This essay uses the event that was Hurricane Katrina as its endpoint for an analysis of the history of ecological and socio-cultural change in Louisiana. After displacing and transforming Indigenous societies, European settlers had to decide how to establish a different kind of community in such a precarious landscape. This essay argues that a particular understanding not only of the environment but also a conception of Being Human, that of secular Man (if initially only partially so), remained equally relevant. Within the logic of this self/social understanding, a system of levees to address hurricane and storm surge, would be implemented—initially with convict and slave labour, and after the US Civil War, with poorly-compensated (i.e. ‘cheap’), predominantly Black labour. The cultural and environmental questions that emerged in the wake of Katrina should compel a rethinking of the viability of contemporary approaches to organising complex technological societies, and especially, as it relates to the faith in ever-increasing economic growth.