Terry Tempest Williams (author and Harvard Divinity School writer-in-residence) and Dr. Sam Myers (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health principal research scientist and Planetary Health Alliance director) launched The Constellation Project in 2018. This began as a collaboration between the Harvard Divinity School, the Planetary Health Alliance, and the Center for the Study of World Religions, to explore the spiritual crisis that underlies the ecological and public health crises associated with destruction of Earth’s natural systems. It considered how we might share news stories about our relationship to each other and the natural world that could help set us on a different path. This includes events and an ongoing series of narrative works called Earth Analects (#1 The Wings of Herons and #2 Decolonial Dames of America.)

In 2022, at the Planetary Health Annual Meeting (PHAM), there was a growing call to create a community of practice to promote the importance of imagination, creativity, and spirituality in Planetary Health. To address this, in 2023, Dr. Susan Prescott (Professor of Planetary Health at University of Western Australia, and Director of the Nova Network for planetary health, at the Nova Institute) was invited to establish the Constellation Community. This is an open-minded, heart-centered community circle that elevates “reverence for life” alongside more academic analyses for more holistic perspectives. Our non-sectarian agenda is intended to promote the fundamental positive elements of humanity, such as love, hope, kindness, compassion, respect, reciprocity, and need for more collaboration, rather than any specific faith or ideological agenda. This group meets monthly with the broad aims of connecting community, co-creating ideas and activities, and communicating these more widely (see goals and mission).

We delighted to share the following essay from Terry Tempest Williams and Sam Myers, which formed the original basis of The Constellation Project:

“Humanity has arrived at a crossroads. Enormous technological and scientific breakthroughs have allowed a reshaping of the world to meet human needs. As a result of these discoveries and innovations, too often, Nature has become collateral damage. A myth of human exceptionalism has emerged that says we are distinct from Nature and can prosper at its expense. Indigenous peoples and various cultures worldwide know otherwise. Their stories passed down through the generations speak to a sense of reciprocity and kinship with the Earth. Now, people around the globe are awakening to the recognition that the disruption of Nature’s systems and rhythms has reached a scale that imperils all life on Earth. A singular intelligence to destroy the integrity of the planet has exceeded our collective wisdom to protect it. 

“The myth of human exceptionalism has created a rupture between humanity and the natural world we depend on. The reverence and awe most feel toward Nature have lost their authority in guiding decisions. To heal this rupture, we need different stories – a new fabric woven with threads from the world’s faith traditions, Indigenous knowledge, with science, literature, and the arts to reassert our species’ spiritual connection to the Earth. The story of exceptionalism, of extraction, domination, scarcity, and ultimately, extinction must give way to emerging stories and values of interdependence, equity, abundance, regeneration and renaissance. 

“The Constellation Project is committed to curating such stories, each one a small point of light offered up into the night sky, to form new constellations out of which meaning can be made to answer the only question that matters: How shall we live? 

“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.

Planetary Health Alliance

The Planetary Health Alliance is a consortium of over 340 universities, government entities, research institutes, and other partners around the world committed to understanding and addressing global environmental change and its health impacts.
Website via Visura

Planetary Health Alliance is integrated to:
Visura site builder, a tool to grow your photography business
Visura's network for visual storytellers and journalists
A photography & film archive by Visura
Photography grants, open calls, and contests
A newsfeed for visual storytellers