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"There, in vision, out of the wreck of cities and civilizations,
Slowly out of the ruins of the past,
Out of the litter and muck of a decaying world,
Lo! even so
I saw a new life arise."
Edward Carpenter, "After Civilization", 1905

Long before the start of the story, ecological disaster drove humanity to an Underwater City, or underground, or into space, away from a ravaged Earth. After living for quite a while in a City in a Bottle, it's a safe bet that someone will eventually find the way out and discover that the Earth has cleaned itself up nicely and now looks like the pristine Ghibli Hills, or why not, the Yosemite National Park.

Often used to make the point that the Earth would be a so much better place if it weren't for all the people, or more succinctly, that Ludd Was Right. If a group of survivors in space is smaller and not planning on a disaster, that's But What About the Astronauts?.

Naturally, this is the perfect setting for an Adam and Eve Plot. May evoke the original Garden of Eden story as well. Compare Reclaimed by Nature. May overlap with Pastoral Science Fiction.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Eureka Seven, humans fled the earth and returned years later.
  • Heavily played with in the ending of the movie E.Y.E.S. of Mars. The Eden is Earth. At the end of the film, all life on Mars is destroyed, but the souls of the Martians travel through space to the next planet over - Earth at the very start of the Eocene. The souls of Mars's population trigger the evolutionary shift that leads to modern humanity.
  • In Last Exile, The show is set in an hourglass shaped space station (which is why the Eye Catch says "Last Exile In the Bottle"), and Last Exile is a transport ship to take anyone who wants back to Earth.
  • Megazone 23 Part 3 has one city in the whole world, unsurprisingly named Eden. Though after meeting the computer A.I.s Eve and Adam in the first two parts, it's hardly surprising.
  • Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind: The core McGuffin, though it looks less like a national park and more like a surreal, magical realm. The manga also has the caveat that since modern humans have adapted to their polluted After the End environment, they literally wouldn't be able to survive in a purified world. Old humanity (the one that destroyed the environment to begin with) engineered the Sea of Corruption to purify the world, so that, once the process was complete, it would emerge from its cocoons and take over once more. On learning this, Nausicaa destroys their Crypt, and hopes that her current mankind, instead of being replaced by its Abusive Precursors, will adapt on its own just like it did before.
  • Pale Cocoon: Implied. Humans escaped to the Moon to avoid environmental destruction, but somehow lost their written history, and started to believe they were living underneath the destroyed Earth. In the end the protagonist as the first person to go to the upper layers of the colony in centuries sees a blue, pristine Earth up in the sky, implying that the planet was healed long ago, but no-one thought to look.
  • Ponyo's father in Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea hopes for a New Eden after humanity has died out (he's a merman).
  • Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann:
    • Inverted because the trio escape to the surface only to find a dangerous land of Beastmen causing trouble with their Ganmen. It has something to do with Lordgenome wiping all spiral life off the surface of the planet and repopulating it with less capable non-spiral lifeforms. Beastmen CAN'T evolve since they're sterile which is also literally why they can't use Spiral Power. Except for Viral, who becomes badass enough to use spiral power anyways.
    • Played straight for Kamina personally because a dangerous frontier is exactly the kind of world he wanted to live in.
  • Tokyo Mew Mew: The ancestors of the Big Bad and his followers were originally from Earth, and fled into space after it seemed like they were about to die off. They ended up on a very harsh planet, and upon finally returning to Earth, it looks perfect in comparison. Then they notice that humans are taking this paradise for granted, littering and polluting. This starts their initial desire to Kill All Humans.

    Comic Books 
  • 2000 AD: When Durham Red emerged from stasis, Earth was considered lost by the humans and mutants of the future. How did they lose it? Turns out that it was teleported to the far reaches of the galaxy to act as a prison for the most powerful mutant ever. In the meantime, the world recovered and became a lush paradise. Predictably, it did not stay this way.
  • Batman villain Ra's al Ghul is an international criminal mastermind whose ultimate goal is a world in perfect environmental balance. He believes that the best way to achieve this balance is to eliminate most of humanity.
  • The Living Legends of Superman: In the far future, the human race has commited a collective heroic sacrifice to save the cosmos, and the last two humans, Superman's descendant A'dam'mkent and an unnamed woman, find themselves alone on a beautiful tropical planet.

    Fan Works 
  • The Conversion Bureau stories often suggest this by contrasting Equestria with our world. Chatoyence's works openly state that all human beings should die if it would make the world a prettier place.
  • In We Are All Pokémon Trainers, during the course of Team Earthbound, Nova, and other's adventures in PMD-B, a post-apocalyptic version of the Alternate Timeline, they find that many of the old cities have gotten a new coating of green. Azalea for instance was completely swallowed by Ilex Forest.

