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Earth That Used to Be Better

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Back in my day...

"My Beloved thinks we're all better off out here. Terra isn't what it was."
The Psyker, Dark Tide

Earth just ain't what it used to be, running low on resources and living space, and pollution really taking a toll. Humanity has started to move out in a significant way. There's at least one genetically sustainable population in the Colonized Solar System or elsewhere, enjoying benefits such as lots of resources to exploit and opportunities for advanced urban planning and social engineering. This can lead to the colonies' power and quality of life outstripping that of Earth. Many people still live on Earth, but it's declined significantly in health and prestige. Essentially, it's become an Insignificant Little Blue Planet even by humanity's standards.

The two variables are what percentage of the species is offworld, and what the standard of living is for the remaining Earthlings, both of them related to how far down the road from now the story is. Sometimes the story takes 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 much worse off (even if only due to increased numbers) and no longer has the only viable human society.

A pervasive idea within this trope is that the best and brightest people are the ones who will go to space, depriving Earth of its smartest and bravest folk. The more large-scale the colonization, the more pronounced this effect might be. A common thread within that idea is that the "dregs" left behind are passive enough to allow a repressive and bureaucratic One World Order to rule over them. The idea that colonists are "the best" as opposed to, say, mostly malcontents and exiles — or that malcontents and exiles are the best — and that non-colonists are passive in the face of amoral authority, are notions mostly put forth by Americans, for obvious reasons. Combine those ideas, and one can easily find stories that serve as a Roman Clef for how (some) Americans view Europe, with a free, prosperous United Space of America versus an Earth that represents everything the author doesn't like about Europe. Of course, it's entirely possible that the colonists and Earthopeans will each have their prejudices against the other.

Earth That Used To Be Better is often suffering a self-inflicted Gaia's Lament. It may wage The War of Earthly Aggression out of greed or envy towards the colonies. It may also become Earth That Was if things get even worse.


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    Anime & 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 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 satellite that survived the moon explosion grew lonely once Earth's surface grew largely uninhabited, setting up the plot for an episode.
  • In Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, the Galactic Alliance of Humanity has been separated from Earth for so long that it's passed into legend; all that's known is that their ancestors fled because of an ice age. When Ledo and Chamber arrive back there by mistake, they discover that the ice has melted, resulting in an ocean world where everyone lives in fleets. Though they get by pretty well, their technology is far behind the humans who live in space, and much of their time is spent scavenging the remains of older, more advanced technology.
  • 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.
    • In Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury, Earth House at the Asticassia School of Technology is mostly filled with students from Earth, which are looked down upon by the "spacians". We later see some people living on Earth, literally living in ruins and subsisting off of difficult farmwork, as opposed to the wealthy spacians who live in comfort.
  • In the Macross franchise, one of the defining moments is when Earth gets bombarded by millions of Zentraedi warships at the climax of the Space War. The final arc of Super Dimension Fortress Macross, 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. However, the cities established on Earth post-war all seem to be reasonably thriving by the time of Macross Plus (thanks to mass cloning and a captured Zentraedi Factory Satellite), and the planet remains the political center of an interstellar human/Zentraedi-centered civilization, even as it incorporates an ever growing number of colonies and species across the Milky Way.
  • Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou: There isn't any real cataclysm, and most of the Earth's populations simply left for greener pastures, leaving their less adventurous brethren back home. Definitely of the "still pleasant" variety.

    Fan Works 
  • A large part of Everqueen as of early 2023 is Isha helping the Emperor to heal the war-ravaged Terra.
  • Mass Effect: Altered Humanity: As a part of the quest's For Want Of A Nail premise, due to total ecosystem collapse and nuclear war Earth has essentially been turned into a Death World. Once Humanity developed spaceflgiht capable of leaving their world they expanded rapidly just to get away from Earth. Earth was eventually no longer considered the homeworld of the Terran Dominion, which had declared Eden Prime Humanity's new homeworld.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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.
  • Alita: Battle Angel is set in the 26th century, 300 years after a war called "The Fall" which saw the fall of the great sky cities of Earth, except one. Technology has regressed and ranges from diesel and solar scavenging and jacking to high-tech cyborgs, practical immortality, and commonplace full-body mods.
  • 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. The sequel outright states that Earth is dying, inciting humans to build colonies on Pandora.
  • Blade Runner:
    • In Blade Runner, Earth is overcrowded and rainy, and building-mounted animated advertisements encourage people to pursue a new life in the off-world colonies.
    • By the time of Blade Runner 2049 things are even worse. Total environmental collapse has occurred, virtually no life but humanity remains and what food there is consists of slimy genetically modified worms that are implied to taste about as good as they look. Meanwhile environmental damage has triggered an ice age that causes snow to occur in Los Angeles in late June/early July, and Los Angeles itself is even more of a hellhole than the first film, with civilization on the brink. Needless to say the only remaining option is to try to get off that rock, and for most that simply isn't an option...
  • Elysium has the Earth overpopulated where entire Los Angeles looks like one giant slum and human life has essentially no value. The wealthy live on titular Elysium, a space station orbiting Earth.
  • Lost in Space: The starting of this is the impetus for the Jupiter project.

