Is the planet going down the plughole or are we at the dawn of a golden era?

Published 16 October 2003

There has been an ideological tug-of-war on the environmental front between the ‘doom and gloom’ merchants on the one hand, and the ‘eco-optimists’ on the other, since the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth report 30 years ago predicting environmental breakdown by the end of the 20th century.

A free seminar at Southern Cross University (SCU) in Lismore next Tuesday by Peter Harper from Europe's leading Eco-Centre, the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales, will find a middle ground between the two polarities.

Mr Harper, who is Director of Research and Innovation at the Centre, coined the term ‘alternative technology’ in 1972 and has been a leading force in the movement since.

“Peter will look at the view that humanity and its natural life support systems will be destroyed by the combined effects of resource depletion, environmental pollution and increasing population, versus the belief that our human ingenuity and powerful technology will be sufficient to create a life of abundance and security for all,” said seminar organiser, Dr Leigh Davison, Director of SCU's Centre for Ecotechnology, in the School of Environmental Science and Management.

Mr Harper, also a biologist, horticulturist and landscape designer, will give a comparison of the apparently contradictory views of environmental pessimists and techno-optimists over the past 30 years, and show how competing schools of thought have complementary insights and policies to contribute. He will also look at speculations about environmental trends in the 21st century.

The Centre for Alternative Technology ( was set up as an environmental charity 25 years ago to help people live sustainably; specialising in renewable energy, environmental building, energy efficiency, organic growing and alternative sewage systems.

Mr Harper’s publications include Radical Technology (1976); The Natural Garden Book (1994), recently reprinted as Gaia's Natural Garden; Crazy Idealists? (1995): a history of the Alternative Technology Centre and green movement; and Lifting the Lid (1999), on ecological toilet systems.

He is on an extended visit to Australia, conducting seminars and workshops in Victoria, northern NSW and Queensland. His father Len Harper lives in Nimbin and is on the writing and editorial team that produces the Nimbin News magazine.

Peter Harper will speak at SCU on Tuesday, 21 October, from 12 noon till 1pm, in Lecture Hall U 231 (Science Area). The public are welcome to attend. Enquiries: Dr Leigh Davison, SCU, Ph: 6620 3847, email:

Media enquiries: SCU media liaison Sara Crowe or Kath Duncan Ph: 6620 3144 or 0439 858 057.