Weather, Nature, and Politics, and Philosophy to Bring It All Together

Tim Hansel graduated from the UW-Madison Philosophy doctoral program in 2015. His dissertation was supervised by Harry Brighouse and addressed issues of political parties, partisanship, and what political philosophers call “non-ideal theory”.
Ideal theory addresses what a perfectly just society would look like, whereas non-ideal theory addresses how political institutions should respond to or accommodate the fact that we don’t actually live in a perfectly just society. Tim looked in particular at the kinds of impacts partisanship can have in a polarized society. Although partisanship is widely derided as the bane of modern politics, Tim argued that, as damaging as partisanship can be in a dysfunctional democracy, not all partisanship is pathological and can, in a healthy democracy at least, play several positive roles. And, like it or not, we are stuck with it for the foreseeable future so it’s best that we learn how to minimize the damage it does to our society.

Long before he was interested in political philosophy, Tim had interest in nature and the environment. His father was a big influence, and most of Tim’s childhood vacations involved camping or cabins, with abundant outdoor activities. In the Boy Scouts, Tim started storm chasing, which became a serious pursuit of his as an undergraduate at Valparaiso University where he majored in meteorology, studying climate change and its potential effects on severe storms in the Midwest.

Led by Dr. Bart Wolf (also a UW-Madison alumnus), Tim and other members of the Valparaiso Storm Intercept Team ( would go out in search of interesting cloud formations, lightning and, at the top of the storm chasing hierarchy, tornados. Before widespread cellular access and wi-fi availability, the team used CBs, ham radios, modems, and even morse code at the start, to communicate with each other and get weather forecasts. Storm chasers have helped carry out and inform scientific research on severe weather events, and every storm chaser is also a potential storm spotter, helping to alert emergency responders about conditions on the ground. When disaster strikes, they have even helped search for survivors. Unfortunately, all of these roles are becoming ever more important as global climate change continues to increase the frequency and intensity of severe weather events.

An undergraduate course in environmental ethics introduced Tim to the work of Wendell Berry, American environmental activist, writer, and farmer and sparked Tim’s continuing interest in environmental ethics as a philosophical subfield.

Tim’s enthusiasm for storm chasing led him to Texas Tech University to do graduate work on tornados. Once there, however, he switched gears and received his master’s degree in philosophy, with Kantian philosopher Walt Schaller (yet another UW-Madison alumnus) as his thesis advisor.

Tim then came to UW-Madison for his Ph. D. in philosophy. Once in Madison, Tim’s thinking about nature and environmental ethics was enriched through interactions with the wonderful UW-Madison Arboretum ( Established in 1932, research director Aldo Leopold (author of A Sand County Almanac) introduced and implemented what was at the time the novel concept of ecological restoration, recreating the tallgrass prairies and oak savannas that existed prior to European settlement. Tim took to hiking the trails covering the Arb’s 1,200 acres and took up birding and nature photography as hobbies. He began volunteering as a steward at the Arb in 2015.

As a present in 2018, Tim’s wife enrolled him in a Master Naturalist Certification program hosted by UW-Extension in cooperation with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. He now works with a group known as the “Prairie Enthusiasts” who help manage the Schurch-Thomson Prairie ( in Barneveld, Wisconsin. The prairie consists primarily of oak savannah grasslands, which are one of the rarest ecosystems in the United States because of farmland conversion. Their loss has reduced grasslands birds by an estimated 3 billion individuals in recent years. Tim will be chairing the education committee for the Prairie Enthusiasts, teaching the environmental naturalist class, and will continue to do observational research on short-eared owls and on moth species that specialize on leadplants (Amorpha canescens) which inhabit the prairie.

All this while raising two daughters with his wife, Amy, and holding down a regular job as a senior lecturer at Edgewood College, where Tim teaches classes on critical thinking, environmental ethics, health care ethics, and propaganda, philosophy, and reason.