Examples by author:
  • In some of Isaac Asimov's stories, Earth becomes a world of overcrowded, domed cities, where everyone has agoraphobia and hates those darn job-stealing robots. In some other stories set hundreds or even thousands of years later, Earth is radioactive, but not so much that people can't live there; 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.
    • Despite the name, this is actually the only real plot element connecting the Empire/Galactic Empire trilogynote  — only one of the novels features a Galactic Empire, and only two featured states refer to themselves in their names as Empires, but all three have the radioactive, backwater but still inhabited Earth touch on the plot in some way (and a decay can be plotted over the chronological course of it. In The Stars, Like Dust, Earth boasts a university respected enough to attract more than a few students from other worlds (including the protagonist, at the beginning), and the radioactivity is more of a passing notice implying an explanation why Earth lost importance. In The Currents of Space, one of the characters is a respected scientist from Earth, but he apparently got a fair bit of his education elsewhere, and when Earth comes up, the idea of evacuating the population is floated as a possible solution to the radioactive thing. In Pebble in the Sky, Earth mandates euthanasia at sixty or if you are no longer able to work, large areas of the planet are completely uninhabitable, there is a theocratic strain to its (subjected to Imperial oversight but unruly) government, and elements in it is plotting a mass viral genocide of other worlds).
    • In The Naked Sun, Spacers treat Earth with "at best, a patronizing social benevolence" thanks to the Outer Worlds' vast economic and military superiority. Earth has no access to the Outer Worlds and no choice but to trade with them on their terms.
      Undersecretary Minnim: Fifty Outer Worlds, underpopulated, roboticized, powerful, with people that are healthy and long-lived. We ourselves, crowded, technologically underdeveloped, short-lived, under their domination.
  • 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; Earth's biosphere has been irreparably damaged by nuclear wear, and real animals are rare enough that owning one (as opposed to a replicant animal) is a status symbol. In some of his stories, this is a probable future rather than presently the case.
  • In F. Paul Wilson's science fiction, the PRT actively encouraged this; 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 Population Control 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.
Examples by work:
  • Aeon 14: After the Earth colony ship Intrepid is time-dilated 5,000 years further into the future, they learn that the Sol system they left has fallen on hard times due to the advent of Faster-Than-Light Travel (which enabled interstellar warfare): a lot of technology from their time has been lost and most of the orbital megastructures, e.g. docking rings, other than High Terra have been destroyed. On the other hand, by the present day's standards, Earth is still fairly important, as it's now part of a major power bloc that serves as The Empire.
  • Averted in Piers Anthony's The 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.
  • 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 But What of Earth? by Piers Anthony, after teleportation is developed, a huge amount of people leave Earth to settle other planets. Society breaks down both technologically and culturally, since there's not enough people left to maintain a complex economy. By the end, most remaining Earthlings live medieval-esque lives under tribal governance, save a few isolated cities that are centered around maintaining the teleportation machines — all this chaos just fuels further desire to leave. The protagonists also contemplate the idea that losing "most of the healthiest, soundest, motivated people" has especially hurt Earth, but are ultimately optimistic about the remaining population. They eventually destroy the colonization machines, and Earth begins to recover and resume progress. Notably, the decline starts almost immediately after the colonization, which Anthony comments on in an author's note:
    But what of the initial stage, when fewer than a million were gone, yet things seemed to be falling apart? That I perceive as more an effect of the huge energy strain on the nation, to support the [colonization] effort. The society contracted rapidly, leaving the fringes to wither. To save power, electricity was cut off first from the less-economic farm regions ... Had Scot resided in a big city, he would have noted relatively little change. Since it is my purpose as a novelist to dramatize the situation, I have him out in the country where the cutback and depopulation are most apparent.
  • Carrera's Legions has United Earth, a corrupt and declining socialist dictatorship (basically, a jaundiced view of the present-day European Union taken up to eleven) that can hardly even maintain its star-spanning Peace Fleet anymore. Their enemies are the humans of Terra Nova, and especially the Federated States of Columbia, who are as yet less technologically developed, but rapidly advancing.
  • 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 the 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".
  • By the end of Clifford Simak's City series, most of the human population has 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).
  • Earth becomes this in the later books of the Coyote series, to the point that the alien league encountered in the last two books deliberately disallows starbridge travel back there.
  • In 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 The Demon Princes, Earth has become a tired backwater. Birth rates are low, culture is stagnant, and all the energy has moved out the colonies.
  • 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 Technology. The only ones left on Earth now are mostly the handicapped (people who have a 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. Also explored in Earth and..., a prequel trilogy following Jarra's summer before the main trilogy, and seen in more detail in the prequel series Scavenger Alliance, set during the Exodus Century.
  • In Mikhail Akhmanov's Earth's 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.
  • 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.
  • The Earth in 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 an ecologist's wildest dreams.
  • 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 and slaughters billions of people who had nothing to do with the war. The other colonies gets the message; "You didn't want to get involved? Okay, keep doing that. Forever."
  • 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.
  • Played with in the Great Ring cycle, in which the Earth is first implied, and then outright stated to be a postapocalyptic world. Its current idyllic state shouldn't deceive anyone, as it was obtained only by the relentless toil of innumerable generations, repairing the damage of the previous wars — where only the Himalayas were said to remain more-or-less untouched. Furthermore, while there are numerous colonies not controlled by the Earth and its government (the second novel explicitly deals with one of them, founded by the refugees from the aforementioned wars), by its Framing Story, the Earth does have its own small colonial empire, though it's working as The Federation in practice.