    Films — Animated 
  • The end of WALL•E is all over this trope. At least in the credits. When the movie was first shown to test audiences before Pixar made the "humanity restoring Earth" montage, about half the audience walked away with the rather realistic assumption that humanity died less than a week after they returned to Earth.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the film adaptation of Hellboy, this is Grigori Rasputin's motivation for trying to release the Ogdru Jahad. He's deluded of course, seeing as an actual vision of their return reveals a fiery wasteland.
    • This is actually more or less true in the comics. The Ogdru Jahad's ultimate goal is, more or less, to return Earth to the way it was in prehistoric times, before God selected humans to be His chosen people. While visions of the immediate aftermath of an Ogdru Jahad victory show grey, ruined, smoking wastelands full of ash and collapsed buildings, their long term plan is to cover the world in lush, mesozoic jungles populated by reptiles, amphibians and crustaceans.
  • Used at the end of The Film of the Book Logan's Run. Once outside, Logan and Jessica notice that their life clocks are no longer operational. They see the Sun for the first time and discover that the remains of human civilization have become a wilderness.

  • The ultimate destination for the main characters of The Books of Ember: their city is dying, so they're trying to find a way for everyone to leave it and go somewhere where they can all survive.
  • The short story The Defenders by Philip K. Dick, in which the Eastern and Western Blocs had built robots to fight World War III as proxies while humanity waited out the nuclear holocaust in underground shelters. As soon as humanity went underground, the robots stopped fighting and began repairing the damage already done, eventually presenting both sides with peace as a fait accompli and predicting that the accomplishments of a united humanity would be "unimaginably great."
  • Earth Abides (1949) is possibly an Ur Example, although it is mixed in with a healthy amount of Fridge Horror as the single family that repopulates Northern California gradually loses the ability to count or write down anything since they are too busy learning how to live off the land with copper arrowheads made out of pennies.
  • In the Emberverse, the total collapse of all modern technology means that things like bison and prairies make a hefty comeback, and wolves come back to the U.S. in force (also, lions and tigers. Blame soft-hearted zookeepers).
  • A minor point in Andrey Livadny's The History of the Galaxy series. At the start of the setting, Earth is overpopulated and suffering from ecological catastrophes. As a result, the President of the Earth Alliance initiates a war with the Free Colonies in order to provide space to "offload" extra population. The war lasts for decades, resulting in massive casualties and constant emigration of Earthlings to newly-discovered worlds. After Earth is defeated, the newly-created Confederacy of Suns leaves it alone. When a character returns to Earth 1000 years later, lush forests and jungles cover it. There are barely any cities left, given that the entire population of Earth is now barely a few million. However, the oceans are not reborn (they dried up earlier) and are instead covered with plant growth. Not that anyone cares about Earth at this point. Humanity has moved on and only remembers Earth in the context of the war.
  • The Machine Stops is a science fiction novella by E. M. Forster set in a dystopian future where humanity lives in cubicles, communicating only via technology and experiencing everything second-hand. Outside the planet is livable but the titular Machine has rendered humanity dependent on it. Written in 1909.
  • Believably used in Ben Elton's book This Other Eden, in which humanity has designed self-contained hermetic domes so that they can survive an ecological disaster that everyone believes is coming any day now. At the end of the book, a false warning is issued, causing everybody to retreat into their domes. The sudden absence of humanity allows the Earth's ecosystem to recover from the damage caused by pollution.
  • In Andre Norton's short story and novella "Outside", humanity sealed itself into domed cities when the surface of Earth became too polluted to support life. An epidemic later wiped out the adults. At the beginning of the story, the Rhyming Man - who looks like an old man - has begun luring some of the smallest children away. The older brother of a missing girl learns that they have been taken outside, which has fully recovered in the absence of people.
  • In D. J. MacHale's The Pendragon Adventure's The Pilgrims of Rayne, Third Earth is like this - all the cities are underground and nature began to recover. Of course, this was after humanity had pretty much strip-mined the planet.
