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Polluted Wasteland

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Come see our river that catches on fire!
It's so polluted that all our fish have AIDS!
— Mike Polk Jr., "Hastily Made Cleveland Tourism Video, Attempt 2"

The Polluted Wasteland, often found in more realistic, dystopian or Science Fiction 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.

A Polluted Wasteland will often stand in contrast to a pristine natural setting, such as the Ghibli Hills or an Enchanted Forest, which may exist as a separate area or be what the Wasteland used to be — or what it may become once again.

See Mordor for the Polluted Wasteland's more traditionally fantasy counterpart, although 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. Frequently a byproduct of any Ecocidal Antagonist that is left to their own devices, including Toxic, Inc., a type of business that seems to just pollute for the sake of polluting.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Magic Knight Rayearth: In the second season, one of the invading countries is a mechanical world that used up all of its natural resources.
  • Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind: The Sea of Decay plays with this. Ultimately subverted in that the poison-laden plant life, which was caused by human industrial and military waste, is the product of the forest trying to cleanse the land, and underneath the jungle is pristine earth. The Tolumekian Empire, meanwhile, plays it straight.
  • One Piece:
    • Punk Hazard ends up this way after Caesar Clown unleashes his deadly Shinokuni gas.
    • Over the course of merely 20 years, Kaido's weapons factory polluted the majority of Wano Country to the point the rivers are poisonous, as are the animals that drink from them.
  • Simoun: The island nation of Argentum. The water and air are toxic, and the skies are blackened with smog. The people need to wear masks constantly, and it's shown that many are dying from the poisoning.
  • 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.

    Comic Books 
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe: In "Be Leery of Lake Eerie", Huey, Dewey, Louie and the Junior Woodchucks discover a dragon that lives off of Lake Eerie's pollutants, only for the dragon to meet its demise when the rain dilutes the lake to a 98% impure level.
  • Judge Dredd: In the Deadworld universe, the American government initiated an extensive mining operation at the very south of the country that eventually transformed the region into the heavily polluted Fracklands ("five hundred miles of hell"). The original residents were evicted, and those who refused were arrested and then given a life sentence of servitude in the military's "national resource protection unit[s]". The pollution caused the unfortunate residents to mutate into misshapen horrors. President Douglas Boone then built a great wall on the Fracklands border to keep out mutants and other undesirables.
  • Trees: The alien "trees" cause this with their irregular toxic waste dumps. The comic opens with two of the Rio de Janeiro trees drowning much of the city in steaming acidic sludge.

    Films — Animated 
  • FernGully: The Last Rainforest: 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.
  • WALL•E: Rampant and wasteful consumerism has drowned the Earth in literal mountains of garbage, with piles of rotting refuse, wrappers, cups and other commercial detritus covering both the landscape and the decaying ruins of its cities.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Blade Runner: Future Los Angeles is covered in thick smog from pollution, and although it's still a high-functioning urban area, it's a horrible place to live. By the time Blade Runner 2049 takes place, the entire biosphere has finally died off.
  • The Matrix: The real world, as a result of the war between the humans and the machines, is a barren, lifeless waste.
  • Shocking Dark: Future Venice has been so badly contaminated with toxic waste that the city's population has been forced to abandon it and move elsewhere. This was deliberately engineered by the corrupt Tubular Corporation in order to increase their profit margin.
  • Soylent Green: The world exists on the absolute cusp of becoming one, being so polluted, filthy, and overheated from climate change that things like milk and meat are considered delicacies that only the richest citizens can afford while everyone else is forced to subsist on the titular Soylent products made of soy or krill from the oceans. Just seeing video footage of the way the world is today is enough to bring the protagonist to tears, and the big reveal is that ocean life is now extinct and Soylent Green is made out of people.
  • Zone 39: The titular territory has become desolate and polluted because Central has been draining resources, and as a result, Central has been considering misappropriating drinking water from working towns.

