Flat White

Bushfires: we deserve more than a heads or tails debate

17 January 2020

2:00 PM

17 January 2020

2:00 PM

Reach for the nearest coin you have and place the coin flat on your palm. I don’t particularly care which side you have facing up at you. Ensure that you are looking at either ‘heads’ or ‘tails. 

What can you see? 

You can only see one side of the coin and that will be the side of the coin you chose to have facing upwards in accordance with the instruction above. 

It does not matter what side you have facing you because the underlying point is that it is the only side that you can see. 

Consider for a moment what happens when you have that same coin ‘standing’ on its edge while being held between your index finger and thumb of either hand. I don’t care whether it is your left or right because what matters is how the coin is being held between the index finger and thumb of either hand. 

What can you see? 

You are able to more easily tilt the coin up or down, turn it left or right and look closely at either side of the coin as well as the edge. 

The coin can be observed holistically with every attribute, every qualitative characteristic, available for analysis. 


It is much easier to give a holistic description of the coin to somebody if you can properly see it yourself rather than merely look at ‘heads’ or ‘tails’. 

And what is my point? 

A coin is a simple proxy for the quality of public debate that we experience on a range of issues. This includes but it is not limited to the discussion on climate change and bushfires. 

There are those on Twitter who argue climate change is responsible for the bushfires. There are also those who argue arsonists and other negligent individuals are only responsible for bushfires. 

Each of those sides has flying squads on Twitter whacking the other and advancing the cause of their own perspective. 

Let us for the purpose of this exercise consider incineration factors to be ‘tails’ and climate science however defined to be ‘heads’. 

Those looking at ‘tails’ alone will argue about the significance of the various ignition factors and ignore ‘heads’ 

People arguing the case for climate change may choose to focus only on ‘heads’ and not look at ‘tails’ at all. 

The more prudent approach is to look at the coin holistically and acknowledge that each of these factors plays a part in the situation with the only real debate being the more prominent cause in each instance that takes place. 

Arson may be the cause for some fires. Accidents with equipment or people being silly with cigarettes may be another cause. Lightning may equally be another factor. The causes are far more varied than some politicians would have you believe. 

We cannot have a responsible policy debate on any social, political or economic issue without considering all of the factors involved. 

Our discussions — irrespective of how much we agree or disagree — on all matters need to be more than just the result of people looking solely at one side of an argument, no matter how compelling it might be to individuals holding that view. 

Tom Ravlic FIPA is an academic, consultant and the author of Vulture City – how our bankers got rich on swindles publishing by Wilkinson Publishing. 

Illustration: Royal Australian Mint.

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