Man remains at the mercy of major volcanic eruptions and light years away from defusing its deadly fires, it emerged.
Optimistic hopes that rapid technological change is beginning to give man the whip-hand over Mother Nature have been decisively dismissed.
Sci-fi favourite Mister Spock urgently attempts to save a planet by defusing a volcano in the latest Star Trek blockbuster, Into Darkness.
While the Vulcan's efforts may fire the imagination of cinema-goers around the world, hard reality is far more mundane.
When a science fiction fan asked an expert volcanologist how close Mister Spock's efforts were to reality, he was quickly brought down to earth.
Man may be a dominant force in Star Trek's fictional universe but on terra firma he has little chance of emulating Spock's heroic efforts.
Volcanologist Dr Alison Rust, from the University of Bristol, was quizzed at the Hay Festival of Literature, in mid Wales, during a public discussion today.
The novel question was thrown out by a member of the capacity audience when it got the chance to quiz the experts.
While volcanoes today probably pose little threat to life on earth, even a minor eruption can be catastrophic.
In April 2010 a volcano in Iceland called Eyjafjallajkull suffered a relatively modest eruption.
Despite its minimal size, the volcanic ash it ejected into the atmosphere played havoc with air travel across western Europe.
In the distant past a mega-eruption is believed to have caused a mass extinction which opened the way for dinosaurs to dominate the earth for 135 million years.
Dr Rust was one of a panel of four cutting-edge research scientists taking part today in a Royal Society discussion called "The Next Big Thing".
She was joined by astrobiologist Dr Zita Martins of Imperial College, London, professor of physics Jenny Nelson, also of Imperial College, and Oxford University nanomaterials professor Nicole Grobert.
"There have been absolutely huge eruptions in the past in earth's history," Dr Rust, of Imperial College, London, told the gathering.
"But there is absolutely no hope of stopping a volcano erupting. Nature is far stronger than we are."
In the past there had been volcanic eruptions which were so large whole continents suffered from the effect, she said.
"Even little eruptions in the history of humanity have had enormous effects.
"We certainly cannot stop it. Really, we worry more about what to do if a volcano can or does erupt. There is nothing we can do about it."
Dr Martins was asked her advice on setting up a farm on Mars and whether she would like to venture to the red planet herself.
She said she had no ambition to take what, at the moment, would certainly be a one-way trip.
She said that future martians would certainly have to take plants from earth with them to stand any chance of survival.
She added that she thought that colonisation of Mars could be happening in the next 100 years, possibly even within 50 years from now.
Asked whether she believed there was really life elsewhere in the universe, she answered in the affirmative.
"In the words of Carl Sagan: 'If there isn't, it is such a waste of space,'" she said.