Getting smacked by a massive solar storm that takes out our electrical grid is a question of when, not if. The last major storm hit in 1859, producing auroras as far south as Mexico, with a smaller event in 1989 messing with Canada's power grid. 2012 was a near-miss.
Why learn about a catastrophe that didn't happen? Because the greatest form of hazard mitigation is through education, awareness, and preparation. The world would be a grim, dark place if we globally lost power for 4 to 10 years. We can't stop the storms from coming. But we can pressure policy-makers, politicians, and companies into preparing for it by hardening the electrical grid.
A solar eruptive prominence as seen in extreme UV light on March 30, 2010 with Earth superimposed for a sense of scale. Credit: NASA/SDO
Canada already learned this lesson, spending $1.2 billion to harden the power system that was damaged in 1989. But it doesn't need to be that expensive to mitigate the problem a least a tiny bit: According to a 2013 report for the insurance industry, it would only cost $100 million to protect the most vulnerable transformers on the grid. Expensive, but a lot less expensive than doing nothing and facing Armageddon if the next storm hits us.
$100 million, less than the cost of a 30-second Super Bowl ad, to keep from knocking out the entire US electrical grid for a decade when a major solar storm hits the Earth. Is it worth it? Only if enough people think it is, and demand we spend money to prepare.