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January 21, 2019

The Pot Belly In The Civil Service

Trees are planted for a variety of reasons. Some people plant a few trees in their home to provide shade and for aesthetics. Everyone recognises that where there are trees the air is cooler and fresher than where they are absent. This is because trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and their branches and leaves provide a shade that cools the air beneath them.

The older the tree, the larger it is, the more carbon dioxide it holds, the better the environment around it. The sense you get when you walk into an old forest or even a home with old trees is because of age of the trees. But there are many routes to improving quality of life and some people plant trees for money. The aim is to grow trees for a certain period of time and then harvest them.

There are over 23,000 types of trees in the world so choosing the right species is the first dilemma. Just like growing any other crop there is a scientific way of growing trees for maximum yield and therefore return on investment. The clash comes between those who argue that trees should be left forever and those who want to harvest as quickly as possible. Worse for those in a hurry is that forever can mean millions of years, because that is how long it takes for dead plants to decompose into organic materials and form fossil fuels.

The human resource department especially in government has a similar problem to the tree planter. The first human resource manager in government must have been a forester because they coined the phrase ‘dead wood’ to describe a person who is employed, earning a salary, but is not performing. Dead wood as we know is full of carbon but is no longer absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and releasing oxygen in exchange.

One acre of live trees can release 10,000 kg of oxygen. Dead wood unless fire is applied just looks at you. Any enterprising youth seeing dead wood will do the natural thing and burn it, turning it either into firewood or if they have the patience of a few days, charcoal.

The problem for the human resource department is that such choices are not open to them.

So what do they do? They take dead wood and hide them among the live trees. So every where you go within government there is a mix of trees, some alive and young, growing rapidly but not really producing too much yet, some older full of carbon dioxide and lots of oxygen, some dead.

The problem is telling them apart and overall knowing what to do with such a forest. The human body has a similar problem to government.

Every day we eat a certain amount of food. Ideally we want to eat no more than what we need. An imbalance in the equation leads to malnutrition, either wasting if there is too little or obesity if there is too much. Obesity shows in terms of excess fat storage. There are sex differences. A man and woman of normal weight have 15 per cent and 30 per cent body fat, respectively. Given the size of fat cell, someone with 20 kg of fat has about 33 billion fat cells.

Older theories around fat metabolism stated that we would eat food, the body would digest what it needs and then the excess would, after a while be converted into fat and stored. Newer research shows that within three hours of eating a fatty meal, fat is already being stored, especially for men and women past menopause directly into their bellies. For every tablespoon of fat you eat, about one teaspoon of fat is deposited direct into your belly immediately.

It is not for nothing that after a heavy rich meal, people want to loosen their belts or at weddings people other than the bride wear flowing garments. The big danger is that upper body fat, around the belly is dangerous for our health. Not only does the constant deadweight squash our vital organs; the lungs can hardly move, the heart is constrained to expand, but the fat cells themselves behave differently to fat cells found in the legs.

Women typically store more fat in their hips than men. One interesting observation is that increasing fat accumulation in the legs is often accompanied by increase in new fat cells. For every kilogram of leg fat about 2 billion fat cells are born. Fat cells in your belly just grow larger and larger making them more stubborn the longer they persist in that state.

Fat is basically stored energy. Your body can converts fat to usable energy for your muscles and other tissues. The problem is carrying too much fat around and storing it in the wrong place. Having a fire is not an option. Fat has to be prevented from accumulating in the first place or eased out gently, systematically over time. Having a big pot is the civil service equivalent of dead wood. You are lugging around someone who can suffocate you.

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