Faculty Biography

Timothy J. Downs

Timothy J. Downs, D. Env.

Associate Professor of Environmental Science & Policy
Department of International Development, Community, and Environment
Clark University
Worcester, MA 01610-1477

Phone: (508) 421-3814
Email: tdowns@clarku.edu


B.Sc. (Civil Engineering) , Loughborough University, UK, 1984
M.S. (Ocean Engineering), University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, 1990
D.Env. (Doctor of Environmental Science & Engineering), University of California, Los Angeles, 1998

Research Interests

Climate change impacts science, social justice, & climate resilience; social & technical health-system innovation (community-centered); participatory local/regional sustainable development & capacity building; environmental & social justice; risk & vulnerability assessment; watershed stewardship, esp. aquifers; Latin American Region & rapidly industrializing countries.


Tim Downs is a specialist in environmental science and engineering with over 30 years field experience designing and managing collaborative projects in the UK, the United States, Latin America and Africa. His research focus is on how humans change the environment, and how those changes impact their health, wellbeing, and the ecosystems they inhabit. He is especially interested in issues of environmental and climate justice: the uneven distribution of positive and negative impacts across populations and landscapes. Downs works with diverse social actors to innovate through collaboration, both socially via new networks, and technically via new applications of science and technology.  He applies risk science and systems thinking to identify priority problems with stakeholders, GIS and analytics to understand inequities in existing social systems, vulnerabilities in technological systems, then innovation theory and collaborative capacity building practice to design, implement and monitor more sustainable solutions. In a diversity of settings—New England, Mexico, East and West Africa—he works with affected communities, NGOs, governmental agencies, public sector providers, the media, the private sector and donors, applying multi-stakeholder, interdisciplinary approaches within and across multiple sectors: health, energy, water supply & sanitation, food & agriculture, land-use, transportation, urban planning, climate-change adaptation & mitigation, biodiversity conservation & ecosystem stewardship.

Teaching Approach

Downs’s teaching and research are creatively combined. Half of his portfolio is foundational environmental science classes, and half team-based practicums.  As examples of practicums, in his Spring 2021 “Sustainable Development Assessment & Planning” class (IDCE332/EN242) student teams critically evaluated the assessment and planning process for 7 cases including a copper mining project, dams and reservoirs (3), a women’s empowerment project, a coastal climate resilience effort and a regional greenway project. In Spring 2021, team practicums in his “Cities, Regions, Climate Change & Health” class (IDCE365) included Hong Kong, Jakarta, Uttarakhand (Hindu Kush Himalaya), and New Orleans. Student teams constructively critique key operational stages (ethos & concept; integrated assessment; planning; implementation & management, monitoring & evaluation; capacity building), producing work of publishable quality (e.g. Downs et al. 2020b, 2020c below). This enhances their team research skills and their ability to design and deploy transformational integrated collaborative projects as professionals.

Awards/Grants/Research Projects

Since 2019, Downs has led the integrative collaborative project “Co-Creating Capacities to Understand, Visualize and Mitigate Climate-Change Impact Cascades and Inequities in Central Mexico”. In 2022, the project was awarded a $1.5M grant from the National Science Foundation Program Partnerships for International Research & Education (PIRE, Award # 2230723). It involves IDCE faculty Morgan Ruelle, Yelena Ogneva-Himmelberger, Cindy Caron, School of Geography faculty Abbie Frazier, Karen Frey and Rinku Roy-Chowdhury, and Becker School of Design & Technology faculty Terassa Ulm and Paul Cotnoir. Partners in Mexico include faculty from the National Autonomous University of Mexico’s (UNAM) Laboratory for Sustainability Sciences (LANCIS), Institute of Atmospheric Sciences & Climate Change (ICAyCC), and Program for Climate Change Research (PINCC) – as well as the Mexico City Government and local communities. The project co-creates and integrates four components: 1) a regional climate change atlas using web-based GIS to map and spatially analyze climate, water, food/agriculture, ecosystem, health and livelihood conditions; 2) a system dynamics model (SDM) to represent interactions among these sectors, impact cascades (one sector’s impacts propagate through others), the unevenness of impacts across populations/landscapes, and the simulation of alternative futures; 3) an eXtended Reality (XR) platform that allows stakeholders to inhabit those futures virtually with the aim of charting sustainable, socially just, climate-resilient pathways; and 4) a research/practice-based suite of courses that Clark and UNAM students take together – including field research with local community partners. Interdisciplinary stakeholder co-creation is central to the work: cohorts of Clark students spend 6 months/year in the field living and working with community partners and their UNAM peers. For an engaging story about the project, please go to: https://clarknow.clarku.edu/2022/12/08/water-is-life-three-year-nsf-study-in-mexico-brings-multi-pronged-approach-to-climate-impacts/

 In summer 2018, Prof. Downs rode his motorcycle 6000 miles to join the Grannies Respond Caravan in protest of draconian family separation policy at the U.S.-Mexico Border.  He then raised money to send 7 IDCE students to volunteer helping heroic immigrant and asylum-seeker relief efforts in McAllen, TX. He and Profs. Anita Fábos and Sarah Mitchell, together with veteran social justice activist and student mentor Megan Martínez, co-authored a paper chronicling this impactful field research-meets-activism student experience (Glier et al., 2020a).

Since 2015, Downs has been collaborating with colleagues at Boston University and local residents to explore the vulnerability of the shallow aquifer system in Holliston, Mass. to contamination by natural Manganese and industrial chemicals. They are also looking into potential health risks to young children that may be the result of early life-stage exposures, including in-utero.