  • Clockwork Century: 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 into 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.
  • Discworld: Played for Laughs; the River Ankh is so polluted from two cities dumping their refuse into it that the water occasionally catches fire, and people jumping off the bridges to commit suicide have to break through the crust first. Corpses don't get disposed of in it, they get thrown on it. Anyone invading from the sea needs gangs of men with shovels so their ships can move up, and so on.
  • Dune: Giedi Prime, homeworld of House Harkonnen, has had its environment ravaged by over-industrialization.
  • Inferno (Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle): In the Seventh Circle, the rise of pollution and environmental degradation among humanity has made it necessary to separate the violent against nature from the violent against art and God, who were previously all sent to the desert of fire. The new area takes the form of a great valley, cutting through the Wood of Suicides and deep into the desert; it is referred to in the sequel as the Valley of Desolation. It is a barren, polluted waste of churned mud filled with garbage, toxic waste, and oily puddles, cut through by a sluggish river of brown-and-purple slime and dotted with smoke-belching factories and great strip mines. The souls of the worst polluters are sentenced here, to run through toxic slurry while chased by living bulldozers.
  • 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.
  • The Lotus War: The Fushima Islands. The local Multipurpose Monocultured Crop is poisoning the environment. A horrendously poorly-burning fuel is processed from its seeds, its pollen is so thick that 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 POWs. Everyone's addicted to smoking its leaves, to boot. Despite this, the local MegaCorp, 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.
  • Malevil: Pastoral rural France becomes this following World War III — the forests charred, the farms and villages smashed then incinerated, the sky darkened by ash, and the overpowering stench of death and smoke.
  • The Running Man: Most of America in 2025. The corporate networks have gained unrestricted license to pump out exhaust gasses that cause a surge in bronchitis cases, to the point that the relatively well-off part of the population use special nose filters.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • The planet Sullust was never particularly hospitable, with large parts of the native life 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 — 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.
    • Raxus Prime (introduced by the Boba Fett childrens' series) is an entire planet designated as the galaxy's garbage dump.
  • Ultramarines: In 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. There lie hideous, impossible landscapes haunted by monsters and holding 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.
  • Under the Dome: Chester's Mill briefly becomes this in the last few chapters 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.
  • The Witchlands: Southern Nubrevna. During the war, it came under heavy attack by Poisonwitches, who turned the water and earth there heavily toxic, to the point that vast swaths of it are completely devoid of life, save for slowly dying trees.
  • Wool: The outside world beyond the silo everyone is living in is so ruined that to go outside is a death sentence. Or at least it seems to be...