  • In The Stand by Stephen King,note  the characters watch America being reclaimed by nature, which seems to bounce back nicely in the absence of humans, despite The Antichrist lurking about ready to bring about the Apocalypse. In particular, The Professor Glen Bateman spends a large portion of time talking about how everything has changed, possibly for the better without all those people. On the other hand, The Plague killed almost all the domestic animals, too, and left the rats and such.
  • In the Star Wars Expanded Universe, the extremely violent Yuuzhan Vong race originated from Yuuzhan'tar, a living sentient planet. This homeworld (as well as most of the galaxy's inhabitable planets) was destroyed in a massive war between rival Yuuzhan Vong factions, after which they departed for a galaxy far far away to kill everyone and claim their worlds for themselves. Much later, they encountered Zonama Sekot, the offspring of their original homeworld, a beautiful and peaceful place. When the Vong landed on its surface, their bioengineered living weapons returned to their natural state and refused to kill stuff anymore, revealing the violent ways of the Yuuzhan Vong to be a blasphemy of their true nature.
  • In Surreal 3000/Quatre Montréalais dans l'an 3000 by Suzanne Martel, a society has existed for a long time under Montreal's Mount Royal. When a kid accidentally finds a way out, he discovers that there are people living outside, despite his society's belief that the outside is deadly (he wears a breathing mask when he gets out, so he would have remained clueless if not for that encounter).
  • In The World and Thorinn, Thorinn learns that the robot overlords are maintaining a number of small "worlds" in layers to conserve life on Earth. It's left ambiguous as to whether there still exists a habitable outer shell, or if that's the one that Thorinn started at.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003):
    • Subverted, as they arrive at Earth only to find that it was thoroughly nuked two thousand years ago, and is still an uninhabitable wasteland.
    • Kobol arguably plays it straight. It is implied that the war that broke out on Kobol ~3,600 years ago, and may or may not have been nuclear as well. By the time the Colonials arrive, the planet is lush and teeming with life. However, traces of the catastrophe and ruins of major cities are still present. And it is also cursed.
  • In Cleopatra 2525, a man-made ecological catastrophe has driven humanity underground at some point between now and the 26th century. They left behind machines called Baileys to repair the damage. And they do. The surface now looks like a lush paradise. But the Baileys have no desire for humans to return and wreck the place again. Only a few tribes are kept, as long as they worship the Baileys and occasionally sacrifice some of their number to make more Baileys. It turns out that the Baileys were created by the series' Big Bad Creegan, whose real name is George Bailey. While he didn't program the Baileys to rebel, he doesn't disagree with their reasoning.
  • In the Doctor Who serial "The Sontaran Experiment", Earth (or at least the greater London area) looks like the Devonshire moors.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series: In "The Way to Eden", a group of free-thinking individuals, one who was a former Starfleet Academy student, seek out the supposedly mythical planet Eden. After hijacking the Enterprise, they find Eden in the Romulan Neutral Zone. Unfortunately for them, the plant life is full of acid, making it uninhabitable by humans.
  • The Stargate SG-1 episode "The Gamekeeper" begins with this revelation, and the rest of the episode is dedicated (among other things) to SG-1's attempts to convince the locals stuck in a virtual reality that the planet did indeed repair itself, even though said locals believe otherwise. The Keeper is hellbent on convincing them otherwise.
  • The Twilight Zone (1985): In "Voices in the Earth", the ghosts of the dead Earth tell Professor Donald Knowles that they have the power to restore Earth's biosphere. However, they are reluctant to do so as the process requires a great deal of energy and could destroy what is left of their consciousness. Knowles accuses them of being cowards, just like the people who made Earth uninhabitable in the first place. This appears to shame the ghosts into doing the right thing as the biosphere is restored and the first signs of life are detected in the oceans. As the ghosts were able to accelerate evolution, Earth will soon be teeming with life again.


    Tabletop Games 
  • The shadow elves of Mystara, a D&D game setting, retreated underground to escape the Great Rain of Fire. Hundreds of years later, when the planet had recovered, their scouts rediscovered a path to the surface ... and ran smack into a subversion: rather than a paradise, the tunnel led to the Broken Lands, one of the few places on the planet that still looked like a radioactive wasteland. They went back underground and stayed put for another thousand years.

