Earth That Used to Be Better

Back in my day...

Earth just isn't what it used to be, running low on resources and living space, and humanity has started to move out in a significant way. There's at least a genetically stable offworld population, but plenty still live on the planet. Contact is maintained, but the planet is generally implied or stated to have downgraded, sometimes significantly, in health from today. Essentially, it's become an Insignificant Little Blue Planet even by the standards of human society. The two variables are what percentage of total humanity is offworld and what the standard of living is for the remaining peoples been done, both of them related to how far down the road from now the story is. Sometimes they take place after the low point, when Earth has undergone some healing but still bears scars on the land or in memories. The important things are that the planet is measurably worse off (even if only by our increased numbers) and no longer home to the only viable population of humanity.

A pervasive idea in this trope is that, once space colonization became possible, the best and the brightest will leave Earth for the colonies, leaving behind the dregs of humanity(a common thread in that idea is that said dregs are passive enough to submit to absurd amounts of regulation - many such Earths are ruled by a highly restrictive and bureaucratized one-world state). The idea that colonists are "the best" (as opposed to being, say, malcontents and exilesnote ) and that non-colonists are passive in the face of amoral authority are notions mostly put forth by Americans, for obvious reasons. Of course, it's entirely possible that the colonists and the Earthopeans will each have their prejudices against the others.

Sometimes goes hand in hand with Gaia's Lament. Occasionally prone to starting The War of Earthly Aggression out of jealousy or selfishness. May become Earth That Was.

Examples:

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     Anime and Manga 
  • ARIA: Despite the extremely optimistic atmosphere, it's an essential part of the setting that the oceans rose and among other things submerged Venice. Luckily, terraforming Mars went extremely well and a new Venice was built there. Characters mention other changes that are even more disturbing; Ai has never seen a blue sky and Akari comments that people can no longer swim in the oceans or dig in the earth.
  • Cowboy Bebop: Due to an unfortunate gate accident that split the moon, the Earth is surrounded by a brand-new asteroid belt and most of the atmosphere the asteroids would normally burn up in was blown off, so it is constantly being bombarded by pieces of moon raining down on it. Most of the Earth's surface now consists of ruined cities, craters, and various parts of nature reclaiming the urban sprawl and industrial zones. While Earth is considered something of a meaningless backwater, only known for its budding hacker culture, many people still live there in underground areas.
    • An old self-aware military satelite that survived the moon explosion grew lonely once Earth's surface grew largely uninhabitated, setting up the plot for an episode.
  • Desert Punk is set in the "Great Kanto Desert", which is a wasteland with some remnants of old cities. At present, the Kanto region of Japan is not only a plain (i.e. somewhere fertile), but it's also a very industrialized and populated area, being the place where Tokyo is located. It's indicated that due to a combination of nuclear and/or biological weapons and a Robot War, humans almost drove themselves to extinction. Also, it could be just Creator Provincialism, but there's no indication of what if anything is left of the rest of the world.
  • Gundam
    • In Mobile Fighter G Gundam, Chibodee Crockett, Neo-America's fighter is originally from Earth rather than the (much better off) orbital space colonies. It makes him fit the ideal of the "American Dream", as he was a poor, destitute boy from a disadvantaged area who rose to become a rich and powerful fighter for his nation.
    • Earth in the Universal Century may be a more subtle example, as while it doesn't have cyberpunk-esque ruined ecosystems, its been a successful target of Colony Drops on at least four occasions, with more attempts being barely stopped at the last moment. Furthermore, at least half of the Human population had long since moved into orbital colony structures, and said colonists tend to blame all of Earth's population for their problems and claim Earth-dwellers to be a bunch of decadent hedonists. On the other hand, the Earthborn humans consider themselves "elite" compared to the colonies, and most of the political power in the Earth Sphere is held by the Earthborn population.
  • Legend of Galactic Heroes has Earth relegated to this position thanks to having used up its own resources during humanity's spread to other worlds. Earth was still okay for a while, since those worlds were indentured colonies, until a bloody war of independence turned it into an impoverished barely populated backwater that's only visited by the members of some obscure religion. The old Imperial Capital is a far more popular tourist destination.
  • Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou: There isn't any real cataclysm, and most of the Earth's populations simply left for a greener pastures, leaving their less adventurous brethren back home. Definitely of the "still pleasant" variety.
  • In the Super Dimension Fortress Macross franchise, Earth gets bombarded by millions of Zentraedi warships at the climax of the Space War. The final arc, set a couple of years after that fact, shows that Earth is mostly a barren wasteland littered with craters and shattered remains of old cities, with only a couple million survivors here and there on the surface. The ecosystem barely survived, and plant life is slowly making a comeback, but it will be decades, perhaps centuries before the planet is green again. Earth remains the political center of the human/Zentraedi civilization though, even after more habitable worlds are settled as colonies.