Exemplifying engaged collaborative research in partnership with affected communities, and co-authored with 9 IDCE students, the paper: "Integrated Assessment of Shallow-Aquifer Vulnerability to Multiple Contaminants and Drinking-Water Exposure Pathways in Holliston, Massachusetts" was published 2018 in open-access journal Water and is available online at: http://www.mdpi.com/2073-4441/10/1/23/html

Downs was a Co-Investigator with UMass Medical School on the Phase 1 (2008-2012) National Children's Study (NCS) project for Worcester County, funded by the National Institutes of Health. 

Selected Publications

Journal articles (*student co-authors; **community co-authors):

Manley, E.*, Ogneva-Himmelberger, Y., Ruelle, M., Hanumantha, R.*, Mazari-Hiriart, M. and Downs, T.J. (2022). Land-use/cover change in the México-Lerma-Cutzamala Hydrological Region 1993- 2018. J. Applied Geography. Vol. 147 (102785). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apgeog.2022.102785

Glier, H.*, Gregory, E.*, Staples, T. *, Martínez, M.**, Fábos, A., Mitchell, S.E.D., and Downs, T.J. [senior author] (2020a). "Understanding stakeholder positionalities and relationships to reimagine asylum at the US–Mexico border: Observations from McAllen, TX”. J. Human Geography. doi.org/10.1177/1942778620979317.

Downs, T.J., Zimmerman, M.*, Altonaga, N.*, Dahal, R.*, Kubacki, E.*, Lapides, N.* and Richards, J.* (2020b). “Unlocking High Sustainable Energy Potential in Zambia: An Integrative Collaborative Project Approach.” J. Sustainable Development 13(1). Doi: 10.5539/jsd.v13n1p59

Downs, T.J., Cabrera-Roa, A.*, Dixon, K.*, Duff, P.*, Pasay, E.* and Silverfine, H.* (2020c). “The Case for Integrative Sustainable Development Practice Based on the Minas Conga Gold-Mining Experience in Peru”. Journal of Geoscience and Environment Protection, 8, 17-40. doi: 10.4236/gep.2020.84702.

Duff, P.*. and Downs T.J. (2019). “Frontline Narratives on Sustainable Development Challenges/Opportunities in the ‘Illegal’ Gold Mining Region of Madre de Dios, Peru: Informing an Integrative Collaborative Response”. J. Extractive Industries & Society. January 2019. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.exis.2019.01.005.

Downs T.J. (2018). “An Integrative Socio-Technical Enterprise Approach to Urban Design/Planning for Sustainable Development”. Open Journal of Civil Engineering (OJCE) – Special Issue on Urban Design. Open Access. Published by: Scientific Research (SCIRP).

Claus Henn B., Ogneva-Himmelberger Y., Denehy A.**, Randall M.**, Cordon N.**, Basu, B.*, *Caccavale, B.*, *Covino, S.*, *Hanumantha, R.*, Longo, K.*, Maiorano, A. *, Pillsbury, S.*, Rigutto G.*, Shields K.*, Sarkis M. and Downs T.J. [senior author, project designer] (2018). “Integrated Assessment of Shallow-Aquifer Vulnerability to Multiple Contaminants and Drinking-Water Exposure Pathways in Holliston, Massachusetts”. Water 2018, 10(23); doi:10.3390/w10010023

Downs T.J., Carr E. and Goble R. (2017). Re-imagining environmental science and policy graduate education for the twenty-first century using an integrative frame. J Environ Stud Sci. DOI 10.1007/s13412-017-0423-z.

Downs, T.J. and Golovko N. (2016). “Integrative education for climate-change resilience x sustainable development transformations”. Int. J. Global Warming. Special Issue on Climate Literacy and Innovations in Climate Change Education.

Chapters in Books:

Downs T.J., Ogneva-Himmelberger Y., Ruelle M., Hanumantha R.K.*, Mazari-Hiriart M., Guzmán C., Ramírez-Aguilar M., Santos-Burgoa C. (2022). “Health as a Socio-Technical Enterprise Anchored in Social-Ecological Justice & Stakeholder Collaboration: Insights from México-Lerma-Cutzamala Hydrological Region”. In: Leal Filho, W. (eds) Handbook of Human and Planetary Health. Climate Change Management. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-09879-6_15

Downs T.J., Carr E., Goble R. (2017). “Addressing Risk Conundrums in Sustainable Development”. In: Risk Conundrums: Solving Unsolvable Problems. Kasperson, R. (Editor). Earthscan/Routledge. 276 pages.

Downs T.J. and Mazari-Hiriart M. (2017). “Addressing Risk Conundrums in Megacity Development: Mexico City”. In: Risk Conundrums: Solving Unsolvable Problems. Kasperson, R. (Editor). Earthscan/Routledge. 276 pages.

Kasperson R., Tuler S., Golding D. and Downs T.J. (2017). “How can we move forward when there is no trust? Managing risk under conditions of high social mistrust.” In: Risk Conundrums: Solving Unsolvable Problems. Kasperson, R. (Editor). Earthscan/Routledge. 276 pages.

Downs, T.J. and Golovko N. (2016). “An Integrative Framework for Re-thinking 2nd Generation Sustainable Development (SD2.0) Projects: Education and the University as Catalyst”. In: Engaging Stakeholders in Education for Sustainable Development at University Level. Leal-Filho W. and Brandli L. (Editors), pp77-92. World Sustainability Series. Springer. 12 January 2016. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-26734-0_6.