One of the longest-running jokes in The Good Place is about almond milk.
After the big twist in the show's first season, moral philosopher Chidi Anagonye agonized about being condemned to The Bad Place, and decided early on what had tipped the scales: "I used almond milk in my coffee, even though I knew about the negative environmental impact." For ages, it's a running joke that such a particular infraction could be the thing that condemned him. But eventually, they get a look at the judgment system and realize he was right all along: Every decision has consequences, and nothing is decided in a vacuum.
It's impossible not to think of Chidi and his many philosophical thought-exercises-slash-inescapable-moral-quagmires while reading On the Backs of Tortoises. Nominally an environmental and social history of the Galápagos Islands, Prof. Elizabeth Hennessy lays bare the many intertwined issues that confront us as we attempt conservation efforts in complex situations, while faced with a sweeping ecological crisis.
The tortoises of the Galápagos are "keystone species and ecosystem engineers," and since sailors first began using the islands in 1535, they have been the most obvious barometer of the effect of people on an ecosystem. (Hennessy notes grimly that "three of the fifteen species" that originally populated the islands "exist only as historical records.")
Using tortoises as a marker, Hennessy traces the various ways the islands — and nature itself — has been framed, both by opportunists and by conservationists. By turns, tortoises are food or natural treasure; they must be carefully sheltered or made celebrities for their own good. The islands spend time as a prison colony, promised frontier for settlers, American military base, and national park with a controversial tourist industry. The thread of natural conservation runs throughout, but even there, the meaning has changed. For Walter Rothschild a century ago, it was collection of specimens. Now, it is attempts to breed tortoises for release into a wilderness that's being shaped by the introduction of foreign animals and plants. (In 1957, fishers left three goats on Pinta island for food. Their eradication has become a cottage industry, with thousands of kills a month that are left to rot; nothing is easily parsed.)