    Film 
  • Blade Runner: Overcrowded and rainy. The book goes into more detail on the damaged biosphere; real animals are rare enough that owning one (as opposed to a replicant animal) is a status symbol.
  • In Alien: Resurrection, the crew of the Betty are stunned and horrified that the Auriga is set on autopilot to return to Earth, which is well known to be a "shithole". According to the novelization, Earth has basically become a giant, polluted slum; the only people who still live there are the people who can't afford to get off-world. It obviously still has some significance as the birthplace of humanity, judging from the horrified reaction of Call when she realizes that the Auriga is programmed to return to Earth in the event of an emergency, which would unleash the Xenomorphs on Earth.
  • Lost in Space: The starting of this is the impetus for the Jupiter project.
  • Earth in Avatar is still the center of humanity but the ecosystem is or has been destroyed and the planet is covered with a towering urban sprawl. Extraterrestrial colonies primarily serve as resource gathering outposts.

    Literature 
  • Piers Anthony's But What of Earth?. After mattermission (technological teleportation) is developed, a large percentage of the population leaves Earth for extrasolar systems and civilization goes to hell in a handbasket.
    • Averted by his Bio of a Space Tyrant series, in which interplanetary colonization allows Earth to revert to nature. The only nation not to migrate wholesale to another planet is India, which has become the caretaker to what is rapidly becoming a planet-sized nature preserve.
  • Honor Harrington: A big war known as the Final War (about as final as WW1) darn near ended the planet for good, but it got back on its feet as the capitol of the largest human polity (based in Chicago, presumably one of the few major cities not destroyed). Nevertheless, things are implied to really suck for a decent percentage of the population. The undocumented population doesn't officially exist and lives in ghetto and squalor, while the average citizen does pretty well compared to even Manticore and is thus very complacent and apolitical.
    • We get a look at Earth a couple hundred years after the diaspora begins (about 1700 years before current time in most of the series, or 2300 AD to us), in the short story By The Book when a world government of Greens and Neo Luddites has taken control and is being generally oppressive and suppressive of free thought and realistic history or scientific development. Spacers elsewhere in the Solar System innovate and Outbounders go colonize. Nation-states still exist with applicable and respected laws, significantly including the US Constitution and the Fifth Amendment.
  • In some of Isaac Asimov's stories, Earth becomes a world of overcrowded, domed cites, where everyone has agoraphobia and hates those darn job-stealing robots. In some other Asimov stories set hundreds or even thousands of years later, Earth is radioactive, but not so much that people can't live here; it's just very very very unpleasant. Other people moved to the stars. (After Science Marched On and it was discovered that it wouldn't be possible to live on a planet with much radiation, Asimov said that if he could go back and fix the stories he would but it was so much a part of the setting he couldn't.)
    • The general fix is to interpret his description of the radioactivity problem as uninhabitable pockets of radiation which continue to grow (rather than a higher planet-wide background radiation). Still, more and more of the planet is simply too radioactive to support any kind of life and the "safe-zones" where the radiation levels aren't harmful keep getting smaller. Eventually, the planet is completely abandoned and forgotten (to the point where scientists debate whether humanity even had a single planet of origin). When someone does eventually go looking for it and find it again thousands of years later, Earth is little more than a highly radioactive dead rock.
    • Played with in Nemesis. The 'Best and brightest left Earth, leaving the dregs behind' view dominates the space-born Settlements, and it's not entirely wrong — even the poorest Settlement have a GDP per capita significantly above Earth's, and the Settlements dominates technological development. What they tend to forget is that GDP per capita isn't everything, and Earth still holds the majority of humanity... meaning Earth, once properly motivated, is the best suited to a 'throw resources at it' project to develop actual FTL travel — they're still the largest economy in the Solar system, after all.
  • In Larry Niven's Known Space series, Earth is an over-crowded police state populated by arrogant xenophobes. However, for the most part they are happy, content, well-tended arrogant xenophobes to whom the constant surveillance by the government is considered the normal state of affairs (and why not... they've had nearly 500 years to get used to it, and all the "malcontents" move off-world to the other planets).
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's Future History, once faster-than-light travel was discovered, the top 1% of each generation left Earth to colonize space. Run this forward two thousand years, and the people left on earth aren't the brightest bunch.
  • In The Demon Princes series by Jack Vance, Earth has become a tired backwater. Birth rates are low, culture is stagnant and all the energy has moved out the colonies.
  • In Roger Zelazny's Isle Of The Dead the Earth is a dying backwater dictatorship and anyone with any drive emigrates.