    Live-Action TV 
  • The 100: Double subverted. The Sky People were expecting Earth to still be a toxic, radioactive Death World after the nuclear war a century ago. Instead, they find a lush, vibrant and abundantly habitable world, with little sign of nuclear contamination. Then they find out that Earth actually is still highly radioactive; they've just developed an unusually high tolerance for radiation, as have the various plants and animals on the planet's surface. The Mountain Men, who haven't developed such superhuman tolerance, find the Earth's surface just as toxic and deadly as the Sky People feared.
  • The 4400: In "Terrible Swift Sword", Jordan Collier reveals in a television interview that Earth will be a wasteland in the future with only one city remaining on the planet.
  • 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.
    • Several Classic Era episodes with a Green Aesop present future Earth this way, albeit off-screen, e.g. "Colony in Space" and "The Curse of Fenric".
      Seventh Doctor: Thousands of years in the future, the Earth lies dying, the surface just a chemical slime. Half a million years of industrial progress.
      Haemovore: I am the last. The last living creature on Earth. I watched my world dying with chemicals, and I could do nothing. My world is dead.
  • Firefly:
    • The series is the Trope Namer for "Earth That Was", though the details are somewhat vague and comics reveal that it's not totally dead. 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. That said, he was also shown traveling with his dad at times, so it's a bit fuzzy.
    • There are hints that other worlds in the 'verse are this way too.
  • Logan's Run: After the nuclear war in 2119, the world outside the City of Domes became like this. However, during the 200 years since the war, it had returned to normal (though the Council of Elders keep this knowledge from the city's inhabitants).
  • The Outer Limits (1995):
    • In "Promised Land", the Tsal-Khan poisoned all of the plants on Earth during their war against humanity. Even twelve generations after their invasion, eating fruits or vegetables that grow naturally is usually fatal.
    • In "The Grell", the area around Old Seattle is irradiated, as it was hit by a nuclear bomb many years earlier. Humans cannot eat any of the fruits or vegetables unless the radiation is neutralized by a Grell using Grell alchemy.
    • In "Think Like a Dinosaur", Earth is extremely polluted to the point that many people die from Environmental Sensitivity Syndrome (ESS) after being exposed to the atmosphere. Michael Burr's wife Karen was among its victims, and he fears that his daughter Molly will suffer the same fate.
    • In "The Human Factor", apples are no longer safe to eat in many parts of the United States in 2084 due to the high levels of radiation caused by the war between the Free Alliance and the Coalition of Middle Eastern and Pacific States.
  • Power Rangers RPM: The machinations of the Venjix Empire has turned pretty much turned the whole world into this. Most of humanity is dead save for one (possibly more) city.
  • Terra Nova: The entire Earth is covered in thick yellow smog in the 22nd century, requiring filtering masks for any time spent outside. The rich live under domes, Population Control is in effect, and an orange is a rare and exciting find. The eponymous colony is located behind a one-way Portal to the Past — the late Cretaceous, where humanity might be able to start anew.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): In "The Old Man in the Cave", in the aftermath of the nuclear war, large parts of Earth are contaminated with radiation. The Old Man told Mr. Goldsmith that the Village should not plant tomatoes. When they ignored this advice, the tomatoes that grew looked like rotten watermelons because of the radiation. Jason also mentions freak carrots.
  • The Twilight Zone (1985): In "Voices in the Earth", Earth's biosphere was destroyed 1,000 years earlier due to the complete depletion of the ozone layer. Its atmosphere consists predominantly of carbon dioxide with traces of methane and ammonia and appears to be yellow due to the iron oxide created by the many rusted buildings. However, the ghosts of the dead Earth eventually use their collective powers to restore the biosphere and create life in the oceans.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dark Sun: Athas is a rare magical example of this. It was once lush and green, but the main form of magic here permanently destroys water and plant life. Centuries of reckless and rampant use of this magic have turned the entire world into a desert where few can survive.
  • In Nomine: Tartarus, the realm in Hell of the Prince of Technology, is a barren industrial wasteland ruined by centuries of ruthless exploitation and industry. Massive factories and laboratory complexes sprawl across the landscape, spewing out vast clouds of smog that cover the entire Principality. Interspersed with these are forests of rusted scaffolding, ruined machines, and broken infastructure from failed or abandoned projects, alongside junk heaps of broken machinery and flawed creations and bodies of filthy water covered in floating waste. The smoky darkness is filled with the heavy noises of machinery, the gurgling of liquids along snaking pipelines, and the howls of passing transports.
  • Magic: The Gathering: Phyrexia 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.
  • Shadowrun: Part of the Cyberpunk aesthetic of the setting is the amount of industrial pollution in the Sixth World due to most of the MegaCorps being Toxic, Inc. to one degree or another plus numerous wars and natural and man-made disasters. Most major cities have descriptions for how polluted they are: the worst have air quality that's so bad that the average person can't breathe outside without a respirator or cybernetic lungs that have pollution filters. The Badass Longcoat is popular with Shadowrunners not just for the protection from bullets and blades it provides, but because in polluted Sixth World Seattle, the precipitation can sometimes eat holes in an unprotected person's skin. There are a few places that are relatively clean, but only the ultra-rich have the money to live their lives in protected, pollution-free sanctuaries.
  • Traveller: The "industrial" trade classification describes a planet with billions of inhabitants and an unbreathable or barely breathable atmosphere, 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.
  • Warhammer: The land of the Chaos Dwarfs 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.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Many of the more established manufacturing worlds 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.
    • This is one of the most common aspects of Nurgle's realm, as many of his armies make biological warfare a new level of fear. While Nurgle's armies will use bolters and missiles aplenty, Nurgle always keeps experimenting of new plagues and new kinds of demons to send against his rival brother gods. It gets difficult to the point that the other Chaos Gods have to dedicated Special Units to clear a path, and they burn out quickly!
  • Werewolf: The Apocalypse: Pentex factories turn landscapes into this, in both the material world and the Umbra.

