Australian Greens Leader Christine Milne says a little-known creature native to tropical north Queensland should be recognised as a symbol of the serious and immediate threat to life presented by global warming.
A brooch modelled on the White Lemuroid Ringtail Possum has been unveiled today at the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) conference at James Cook University in Cairns, to raise awareness of its plight.
"I wore a polar bear brooch the day Australia's emissions trading scheme passed through Parliament, because it was such a huge step toward that species' salvation. Now we need to revive real action on climate change and this local possum makes the challenge really hit home," said Senator Milne.
Tourists used to visit Mount Lewis, northwest of Cairns, in droves to see these white possums until a severe heatwave devastated the population in late 2005. The few survivors now effectively live on an island in the sky - forced to higher elevations to avoid rising temperatures - but eventually they'll have nowhere to go.
"These creatures face being warmed out of existence," said Senator Milne, who previously spent eight years at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, pushing for their Red List of Threatened Species to focus more on the relationship between habitat loss, climate change and invasive species in the extinction process.
"At a personal level, I grieve for the loss of species and it is a source of constant anger and frustration that the political process refuses to acknowledge that the current trajectory is for a temperature rise of 4 degrees with its implications for mass extinctions.
"Sincere thanks are owed to JCU Vice Chancellor Sandra Harding, acclaimed French jewellery designer Lea Stein and her Australian distributor Bruna Harrison, who have helped draw together my passions for art and environmental conservation in this project.
"All this could not have happened without Bruna Harrison's persuasive powers with Lea Stein. Nor would it have happened without Sandra Harding getting in touch with a parliamentarian. Environmental activism requires bringing whatever skills you have to get outcomes and that's my message to everyone at the conference and in the community who care about the environment," said Senator Milne.
"I couldn't be happier that four women have brought this together and made it happen. It is a wonderful story of an academic, a jewellery designer, a businesswoman and a parliamentarian coming together to take a stand in the face of the extinction crisis. It really is women at work for the future.
"Lea Stein is one of the great modern jewellery designers and I'm delighted that this is the first Australian animal she's ever done. It is such a strong statement about the impact of global warming on critically endangered species like the white lemuroid possum.
"This brooch speaks to values that are shared by so many people around Australia and the world. In wearing it, I'll be wearing my heart not on my sleeve, but on my lapel, to remind everyone why it's so important we take real action in the parliament to address global warming."
The white lemuroid possum brooch is now available exclusively within Australia and will be distributed internationally in 2015.