  • Mike Resnick's "Will the Last Person to Leave the Planet Please Turn Off the Sun?" is an exaggerated version; entire countries and ethnic groups have been moving off-planet, and the population of Earth is down to about eight people.
  • In the Red Dwarf novels Earth has had all its mineral resources stripped from it, is afflicted by comically high levels of pollution, and is home only to "a few hundred thousand people too poor, too scared or too stupid to leave" — the rest of humanity is spread throughout the Solar System. Lister still loves Earth and considers it home, even though it's a dump.
    • In the second novel it's revealed that a few hundred years after Red Dwarf left the solar system, it became a case of Earth That Was in an incredibly beyond-the-impossible fashion.
    • Earth is rarely seen or described in the TV series, but it doesn't appear to be quite as far gone as in the novels. However, it is still said to have a giant artificial "toupee" hanging over it to cover the hole in the ozone layer.
  • In John Scalzi's Old Man's War series, Earth has become a half-forgotten backwater compared to and by the sinister machinations of the Colonial Union. It's centuries behind the technological curve (particularly medically) and under permanent quarantine following a plague that caused mass infertility and was created by the Colonial government just to justify said quarantine. Average quality of life is not worse than today, but it could be so much better.
  • The Earth in Peter F. Hamilton's Fallen Dragon is heading this way. As a result of poverty, economic stagnation and industrial stagnation, most the planet is covered in Dying Towns. Colonization and Casual Interstellar Travel is creeping to a halt due to mounting costs and the Megacorps inhabiting Earth are plundering their own distant colonies before returning to Earth to hole up.
    • That said, environmentally, it is mentioned to be doing much better. Many of the old forest lands have not only been reclaimed but actually expanded beyond the wildest dreams of an environmentalist.
  • In Joan Vinge's Cat series, the middle and upper class around the galaxy believe Earth to be a resort and museum planet, but most of them actually live on other planets, where there are actually jobs. The majority of Earth's population is lower class, living in violent, impoverished ghettos virtually buried by the facade of the upper classes' infrastructure. The rest are either employed in security to keep the poor out of sight, in social and medical services to keep them alive, or too rich to work.
  • In Mikhail Akhmanov's Earths Shadow, Earth has long ago been mostly abandoned due to the discovery of interstellar portal technology. Entire cities have been moved to other planets, leaving a planet full of giant holes in the ground. Only the poorest countries couldn't afford to move. The remaining powers in the world are the Central-European Republic of Ukraine and a state in South America, populated mostly by the escaped Russian population of Ukraine. During the final days of the exodus, the warring factions activate a jamming device, blocking portal travel to and from the planet.
  • In The History of the Galaxy, Earth is an overpopulated world at the beginning of the timeline but the population steadily leaves during the war. Hundreds of years later, Earth is once again a lush world, nature having taken back most of what used to be civilization. Most oceans dried up, though, and the population of the planet barely numbers in a few million. One of the reasons for the First Galactic War was an attempt to establish Earth's control over a number of Lost Colonies that have since become fairly advanced and industrialized. The other reason was to offload excess population. The result? The war turns the colonies into industrial and scientific powerhouses and firmly establishes them as centers of human-occupied space, while Earth becomes a backwater planet that only a historian would bother visiting.
  • Clifford Simak's City. By the end of the series the most human population left for idyllic transhuman life on Jupiter, the few remaining "websters" living in the isolated communities decide to either leave Earth to or go to cryogenic sleep, and the Earth is left for the post-human sentient ants and dogs (who also eventually leave).
  • The Night's Dawn Trilogy by Peter F. Hamilton. Earth suffers from devastating mega-cyclones (Armada storms) and so the entire population lives inside giant arcologies. Colonists heading to new colonies are a mixture of desperate people who've paid to go and petty criminals who've been sentenced to indentured servitude to the paying colonists.
  • In the Vorkosigan Saga, most of the series is set on several planets that became human space colonies and Earth is sort of like a giant Switzerland/United Nations. When Miles visits Earth, his description of what he considers classic London architecture is all modern or near future, implying that the famous landmarks in the city were either replaced of destroyed. There's also a description of the "Island of Los Angeles", implying that California eventually sank into the Pacific Ocean.
  • Mentioned a few times in Strata by Terry Pratchett, although we never go to Earth. Much of the human population was killed by the Mindquakes, a phenomenon when the population grew too large and dense to the point where the psychic pressure caused people to spontaneously die. The main character Kin Arad grew up on the planet in the aftermath of this—as a child, she saw a small crowd of humans watching robots dance, and this motivated her to grow up to help rebuild the planet and ensure robots never outnumbered humans there. By the time the story is set, Earth is still considered a backwater by the human colony worlds, but its population is back up to three-quarters of a billion.