  • The Frank Zappa song "San Ber'dino" from One Size Fits All describes the titular city as having "some dark green air and you can choke all day" as one of its distinctive features.
  • Played for Laughs in "Smog Rock" by German rocker Udo Lindenberg, describing a romance which is a bit hindered by the circumstances. He wants to count her the stars — oops, bad viewing conditions. He wants to kiss her — the gas mask gets in the way. Puns with "takes your breath away" et al. are mandatory.

    Video Games 
  • Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty's Revenge: Spiller's Harbor was once a beautiful resort, before Gruntilda and her minions came and turned the place into an oil refinery.
  • Bug Fables: The Forsaken Lands in the Termite Kingdom have become very hazy and barren thanks to both the human junk thrown all over the place and the smog being produced by the factories in the Termite Capitol.
  • Donkey Kong Country:
  • EverQuest 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.
  • In Factorio, you play as the wannabe Captain Planet villain polluting the planet. Automation equipment used in factories spews out pollution that kills off forests and agitates the local Big Creepy-Crawlies. A factory built in a pristine forest will soon turn the green trees into dead husks. Sadly, there is no way to directly dump oil into water sources — without mods, at least.
  • Fallout: Most of the world has become a desert, barren and irradiated wasteland littered with urban ruins, 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 of barrels of nuclear waste just laying around in all the games. In New Vegas in particular, it's 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.
  • Final Fantasy VII gives us Midgar, an urban wasteland. Emphasis on "wasteland"; for several miles, there is no plant life to speak of.
  • Freelancer: Planet Leeds. Instead of "great evil", there's just rampant irresponsibility, but the planet is capable of blowing out entire nebulae of smog. Accordingly, the government is depicted as unable to deal with the pollution and industrial accidents, and news stories of mine collapses devouring neighborhoods tromp across the Colonial News Service from time to time. Planet Houston also counts to some degree, being an entirely industrial planet that runs on prisoner labor.
  • 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.
  • In Indivisible, the Iron Kingdom (a Fantasy Counterpart Culture of Industrial Revolution London) is choked with foul-smelling green smog and slathered in industrial runoff that resembles nothing so much as vast ammounts of ABC (Already Been Chewed) bubblegum. Naturally, Razmi the Witch loves it.
  • Jak and Daxter: In Jak II: Renegade and Jak 3, the Metal Heads' territory, as well as Haven City itself, is very desolate, polluted, and dangerous. It's both a Death World filled with dangerous monsters and polluted to the point that it makes any real-life environmental trainwrecks look quite pleasant in comparison.
  • 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 Logical Journey of the Zoombinis 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.
  • 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 because it ensures that they have to be strong to survive.
  • Metro 2033: Moscow 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. Even there, they're not completely safe, as subterranean mutants and corrupt, warmongering factions remain a major threat. It's made even more glaring in Metro Exodus, in which the areas outside of Moscow have normal, breathable air and radiation is far less prevalent, though mutants are still a concern.
  • Metroid Prime 3: Corruption: The Space Pirate Homeworld is very much this. The planet's acid rain is the most dangerous environmental hazard in the game, killing you almost before you can realize it.
  • Nintendo Wars:
    • 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.
  • Oddworld: The bad guys 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 that the last two games in this franchise were made for a Microsoft platform.
  • In Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, you can reach the Ultra Beast Guzzlord's homeworld, which turns out to be an alternate version of Earth that's been destroyed by pollution. The air is toxic, all the water requires purifiers to be drinkable, and Hau'oli City is completely in ruins. Humanity has long since abandoned the place for other worlds, and you only meet one other human, who wears a hazmat suit and is unfamiliar with the color blue. It's gotten so bad that the only person you meet there says that the Guzzlord population seems to be decreasing, despite them being a species of Extreme Omnivore that can eat literally anything, including toxic waste.
  • Quake: The hyper-industrial Strogg 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.
  • Ratchet & Clank (2002): Planet Orxon, to the point that it has become horrifically mutated in numerous ways, completely requires the O2 Mask when playing as Ratchet, and has flesh-melting toxic sludge where basically all of its water should be. Worse yet, Chairman Drek is planning to turn who-knows-how-many more of the universe's planets into what Orxon has become in this game. In Ratchet: Deadlocked, Orxon has been cleaned up considerably but is still a major example of the trope.
  • Star Fox 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.
  • Star Trek Online: During the Lukari storyline, the PC rediscovers the ruins of Kentar, the planet the Lukari left centuries ago due to disputes with the rest of their species, the Kentari, over environmental pollution. In the interim, Kentar became so polluted that all life died out. The PC later makes First Contact with the Kentari at their new homeworld New Kentar, which looks rather like Blade Runner's Los Angeles on account of the Kentari not having learned a thing: the away team has to wear spacesuits or rebreathers on the surface or else be periodically immobilized by coughing fits.
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic:
    • Nal Hutta was transformed into a polluted hellhole by industrialization after the Hutts took it over from the native Evocii. Doubles as a Wretched Hive, given the presence of the Hutts.
    • The planet Quesh is a toxic hellhole that requires an inoculation to even set foot on the surface. Its primary product is "Quesh venom", an underground substance used in manufacturing combat drugs, but a cataclysmic earthquake released the stuff into the atmosphere.
    • Taris doesn't fare much better; centuries after being bombarded from orbit in Knights of the Old Republic, it's still barely habitable, with rakghouls running wild and toxic runoff leaking from the ruins of industrial buildings.
  • The entire goal of Terra Nil is to depollute one of the bleakest wastelands ever seen into a beautiful healthy landscape.
  • In Warframe, dwarf planet Ceres has been turned by Grineer into their empire's industrial centre, giving the planet lakes of green ooze and sickly green/brown/gray clouds that rain constantly. It's also one of very few places where you can engage in planetside Survival missions, wherein the goal is not only to Hold the Line but also to look after your Oxygen Meter, which should be saying something about the quality of air on this planet — though somehow, there are plants growing there (pitcher plants, to be specific). Did we mention Ceres is named after a goddess of agriculture?

