Tribute for Rod Oram: A Climate Warrior, a Public Intellectual, a Compassionate Activist 

Moe Mai Rā, Rod Oram.

Dr. Nicola Hoggard Creegan 

Jointly published with A Rocha Aotearoa New Zealand and New Zealand Christians in Science/Ngā Karaitiana Kimi Matū

At Rod’s Memorial service on April 5th the suggestion emerged that that he didn’t think he was an Influencer. Everyone laughed. Rod was a bright shining light in the church and Society. As Chlöe Swarbrick said, “Moe Mai Rā Rod Oram, intellectual giant of progressive civil society; kind, patient and generous human to all. The climate movement has lost a champion far too soon.”

He was all of that long before “influencer” was a thing. 

Rod always had an energy that carried you along, that made you think, yes this is possible. He persuaded us that we really do live in a society that is sane and safe and has the capacity for change, however hard that may be. And there was also always the sense that we could do it without wholescale withdrawal from our complex civilisation—with much sacrifice, of course, but not by just shutting everything down. Rod was always engaging the world as it is, eager to help people to see that going green was also best for whatever industry they were in. He was the champion of the middle path. And he knew how to do it, how to get there. He was sometimes discouraged—by all accounts increasingly discouraged––but never cynical and never disparaging of anyone’s work. 

I worked closely with Rod for some years in the Diocesan Climate Change Action Group. This group was started by Dean/Bishop Randerson. We met in church halls in the evenings from 2007 onwards, with plans to bring the Church up to speed on the state of the planet.  And for a long time, we did seminars for churches, sometimes against a backdrop of climate denial. Rod and Dr. Richard Milne and one or two others would do all the science, the business and the economics and I would add some theology. Rod was always superb. At the same time, of course, he was giving radio interviews and writing columns as a job. But he always came with us to yet another venue. 

As I listened to the tributes at his Memorial Service it occurred to me that none of this was unusual. He did the small stuff as well as the big, showy stuff, all with equal enthusiasm and hope. Someone also said the public man and the private man were always in sync even though he rarely mentioned faith directly in the public sphere. I thought that was also true, even when he was giving public interviews in secular spaces you could tell he had a deep sacred respect for the natural world, a humility that called on a Divine power to complete our work, a calling that included thinking deeply and researching the facts, and a hope that undergirded all he did. 

He also always encouraged others in their work. He was, for instance, very enthusiastic about the work of A Rocha, even though he mostly surveyed it from afar. He never lost his humanity, even though his zeal really had no equal. Rod was a living example of a communicator who used and respected science and was always mindful of what the sciences were saying. But he knew, as he said in a recent column, that “humanity’s problems are fiendishly hard to solve.” (Newsroom, 23/2/2024). He had decided to shift from doing weekly columns to monthly, hoping to do more in-depth research about alternative economic and industry pathways. He also knew how to take the conversation forward towards activism and practical application. At Rod’s memorial service Rev Richard Bonifant, challenged us all to do likewise, to speak the hard stuff into whichever contexts we found ourselves in. For a sample of his work go to Newsroom.co.nz and search for ‘Rod Oram’.

Rod is an example to us all. He has gone far, far too soon. We need his voice now more than ever.  It will take many others even partially to fill his shoes. Rest in Peace, and Rise in Glory, friend. 

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