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Backstory: Greenhouse masses

One New England church makes global warming a crusade – but finds sacrifice isn't always easy.

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Over cider and cookies, Albert Sack is discussing the internal conflict he often feels between goodness and global warming. He is a member of a Unitarian church here that is trying to set a moral example in helping to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases.

As a retired electrical engineer, Mr. Sack knows global warming is a problem. But by his own admission, he isn't doing enough. He hasn't put solar panels on the roof of his ranch house. He hasn't installed the insulation he knows he should. "I'm not a big guilt person," he says. "But now I feel guilty when I leave the light on outside my door at home. I'm feeling guilty because I'm quite knowledgeable about [climate change], and I'm doing nothing – almost nothing."

Sack is hardly alone in his church's pews. Here in the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, one congregation is learning how hard it is to roll back the effects of industrialization – and to alter their lifestyles in pursuit of religious ideals.

Over the past two years, the First Parish Church, Universalist Unitarian in Waltham, Mass., has made the fight to stop global warming a core moral cause. For 21 months, members held monthly, often weekly, public discussions on the subject. Twice in October, they held free screenings of Al Gore's movie "An Inconvenient Truth." Over the summer, they led the charge in St. Louis when the Unitarian Universalist Association adopted a landmark statement calling on everyone to make significant lifestyle changes to save the planet.

So far, however, the congregation hasn't been able to move with the speed it would like. In the church basement, two aging oil-burners convert less than three-fourths of their fuel into heat. Insulation is scarce, according to a March energy audit. Single-pane glass stretches across windows arching toward a leaky roof. Last winter, the congregation spent more than $9,800 to heat its 21,000-square-foot facility.

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