Academic Minute Podcast

Henry Knight Lozano, University of Exeter – California and Florida: From Climate Paradise to Crisis

Some locales known for their pristine weather may be in for rude awakenings in the future.

Henry Knight Lozano, senior lecturer in American History at the University of Exeter, examines a couple such places.

Dr Henry Knight Lozano is senior lecturer in American History and Director of Liberal Arts at the University of Exeter. His research explores histories of U.S. expansion, regional development, and place promotion, in particular, California, Florida, and Hawai‘i. The author of two monographs as well as multiple journal articles on the Pacific West and climate and environmental histories of California and Florida, among other topics, his first book, Tropic of Hopes: California, Florida, and the Selling of American Paradise, 1869-1929, won two book prizes, including the Florida Book Awards Gold Medal for Florida Non-Fiction.

California and Florida: From Climate Paradise to Crisis

California and Florida top the list of U.S. states most at risk from climate change, with extended droughts and devastating wildfires in California, heightened risks of high-tide flooding and hurricane storm surge in Florida, and extreme heat in both.

This presents a troubling inversion of their modern histories, in which both were sold as America’s ideal climate destinations.

Beginning in the 1880s – when railroads first reached them – Southern California and Florida were reimagined through the promise of their climates. Land and civic boosters in each worked to overturn beliefs that people only thrived in colder climes.

Through images of orange groves and palm-lined hotels, they attracted visitors from the North and Midwest, who invested in America’s “semi-tropical paradises” and sparked a rivalry between them.

Barbs flew each way. One was too dry; the other too wet. One: too far West, the other too far south.

Yet promoters in California and Florida shared a core belief in climate as their most vital resource for growth – for fruit-growers, tourists, land developers.

The roaring ‘20s saw a new influx of automobile-driving Americans drawn to the beaches and orange groves of Los Angeles County and South Florida.

For horticulturist Robert Hodgson, the pair were “blessed by the gods” through their “joint heritage” of America’s “subtropical” climates.

Climate, moreover, was unlike other natural resources. Whereas precious metals or forests could be mined or cut down, climate was an infinite asset. One that “can never be exhausted by man in his ignorance or cupidity,” Hodgson wrote.

Once marketed through their ideal climates, California and Florida now share disturbing climate-influenced futures.

Read More:
[University Press Florida] – Tropic of Hopes
[The Conversation] – California and Florida grew quickly on the promise of perfect climates in the 1900s – today, they lead the country in climate change risks

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