The relationships between the physical environment and economic activities are no longer important. Discuss.

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The relationships between the physical environment and economic activities are no longer important. Discuss.

'Second life' has its own settlements, inhabitants, firms, markets, geography and economies. In January 2007, it even had its own political riot. What is significant about this? Well, its economic activity bears absolutely no relation to the physical environment. It is an entirely virtual world and, admittedly, a computer game - but the point remains. Their currency, the transactions, the profits and the losses may occur in the game's own currency but can be converted into real life US dollars. This is 21st century economic activity as the science fiction author's imagined it, and fundamentally, is totally isolated from the physical environment. This could certainly be the shape of things to come, as indications of it can be seen translated onto the non-virtual world.

The physical environment is consistently being conquered by human activity - there is little requirement for physically conducive circumstances for an area to be entered into the global capitalist economy. Anecdotally, there is a real snow slope in Dubai - economic activity based around winter sports is happening in the desert. Arguably, humans still cannot conquer wilderness - settlement in Japan is restricted to the coast and the vast majority of mankind live close to coastal areas. Is this, however, more an issue of tradition than one of physical necessity? Certainly, conservative theory would suggest that people draw their identities from tradition, which can have important economic implications. Las Vegas typifies the 'bright lights' view of the USA - yet having outgrown its aquifer it surely shouldn't exist. Where there are serious economic incentives, the physical environment pales into very little.

This has seriously implications in, for example, settlement patterns. Examination of a pre industrial city, such as Potosi, in Bolivia, demonstrates the importance of the relationship between the physical environment and economic activity. These cities were centres of power, bringing together the wealthy and politically powerful - both underpinnings of economic activity - with their servants and slaves in one large urban area, thus representing the beginnings of hierarchal economic systems that have been replicated around the world. This was the start of urbanisation, but what dictated the locations of these economic hubs? The physical environment, from which everything was derived and upon which everything relied.

These new cities were focused on the exploitation of a raw material such as coal or iron ore; Catal Huyuk in Turkey developed around volcanic glass, becoming one of the first economic centres. As these activities grew the industrial city emerged, bringing people together in a work force and selling the products of their labour in a market system for the first time - it was the physical environment providing the impetus and the raw materials that enabled both extended settlement and trade to occur. The relationship could not have been more important. However, what is the postindustrial city tied to? Very little - location of industry is no longer tied to traditional centres that formed due to the physical environment.
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'Footloose' industries can be observed in the UK and other knowledge based economies. The sunrise strip around the M4 corridor and silicon fen have not developed where they are because of an exceptionally good crop of microchips. They are focused around centres of learning - science parks attached to the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, or important communication routes that link them into the global economy - the M4, and important links to London. Similarly, it is human economics that has 'saved' those areas previously dependent on the physical environment. The decline of the mining industry in South ...

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