One of the threats that could end civilization is the eruption of a supervolcano, such as the one that resides at Yellowstone National Park. The scenario has the giant magma chamber beneath Yellowstone, the same one that causes the picturesque geysers, letting go, darkening the skies over North America for many months and covering the landscape with ash. Millions would die in the initial eruption, and much more as food runs out as farms will no longer be able to grow food, lacking access to the sun.

According to the BBC, NASA, which has been concerning itself with warding off an asteroid impact, has developed a plan to stop supervolcanoes such as the one from erupting to start with.

As a bonus, a new source of Geothermal Energy would be generated.

How the NASA plan works

The idea that the space agency came up with starts with drilling 10 kilometers into the supervolcano. Then water would be pumped into the shaft at high pressure. The water would return to the surface at a temperature of about 350C (662F). The effect would be to slowly and steadily extract heat from the magma chamber, preventing an eruption from taking place.

Besides stopping a civilization ending eruption, the setup proposed by NASA would enable a geothermal plant that could provide energy for the surrounding area for tens of thousands of years at the cost of 10 cents per kilowatt/hour. The total cost would be about $3.46 billion.

What are we waiting for?

A project that saves civilization and at the same time provides a source of clean energy should be a no brainer. However, a couple of impediments resident between the plan and making it a reality.

First, the environmental considerations would be litigated for many years. Even though the drilling would start from outside the park, messing with nature inside a national park is likely to trigger a lot of litigious people.

Safety considerations involving hot, toxic gassed that might be released are not frivolous either.

Finally, the federal government, which must approve if not also fund the project, are loath to move on problems that might not arrive for tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of years – or happen tomorrow. It will also take tens of thousands of years for the geothermal plant to cool the magma chamber enough so that the supervolcano is no longer a threat.

One can just imagine Congress debating a project that would not reach fruition until possibly long after there is no longer a Unites States. The idea is the ultimate in long term thinking, something that the federal government would be loath to do.