, characterized by remarkably stable biophysical conditions. But about the same time that our first Apollo astronauts stepped onto the moon and were overcome by the stunning beauty of Earth rising above the moon’s horizon, we entered a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene, where the press of our species now registers as its own geologic force disrupting natural processes at the fastest rates in the history of our species.

Consider these facts: To feed ourselves, we annually appropriate about 40% of Earth’s land surface for pastures and croplands. We use about half of the planet’s accessible fresh water to irrigate our crops; and we exploit 90% of global fisheries at, or beyond, their maximum sustainable limits. In the process, we have cut down half of the world’s forests and dammed more than 60% of its rivers. The quality of air, water, and land is diminishing around the world because of global pollution. Our production of greenhouse gases is changing Earth’s climate. These and other processes are driving species to extinction while the numbers of individual  mammals, fishes, birds, reptiles, and amphibians have fallen by half in the past 45 years. We are holding Nature under siege.

We are trying to respond. The global health community is beginning to understand that environmental degradation is not only an ecological crisis but also a human crisis. This is the genesis of planetary health.

Just as we recognize the interconnectedness of our health and the health of the planet, we recognize the rupture of our relationship with Nature. The ongoing destruction of Earth’s natural systems is the result of decisions, made daily, by billions of people. These decisions are voluntary and involuntary at once, collective and personal. Reverence and awe for Nature have lost their authority.  The question must be asked: what is driving our actions?  How do we reignite and reimagine a spiritual relationship to this beautiful, breaking planet we call home?  

How do we nurture empathy, restraint and resiliency, sacrifice, and faith grounded in action?  How do we acknowledge the grief we feel in relationship to our changing world from the devastation rendered by fires, floods, and hurricanes?  Can we as humans broaden our definition of community to include all species, not just our own?  And what might a different kind of power look like, feel like, as we extend our notion of power to include the legal rights and standing of rivers, mountains, and all manner of life on Earth?

As we address these enormous challenges, the emerging field of planetary health in partnership with an earth-based spirituality can create a more ethical stance toward life evolving within the era of the Anthropocene.  We need new stories for a new era of planetary consciousness.

The Constellation Project—a collaboration between the Harvard Divinity School, the Planetary Health Alliance, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Harvard Center for the Environment, and the Center for the Study of World Religions—celebrates conversations between disciplines that have been in dialogue only with themselves.  This kind of academic apartheid has for too long oppressed the imagination and stifled creativity.  We need robust and creative conversations where scientists can speak honestly from the depth of their breaking hearts about what they are witnessing: the loss of species and habitats, the death of coral reefs, the rise of infectious diseases. We need to experience the emotional register of music, poetry, and films that are reexamining what it means to be human in an increasingly fractured world. 

The Constellation Project is committed to this deeper exploration of people in place.  Call it an ecology of residency. What stories do we tell ourselves that wound the world and its inhabitants, rather than allow all life to flourish? What kinds of stories are emerging that could help set us on a different path?  

The Constellation Project is lit up by questions that hold us to account. 

The territory where science, the arts and humanities, human health and spirituality meet is where the Constellation Project shimmers. Our intention is to create an atmosphere of witnessing, where diverse voices from all disciplines, geographies, traditions, and practices are invited to speak to create a wider community of care.  We are calling together the Storytellers who share a common reliance on Nature as a taproot to an evolving consciousness.  By identifying this taproot of care and engagement, we can better anchor our humanity to a bedrock of planetary compassion.

We imagine these gatherings will stimulate an awakening  for us as individuals and as a community.  We want priests bringing science into their sermons; we want scientists to feel permission to give ‘reverence for life’ authority alongside their analyses; we imagine scholars and students finding a place for their spiritual life.

The Constellation Project is committed to drawing new maps that will guide us toward a future of abiding strength and presence where our embrace of humanity becomes an embrace of the Earth, interconnected and interrelated. This is the place where inspiration, imagination, and courageous actions can dwell."

Written by:  

Dr. Samuel Myers is a physician and principal research scientist at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and the Director of the Planetary Health Alliance.  His research focuses on the many ways that human-caused changes to the natural environment impact human health. He is the author of over 50 peer-reviewed research articles and is co-editing “Planetary Health: Protecting Human Health on a Rapidly Changing Planet” with Howard Frumkin.

Terry Tempest Williams is Writer-in-Residence at the Harvard Divinity School.  She is the author of the environmental classic, “Refuge – An Unnatural History of Family and Place.”  Author of 17 books including “Finding Beauty in a Broken World,” “The Open Space of Democracy,” and most recently, “The Hour of Land – A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks,” her work has been published and translated worldwide.

Charles M. Stang 
is Professor of Early Christian Thought and Director of the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard Divinity School. His scholarly research focuses on the religions of the ancient Mediterranean world; but he is interested, more broadly, in how religion and spirituality can be a resource for addressing the global environmental crisis.

