Polluted Wasteland

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The Polluted Wasteland, often found in more realistic or Sci-Fi settings, is an Aesop against abusing resources. Its inhabitants stripped the land of everything good, and polluted the air. This may justify the activities of Planet Looters who raid other worlds for the resources that they've squandered on their own.

Defeat of the Big Bad won't necessarily return the land to its pristine state—though Hope Springs Eternal is quite common. Quite often, this also involves big sprawling cities that somehow became something worse than the run-down ghettos of São Paulo, or big sprawling industrial zones that breathe smoke 24/7.

See Mordor for the Polluted Wasteland's more traditionally fantasy counterpart though it should be noted that the Polluted Wasteland can be caused by magic in fantasy settings too. For more information see Clarke's Third Law

Compare Forbidden Zone, I Don't Like the Sound of That Place, Nightmarish Factory.

Examples of Polluted Wasteland include:

Anime and Manga

  • The island nation of Argentum in Simoun is a SF Anime example.
  • Windaria One of the three areas is called 'The Shadowlands' and provides a Foil for The Valley in that it is dirtier, darker and based on industry instead of agriculture. Alan even states that farming is impossible in the Shadowland and drinking the water is lethal or insanity producing.
  • Polluted Wasteland is seen in the second season of Magic Knight Rayearth: one of the invading countries was a mechanical world that had used up all of their natural resources.


Comic Books

Film

  • The real world of The Matrix is depicted this way, and is the result of the war between the Humans and the Machines.
  • Ditto, the future world as depicted in The Terminator films.
  • Earth as seen by WALL-E. Thanks a lot, Buy 'N' Large...
  • In the 2002 adaptation of The Time Machine, the protagonist sees the Bad Future depicted this way after defeating the Uber Morlock with his time machine.
  • In Blade Runner, future Los Angeles is covered in thick smog from pollution, and although it is still a high functioning urban area, it is a horrible place to live.


Literature

  • In Graham McNeill's Warhammer 40,000 Ultramarines novel Dead Sky Black Sun, Uriel and Pasanius find that a Chaos-warped Afterlife Express has carried them into planet Medrengard in the Eye of Terror. Hideous, impossible landscapes haunted by monsters and hold many dead bodies, containing tunnels that can drive people to murder and suicide, and a city of Alien Geometries with strange light creatures and impossible to trace routes, pollutants that come to life as Living Shadows and an Evil Tower of Ominousness.
  • Giedi Prime, homeworld of House Harkonnen in Dune, has had its environment ravaged by overindustrialization.
  • Chester's Mill briefly becomes this in the last few chapters of Under the Dome, when Big Jim Rennie sends members of his new police force to the radio station to collect some of the propane he has been stealing from the town to run his meth lab. Chef panics and blows up the meth lab, releasing a wave of fire that sweeps down from the old radio station and torches half the town, obscuring the surface of the dome and turning the town into a darkened wasteland with a toxic atmosphere.
  • Seattle has become this in Boneshaker. A giant drilling machine released a poisonous gas which blocks out the sun, made the air toxic to breathe, and killed all the plant life and people...or turned them in to zombies. Also there are frequent earthquakes and the small living population is made up of outlaws whose de facto ruler is an evil Mad Scientist.
  • In the Sci Fi novel Malevil, pastoral rural France becomes this following World War III. The forests charred, the farms and village smashed then incinerated, the sky darkened by ash, and the overpowering stench of death and smoke.
  • In The Lorax, the land that was once populated by Truffula trees and various animals becomes a Polluted Wasteland when all the trees are cut down, sludge is dumped into the water and pollutants are pumped into the air. The story ends on a bittersweet, yet cautiously optimistic note when a young boy is given the last Truffula seed and told to replant the forest, in hopes of bringing the area to its former glory.


