Facilitated by the Christian Reformed Church’s Climate Witness Project, the first session of the Cooler/Smarter workshop series began on Thursday, Jan. 10, at the CRC’s denominational office in Grand Rapids, Mich.

The series is designed to help individuals and families look at their lifestyle and find ways to get serious about reducing their carbon footprints. Each workshop will take place at a different congregation throughout Grand Rapids and will be facilitated by a partner of the Climate Witness Project, a multifaceted effort to educate and involve congregations and members of congregations to fight climate change on a local level. The workshops are open to anyone.

"We want people to leave the Cooler/Smarter workshops with a renewed sense of hope for what's possible. We'll be exploring ideas big and small such as eating more vegetables, traveling more healthfully, saving money on energy, and shopping on a budget," said Tom Bulten, coordinator of the series.

Having benefited from the use of fossil fuels all his life, Bulten realizes the carbon we emit is destroying the atmosphere and leading to rising water in some places and drought elsewhere.

"I am participating in Cooler/Smarter because of a sense of fairness and justice — especially for great-grandchildren and those that are poor across the globe,” he said.

“They will suffer greatly if we don't address the urgent problem of climate change. I hope Cooler/Smarter is a witness to God's compassion, justice, creation, and redemptive work in his world."

Benjamin Vanderwindt, a junior studying international relations and economics at Calvin College, attended the opening workshop in the series, presented by Steve Mulder. Vanderwindt was pleased to see that people of all ages were there to learn about matters close to his heart.

“I hope that the workshop was mutually encouraging to everyone present,” he said. “I hope the conversation . . . put people more in-tune with our role with creation care.”

A member of Church of the Servant CRC in Grand Rapids, he is optimistic that the series can make a difference.

“I hope that the participants are able to make real changes in their lifestyles. The course gave strong, tangible suggestions on ways to live more sustainable lives.”

Participants were encouraged to reduce their carbon footprint by 20 percent. The evening included a time in which people could calculate their own carbon footprint.

Looking at his personal footprint, Vanderwindt said, he needs to keep changing his lifestyle. “I am going to be more intentional about carpooling, eating less meat, and flying less.”

For him, as for others, his Christian faith helps to drive his desire to better understand and care for God’s creation.

“God created creation good, and creation care is a method that we can seek his face while worshiping him. God has revealed himself to me in many ways through creation; it would be a tragedy if future generations were robbed of that experience.”

Kristin Strydhorst, a Calvin College graduate, also attended the first workshop and was pleased to be part of a group willing to face the causes of climate change and the problems occurring around the world because of it. She hopes others join in the series, or find other ways to become educated about this issue and what they can do about it.

"I would like to see individuals and communities come to a realization that through climate change and other negative human effects on the world” people are suffering, and the creation is in jeopardy.

“We, as individuals and, in turn, as a community, can act justly and live wholeheartedly as Christ's agents of renewal in this world through the choices we make, and during this process develop hope that change is possible,” she said.

By making choices in this direction, she said, “it is my hope that communities will work together and individuals will reach out to others in their lives” to show them how their lifestyles are hurting the climate.

This week Bulten will lead a workshop titled “Driving Down Emissions” starting at 7 p.m. at Monroe Community Church, 800 Monroe Ave. NW in Grand Rapids.

“Transportation is the biggest area [contributing to emissions], and the vast majority [of those] comes from cars and trucks. For almost all of us, our cars are the single biggest personal contribution to climate change,” says promotional material for the series.

“That means when it comes time to buying your next car, choosing one with the best possible gas mileage that meets your family’s needs offers one of your biggest opportunities to cut emissions.”

Other sessions in the series, all of which run from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., cover the following:

  • Session 3: Home Heating and Cooling (Home Is Where the Heat Is) at Oakdale Park CRC, 961 Temple St. SE
  • Session 4: Electrical Use in the Home (Taking Care of Electricity at Home) at Madison Square - Madison Place, 1401 Madison Ave. SE
  • Session 5: Diet (A Low Carbon Diet) at Alger Park CRC, 2655 Eastern Ave. SE
  • Session 6: What We Buy (The Right Stuff) at Creston CRC, 238 Spencer St. NE
  • Session 7: Money (Impacting the Environment Through Personal Investing) at Fountain Street Church, 24 Fountain St. NE

To register for a workshop, visit Cooler/Smarter.

The Climate Witness Project is a campaign of the Office of Social Justice and World Renew designed to walk with congregations as they learn about the realities of climate change, as they seek to be better stewards of the resources they have been given, and as they find their voice to speak to their public officials about common-sense climate policy that will benefit the earth, people around the world who are poor and vulnerable, and future generations. Visit crcna.org/cwp for more information.