David Dow

Dr. David Dow is a retired scientist, who supports engagement of community of faith organizations and under-represented Environmental Justice constituents in the local dialog on our wastewater challenges and climate adaptation. Blizzard Nemo in February 2013 showed that Cape Cod’s emergency response system left a lot to be desired and that our infrastructure is susceptible to extreme weather events. Even though Massachusetts has Climate Mitigation and Adaptation Plans, there are no climate adaptation plans on Cape Cod to deal with extreme weather events (hurricanes; Noreasters and blizzards) and their consequences.

Recently he worked with some Sierra Club Toxics activists to develop a fact sheet on contaminants of emerging concern (CEC’s). Silent Spring Institute studies have found CECs in our public and private drinking water supplies on Cape Cod. He will be conducting outreach on the CEC fact sheet later in the Summer, supporting local outreach endeavors by Green Cape and SSI. These groups helped draft the CEC fact sheet or reviewed the draft with their comments leading to changes.

Below he describes some of his environmental justice work:

[contact Dr. Dow]


I used to be the Head of the Green Sanctuary Committee at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Falmouth, but Don Mallinson took over this position in 2013. The GSC currently combines its meetings with the UUFF Social Action Committee of which Don and I are members. My major project for SAC is selling food certificates for local supermarkets/specialty food stores which raises funds for social outreach. Rev. Bob Murphy is the Minister at the UUFF. He is also Chair of the Cape Cod & the Islands Group- Sierra Club, while I am the Treasurer. I support his EJ efforts at the UUFF and CC&I Group. These include the: April 2012 EJ meeting at the Falmouth Public Library; attendance at the 2012 New England Environmental Justice Forum; participation in two water justice conferences on Cape Cod in 2011 (which I helped organize); etc.

David Dow with Robin Mann of the Sierra Club

David Dow with Robin Mann of the Sierra Club

I helped gather testimonials for his Sierra Club Special Services EJ award. I have received two Sierra Club awards of my own: being named an environmental hero for my work on the Superfund/Safe Drinking Water Act Cleanup at the Massachusetts Military Reservation (where I was an activist for over 20 years) and 2010 Special Service Award for serving on the Sierra Club’s Ocean Renewable Energy Task Force. Bob and his wife Lyn joined me in San Francisco when I received the Special Service Award. Since I worked at the federal Fisheries Lab in Woods Hole before retiring in 2009, I choose to be active at the MMR, since it didn’t provide any conflicts with my job. I had to abandon my efforts on the MMR cleanup when I joined the Sierra Club’s Ocean Renewable Energy Task Force which developed a guidance document.

I worked on a wide variety of marine conservation issues at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center- Woods Hole Laboratory, so that I am a jack of all trades and a master of some. I was the Recreational Fisheries Coordinator in the Northeast for a number of years; served on the New England Fishery Management Council’s Habitat Plan Development Team (which is helping the NEFMC Habitat, MPA and Ecosystems Committee develop the new Omnibus Habitat Amendment); organized a workshop on the Health of the Gulf of Maine Ecosystem as a part of the Marine Mammal Protection Act reauthorization in the mid-1990s; lead two NEFSC Committees that explored options for fishery surveys and ecosystem monitoring; worked with the EMaX modeling group to develop models of the energy flow on the Northeast Continental Shelf; suppoRted research planning and coordination activities; etc.

Before moving to Cape Cod in 1987, I conducted remote sensing research at NASA’s Earth Resources Laboratory at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi; worked at Louisiana State University on a water quality survey in Lake Pontchartrain and wrote a report with Robert Garcia on the hazardous chemical situation in Louisiana; participated in a eutrophication study of southern Lake Huron at the University of Michigan’s Great Lakes Research Division; worked in environmental consulting at Hittman Associates in Columbia, Md. where I helped develop reports on the fate and effects of EPA’s priority toxic chemicals and taught for three years in the Biology Department at the College of William & Mary. I received my Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of Georgia in 1971 where I worked under Larry Pomeroy (a biological oceanographer). and my BS in Biological Sciences from Drexel University in 1966. Thus I have work experience in the academic; private consulting and governmental sectors which is probably fairly unique for an ecologist from my era.

I learned a lot from Gene Odum when I was a student at UGA and took numerous courses in ecosystems ecology. My first ecology course was in ecosystems energetics and I used this knowledge when I was engaged in the EMaX modeling project at the end of my career at the Fisheries Lab. I have never taken an introductory ecology course (since they weren’t offered at Drexel), but participated in the Marine Ecology course at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole in the Summer of 1966.. During my career at the Fisheries Lab I worked on the EPA-lead Waquoit Bay Watershed Ecological Risk Assessment project in which I was joined by Ivan Valiela and Jen Bowen of the MBL Boston University Marine Program. I sent you the poster from the ERA project which bears similarities to the adaptive, ecosystem-based management approach that is currently being explored in fisheries management and various nature conservation projects throughout the world. The A,EbM graphic that I sent you was taken from the Massachusetts Chapter’s comments on the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan (MOMP) which was drafted by CC&I Group activists and Dave Raney of the Sierra Club’s Marine Action Team developed the graphic. I serve on the Sierra Club’s national Toxics Activist Team(which developed the cec fact sheet) and work on National Ocean Policy issues for MAT.

As a grassroots environmental activist interested in EJ issues, I am fortunate to be able to work with Rev. Bob Murphy, who is an expert in this area. My diverse background helps me deal locally with wastewater; climate adaptation and fisheries issues. Even though my diverse work experiences provided me with a good background for being a grassroots environmentalist, I am not sure that it is the best pathway for recognition as a professional ecologist or career advancement within NOAA and NASA. I have a lot of empathy for the current ecology graduates who face uncertain job prospects and may face a career with diverse economic opportunities like I did. It is hard being a generalist in an age of specialists, but somebody has to see the forest and not focus solely on the individual plant and animal species. Gene Odum and other scientists from his era were holistic thinkers that could provide insights on how individual research efforts were part of the big picture in ecology. It may be difficult in the future to conduct holistic thinking in an era of specialists.

One of the things that I learned at Drexel was that engineers work in teams to solve problems, while biologists work alone or in pairs to dissect frogs. Since our current/future complex environmental challenges require mitigation efforts developed by interdisciplinary teams, the team training approach used to educate engineers may have lessons to be learned for ecologists. I took some environmental engineering courses when I was a student at Drexel and participated in the Cooperative Education program which laid the foundation for my future career as an environmental professional. Even though I didn’t get good grades in all of the humanities courses which I took at Drexel, it helped me learn to write well. I took mathematics courses through differential equations which provided a good quantitative background which has served me well throughout my career. I learned a lot at UGA from Bernie Patten’s ecological modeling courses.


You can contact Dr. Dow by filling out the form below:







This page profiles one of many scientists on our Scientists’ Speakers Bureau. To see the full list of speakers, navigate here.

Leave a Reply