To see how ecopolitical insights can inform critical readings of Shakespeare, it is necessary to survey brieﬂy the origins of the Green movement and in particular the twentieth-century scientiﬁc and industrial developments that it deﬁned itself in opposing. In the summer of 1942 Edward Teller, one of J. Robert Oppenheimer’s team building the ﬁrst atomic bomb, calculated what would happen in the ﬁrst few millionths of a second after detonation. Enrico Fermi was worried that the new weapon might disastrously replicate the conditions inside the Sun, and Teller’s new calculations started to convince Oppenheimer’s team that merely testing the bomb ‘might ignite the earth’s oceans or its atmosphere’ (Rhodes 1986, 418). Unknown to the Americans, in June 1942, the theoretical physicist Werner Heisenberg expressed to Hitler, via Albert Speer, the same fear about Germany’s atomic programme (Rhodes 1986, 404-5). The night before the ﬁrst Manhattan Project test, Fermi offered to take bets on whether the atmosphere would catch ﬁre, and Teller wondered if he was right (Rhodes 1986, 664-5). Stunned by the brightness of the ﬂash, Oppenheimer’s colleague Emilio Segrè feared that the worst had indeed happened (Segrè 1970, 147). The scientists who performed the ﬁrst atomic test believed it carried a small, but quite real, chance (about one-in-ﬁfty, some of them thought) of instantly igniting the
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Among other things, the international Green movement is a response to the rapid increase in the power of human technologies and the hubris of the scientists and technocrats in charge of them. All life on Earth is a direct expression of the energy released by thermonuclear reactions inside the Sun and, ironically, the means to initiate such reactions on Earth made Oppenheimer’s the ﬁrst generation capable of ending all life. Over the succeeding decades, the nuclear states developed the technologies with which to threaten doing this, each fearing another gaining a technical advantage that would upset the balance of terror. This fear was acute in the 1960s when intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) became too fast for the available computers to track reliably, raising the possibility that a sneak attack might overwhelm an opponent before retaliation could be mounted.