Tom Heberlein, Professor Emeritus, Has Passed Away

Headshot of Tom HeberleinWe are saddened to share the news that Thomas (Tom) Heberlein passed away on Thursday, January 4th. Tom was a respected scholar of the human dimension of environmental change, and the spouse of Professor Emerita Elizabeth (Betty) Thomson. Tom was a treasured friend to many people in our community.

Tom was on the UW-Madison faculty for over 30 years. He chaired the Department of Rural Sociology, later re-named Community and Environmental Sociology, from 1991-1995, and directed the Center for Resource Policy Studies and Programs from 1986-1991. Tom worked on many questions, including estimation of carrying capacity and the valuation of environmental resources. The role of human behavior in the natural landscape was central in his work. In his 2012 book, Navigating Environmental Attitudes, Tom wrote: “I have spent most of my career as a social psychologist trying to figure out how attitudes work, how they can be changed, and what they have to do with behavior as we struggle to deal with nature” (4).

For the last two decades, Tom and Betty divided their work lives between Madison and Stockholm. In 2017, Tom wrote a widely read piece for Vox: “I’m an American living in Sweden. Here’s why I came to embrace the higher taxes.” 

Tom’s scientific and public contributions received many accolades, including significant recognition from the Rural Sociological Society and the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists. In 2009, he was also given a lifetime achievement award from the Friends of Lodi Valley in Wisconsin. He was an avid outdoorsman, maintaining a deer camp in Ashland County that had been in his family since the 1960s and where he returned each fall to hunt with friends and family. Tom was a curious, compassionate, wonderful friend to many people in our community and will be greatly missed. We send our most heartfelt wishes to Betty and the family.

A memorial for Tom will be held on Saturday, February 17 from 2:00-4:00 pm at First Congregational Church.