Down-to-earth builder and activist

22:49, Feb 19 2014
Verena Maeder
PASSION: Verena Maeder speaks out at a protest rally.

Verena Maeder describes herself as a mother of two, a self-employed earthbuilding artisan and an eco warrior at heart.

She owns an earthbuilding business in north Nelson and in the summer makes mud bricks pretty much flat out.

This year Verena is also busy supporting the nationwide "Stop Deep Sea Oil" campaign. She organised the Banners of the Beach protest in Nelson on Saturday, with similar events also taking place at Golden Bay and Motueka. She takes two minutes to speak to The Leader.

What is it you like about working with earth? I love the fact that I can use a totally natural material and shape it into something beautiful and functional. I like that I can earn a living staying true to my values of respecting the earth and using energy and resources sparingly. Earth connects us to our roots and builds community.

How did you chose north Nelson to live in? I came to Nelson at 16, as a Swiss exchange student at Girls College. During that year I was living with organic farming pioneer Dick Roberts in Todd Valley and visited my first earth building. It was the beginning of my deep concern for the environment, and my interest in self-reliance.

Earthbuilding became my passion.


I decided to study architecture, with a focus on eco building, because I wanted to explore practical solutions to issues such as resource depletion and climate change.

When the opportunity arose 12 years ago to purchase an existing earthbuilding business in North Nelson, I decided to emigrate and become self-employed.

What do you like about the Nelson area? I feel extremely blessed to live in Nelson, because of its natural beauty and awesome people. I would love to see the region build a more local low-carbon economy and a resilient community that will be able to meet the challenges of climate change, ie, with energy independence (renewables), much better public transport, and more co-housing projects.

Why did you get involved in the Clean Energy Action group and organise the Hands Across the Sand protest in Nelson? We founded the Clean Energy Action group because we feel there needs to be urgent action on climate change and phasing out fossil fuels should be right up there on the to-do list.

Instead of opening up new coal mines and looking for oil in our remote deep seas, we should be pushing renewable energy and clean technologies.

Beach protests are a good way to engage the community and visually get the message across to the oil companies and the Government.

We have organised a few of these in the past three years, but we have also had other projects, such as an art exhibition at the NMIT, several public meetings, presentations at schools, as well as campaign and activist trainings.

Why should people care? Climate change is the most pressing issue we have ever faced as a human family. Time is rapidly running out and everyone should care, because our food supply, our economy, our national security, our health, and life supporting systems as we know them depend on a stable climate.

It is totally crazy to go looking for more fossil fuels in an age where we should be developing clean alternatives as fast as we can in order to transition away from fossil fuels in time to avoid runaway climate change.

Are people starting to wake up? Is it too late? As a mother I refuse to think it is too late, but we have wasted a lot of time.

People are waking up, but I think they need to rub the sleep out of their eyes now and hit the ground running.

You believe New Zealand could be "kick ass" in developing clean energy and taking people beyond fossil fuels. How? New Zealand has an abundance of renewable energy sources. We have got a lot of great thinkers and entrepreneurs and pride ourselves of our "can do" attitude.

We have got a valuable "clean green" reputation.

If we were to put our minds and our passion to it, we could be world leaders in developing clean technologies and we could be self-sufficient in our energy demand within a decade or two.

We could base our economy on high-value knowledge transfer instead of pawning off our finite resources at great environmental cost.

What would you like to say to the knockers? Dare to think beyond fossil fuels even if it is a scary thought.

Open your eyes to what the fossil fuel industry is doing to other countries and the whole world.

Stop buying into climate sceptic talk that is funded by the fossil fuel industry. Get excited about working together with nature instead of being stuck in an outdated "rape and pillage" mind-set.

What's an achievement you are most proud of? Raising two wonderful children that embrace life and care for the planet and all its inhabitants.

What's a piece of advice that has stuck with you? When you feel out of balance, it is good to go out into nature and put things into perspective.