  • 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.
  • Honor Harrington: A big war known as the Final War 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.
    • The Final War has details released in drips. During the War, Western Europe used bioweapons that they were supposed to have vaccines for, which mutated faster than vaccines could be created. Ukraine created the Skags, designed to be more perfect human soldiers. China went further and created cloned cyborgs who eventually staged a coup. And in the Western Hemisphere advance nanotech was used. Only the Beowulfian rescue fleet was able to prevent human extinction. Earth eventually managed to rally and become the single greatest economy in the league (with Manticore beating them on a per capita GDP only due to the junction). At least until the Battle of Sol with the entire industrial and military infrastructure of the system trashed.
  • In Roger Zelazny's Isle of the Dead, the Earth is a dying backwater dictatorship and anyone with any drive emigrates.
  • Subverted in the third book in the Jacob's Ladder Trilogy.
    • It's revealed that the Generation Ship that had been the setting of the series so far had indeed set out with what we would today consider "the elite" — but more in the financial and power sense of the word. The rich and powerful abandoned the Earth for a new planet once Earth's environment was ruined, and they left everyone else behind. Then their ship got stranded for a few hundred years, with a badly damaged drive and just circling a star to survive, and due to their Evangelist-, Social Darwinism- and "Meritocracy"-based attitude, their society turned on itself and devolved into the neo-feudalist, transhumanist, Bio Punk, "survival of the fittest" hellhole that the books start with, before the protagonists take over the government and make peace between the warring factions. They finally meet up with the descendants of those that were left behind on Earth, though we only see them in the form of another colony planet and don't find out about the state of Earth itself. It turns out the poor masses found themselves having to pick up the pieces on the ravaged Earth, and they did so by developing a form of eco-socialism that is as close as humanly possible to real democratic communism. Granted, to achieve this, they had to remove all urges towards religion and greed from their population.note  This involves education and cultural values instilled in children, but also mandatory therapy, drugs and if necessary even brain surgery for those who cannot conform, and kids have to spend their teenage years collecting "social points" by doing things like baby-sitting or other helpful stuff in order to gain full adult citizenship rights like being able to vote. While this outcome is not presented as dystopian or particularly oppressive (the society seems pleasant to live in and it works well for most people, who all genuinely care about working together for the common good), the space-faring characters through whose eyes we see this society find that they really cannot re-integrate into this new human society because they are very individualistic and too ready to solve problems with violence, and because they are unwilling to undergo the "rightminding" procedure.
    • Also, the left-behind people think the space-faring people are creepy and barely still human, due to their extensive body augmentations, so most of them decide to fully embrace the transhumanist route instead and upload into their ship's nanotechnology to keep travelling the universe in that form. In terms of technology levels, the ship's society seems far more advanced — but that was mainly because their ship's A.I. developed sentience and because their weird mix of nanotechnology and Organic Technology kept evolving on its own during their centuries of being stranded as an isolated mini-biosphere. It's not clear whether the left-behind people lost this technology in the chaos and wars of the disintegrating society on Earth, or if they intentionally outlawed it, or if the colonists really developed it themselves after they left — or if their sentient A.I. did most of the innovation work, applying the laws of evolution to its own tools to see how they could be improved. In any case, the eco-socialist society obviously still had or re-developed the spaceships they needed to colonize many new planets, but once there, they seem to have decided to live somewhat simply and with a standard of living much like developed countries have today, except that everything is powered by renewable energy and they try to affect the ecosystem of the colonized planet as little as possible, limiting each colony to the population size of a small city.
  • In Known Space, 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 considered the normal state of affairs (and why not... they've had nearly 500 years to get used to it, and all the "malcontents" simply move off-world.)
  • Legend of the 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 backwater that's only visited by the members of some obscure religion. The old Imperial Capital is a far more popular tourist destination.
  • In The Long Earth, Datum Earth (the only Earth where humanity evolved) becomes this after the Yellowstone event devastates the Americas and puts the world into a volcanic winter.
  • In The Lost Fleet, 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 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, 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.
    • The prequel trilogy The Genesis Fleet shows this only starting to happen, largely thanks to the invention of the jump drive. Previously, all interstellar travel and colonization was done via sublight, and the colonies were relatively close to Old Earth. This meant that Old Earth could exert its will and protection on the colonies. However, with the discovery of FTL travel, journeys between systems now take weeks at most, and the second wave of expansion is underway, with the new faraway colonies no longer able to count on Old Earth or the old colonies. As such, Earth's Space Navy is being decommissioned, with the still-existing nation-states no longer willing to foot the bill. Instead, they are willing to sign a deal with one of the old colonies for protection. The mothballed ships (and their crews) are now in demand by the new colonies, seeking to protect themselves from pirates, slavers, and aggressive neighbors. It's heavily implied that the need for mutual protection is largely what triggers the formation of The Alliance on the outskirts of human space, with the earliest form of such cooperation being Lieutenant Robert Geary of the Glenlyon Space Navy helping to drive off a hostile destroyer from Kosatka space. The Kosatka government later reciprocates and sends a hastily-armed freighter to assist Glenlyon. A former Earth Space Navy officer reveals that the mighty Earth fleet, which the other fleets have used as a yardstick, has gotten so mired in bureaucracy that could barely do anything. Initiative is frowned upon, everything has to be done in accordance with checklists, and any situation not covered by a checklist first has to be added to a checklist before acting on it.