2021 Weather Report Series

Terry Tempest Williams (author and Harvard Divinity School writer-in-residence), Charles M. Stang (director of the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard Divinity School), and Dr. Sam Myers (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health principal research scientist and Planetary Health Alliance director) have launched The Constellation Project. The Constellation Project — a collaboration between the Harvard Divinity School, the Planetary Health Alliance, and the Center for the Study of World Religions—explores the spiritual crisis that underlies the ecological and public health crises associated with destruction of Earth’s natural systems. How do we share news stories about our relationship to each other and the natural world that could help set us on a different path? The Constellation Project aims to feature faith leaders bringing science into their sermons; scientists giving ‘reverence for life’ alongside their analyses; and scholars and students finding a place for their spiritual life.

Past Events:
WEATHER REPORTS The Climate of Now – A Series of Virtual Conversations
Cuppa Tea with Terry Tempest Williams
Monday Evenings at 700 p.m. EST
Harvard Divinity School Fall Semester 2021
Watch the Weather Report Recordings Here

In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground. ... A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other. That time is now.
                                                                                              --- Wangari Maathai

September 20, 2021: A BURNING TESTAMENT TO CLIMATE COLLAPSE  --  Lucy Walker, Film Director, “Bring Your Own Brigade” (2021)
“Bring Your Own Brigade” (2021) – Following the aftermath of the 2018 Camp Fire, the deadliest fire in California’s history, British film maker Lucy Walker explores a question humanity can no longer afford to ignore in the midst of climate chaos: why are catastrophic wildfires increasing in number and severity around the world and what can be done about it?  Clips of this extraordinary, ground-breaking film will be shown throughout the conversation, as the American West burns in real time. Climate collapse is not about the future, it is right here, right now. 
Zoom Registration Link

September 27, 2021: THE CLIMATE OF SACRED LAND PROTECTION – Bernadette Demientieff, Gwitch’in Council Member of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska
Bernadette Demientieff, Executive Director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, will be discussing why Sacred Land Protection matters to Indigenous communities and how her community in Alaska is standing strong to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge –Coastal Plain and the Porcupine caribou herd from becoming an oil and gas reservation. She will explain why fossil fuel companies must not be allowed to drill for oil on indigenous lands and her courageous path to “keep it in the ground” in her home ground of Alaska.  “Our Identity is non negotiable. We will never sell our culture and our traditional lifestyle for any amount of money.” Bernadette says.
Zoom Registration Link

4 October 2021: THE CLIMATE OF RELATIONSHIPS & INTERSECTIONALITY  Morgan Curtis, Climate Activist, HDS Student, MDiv '24; Brontë Velez, Black-latinx transdisciplinary artist
Morgan Curtis and Brontê Velez will be discussing the intersectionality of race, class, gender, and climate collapse and how seeing the world whole through the lens of relationships creates communities of care rather than communities of conflict. They will discuss what reparations might look like on behalf of racial justice and justice for the Earth; and why it is critical to find an intergenerational dialogue, diverse and dynamic that calls for a global paradigm shift.  With urgent, contemplative and imaginative voices, Curtis and Velez are women of consequence and action who walk their talk in the name of radical evolutionary change. 
Zoom Registration Link     
October 11, 2021: INDIGENOUS DAY

October 18, 2021: THE CLIMATE OF COMPASSION FOR ALL BEINGS -- Janet Gyatso, Hershey Professor of Buddhist Studies and the Associate Dean for Faculty and Academic Affairs at HDS School.
We are not the only species that lives and loves and grieves on this planet.  Janet Gyatso will bring provocative and evocative questions and ideas forward surrounding the sentience of all beings focusing on the phenomenology of being-with other animals and humans.  And how we can cultivate the capacity to have such experiences, in ways that might ethically reform us and our ethical and spiritual practices. How might compassion and an understanding toward animals heighten and mirror a reciprocal relationship toward each other and what it means to not only to be human, but one species among many?  
Zoom Registration Link

October 25, 2021: THE CLIMATE OF GRIEF  – Victoria Chang, poet, Obit (2021)
Poet Victoria Chang writes in her New York Times Notable Book of 2020, OBIT “I always knew that grief was something I could smell. But I didn’t know that it’s not actually a noun but a verb. That it moves.” After the deaths of her parents, she refused to write elegies, instead she wrote poetic obituaries of the beautiful, broken world that surrounded – Many see them as love letter. How does poetry illuminate this time of uncertainty. What we thought was a pause is now a place – grief is part of this place.  How do we embrace grief and not look away  from all that is breaking our hearts.  “Give sorrow words,” Chang writes and she does.
Zoom Registration Link