  • Bicycle Boy: The sandy desert wasteland is rumored to be poisoned with radiation, alluded to by signage with radioactive symbols, and one city with an entire hospital ward dedicated to treating radiation sickness.
  • Gone with the Blastwave: The city is so heinously polluted that all the characters are covered head to toe in protective gear.

    Western Animation 
  • Amphibia: "Olivia & Yunan" shows that the lands around Newtopia have been stripped for resources to fuel the Big Bad's multiverse-spanning war machine, leaving nothing but bare earth, strip-mining machines, and smoke-belching factories to produce more Mecha-Mooks.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: Used sometimes to reinforce the occasional Green Aesop. Without even mentioning the Anvilicious "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.
  • Batman Beyond: One episode is set in Verdeza, a South American nation whose ecosystem has been polluted by the son of a corrupt billionaire.
  • Captain Planet and the Planeteers: The villains try to create such wastelands, and the heroes stop them. On a meta level, the show encourages its viewers to try to prevent this happening in real life.
  • Kaeloo: In one episode, when Mr. Cat manages to Take Over the World, he actually takes steps to ensure that this happens to Smileyland. The sky even turns red when this happens.
  • She-Ra and the Princesses of Power: The Horde's base in the Fright Zone is an industrial hellscape with an ugly-looking atmosphere to it. Nothing grows, everything is covered in metal and sewage pipes, and supplementary materials confirm that the air smells like burning garbage.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (SatAM): Under Robotnik's rule, Mobius is plagued with pollution, environmental exploitation, and industrialized wastes. Dr. Robotnik actively pollutes Robotropolis and its immediate surroundings because he loves the smell.
  • Transformers: In most incarnations of the franchise, Cybertron has been reduced to the sci-fi version of this due to brutal warfare sparked by a resource shortage.
  • Yogi's Gang: Smog City is this thanks to Smokestack Smog's smog factory.