  • In H. Beam Piper's Space Viking, the main character worries about his home planet's civilization declining, and a historian agrees: "That's what happened to the Terran Federation, by the way. The good men all left to colonize, and the stuffed shirts and yes-men and herd-followers and safety-firsters stayed on Terra and tried to govern the Galaxy."
  • F Paul Wilson's science fiction has the same theme, and the PRT actively encouraged it; all groups of political deviants were simply put in giant spaceships and told, "If you think you can do any better than us, go ahead and try." The colonies came to be known as "Out Where All The Good Folks Go." Centuries later, Earth is a world state that puts The Draka to shame; once population levels rose too high, the government not only set up reproductive laws, but started sterilizing anyone with genetic diseases, real or imagined. And once they believed they had a suitably healthy, pliable population, they started The War of Earthly Aggression.
  • Philip K Dick's science fiction often runs with this as a background element. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is probably the best-known example. In some of his stories, this is a probable future rather than presently the case.
  • The Eschaton Series presents an ambiguous version: Earth had relatively recently gone through some hard times, and while life there is hardly hard, it is a bit chaotic, and other planets are definitely much more powerful. However, Earth still has a lot of pull for reasons related to (1) its mythological status as homeworld of humanity and (2) its role in enforcing the laws of causality.
  • Earth becomes this in the later books of Allen Steele's Coyote series - to the point that the alien league encountered in the last two books deliberately disallows starbridge travel back there.
  • In The Lost Fleet series, the ancestor-worshiping characters note that Earth is irrelevant to the galaxy now economically, but still extremely important culturally, and if it were destroyed - which they have just found out is potentially possible - it would stir all of humanity to unite in a genocidal rage against the attackers.
    • Later in the series the plot brings us to the planet, where extensive note is made of the damage done to the planet, ranging from global warming to orbital strikes to someone setting autonomous walking tanks to destroy Stonehenge, which was only barely averted. It's also noted that the planet is slowly healing, with Lyons, Kansas held up as an example- the buildings are disintegrated and the land a desert, but plants and people are starting to resettle.
  • In Vladimir Vasilyev's Death or Glory, it's mentioned that Earth and the core colonies are suffering from overpopulation and pollution, while the outer colonies are, for the most part, tiny and isolated, where law and order don't really matter as much as the power of your blaster. By the time of the third and fourth novels, the influx of alien technology has revitalized humanity, and Earth and the colonies are actually not a bad place to live anymore.
  • In Michael Z Williamson's Freehold series, Earth is a PRT that doesn't have the sense to just keep to itself. The first book in the series is a blatant invasion of the titular colony, primarily as an excuse to raid the economically and scientifically advanced culture for resources and technology. Notably, the invasion isn't repelled easily, as it has less than a tenth of the population and resources that Earth does - and all the other colonies have even less. So once the Freeholders take back their world, they prevent a re-invasion with a Hiroshima-level counterattack that knocks Earth's capabilities below everyone. The other colonies gets the message; "You didn't want to get involved? Okay, keep doing that. Forever."
  • In Harry Harrison's Brion Brandd duology, it's established that Earth is overpopulated and polluted. At the same time, it's still an important planet.
  • In Earth Girl, after Portal Network tech was discovered most people, yearning for the stars, left Earth to settle the new frontier during the Exodus Century. They left in such a hurry that vital technology was lost because half of Earth's extensive databases and digital libraries were corrupted when someone royally screwed up the global data library back-up after a huge system crash. All the megacities were deserted and are now humongous ruins the handicapped protagonist Jarra digs up artifacts from with her archeology class, hoping to rediscover lost tech. The only ones left on Earth now are mostly the handicapped (people who have an rare deadly allergy to all other planets and thus unable to leave), their families and staff, huddled together in new small settlements. People from Earth are seen as backwater primitives and pejoratively called apes. They don't get to vote in sector parliament elections, but get a lifelong Unconditional Basic Income as a consolation for being stuck on Earth for life.
  • In James Blish's Cities in Flight series, all of Earth's major cities literally fly away using antigravity devices. The planet they leave behind is referred to as "the sleepy capital of the Galaxy" and it's mentioned that other than old bureaucrats "nobody went there at all."

