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Local Column

Akst: Calling all Vulcans: please visit

I don’t speak Klingon, but I have loved “Star Trek” TV shows and movies for years. I particularly like the explanation (revealed in “Star Trek: First Contact”) of how humanity finally gets its act together enough to be an intergalactic player.

Basically, humanity saves itself after Vulcans stop by to say howdy. It’s a pivotal, uplifting moment of human history created not by crisis or war.

Actual contact with sentient, nonhumans “unites humanity in a way no one ever thought possible when they realize they’re not alone in the universe,” the Enterprise’s counselor in the movie explains to the guy who discovers warp power. “Poverty, disease, war … they’ll all be gone within the next 50 years.”

If only those Vulcans could visit tomorrow.

I’m not trying to be intentionally gloomy just before Easter, surely a redemptive time, but time is running out for homo sapiens (not to mention animals and plants), and I’m also thinking about Earth Day, which is Tuesday.

Earth Day started in 1970 and is considered the birth of the modern environmental movement. Ironically, as the Earth Day network website notes, in 1970 “Americans were slurping leaded gas through massive V8 sedans. Industry belched out smoke and sludge with little fear of legal consequences or bad press. Air pollution was commonly accepted as the smell of prosperity.”

That was 44 years ago, and we’ve made a lot of progress, but not nearly enough, and time grows very short.

On Sunday, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a new report that said it’s still possible to keep global temperature at manageable levels, but only if the entire world embarks quickly on an intense effort over the next 15 years.

The IPCC is the leading world organization monitoring climate change. The new report is the third and final in a series of studies on climate change. The first two said global warming is “unequivocally” caused by humans, and that if left unaddressed, it poses an enormous threat to mankind.

More specifically (according to National Geographic), global greenhouse gas emissions caused by burning coal, oil and natural gas must be cut 40 percent to 70 percent by 2050 for humanity to face better than 50-50 odds of dodging the worst effects of global warming.

But importantly, this third report said climate change can be addressed without affecting living standards, and with only a tiny reduction in economic growth.

Like the friendly Vulcans visiting, saving Earth doesn’t have to have to be doom and gloom. As the IPCC report notes, transitioning to low-carbon energy sources would only reduce economic growth by about 0.06 percentage points a year, and that’s without accounting for the economic benefits of reducing climate change.

Indeed, as entrepreneur Jigar Shah writes in “Creating Climate Wealth: Unlocking the Impact Economy,” transitioning to a greener economy can produce buckets of money. Shah, credited with revolutionizing the solar industry, said climate change can be a $10 trillion wealth-creating opportunity, with technology and techniques available today.

And, as National Geographic notes, the IPCC report includes about 1,200 tactics to combat climate change. Two ideas that show promise: growing forests to pull carbon out of the air, and generating electricity from burning renewable energy sources, such as sawgrass or genetically engineered algal fuels, and stuffing their greenhouse gas emissions underground, a technique known as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage.

It’s doable, but only if we work together. Now.

One specific strategy I recommend: President Barack Obama must say no to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. It’s a disaster in the making. More on that next week.

• Jason Akst teaches journalism and public relations at Northern Illinois University. He also serves as a board member for the Northern Illinois Newspaper Association, You can reach him at or follow him on Twitter @jasonakst.

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