Live Action TV

  • In Firefly, Earth has become uninhabitable and is now called "Earth-That-Was". In addition, much the same thing happened to Mal's homeworld, Shadow, at the hands of the Alliance during the Unification War.
    • Wash's homeworld is described as being so thick with air pollution that he became a pilot just to see what all those stars were that all the songs kept referring to.
  • Doctor Who
    • The mining colony Androzani Minor in the "The Caves of Androzani". Absolutely everyone on it was trying to kill everyone else, and a fatally poisoned Doctor had to regenerate just to get his companion away in one piece.
    • The planet Skaro, as depicted in "Genesis of the Daleks" and several Expanded Universe media, thanks to a centuries-long war of attrition involving nuclear and chemical weapons. And that was before the Daleks came into the picture.
  • The machinations of the Venjix Empire has turned pretty much turned the whole world into this in Power Rangers RPM.


Tabletop Games

  • The "industrial" trade classification in Traveller describes a planet with billions of inhabitants and an unbreathable or barely breathable atmosphere, that's implied to be a global factory and (because of the way the Traveller random world generation system works) also very likely to have a repressive government.
  • The land of Chaos Dwarfs in Warhammer Fantasy Battle manages to be both Mordor and a Polluted Wasteland at once. It started as a dark volcanic wasteland... and then the Chaos Dwarfs brought in thousands of slaves to start strip mining and heavy industry. It's a wonder how they manage to feed their single giant city in such conditions.
  • Many of the more established manufacturing worlds in Warhammer 40,000 are described this way. Whether they be Forge Worlds covered in nothing but manufactoriums, or hive worlds scattered with immense urban sprawl cities, they usually tend to consume their immediate environment and push it past its point of capacity such that they depend on off world imports and terraforming machinery just to keep themselves habitable. The planet Armageddon is a well known example of this, often requiring re-breathers to breath comfortably in the areas near its hive cities. Indeed, this tends to motivate the otherwise sprawling nature of hive cities into dense "spires" where the air can be more easily kept breathable with environmental seals and carbon dioxide scrubber machines.
  • Phyrexia in Magic: The Gathering is a techno-industrial hell, a twisted parody of natural worlds built of screaming metal and oil and inhabited by murderous cyborgs who eat, assimilate, or torture visitors (sometimes all three!). Mirrodin was later conquered by their last bioweapon, a mutagenic oil that turned it into New Phyrexia and twisted all its inhabitants and wildlife into hideous, murderous cyborgs.
  • Athas, the world of Dungeons & Dragons's Dark Sun setting, is a rare magical example of this. It was once lush and green, but the main form of magic here permanently destroys water. Centuries of reckless and rampant use of this magic have turned the entire world into a desert where few can survive.


Video Games

  • EverQuest: EQ1 has a few areas that are slightly less conventional Mordors. The Grey is an area that got exposed to the vacuum of space through some powerful magic. Now it's a desert where the only things that can survive are those that don't need to breathe air.
  • 2300 AD in Chrono Trigger, although exactly how much of its polluted-ness actually is Lavos' fault is unclear in said game.
  • Edutainment Game Zoombinis Island Odyssey features this as the resource aspect; the titular Zoombinis arrive at their abandoned homeland and realise that the invaders have removed all the butterflies and destroyed the environment(?). By returning caterpillars, the place gradually returns to its former glory. So, basically, you play through rebuilding an area.
  • To some degree, Planet Leeds in Freelancer. Even though the "great evil" is pretty much absent, imagine a planet capable of blowing out entire nebulae of smog! Accordingly, the government is depicted as unable to deal with the pollution and industrial accidents.
  • Ratchet & Clank (2002): Planet Orxon, to the point where it has become horrifically mutated in numerous ways, requires the O2 Mask when playing as Ratchet, and has flesh-melting toxic sludge wherever water should be. Worse yet, Chairman Drek is planning to turn who-knows-how-many more of the Ratchet & Clank universe's planets into what Orxon has become in this game.
    • In Ratchet: Deadlocked, Planet Orxon becomes considerably cleaner than its R&C (2002) self but is still a definitive example of this trope.
  • The Toxic Landfill from Wario Land 4. As its name implies, it is an utterly gigantic trash dump that features hideously discolored water and the largest number of breakable blocks in the game.
  • Earthworm Jim's New Junk City appears to be the biggest one of these in Texas...or outer space, for that matter.
    • Whatever the actual name of Big Bruty's home planet (from Earthworm Jim: Special Edition) is, it definitely seems to also be one of these (in addition to being absolutely full of mosquitoes).
  • Done in the realistic approach in all the Oddworld series of games (and possible future movies), where the bad guys are the ones who pollute the land and drive species to extinction in their thirst for profits. This makes all bad guy areas disgusting industrial wastelands with gloomy smog as the clouds of doom, immense factories as the tall, dark towers, and cruel CEOs as the Big Bads. The player is bashed over the head with the "Save the environment, Big corporations are bad" philosophy, which is ironic considering the last two games in this franchise were made for a Microsoft platform.
  • The hyper-industrial Strogg from the Quake series of games turn every place and thing they can find into a Polluted Wasteland, as long as it can be used in a production facility somehow. Blood and gristle are fine lubricants, and they'll be damned if they can't find a way to install a human torso in a machine one way or another.
  • California, Nevada, and Washington DC in the various Fallout games, though this is a result of Global Thermonuclear War.
  • In Jak II and Jak 3, the Metal Heads' territory, as well as Haven City itself, is very desolate, polluted, and dangerous.2), It's both a Death World filled with dangerous monsters and polluted to the point it makes any real life environmental trainwrecks look quite pleasant in comparision.
  • Final Fantasy VII gives us Midgar, an urban wasteland. Emphasis on "wasteland"; for several miles, there is no plant life to speak of.
  • Wherever the Combine come from, it seems to look like this from the glimpse we get through one of their portals. They seem intent on redecorating Earth to match.
  • Donkey Kong Country
    • Crocodile Island from Donkey Kong Country 2 is oddly both Mordor and a Polluted Wasteland. It has/had Gang Plank Galleon, an Amusement Park of Doom called Krazy Kremland, a forboding Evil Tower of Ominousness, is filled with dead trees, Zingers (killer bees), Brambles and danger, and the whole place and ocean around it is dark murky green. It actually sinks into the ocean after the final boss is defeated.
    • Mekanos in Donkey Kong Country 3, which is the polluted side to this trope taken to extremes. A level with a giant ripsaw shredding a whole forest as it goes upwards and various factories.[1]
  • In Battalion Wars, the nation of Xylvania ( EX Ill-Vain-Ia) is so polluted that the trees are all dead, the soil has degenerated into a grey-blue sludge, the sky is allways black with forge smoke, and the water is yellow from all the mine tailings. Xylvanians themselves are mutated into vampires, complete with pale skin, red eyes and snaggleteeth. Half of them need to wear hazmat armor when fighting in sulight.
  • Not destroying the robot machines in Sonic CD results in the level you're playing in turning into a Polluted Wasteland Bad Future.
  • Spiller's Harbor from Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty's Revenge. Once a beautiful resort, then Gruntilda and her minions came and turned the place into an oil refinery.
  • The Bad Future versions of Palmtree Panic and Stardust Speedway in Sonic CD become polluted wastelands.
  • In Starfox64, the once beautiful ocean planet of Zoness has been turned into one of these by Andross, with sickly greenish water and mutants all around.
  • In League of Legends many areas of Zaun are like this, due to their total lack of safety restrictions. Other parts of Runeterra are also pretty much uninhabitable as a result of magical fallout from the Rune Wars.
  • The zone "Crey's Folly" in City of Heroes was once a commercial neighborhood of Paragon City called "Venice", but it's now abandoned and walled off; its broad waterways are filled with industrial toxins, its streets are lined with garbage and rusting trucks, and its many factoriy and warehouse complexes are now abandoned except for the various villain groups who use them as bases.

