A lobster fishing boat heads out to sea at sunrise off shore from Portland, Sept. 13, 2017. New 2018 data indicates that the Gulf of Maine, one of the fastest warming bodies of water in the world, is in the midst of an all-time hot stretch. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP

As the BDN editorial board sets out to take a focused look at four issues this year, our work will depend in part on engagement and input from our readers. After selecting workforce development, referendum reform, the local costs and challenges of rural living as three areas to take a close look at in 2019, we asked the community to help us pick a fourth.

Thankfully, you weren’t shy about sharing your opinions. We received roughly 250 responses by email and on social media. And while there was a diverse and interesting mix of topics suggested, one concern was clearly the most popular: climate change.

“Changes in our climate will affect every area of Maine life and its economy, from agriculture to tourism and beyond,” one reader said.

“We must contribute to the solution by reducing our greenhouse gas emissions in Maine, and embrace cost-effective adaptation for the impacts we are already experiencing from our marine fisheries to farms to forests to the health of our citizens,” another said.

[Farming clams in Maine could help save them from climate change]

But, of course, the impact of climate change it is not the only issue at hand. Readers’ suggestions to focus on health care, taxes, tribal relations, prison reform, education, broadband and numerous other issues are no less valid or worthwhile. Many of those issues are inexorably linked with our four stated focus areas, and we will surely address them in that context, and others, in the coming year.

Importantly, our work in 2019 will not be limited strictly to workforce, referendum, rural and climate issues. We will still tackle various topics of the day as they arise or require further review. But the focus areas will guide our overall assessment of work in Augusta — and across the state — this year.

Nationally, climate change has taken a back seat. The Trump administration has moved us backward by pledging to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate change agreement and rolling back environmental protection regulations. These moves — and the debate about them — have stolen much of the oxygen in our national discourse and debate.

Against this backdrop, the federal government released a report in November that warns of climate change’s potentially devastating consequences around the world. It’s a warning we should heed.

[Gulf of Maine is having 3rd warmest year on record]

With a new administration here in Maine, already-tangible examples of climate change and its impacts around the state, and members of the research and business communities engaged on the issue, our state has an opportunity to dedicate time and energy to changing policies and practices.

Researchers from the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine recently released a report analyzing historical climate trends and potential impacts of climate change on coastal Maine, particularly in the context of the agriculture and fishing industries. It’s not without irony that the report details how in some cases — longer growing seasons for crops and a warming Gulf of Maine that has bolstered the lobster industry in the short term, for instance — our clearly changing climate has actually been beneficial in some ways thus far.

But that evidence, coupled with the expectation of continued warming of both the atmosphere and oceans, spells long-term danger for Maine’s economy and underscores the importance of preparedness.

We can acknowledge the complicated and often sobering realities of a changing climate and begin to take action while also realizing that Maine is a relatively small player in the climate equation.

[Susan Collins: Ignoring climate change is ‘simply not a solution’]

In her inaugural address, Mills proclaimed on climate change, “enough with studies, talk, and debate. It is time to act!”

The appeal to action is understandable, after eight years of climate skepticism from former Gov. Paul LePage. But let’s not throw studies, talk and debate out the window as we continue to understand these very real and very concerning climate trends — particularly as they relate to the economic and environmental impacts that we’re already seeing in Maine.

Our focus on climate change in Maine will be guided by an effort to understand its causes, impacts and potential solutions — and we’ll be open to different and divergent views on all of those fronts. But the discussion begins with an understanding that climate change is, in fact, happening. We will not waste time debating its well-documented existence, and neither should policymakers.