     Live Action TV 
  • On Andromeda, the galaxy isn't too pleasant after the fall of the Systems Commonwealth, but Earth is even worse off than everywhere else, first getting raided by the Magog, then being conquered by the Drago-Kazov pride. And in the series finale it's blown up. Also, Earth just isn't that important, despite being the homeworld of the galaxy's most prevalent species.
  • The colony on Terra Nova apparently has enough people for an acceptable genetic mix, but it's still dependent on Earth for technology. Meanwhile, Earth has gotten so crappy the night sky can't be seen and is considered by its occupants to be a dying world.
  • Doctor Who does this repeatedly. By 2059 note  Earth is overpopulated and horribly polluted; in the 22nd century the Daleks occupy the planet for a whole decade note ; in the 29th century the environment is ravaged by solar flares and humanity flees on giant refuge ships, country by country note ; in the 51th, World War VI triggers another wave of colonisation note ; in 6067, it's solar flares again, and Earth is evacuated for 10000 years note . In the year 5-billion-or-so Planet Earth, long since abandoned, is engulfed by the sun note . We assume it was a relief.

    Music 

     Tabletop Games 
  • Fading Suns moved the capital of the Empire to Byzantium Secundus, but Holy Terra (or "Urth") is still the center of the Urth Orthodox church.
  • In Traveller earth is known as the homeworld of the "Solomani" and was capital of the Terran Federation and Second Imperium. But by the time of the Third Imperium earth is a backwater planet that many people have forgotten and the Solomani have interbred with other Humaniti.
  • Holy Terra in Warhammer 40,000 is still extremely heavily populated, being the capital world of the galaxy-spanning Imperium Of Man (which itself has a population of 100 trillion living in abject misery and destitution), but is too heavily polluted for any agriculture and no longer has oceans.
    • Of course, agriculture is not really necessary for Terra, as it imports all food from "agriplanets". Another important fact is that Terra is only bad below a certain height, as above the ghettos and poverty Terra is essentially a massive shrine dedicated to the Emperor and the Ecclesiarchy.
  • In Mutant Chronicles, the planet was bombed back to the Stone Age after the nation-states tried to muscle in on the megacorporations' terraforming and space exploration efforts, and threatened to kill billions of people to do so. At the time of the game, Earth is mostly ignored, as the planet is too polluted, sparsely populated, technologically backwards and poor in resources to be of much interest to anyone.
In the Manhunter RPG setting (which has a Palladium books Rifts: Manhunters world book as well) the aliens that created the titular manhunters terraform an entire planet into a replica of Earth dubbed New Earth to which they transplant all the Earth's monuments and historical structures where the best go and the Earth is left a backwater hive stripped of its history.

