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Polluted Wasteland

The Polluted Wasteland, often found in more realistic, dystopian 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.

Unlike its fantasy counterpart, Mordor, defeat of the Big Bad won't necessarily return the land to its pristine state — though Hope Sprouts 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, Crapsack World, Gaia's Lament.


Examples

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    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.
  • The Sea of Decay in ''Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind;; played with this. Ultimately subverted in that the poison-laden plant life, which was caused by human industrial and military waste, were the product of the forest trying to cleanse the land, and underneath the jungle was pristine earth. The Tolumekian Empire, meanwhile, plays it straight.
  • Punk Hazard ends up this way in One Piece, especially after Caeser Clown unleashes his Shinokuni gas.

    Comic Books 

    Films — Animated 
  • Earth as seen by WALL•E. Thanks a lot, Buy 'N' Large...
  • In FernGully this is the villain Hexxus's ideal environment, and what he wants to turn Ferngully into. His entire mission is to spread destruction and pollution everywhere because he's literally made of the stuff.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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.
  • In the 2002 adaptation of The Time Machine 2002, 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.
  • In the Star Wars Expanded Universe, the planet Sulust was never particularly hospitable with large parts of the native live evolving underground. The planet is also extremely rich in natural resources and the local Sullustans are known as great engineers, which made it one of the main manufacturers of starships in the galaxy with pretty much no concerns for natural preservation, as not even the natives wanted to go outside if it could be avoided, and rather lived on space stations when supporting the underground settlements became problematic.
  • The Fushima Islands from 'The Lotus War. The local Multipurpose Monocultured Crop is poisoning the environment. A horrendously poorly burning fuel is processed from its seeds, it's pollen is so thick it colors the sky and contributes to the Greenhouse Effect, and it poisons the soil with its waste products unless it's fed blood, so all the animals that didn't get eaten got mashed into fertilizer; now that they're out of animals they're using POW's. Everyone's addicted to smoking it's leaves to boot. Despite this, the local Mega Corp., which worships it, keeps growing vast amounts of it. People in cities have to wear gas masks at all times when outdoors, some making do with rags tied around their faces. Those too poor to afford a proper mask develop lung cancer''. The rain is black and causes chemical burns.

    Live Action TV 
  • Doctor Who: 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.
  • Firefly is the Trope Namer for "Earth That Was", though the details are somewhat vague. 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.
  • 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 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.
  • The titular continent-sized megacity in Mortasheen is (an unusually lighthearted) one of these to the extreme. How bad is it? The creator has explicitly said that there are so many things there that would cause an apocalypse in any other setting, that they cancel each other out.
  • 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.
  • In Werewolf: The Apocalypse, Pentex factories turn landscapes into this, in both the material world and the Umbra.

    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.
  • 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.
  • 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. A more traditional example is the Sierra Madre area in Fallout: New Vegas: Dead Money, which is blanketed in the Cloud, a corrosive red smog created by the Mad Scientists of Big Mountain. The Pitt from Fallout 3 has the worst of both industrial and radioactive pollution.
    • you can find piles a barrels of nuclear wastes just laying around in all the games. In New Vegas in particular it is possible to find several truckloads of the stuff, because standard procedure for pre-war society was to just dump toxic waste wherever it was convenient.
  • 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.
  • Half-Life 2: 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 Gangplank 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. note 
  • 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.
    • Advance Wars: Dual Strike gives us what happens when a Black Crystal is allowed to run. First the land is turned into a desert. Let it keep running, and it transforms the entire landscape around it into a burned-out, blackened wasteland - the waters even turn blood red. Best part: the ending leaves it ambiguous as to whether or not breaking the things will turn everything back.
  • Not destroying the robot machines in Sonic CD results in the level you're playing in turning into a Bad Future which is usually a Polluted Wasteland.
  • 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.
  • In Starfox 64, the once beautiful ocean planet of Zoness has been turned into one of these by Andross, with sickly greenish water and mutants all around.
    • Likewise for Venom throughout the series.
  • 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 Space Pirate Homeworld of Metroid Prime 3 is very much this. The planet's acid rain is the most dangerous environmental hazard in that game, killing you almost before you can realize it.
  • The city of Moscow in Metro2033 and Metro Last Light has become such a wasteland following a nuclear war 20 years prior. The surface is completely uninhabitable due to radiation, poisonous air, and man-eating mutants, forcing the citizens to live out their lives in the Metro tunnels beneath the city. And even there, they're not completely safe, as subterranean mutants and corrupt, warmongering governments remain a major threat.
  • Mass Effect: Tuchanka is a post-nuclear wasteland dotted with ruins and rubble, to the extent that when Grunt gets his first look at his homeworld, his immediate reaction boils down to "This is Tuchanka? Seriously? What a shithole." Of course, the krogan, who believe in The Spartan Way, prefer Tuchanka as a hellhole where the air has to be specially filtered by a high-tech purification tower to be breathable, because it ensures they have to be strong to survive.

