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I'm hoping someone can help me as this is driving me nuts!

Context and Chronological info

I'm trying to find the title/author of a short story that I read in some or other anthology ages ago. I couldn't give you an exact date but I'd say it was probably 50s/60s.

Plot

The human population has increased to the point where input and output of resources on Earth is in exact equilibrium. As such, no other living matter can be permitted to exist, as its use of resources would throw this equilibrium out of balance.

One man in a vast tower block has managed to hide some flowers, and, I think, one or a few small animals - perhaps a mouse. These are detected by the relevant authorities, and the story ends when an official arrives at the apartment and requires the man to destroy them - the last non-human living things on Earth.

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"2430 A.D." by Isaac Asimov. I first read it in Buy Jupiter and Other Stories, a collection of several of his shorter pieces of SF. I've just looked it over again now, and the plot is a close match for what you summarized from memory. Two men representing the government prevail upon the last holdout to "voluntarily" consent to the destruction of the last collection of small animals (including, as you said, a few mice) which his family has long had permission to keep as pets.

One other thing, though -- the way you phrased it, you made it sound as if, by the end of the story, there were literally no living things on Earth except humans. Aside from the minor point of microorganisms (such as the bacteria that live in the human body and aid in our digestion, which I admit aren't mentioned in Asimov's story), you left out the subject of providing food for all those humans! In the text, it is stated that the oceans have been turned into "plankton soup" in order to feed everybody who lives on dry land.

(I'd think that would get to be an awfully monotonous diet if you were never served anything else, but perhaps they had a wide range of artificial flavorings to put variety in their daily meals? The story doesn't go into detail about this point; it just briefly mentions the plankton as the only food crop left in the world.)

Here's an excerpt from the conversation that takes up much of the story. It describes how the decision had been made to end up with a balanced population of fifteen trillion human beings (or two trillion tons of human biomass, which amounted to the same thing). The plan was that from now on the birth rate and the death rate were expected to stay in perfect equilibrium, since they knew they had reached a practical limit.

“It was known in advance exactly how many men the Earth could support. So many calories of sunlight reached the Earth, and, using that, only so many tons of carbon dioxide could be fixed by green plants each year, and only so many tons of animal life could be supported by those plants. The Earth could support two trillion tons of animal life--”

Cranwitz finally broke in, “And why shouldn't all two trillion tons be human?”

“Exactly.”

“Even if it meant killing off all other animal life?”

“That's the way of evolution,” said Bunting angrily. “The fit survive.”

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    To answer your question about what they'd eat, I'd refer to two novels written in the same period, Half Past Human and The Godwhale, by T. J . Bass. The food chain includes vegetables and small animals - rats, insects - the world population is in the trillions, and, in words I've read somewhere, "the food chain is short and mercilessly circular". – Ignazio Oct 13 '16 at 21:23
  • That's exactly it - thank you, I'm so grateful. You're right, Lorendiac, that I'd managed to mangle it a bit in my memory. I suppose the plankton diet goes hand in hand with the notion of a universal human culture that, it is strongly suggested, has become acceptingly monotonous and uniform in all things, which seems equally implausible to me. Nonetheless, reading the story again, I still, despite that sense of emotional unreality, find it rather affecting. – MorningOil Oct 14 '16 at 13:20
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It sounds like Isaac Asimov's 1970 short story 2430 A.D.

from the wiki link above:

Earth has established a totally balanced and ecologically stable underground society (similar to that portrayed in Asimov's novel The Caves of Steel). But one man, Cranwitz, regarded as a deviant and eccentric because he keeps a few animals as pets, refuses to get rid of these animals, the last non-human inhabitants of the planet.

It's a been widely anthologized, like many of the good doctor's work.

  • "Widely anthologized" seems slightly exaggerated. That ISFDB bibliography shows it appearing only in Asimov collections, and in English, only in various editions of his Buy Jupiter collection. – user14111 Oct 13 '16 at 22:58

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