  • In "The Machine Stops", some unspecified catastrophe has rendered the surface of the Earth almost barren, with cold, thin, poisonous air. Humanity lives beneath the surface in a vast complex of cells controlled by the titular Machine.
  • In Valeriy Yantsev's short story "Nature Reserve Warden", it's revealed at the end that the planetary nature reserve, of which the protagonist is the warden, is Earth. Humanity has long ago spread throughout the stars. However, because of the humans' love for their cradle, they decided to turn the whole planet into one giant nature reserve. It's mentioned that, originally, the reserve's staff was big, and there was an entire university on another planet devoted to reserve maintenance. However, by the time the story is set, the large-scale automation introduced by the protagonist has reduced the staff to just one person. In fact, it's heavily implied that even he's not needed. The computers can run everything, from maintaining the environment to scheduling daily tours for interstellar visitors. This also costs him his wife and son, who choose to leave for a more populated planet, since only he is the only one whose life's meaning is to be in the reserve.
  • The Night's Dawn Trilogy: 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 Old Man's War, Earth has become a 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.
  • In Paradox, Earth sent the Pelted out in Generation Ships, then had a bloody war with Mars and turned isolationist. Centuries later, the Pelted discovered Well Drive, colonized dozens of stars, then found their way back home. Neither of them handled it well.
  • In Reaper (2016), when Hawk is put in charge of investigating the bombing, he's shocked by how much Earth has changed in the four hundred years since he last paid it any attention. He's especially shocked by the way children leave school to work at ten, every aspect of their lives is based around entering Game and they're casually treated as if they're not people until they do. Meanwhile, vast areas have been turned into long-term storage areas for the Human Popsicles who are in Game.
  • 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 the Revelation Space Series, Earth is stated to have been abruptly dethroned as the hub of human civilization when it went into a second ice age, where the title then went to Yellowstone, a Demarchist planet with one massive Domed Hometown and thousands of orbital habitats. It's not clear what happened to the rest of the Sol system; Mars used to have a Conjoiner colony in 2200 before they fled following persecution and war, and the Demarchist colonies on Europa were damaged around the same time, though the whole system is destroyed when either the Inhibitors precursor killers or the Greenfly rogue terraformers show up some time after 2700.
  • In Space Viking by H. Beam Piper, 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." In Piper's story "The Keeper", set much later in the same future history, Earth is a backwater world of the Fifth Galactic Empire, and relatively few people know or care that it was the original home of humanity.
  • Mentioned a few times in Strata, 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.
  • Subspace Explorers, by E. E. "Doc" Smith, has an Earth that is still the biggest economic powerhouse, but overcrowded with seven billion people, short on resources, and falling technologically behind the colony worlds. Furthermore, a big theme of the story is how the colonies have attracted all the ambitious, independent-minded, and freedom-loving workers, leaving Earth full of the passive, lazy, or corrupt. The inhabitants of the colonies do try to stop Earth from destroying itself in civil war, but they wouldn't want to live there.
  • In George R. R. Martin's Thousand Worlds setting, Old Earth still retains highly advanced technology and some cultural significance for humans, but its political influence has declined drastically since the end of the Double War hundreds of years before most of the short stories take place: humanity faced two separate alien races bent on conquest at once, and on top of already being too large to govern effectively, this caused the Old Earth Empire to break up.
  • 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.
  • 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 Xandri Corelel series, Earth's ecosystem has been almost completely destroyed. The planet is starting to recover, but it's still under strict Population Control, and many areas are infested with disease from all the pollution.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In 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. 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 Ark (2023): The entire reason that the Ark 1 has been sent off to colonize a new world is because Earth has degraded to the point that it's estimated to have only about 70 years of life sustainability left. A lot of people seem convinced it doesn't even have that long. "A Slow Death Is Worse" reveals that the doubters were right — in the years after Ark 1 left, less than a full decade, Earth's biosphere collapse accelerated faster than the government could handle, and society broke down. It's speculated that the few arks that were successfully launched are all that's left of humanity.
  • Doctor Who does this repeatedly. By 2059 ("The Waters of Mars") Earth is overpopulated and horribly polluted; in the 22nd century the Daleks occupy the planet for a whole decade ("The Dalek Invasion of Earth"); in the 29th century the environment is ravaged by solar flares and humanity flees on giant refuge ships, country by country ("The Beast Below"); in the 51th, World War VI triggers another wave of colonization ("The Talons of Weng-Chiang"); in 6067, it's solar flares again, and Earth is evacuated for 10000 years ("The Ark in Space"). In the year 5-billion-or-so Planet Earth, long since abandoned, is engulfed by the sun ("The End of the World"). We assume it was a relief. There's also "Orphan 55", in which the Doctor and Earthling companions don't even recognize it for most of the episode.
  • The Outer Limits (1995):
    • In "Hearts and Minds", Earth suffered energy shortages for decades, leading to numerous wars, until an energy source called pergium was discovered.
    • In "Relativity Theory", Earth's natural resources are almost completely depleted. Earth-like planets are strip mined to meet its needs. "Final Appeal" dates this episode to the 24th Century.
    • In "Stasis", Earth's resources are severely depleted to the point that half of the population is placed in stasis for 72 hours at a time.
    • In "Think Like a Dinosaur", Earth is overpopulated and the rampant pollution in the atmosphere leads to thousands of deaths every year.
    • In "The Human Factor", the Free Alliance and the Coalition of Middle Eastern and Pacific States have been at war for years and large parts of Earth are irradiated as a result.
  • In Refugees, seven generations of humans have lived on the new planet; they don't understand why the new arrivals are so homesick for Earth.
  • 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.



