The lifeless body of a loon was discovered last summer at the Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge, which straddles our border with New Hampshire. It was only through luck that we learned the loon had died with two forms of malaria. The death was another troubling sign of our changing climate and of things to come.

Malaria is a tropical disease that has no business being in a non-migrating bird in northern New England.

That particular loon is Maine’s equivalent of the canary in the coal mine. Even in death, it is calling out to us with that familiar and haunting song, a warning of what is happening in our forests and lakes that will eventually affect us all.

The earth’s temperature and waters are warming in ways that we’re wholly unprepared for. The changes that scientists have been warning us of for decades is now happening — only to be drowned out by fake scientists, cranks and politicians funded by coal and gas interests. And for those who are able to escape their ideological blinders, the evidence is everywhere.

We’re just ending one of the warmest winter in Maine history. It follows, with just a few exceptions, a string of warmest winters going back two decades. Everything in the natural world is on the march with the temperatures. Animals and plants that are iconic to Maine, including white pine, maple and lobsters, are on the move toward colder regions. Animals, plants, insects and diseases of southern New England and beyond are crossing the border every day.

Some elements of this change will be welcome in Maine. We’ll have longer growing seasons and more time out of the house. I played golf this year exactly sixty days after our last round. But climate change is bringing with it disruptions, both known and unforeseen, to our economy, environment and health.

We may well see the collapse of the lobster industry in southern and Midcoast Maine, over the next few decades, just as it has vanished to our south. Reductions in maple and white pine forests will change rural life that depend on them. Explosions of ticks and other insect populations are attacking wildlife and our children alike. All of it will eventually change the landscape of forestry, fishing, farming and tourism.

The worst of these changes could have been avoided if we had acted 20 years ago, when we first had the chance. But short-term thinking, indifference to the future, special-interest politics and greed have prevented that. And now we’re left with how to adapt, and not make matters worse.

The first thing we need to do is to stop debating climate change as though it isn’t a settled question. Then, we need to roll up our sleeves and get to work. That means leading rather than following, and renewing the bipartisan climate planning that existed in Maine before the LePage administration.

Decisions are being made every day in Maine that will make matters worse in five or 10 years. The most recent example is the debate over energy policy and solar power. While LePage has tried to reduce spending on efficiency, drove offshore wind power away and opposed solar power, the world is moving ahead of us in all of those areas.

Solar power is now the fastest-growing energy form in the world. China just committed itself to tripling its solar power in five years. The cost of solar power, and for that matter wind power, are dropping quickly, as the initial phase of development of new technologies is giving way to mass production and cost declines.

In a decade, we’ll be competing with China for more of our jobs. They’ll have lower cost renewable energy and we’ll be hopelessly behind. All because we didn’t have the vision or courage to invest now in the future.

So what can you do?

• Install solar panels on your house or business, if you can.

• Buy into a local community solar plan, if your house isn’t suited for solar.

• The next time you get a car, purchase one of the new electric cars that are coming on line this year and next.

• Push your legislator to get behind climate change planning and ramped up support for energy efficiency, solar and offshore wind.

Perhaps most important, when you vote this fall make sure you know how the candidates stand on these issues. A new Legislature will be installed next year. Paul LePage will be a lame-duck governor. Those two things will renew opportunities for Maine to once again become a leader on climate change and renewable energy.

Alan Caron, a Waterville native, owns Caron Communications and is the author of “Maine’s Next Economy” (2015) and “Reinventing Maine Government” (2010). He can be reached at: [email protected]

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