November 1, 2021: THE CLIMATE OF CONSCIOUSNESS – Michael Pollan, Writer, This Is Your Mind On Plants (2021)
Michael Pollan has been educating us with illuminating prose on “The Botany of Desire” for a very long time. He continues to show us through his landmark bestseller, How To Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence, alongside  his latest book This Is Your Mind On Plants may be the very thing we need to bolster our consciousness in the midst of climate collapse and a world we hardly recognize. Three words come to mind: change, restoration, resiliency.  Pollan is a visionary writer and one of our clearest thinkers with upmost integrity of mind and heart.  Expert storytelling with a radical challenge to pay attention to what plants have to teach us that will transform our life, this conversation will be a live streamed event.
Zoom Registration Link 

November 8, 2021: THE CLIMATE OF RESISTANCE -- Chloe Aridjis, Writer’s Rebel, UK, Novelist, Sea Monsters (2020); Wanjira Mathai, Regional Director for Africa at the World Resources Institute
Award-winning novelist Chloe Aridjis and Conservationist Wanjira Mathai are powerful leaders in the global environmental movement who are fierce and compassionate, at once. They are also the daughters of iconic conservation heroes:  Homero Aridjis, a Mexican poet who started Grupo de Cien to save the monarch butterflies in the forests of Michoacán where he was born; and Nobel Peace Laureate Wangari Maathai from Kenya who founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977, who have planted more than 51 million trees, a stay against climate change. Aridjis and Mathai will be discussing how conservation is a generational stance and share what they as vibrant activists are seeing, feeling, dreaming and doing as women of their generation who are leading now. 
Zoom Registration Link

November 15, 2021: THE CLIMATE OF ATTENTION  –  Elizabeth Kolbert, staff writer for The New Yorker, Under White Sky: The Nature of the Future (2021)
No one has covered the climate crisis as deeply and as thoughtfully as Elizabeth Kolbert. From Field Notes From A Catastrophe (2007) to her Pulitzer-prize winning book The Sixth Extinction (2016) to her most recent book, Under The White Sky “a book about people trying to solve problems caused by people trying to solve problems” that discusses what “a good Anthropocene” might look like from managing fish in the Midwest to including geo-engineering the atmosphere that will turn our blue sky white. Kolbert is a brilliant writer and an impeccable journalist writing from the front lines of climate change. Rolling Stone Magazine writes, “To be a well-informed citizen of Planet Earth, you need to read Elizabeth Kolbert.” This will be an illuminating conversation about where we find ourselves now and in the future depending on what choices we choose to make and the actions we are willing or not willing to take on behalf of a liveable future.
Zoom Registration Link

November 22, 2021: THE CLIMATE OF THE FUTURE  – Kim Stanley Robinson, Writer, The Ministry for the Future (2020)
Kim Stanley Robinson has written a science fiction thriller on climate collapse in 2025 that reads as hard-edge journalism.  With short chapters written from the perspectives of a myriad of characters, Robinson looks at climate change through lens of a kaleidoscope.  With each turn of his wrist, we see another point view brought forward with imagination and a pragmatic visions on what must be done in order for us to survive.  Christian Holub writes “Robinson lays a blueprint for fighting climate change.” This may be one of the most important books published in the last two decades.  Bill McKibben said in his review of “The Ministry For The Future,” in the New York Review of Books, “This is not science fiction…..”  With questions ranging from what the end of capitalism might look like to surviving the end of the world, Kim Stanley Robinson gives us a possible path to move forward with faith in what we can create together.  
Zoom Registration Link

November 29, 2021: THE CLIMATE OF COMMUNITY  – Brian Kirbis,* -- A Community Tea Ceremony, Theasophie
For our last “Weather Report,” Tea Master Brian Kirbis who has opened each conversation with a tea pouring to set a tone of well being and attention,  on this final session, he will take us through a formal tea ceremony.  As a global community online, we will be able to sit and sip in a collective silence and hold space together as we contemplate all we have heard and taken into our minds and hearts as a community of care.  Through this gesture of generosity and grace, Brian will close our gathering witha meditation for peace and conscious action on behalf of this place we call home, Earth.
Zoom Registration Link

February 6, 2018: Film Screening and Discussion: Albatross
October 17, 2018: Taproot: Stories of Nature and Restoration 
April 4, 2019: The Land and the Waters are Speaking: Indigenous Views on Climate Change

To view more archived Constellation Project events, please visit our Youtube or Vimeo accounts to watch the event recordings.

The Harvard Gazette, Project Offers Holistic View on Environmental Issues
The Harvard Crimson, Divinity School Event Explores Humans’ Relationship to Nature
The Harvard Gazette, Putting ‘the Language of the Earth on the Agenda’ 

Planetary Health Alliance

The Planetary Health Alliance is a consortium of over 120 dedicated universities, NGOs, government entities, research institutes, and other partners around the world committed to advancing planetary health.
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