    Video Games 
  • This is basically the Backstory of Armored Core, both the original PS1 series and Armored Core 3 continuity. While it is never really explored in the first series, the third has the Raven (ie, you, the player) destroy a malfunctioning AI Administrator that controls your underground habitat. After doing so, a hidden subroutine made the AI open the gates to the newly healed Earth, the new Eden. That's the first game. Needless to say, due to the humans and corporations now left without any checks and balances going to the surface, the Earth gets worse progressively through the game.
  • Ar tonelico II: Melody of Metafalica: Finally happens to Metafalss after a long, tragic, desperate struggle; by way of the elusive Metafalica that everyone is after. Considering that this game can be described as it got worse: The JRPG, it's one of the most triumphant example of Earn Your Happy Ending.
  • Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter is set in an underground realm rife with pollution and monsters. The object of the game is to get a certain character, who was genetically engineered into a walking pollution purification plant, up to the nature-y and now-pristine-and-human-free surface world, as the pollution will slowly kill her otherwise.
    • Notably, no one knows that the surface is pollution-free: the reason humans are underground at all is because the surface was ravaged and made exceedingly dangerous by some unspecified event in the past. The only things Ryu knows is that a) Nina can't survive in the pollution underground and b) the pollution gets significantly lower the closer to the surface you get. It's not until the very end of the game that people discover the surface is not just livable, but beautiful.
  • City of Heroes and its "expansionalone", City of Villains has a few zones that fit this trope. One example is the area previously named "Woodvale", but referred to in-game almost exclusively as "Eden". Here, the player can find many vistas of pristine wilderness trying to crawl its way back across a previously urban landscape. In a twist, all the nature hates humanity.
    • Not so much nature as a scientifically created Virus created by a Mad Scientist environmentalist. There's the spirit of a true nature guardian killed by them that helps heroes.
  • The Civilization: Call to Power games allows you to CAUSE this, just faster. By completing the Eden Project, switching to a Ecotopian government and churning out Eco Ranger units, you can systematically wipe out every sprawling, polluting city in the world, replacing them (and the surrounding area) with pristine wilderness.
  • Command & Conquer: Tiberium Wars subverts it slightly. The first Blue Zone (think the First world) to be converted from a Yellow Zone (think Mogadishu with Toxic Phlebotinum added to the mix) is given the name New Eden. It is a subversion because it was a result of human (or more specifically, GDI) efforts and because it gets wrecked and is implied to revert to a Yellow Zone thanks to the Scrin blowing up Tiberium Deposits and using Tiberium-based weapons.
  • Enslaved: Odyssey to the West: A large portion of the game takes place in breathtaking ruins of cities so post-apocalyptic that they're covered in lush greenery.
  • Ironically subverted in EVE Online - the New Eden system was initially a paradise, but was destroyed by the catastrophic collapse of the EVE wormhole. It is now a Crapsack Galaxy.
  • Radio announcements in Fallout 3 mention rumors that there is a tree growing somewhere in the Capital Wasteland. Following up on this, the Vault Dweller discovers a hidden grove of lush vegetation inhabited by a group of druids who worship a sentient tree, the result of an FEV accident. The player's actions affect whether the glade is left in peace, destroyed, or allowed to spread across the Wasteland as a New Eden.
  • Far Cry: New Dawn: Barring the faction that is actually called New Eden which was formed from the Project at Eden's Gate cult from the previous game, the game takes place after 5's Resist ending, which culminated in Hope County being nuked. Despite this, the world recovered very well with nature regrowing and society trying to rebuild and find peace. The Highwayman, on the other hand, had other plans in mind.
  • Horizon Zero Dawn: Centuries after the Old Ones were wiped out by a mysterious catastrophe, Earth has recovered to the point that lush forests and grasslands now dominate the landscape and have reclaimed the crumbling remains of civilization, playing this trope very straight. In fact, it's actually a subversion. Earth's biosphere was ravaged by an army of self-replicating war machines that could convert biomass into fuel. All multicellular life on the planet was killed. What life that exists in the game is actually the result of the Zero Dawn project, an AI that was created to hack the warbot army and deactivate it, then fix the damage to the atmosphere and oceans before reintroducing plants and animals who's seeds and embryos had been stored in underground vaults. Once Earth's biosphere was sufficiently recovered, humans were cloned using stored genetic material and artificial wombs. Earth only lush and prosperous because of technology.
  • In Mass Effect 2, the homeworld of the quarians is becoming this, after they all basically got kicked off their planet in a war with their creations, the geth, which also severely damaged the planet. Legion reveals that the geth don't even use the planet, but help heal it instead, as a sort of monument to their creators, and a present, if the quarians ever announced a truce the geth could accept.
  • Mega Man X5 had the crash of the Eurasia colony as the ecological disaster. Flashforward to Mega Man Zero 4, and with Dr. Weil now ruling Neo Arcadia with an iron fist, the dissenters are fleeing to Area Zero, where nature has started to thrive again thanks to Eurasia's environmental control system somehow still being intact. Area Zero is the hope of the people for a life free from Weil's reign. Weil deploys the Neo Arcadian military to raze the area, up to and including building the Ragnarok Satellite for just that end; needless to say the whole point of the game is to prevent Area Zero's destruction.
  • In One Step From Eden, you are traveling towards Eden, presumably the only place with real civilization left among the stretches of ruins or unclaimed lands you traverse through. Not that the game can really confirm that.
  • The Cult in the Silent Hill series of games wants to institute this; their ultimate goal is to facilitate the incarnation of God, who will wipe away the sins of the world and create a literal New Eden, a paradise for the faithful. Unfortunately, their belief system is some kind of twisted amalgamation of Native American spirituality, fanatical (and heretical) Christian ideology and some sort of general occultism. Everything non-indoctrinated people witness shows that the "cleansing fire" would definitely NOT pave the way to paradise. In fact, very few members of the Cult even stop to ask the question why a beneficent God would need to be born via a human sacrifice that would lead not to death but to years of physical and psychological torture, or why the "Paradise" its nascent presence begins to create is a rusty, burnt-out parody of the real world full of nightmarish creatures literally spawned from peoples' psychosis...