    Tabletop Games 
  • Zig-zagged in BattleTech. For a long time, Terra was important, as the center of the Terran Hegemony and later the Star League, and was the most highly developed world in the Inner Sphere (full name: Inner Sphere of Worlds Surrounding Terra). Once that fell, Terra became simultaneously insignificant and vital — it was insignificant because Terra had no (known) military in an age of near constant interstellar warfare, and it was completely neutral and not particularly politically active (that was known about). However, it was important because it was owned by ComStar, who ran the interstellar Subspace Ansible network. If you screwed with them, they cut you off, which meant that your star-spanning empire would be defenseless to everyone who hates you (and all of your neighbors hate you). Also, ComStar had a hidden military and was responsible for lots of political meddling that helped lengthen the wars and speed up the slow degeneration of civilization. Terra regained some (public) prominence when the Clans showed up with the expressed purpose of conquering it (they were the descendants of the Star League's army, so they saw Terra as the capital of the League). Then, after a series of wars and badness, Terra rose up to full stature at the head of the Republic of the Sphere. This nation only lasted about 60 years before it collapsed in on itself, becoming a small, isolated "fortress" of worlds that nobody dared invade, yet was too weak to actually hurt anyone else.
  • Downplayed in Fading Suns. The capital of the Empire has been moved to Byzantium Secundus, but Holy Terra (or "Urth") is still the center of the Urth Orthodox church.
  • In the Manhunter RPG setting (which has a 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.
  • 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 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.
  • Zig-zagged in Warhammer 40,000. On one hand, Holy Terra is a dirty, miserable place to live for the average person, it's too heavily polluted for any agriculture, and it even no longer has any oceans. On the other hand, it's still the highly regarded and extremely heavily populated capital of the Imperium of Man, and it holds the headquarters of most major Imperial institutions, making Terra the nerve center of most of the galaxy. Agriculture is also not really necessary for Terra, as it imports all food from specially dedicated agri-worlds. Essentially, Terra is only bad below a certain height, as above the ghettos and poverty Terra is a massive shrine dedicated to the Emperor and the Ecclesiarchy.