     Video Games 
  • Living on the Earth of Colony Wars is little more than a status symbol, as the entire planet is a sickly brown color. The eponymous war happens because the government on Earth and the upper-class it represents expect the colonies to exist solely for the purpose of funneling resources back to them, until the colonies rise up against the abuse and declare independence. In the first game's best ending, most of the people of Earth simply leaves to make new lives for themselves on the colonies.
  • In Halo, we had colonized hundreds of worlds due to Earth becoming way too overpopulated. Now, with about 270,000,000 humans left, we could fit everyone in America.
    • By the end of the original trilogy, Earth has become a polished jewel again: in the end days of the Human-Covenant War, almost every other major planet and colony was glassed. Only the Inner Colonies, which were skipped in order to attack Earth, and Earth itself remain.
    • Well, most of it. Half of Africa was glassed after a minor Flood outbreak. And New Phoenix is left as an ash filled Ghost Town.
  • Mass Effect: Very overcrowded with all attendant issues, though things are getting better. Growing up in the slums is one of Shepard's optional backgrounds. According to the Codex, the colonizations of other worlds has lead to a wealth of resources being sent back to Earth, and the current technology has resulted in the elimination of most genetic diseases and pollution. There's also some environmental problems, but those have been getting better.
    • Furthermore, aside from the token facilities located in most major cities on Earth, the Alliance actually maintains their base of operations and parliament from aboard a massive space station in the Arcturus System. The reason for this is due to it being located at the strategic intersection of several Mass Relays, including the only one leading directly to Earth, making this the last line of defense.
    • Worthy of note is that while many humans have no connection with the Earth personally, most homeworlds are still seen as the symbolic "heart" of their personal species. Thus, when the Reapers attack Earth in the third game, many human characters become exceptionally desperate to save it, leading to extraordinary acts of heroism, and villainy.
  • In Sword of the Stars, SolForce moved their HQ to Mars, which is now become the administrative and governmental centre for humanity. Earth is still populated and is the headquarters of the Catholic Church (the other major world power), but has been devastated by years of war and a Hiver bombardment and has lessened in significance on a political level.
    • Note that in nearly all scenarios each faction's homeworld is not their species' planet of origin.
  • Red Faction explores this from the perspective of a self sufficient Mars.
  • Starcraft doesn't give the player a whole lot of information on the subject, since the series takes place in and near colonies that are very far from Earth, but it is clear that Earth is controlled by a fascist world government and very overpopulated and messed up at the time the colony ships left carrying hard criminals, twisted minds, budding psychics, and other undesirables. Those undesirables founded the human civilization in the Koprulu sector, where the main plot takes place, beginning several hundred years after the exile from Earth. When Earth makes contact with the Koprulu sector again, the same fascist government is apparently still in power.
  • It's unclear how true this trope is for most of the X-Universe series, but it was certainly true for a while due to the Terraformers bombarding the planet with comets back in 2146. The trope can be inferred to be true in X3: Albion Prelude due to the aftereffects of the destruction of the Torus Aeternal.
  • Earth in Space Pirates and Zombies is a low-level backwater. justified in-universe as Rez, the lifeblood of galactic society, is found in increasing amounts as you head closer to the galactic core.
  • Right there in the title of Civilization: Beyond Earth. After an unspecified incident known as the "Great Mistake", Earth was basically thought to be in an irrevocable downward spiral that would, someday, lead to Earth That Was. Therefore, the Seeding project sent a number of colony ships out to extrasolar planets in the dim hope that they might be able to carry on the species. In the Purity ending, the colonists reestablish contact and build a Cool Gate to resettle humanity in their new "promised land"; in the Supremacy ending, they do the same thing, except with the intention of conquering Earth and uplifting the residents into post-human beings.

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