This week brings news that China and the USA have both formally joined the Paris climate agreement, committing themselves to a drastic reduction in emissions in order to keep the global average rise in temperatures under 2°C. Between them, the two nations are responsible for around 40% of global CO2 emissions, and their ratifying of this agreement is a significant step forward for the agreement and its goals.

Pollution and environmental effects can have a profound effect on the way that people live their lives, and the shape that a society takes. How might pollution affect your society, and what steps might your society have taken to deal with it?

Inver pulled the cloth down, away from his nose and mouth. No good, he could still smell the jeragene all the way out here.

“Kel, what are you reading?”

The young lieutenant pulled her own cloth down and wiped some of the dust away from the scope’s screen. “Errr… two percent. Still too high, really.”

Of course it was. At two percent, any water they found would be toxic.

Inver sighed. “All right, give it another ten minutes and we’ll try again.”

Ten minutes they didn’t have. They were already getting too far away from the jeragene dispersers, and it would be getting to dusk by the time they had the new water pump up and running. Two percent would barely keep the Lights away as it was, the further they got, the more danger they were in. But the village needed water.

Here we can see a society where water and air pollution is a side-effect of their defence system. “Jeragene” is clearly some kind of airborne agent, which is intended to keep the mysterious Lights away from the protagonists’ village. Unfortunately, it seems that jeragene also has the secondary effect of rendering water undrinkable with any prolonged exposure, so brave citizens are required to venture outside the polluted areas to collect fresh, untainted water.

We can see that the pollution in this case is man-made, and even intentionally created in order to derive some benefit – in this case, keeping the Lights at bay. While the villagers clearly know that the jeragene has a destructive effect on their drinking water, they clearly believe that the benefits of keeping the Lights away is worth this side-effect. The village has developed its routines out of necessity – the pollution forces them to wear protective clothing and venture outside their protected area in order to find fresh water. The military-style system suggests that the job is one for the bravest and toughest of the villagers.

Pollution needn’t necessarily go to this extreme – it may simply be the case that some manner of pollution, from factories, agricultural runoff, sewage, etc. can cause various illnesses in your population. This is, of course, especially common in medieval-style settings, where hygiene and germ theory may not be widely understood. However, in a genre setting, the effects of pollution may be even more visible and wide-ranging than in the real world.

“Megarabbits, Bloody brilliant.” Niko wiped the animal’s blood from his speartip. Foul, vicious bloody things. Who’d have thought the Opalescence could make such a monster out of harmless bunnies? They weren’t even decent for eating.

Phigo checked the map again. “I mean, at least we’re getting closer to Qagas.”

“Aye, well if we’re gonna keep running into these bloody things, I’d sooner not bother.”

Phigo grinned. “Trust me, when we get to Qagas, you’ll be wishing it was still megarabbits.”

Niko shrugged. “If it gets the job done, I’ll cut my way through an entire city of megabears.”

“Just as well, pal,” Phigo laughed, “Because you might have to.”

Here we can see some kind of bizarre pollution in the form of a mysterious force known as the Opalescence. The Opalescence seemingly mutates ordinary animals into twisted monster versions of themselves, and the effect gets more pronounced – and more dangerous – the closer to is source it is.

What seems to be the case in this society is that only the bravest willingly go to Qagas, the source of the Opalescence, while others give the place as wide a berth as possible. We might even see various mythologies, legends and even religions building up around Qagas and its mysterious Opalescence.

Further, we might see a roaring trade in these megacreatures, with trappers, poachers and similar. The pollution leads to one part of the world being altered in some unique way, and the surrounding areas are forced to incorporate that change. Some will seek to understand, others will try to profit – just as people in the real world seek to.

What sources of pollution might your fictional society have to deal with? Are there any positive sides of the pollution, or is it simply a problem which your society must struggle against? How has the pollution changed your society, and what might they be doing to combat it?