    Real Life 


  • Pick a hydraulic fracturingnote  site. Any hydraulic fracturing site. In case the chemicals in the sludge aren't bad enough, the ones in Pennsylvania are radioactive.
  • The infamous Corona Ash Dumps. The area where Flushing Meadows–Corona Park now sits used to be a nightmarish dump site back in the 192's. Ash and street sweepings were originally brought in as landfill for what used to be marshland and it just escalated until the site was filled with literal mountains of soot, horse manure, and garbage. Nearby neighborhoods were plagued not only by the sights and smells, but rat infestations. The dump is what inspired the Valley of Ashes in The Great Gatsby.
  • Much of New Jersey's reputation as a Place Worse Than Death is because of the Chemical Coast, the stretch of Essex, Union, and Middlesex Counties immediately across the water from Staten Island where petrochemical refining and storage is done. This combined with all the car exhaust from the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway makes what's described as "fifteen miles of universal fart". Add on top of that the fact that New Jersey has the most Superfund sites (sites so polluted it gets special funding from the Environmental Protection Agency for cleanup) of any US state despite being the fourth-smallest in area, and it really doesn't matter that the rest of the state is generally much nicer and cleaner suburbs (plus the Pine Barrens) as far as reputation goes.
  • 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, 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.
  • 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.
  • The beginning of the US environmental movement coincided the with Cuyahoga River in Cleveland catching fire. Thirteen times. It's so polluted that all their fish have AIDS. It has much improved, though, when people decided that flammable rivers were just a bit much.
  • 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 1980s.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Valley of the Drums in Kentucky. Acre upon acre of leaking drums full of toxic waste. It and Love Canal were the impetus for the creation of the Superfund program.
  • The Tri-State District where Oklahoma, Missouri, and Kansas meet, was historically a center for lead and zinc mining. Tailings containing lead dust were heaped up into gigantic piles, leading to the towns of Treece, Kansas, and Picher, Cardin, and Douthat, Oklahoma, being evacuated and disincorporated. Remediation is ongoing, but it's a lengthy process.


  • Pick any sulfite cellulose manufacturing plant. Any. The Tilghman acidic process produces mercaptans and hydrogen sulfide as the byproducts, and the smell is just the same as that of a bad flatulence. In addition, the cooking solution contains not only sulfites and residues of lignine and other wood components, but also ethanol and methanol. Before 1950s, sulfite cellulose plants were serious environmental hazards.
  • 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.
  • The Ruhr Valley in 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 coal-mining, steel industry and chemical industry and the result was a Polluted Wasteland. The GDR had a few such places as well, and tales of former Soviet-personnel-occupied areas (specifically industrial and military) brimming with pollution, loaded with deadly chemicals in the soil and generally being almost impossible to enter are fairly widespread, since the Soviets didn't bother to clean up anything when they left. After the reunion, one of the bigger issues was getting rid of all the pollution and making those places inhabitable again. Overall, it generally worked.
  • 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 the Real Russian Umbrella Corp.", because the de-facto ruler is MegaCorp "Norilsk Nickel" that seems to check off every item on the list of Evil MegaCorp practices: mocking its own employees; slowly poisoning the city, its residents, dogs (lots of them), and even Canada; choking out labor competition as the only place in the city one can work is... "Norilsk Nickel". Be well, citizen, your CEO loves you, and you owe your soul to the company store!