    Video Games 
  • 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 other 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 turning the residents into cyborgs.
  • 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 leave to make new lives for themselves in the colonies.
  • In Halo, this sort of happened to Earth after the Covenant invasion, which reduced it from a population of 10 billion to one of about 200 million. However, later canon noted that much of this reduction was simply a result of successful evacuations, with Earth able to quickly restore its population to several billion after the war ends. That said, while the planet is still humanity's political center, it still has a lot of rebuilding to do in order to fix the extensive damage it suffered.
  • Hardspace: Shipbreaker: While Earth is still the capital of the Solar System, it is largely seen as a backwater. The ecosystem has been ravaged by climate change, including rising sea levels, and most of Earth's wildlife is extinct.
  • 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. However, the space colonization has led to a wealth of resources being sent back to Earth, and new technology has eliminated most genetic diseases and pollution. There's also 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 it the last line of defense.
    • In addition to Earth's symbolic importance, it still houses the vast majority of the human species, unlike the other spacefaring races who have had centuries to spread out. (Earth has 11.4 billion people; the largest human colony boasts 4.4 million). 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.
  • The manual for Pandora: First Contact explains that humanity has been steadily moving off Earth into orbital habitats and other colonies in the Solar System, while AIs are assigned to attempt to restore the planet to habitability. At some point, those AIs ban humans from returning to Earth and close it off. All anyone knows is that some strange seismic activity has started on the planet.
  • Red Faction explores this from the perspective of a self sufficient Mars.
  • 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.
  • 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, a similarly fascist government is in power. In StarCraft II, Stukov makes references to rolling hills and the general beauty of Earth and expresses the longing to return even as he expresses awareness that it is no longer possible for him to do so. It could be either that Stukov is wearing nostalgia goggles or that Earth has (at least somewhat) recovered from the early days of the United Powers League.
  • 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.
  • Virtue's Last Reward: The ending reveals that the characters are on the Moon in the year 2074. Civilization on Earth was shattered by Radical-6, and a large portion of surviving humans now live on the Moon. Although certain characters-including the protagonist-thought it was still their present year of 2028, many others actually came from the true present day, but were keeping it to themselves for various reasons. This goes on to explain various odd-sounding lines of dialogue regarding Earth and various things about it.
  • It's unclear how true this trope is for most of the X 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 that once wrapped around Earth.

    Web Animation 
  • ORIGIN ZERO takes place on a planet settled due to Earth suffering from "five hundred years of pollution, overpopulation and neglect".



Video Example(s):


Unreal Estate

Sister is now a real estate agent, selling only the best homes on Earth... which has gone to shit thanks to climate change. Arizona is a Lethal Lava Land, Florida is underwater, and the Pacific Northwest is a desolate wasteland.

How well does it match the trope?

4.33 (6 votes)

Example of:

Main / EarthThatUsedToBeBetter

Media sources: