Jim Robbins, a free-lance journalist for more than thirty years, lives with his family in Helena, Montana. He has been a frequent contributor to the New York Times since 1980, and has written for numerous magazines from Condé Nast Traveler to Smithsonian. He has carried out assignments in Europe, Mongolia, Peru, Chile, Mexico, Yanomami Territory in Brazil and Venezuela, and across North America, especially the Rocky Mountain West. He is the author of four books of non-fiction, and is at work on a fifth. His writing interests include science, the environment, and the human central nervous system. He considers the fact that he has been able to freely indulge his curiosity and get paid for it one of his greatest accomplishments.

About this Blog // Environmental news, my work, and reflections on a hopeful future.


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    Here’s some back story on Contagion, the Steven Soderbergh film which came out last year. I have a story in Science Times section of the New York Times on Tuesday, May 29. It’s a piece on some intriguing research into the immune systems of wild animals and bears directly on the state of the world’s forests.  Some species, such as fruit bats, live in intact forests and carry viruses that cause them a few minor symptoms, along the lines of a cold or low grade fever. When the forests are broken open with logging or other development, however, the bats come in contact with other wildlife or humans. While bats evolved with the disease and have minor symptoms, a naive immune system — one that has never seen the virus before —  goes haywire. In Indonesia, Bangladesh and elsewhere the Nipah virus – featured in the film Contagion – has killed hundreds of people and sickened many more. It shows how little we know about forest ecology, and how vital it is to understand more.


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    I was recently the contributor of an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times on the importance of trees. It touches on tree deaths across the planet, the common factor of increasingly warm weather, and what we might do about it. You can read it in its entirety here.


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    This blog has been created to reflect on the various topics that I write about as a journalist, mostly science and environmental issues, for the New York Times and other publications. We are in a time of unprecedented ecological problems, and the clock is ticking. Someone once described themselves as “an intellectual pessimist, but a glandular optimist.” That describes me pretty much as well. Most of the reporting and writing I do here then doesn’t flinch from a look at the severity of the problems, but also includes an optimistic eye toward solutions to those problems. These posts move beyond fact based reporting, to try to connect dots, interpret what is happening, offer some informed speculation and ruminations. I am not a scientist, but I have the benefit of seeing what’s going on in a lot of different places, a big picture view.  Science is vital but I am convinced that science alone can’t save us – it is too specialized, slow, often unimaginative, captive of moneyed interests and otherwise limited. We also need to harness creative imaginations and the human spirit and work outside the box.

    My latest book, The Man Who Planted Trees: Lost Groves, Champion Trees and an Urgent Plan to Save the Planet published by Spiegel & Grau, an imprint of Random House, is where these first blogging efforts begin. Despite the fact that trees and forests are vital to life on the planet, science knows very little about them and over the last few centuries we have unthinkingly decimated them. I believe and spell out in the book why one of the big solutions to the problems we face is the planting of trees. There is almost no environmental problem that can’t be helped by the planting of more trees. In fact don’t think of them as trees –   think of them as a sophisticated living eco-technology. No human design could come close to the elegant and efficient design of a tree, and accomplish those things that trees accomplish. They give us clean water, clean air, provide wildlife habitat, food, shelter, medicine, fertilizers, and much, much more. They are not, in short, just a stick in the ground with leaves — they create and perpetuate the conditions for life to exist and flourish.

Address // PO Box 334
Helena, MT 59604

Telephone// (406) 443-2820