    Western Animation 
  • Adventure Time could be an example of this considering that it is after the apocalypse. A lot of places are pretty lush and colorful but some are in pretty bad shape.
  • In the series finale of Beast Machines, Optimus Primal's Heroic Sacrifice foils Megatron's plan to become Cybertron's Genius Loci and reformats Cybertron into a technorganic paradise. Notably, their conflict had originally been framed as heroic nature vs. villainous technology, only for the second and final season to reveal Cybertron could only flourish with the synthesis of both.
  • In the Justice League episode "Hearts And Minds" the planet Kalanor is a barren desert world that used to be a paradise. Its lifeforce, the Py'tar, was trapped inside it and needed someone to act as its conduit to heal Kalanor. Unfortunately, the chosen conduit Despero abused the Py'tar's power, using it as a tool of galactic conquest in the mistaken belief that this is what would turn Kalanor into a paradise again. The Martian Manhunter's Psychic Powers allow him to become another conduit and the Py'tar entreats the people of Kalanor to reject Despero's warmongering ways and embrace peace. The moment they do, the Py'tar changes its true form, a World Tree, and covers Kalanor in lush greenery again.

    Real Life 
  • "An Earth Without People" was an article in Scientific American that addressed how likely this trope would be.
  • A recent television program was aired on the History Channel called Life After People which explored, in vivid CGI, what would happen to the world we leave behind if every human on earth disappeared.
  • The demilitarized zone between North and South Korea is a refuge for all sorts of plants and wildlife, simply because no human dares set foot in it for fear of getting shot by the other side (also land mines).
    • The same happened in the (former) border zone between East and West Germany.
      • In fact the whole border between the West and former Warsaw Pact nations is similarly undisturbed. The European Green Belt project aims to preserve it.
  • One theory claims that this was the reason why Europeans found the American continent near-empty and booming in wildlife. Not so much because it was better preserved (American fauna is in fact a lot poorer and less diverse than Old World fauna compared to what they were before the last Ice Age), but because the previous generation of Native Americans had been decimated by European plagues advancing before the invaders proper (native peoples actually extensively cleared land for farming or hunting, contrary to many depictions showing them).
  • A famous photographer snuck into the (US) Hanford Nuclear reservation to do a coffee-table book on the resurgence of nature in the heavily contaminated former nuclear-testing site, now off limits to humans, with similarly controversial findings. Similar photographic and natural studies have been done of Bikini Atoll, which is now teeming with fish thanks more to the absence of humans, since the former are not considered safe to eat.
  • The city of Pripyat in the Ukraine. Despite the entire area being contaminated by radiation due to the damaged Chernobyl reactor, wildlife levels in the exclusion zone are at levels not seen since before the beginning of the twentieth century. It's called the Chernobyl effect. Radiation is bad for animals, but humans are worse.
  • Shortly after the US entered WW2, German u-boats began patrolling off the eastern seaboard. This made it extremely dangerous for fishing boats to go out, because they were effectively unarmed and likely to get sunk. The result of several years free of human fishing was that fish populations exploded. However, certain species have been so overharvested that scientists believe they will never recover.
  • Military-related:
    • Some of the most biologically diverse regions of the UK are actually in military training areas - because of the closed nature of these areas, as well as the strict rules the military have promoting rotation and protection (some parts of the training areas are even off limits to infantry and vehicles)
    • The same is true for training camps of the Germany military, the Bundeswehr. In fact, one of many amusing ads claims that tanks are good for nature, because their threads leave behind holes in the soil which collects rainwater, which in turn brims with wildlife such as microbia, worms and insects. Plus bigger wildlife can drink it.
    • The United States military has long-standing conservation programs on its military bases. There's a species of butterfly, Saint Francis' Satyr, that now only exists at Fort Liberty in North Carolina, and the Army is actively involved in its preservation.