The Earth on a Smaller Scale

Image: luigi diamanti /

The other day when I was watching the Garbage! documentary by Andrew Nisker, I opted to multitask and clean my fish tank at the same time.

I’ve been keeping fancy goldfish as a hobby for almost 7 years now and learned a lot about keeping my fish alive. People are often surprised when I tell them my oldest goldfish lived to be 6, but even crazier is the fact that goldfish are actually supposed to live to 10 or older.

My fish tank is a contained 30 gallons with a large filter, some live plants, and an aerator. There are a few parameters that need to be constantly checked: Nitrate, Nitrite, and Ammonia. Now since my tank has been set up for a while there are lots of good bacteria on the filter and in the water that help keep my Nitrites and the Ammonia down. I’ve added plants and promoted growth of algae which feed on Nitrates, yet I still have to change the water every week to lower the Nitrates. Nitrates are constantly being created as food decays and the fish releases waste.

Past the science stuff what I’m getting at is that even though I have cultivated a system and environment, it still needs to be maintained. Say I avoid cleaning the tank for a while and the bio system crashes, the tank could still be crystal clear and yet the goldfish could be suffering from ammonia poisoning, nitrate poisoning, or nitrite poisoning. Since I’m on the outside I’m suddenly wondering why I have a sick/dead fish.

Much like the fish tank, the Earth, as large as it may be, is contained. It’s space and resources are fixed and if we abuse it we upset the balance we hurt ourselves in the process. We are given everything and like the goldfish, we unknowingly destroy our home with our waste, chemicals, and garbage. Unlike my lucky goldfish though, we don’t have someone to clean up after us. When we die from chemical poisoning or pollution we will be the only ones to blame.

It’s difficult to understand the expanse of the Earth and our footprint. I encourage everyone to keep a Goldfish to truly understand the difficulty maintaining, and the delicacy of a contained environment. It’s really eye opening.


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