    Western Animation 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Various locations were made into these for Captain Planet (one of their panoramas makes the Page Image).

    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. According to our friends at The Other Wiki, there's not a single tree within 48 kilometers of one smelter. The soil is so saturated with heavy metals that it's mineable. 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). But this is not all. This place is actually known as "Place of Real Russian Umbrella Corp.", because de-facto ruler is a Evil Mega Corp. "Norilsk Nickel" that doing what every Evil Mega Corp. does: mocking it's own employees, slowly poisoning the city, it's residents, also dogs(lots of them) and even Canada. And of course the only work place available is... "Norilsk Nickel". Be well, citizen, your CEO loves you, and you owe your soul to the company store!
  • 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 early 19th century, William Blake referred to "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.
      • The Great Smog of '52 or Big Smoke was a severe air pollution event that affected London during December 5-9 1952. It is estimated that 12,000 people died prematurely and 100,000 more were made ill.
    • 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.
    • There were places around Glasgow, the Scottish mining belt, and Fife where you could set rivers on fire due to mine runoff. Scots of a certain age and locality will remember the "hot burn" - the principal stream of chemicals running from industrial works into the nearest river - which was not to be played near in any circumstances.
  • 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 now.
  • Cubatão in Brazil. The rain was so acidic that it was known as "rain that burns". The city was known as the 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.
  • Beijing (and much of industrial China) is filled with ever increasing factories and automobile traffic. The air quality is so bad way beyond the global state-of-emergency situation, canned air is sold to raise awareness.
  • Pick a hydraulic fracturing site. Any hydraulic fracturing site. In case the chemical of the sludge is not bad enough, the ones in Pennsylvania are radioactive. And they are not going to stop, because the USA wants to be the Saudi Arabia of 21st century.
  • Rio Tinto, Spain. Constant mining since 3000 BC has left the river a red-orange color (hence its name, which means "Colored River") and a pH of 2. The waters house only the most acidophilic bacteria and are a regular visit to scientists who want to see how microorganisms living in other planets might be.
  • Seattle's Gas Works Park was founded around the remnants of an old coal gasification plant, where the soil and water were highly contaminated. Most of it has been capped or otherwise remediated, and the most polluted areas, such as the cracking tower, have been fenced off to the public since the 1980's.
  • Tacoma's industrial waterfront district, Ruston, was formerly home to the Asarco smelting plant, which in addition to tainting the local soil, spewed arsenic and other pollutants all the way to Vashon Island and West Seattle.
  • Surroundings of town Harjavalta, Finland, before the adoption of flash smelting process of copper in the 1970s. The woods were killed around Harjavalta with 20 km radius because of copper pollution from older smelting process, and washing your hair with tap water could turn it green. The new process improved both efficiency and environment friendliness dramatically, and the situation has gotten much better. The nature has almost fully recovered in forty years.


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