Western Animation

  • In most incarnations of the Transformers franchise, Cybertron hs been reduced to the sci-fi version of this, albeit due to a history made up almost entirely of brutal warfare rather than by abuse of resources.
  • On The Fairly OddParents, Cosmo turned Xanadu into a Polluted Wasteland, except he calls it Pittsburgh.
  • Robotropolis and its immediate surroundings from Sonic Sat AM counts, with Dr. Robotnik actively polluting the place because he loves the smell.
  • Used in Avatar: The Last Airbender sometimes to reinforce the occasional Green Aesop. Without even mentioning "The Painted Lady", several episodes that take place in the Fire Nation come with shots of strip mines, factories with belching smokestacks, machinery, and lots and lots of metal stuff and steampunk technology.
    • Except for the parts that look like a cross between Imperial Japan and Hawaii.
  • Two Futures: Wheeler is shown why his job is important when he sees the world if pollution isn't kept in check.

Real Life

  • Until the 1960s, Pittsburgh, thanks to industrial pollution, was known for its Mordor-y combination of fire-belching furnaces and smokestacks; air so black with soot that the sky could not be seen in mid-day in photographs, and all the lights had to be on all the time; and water quality capable of petrifying wooden boats into iridescent chunks of iron oxide. It's since gotten much better, though, to the point where it's recently been ranked as one of the cleanest and most livable cities in America.
  • Ridley Scott claimed that the smoke-belching urban hellscape of Twenty Minutes Into the Future Los Angeles in Blade Runner was based on his hometown of Middlesbrough.
  • The city of Norilsk in Siberia definitely qualifies. According to the Blacksmith Institute, it's one of the top 10 most polluted cities on earth due to a huge concentration of nickel mines and smelters nearby. According to our friends at The Other Wiki, there's not a single tree within 48 kilometers of one smelter. Here's a picture and more info. Perhaps fittingly, it was founded as a Soviet Gulag labor camp. And to top it off, it's one of the largest cities north of the Arctic Circle, at about 70 degrees North (it apparently has the northernmost mosque in the world).
  • Ruhr Valley, Germany, throughout the late-19th and 20th centuries. The River Rhine was said to be polluted enough to be able to develop photographs in it. Add in the coalmining, steel industry and chemical industry and the result was a Polluted Wasteland.
  • Many of Britain's industrial cities have some similarities with this trope. Even in the Victorian Era, Blake referred "the dark Satanic mills". The region around Birmingham was (and still is) literally known as "the Black Country", although the area is much cleaner today. Incidentally, Tolkien grew up in this area; many scholars think Mordor at least in part inspired by the polluted industrial desolation (which leads to a long-time Wild Mass Guess that the Ring saga is an allegorical Green Aesop or an anti-technology rant).
    • London's notorious "pea-souper" fogs were a result of this trope; the whole city is built in a massive river valley known as the London Basin, which is a natural fog-trap. When the fog mixed with smoke, not just from industry but from tens of thousands of coal fires in people's homes, the result was a huge blanket of choking smog covering the entire city. Open fireplaces in homes are still banned in many areas of the city as a result.
    • Sheffield was a major industrial producer of steel and other raw materials, and as a result was covered not only in smog but many areas where covered in soot and dust as well. Sheffield had some of the highest rates of infections aggravated by the polluted air. Thankfully as the industry has moved the city has cleaned up massively, although many older houses are still stained.
  • Centralia, Pennsylvania, has been on fire for over 40 years and will continue to be on fire for at least another 250. It has a population of nine.
  • Cubatão in Brazil. The rain was so acid that it was known as "rain that burns". The city was known as Valley of Death. It Got Better though.
  • Parts of Indian cities can be like this due to unregulated recycling of e-waste and other products, and not many restrictions on pollution. This has led to the Indian government to introduce new regulations on pollution and the break down of e-waste.
  1. Compare with KAOS Kore is quite a serene pleasant area, with the exception of Kastle KAOS and the Death World like area of Lightning Lookout.