    To give some perspective, Norlisk by itself produces over 1% of global carbon emissions, and is the eleventh most polluting city on the planet, and at one time was number one. note  Unlike any in the top ten list, Norlisk does not have any petrochemicals to process nor is it large. Its just uses that much fuel for its industry.
  • Petsamo qualifies as well. Like Norilsk, Petsamo has been centered around nickel production. The Petsamo ore deposit was discovered in the 1920s, when Petsamo belonged to Finland. Mining was begun in 1933, and continued there until 1944. After the WWII, USSR annexed Petsamo from Finland, and continued the mining and roasting operations. The process, plant and equipment were never renewed or developed, and USSR operated with the original Finnish 1930s' technology until 1991. After the collapse of the USSR, the mine was acquired by oligarchs, who saw no interest on investing on it any more, but who instead extracted everything what extractable was, with the 1930s technology and gross neglect on environmental protection. The nickel production ended in early 2021, leaving behind a polluted wasteland. To make things worse, Petsamo is located beyond the Arctic Circle, making the nature extremely vulnerable.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • Ridley Scott claimed that the smoke-belching urban hellscape of 20 Minutes into the Future Los Angeles in Blade Runner was based on his hometown of Middlesbrough.
    • 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.
  • Dzerzhinsk, Russia is a city known for its chemical industry (including chemical weapons) and is so polluted that the average lifespan of its inhabitants is 40. And that two of the largest chemical waste sites have their own names (White Sea and Black Hole).
  • It's often forgotten that War Is Hell not just for humans but often for the environment. The Zones Rouges (Red Zones) in France are former battlefields from World War One that were so saturated by poisonous gasses, unexploded ordinance, various toxic chemicals and decomposing animal and human corpses that they never fully recovered. Towns that were damaged, deserted or utterly destroyed by the war were not allowed to be rebuilt or resettled, and in many cases access is forbidden by law due to the danger of unexploded ordinance or toxicity. Activities such as agriculture or hunting are forbidden because the crops/animal meat is so contaminated that it's hazardous to consume it. In the worst hit areas arsenic makes up to 15% of the soil. One of the few reason they get any kind of visit is "memory tourism" where the French take time to pay their respect to the sacrifices of past generations. While some zones have drastically improved in the century since WW1 (either from active reclamation or simply natural processes) it's estimated it will take roughly 500 years for the last effects to fade away.

    A small silver lining is that, in the absence of humans, the areas are now a sort of twisted natural preserve. Like Chernobyl's exclusion zone, animals and plants can grow unmolested, but this comes at a heavy cost to their health.


  • Beijing and much of industrial China is filled with ever increasing development of factories, burning of fossil fuels, and automobile traffic. The air quality is so bad the reading of the index is off the charts (the US embassy briefly Tweeted in November 2010 it was "crazy bad" before replacing it with "beyond index", though some Beijingers thought it was refreshingly frank compared to what the Chinese government says); it's so bad that canned air is sold to raise awareness (and you thought Spaceballs and The Lorax were hyperbole).
  • 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. Even less flatteringly is the fact that most of India has a problem with plumbing on an unimaginable scale. Sewers are hopelessly clogged due to the huge concentration of people (remember that India has over 1 billion inhabitants and still grows by dozens millions every year) and authorities just can't get the problem under control. The result is terrible hygiene in many places and related side effects like poor health or swarms of pests.
  • The Ganges River is one of the more direct victims of India's pollution problems. 500 million people live along its banks, dumping household garbage, industrial waste, raw sewage, and dead bodies into the river. Even people bathing in the river contributes to the pollution problem. What gets the most press is the sewage problem; parts of the river have observed fecal coliform levels of 100 million per 100 milliliters. For comparison, the recommended limit for safe bathing is 500 fecal coliforms per 100 milliliters.


Video Example(s):


"Don't Turn Around"

After Springfield moves their entire city, one Native American advises his friend not to look at the horror they left behind. He doesn't listen.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (13 votes)

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Main / CryingIndian

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