6 The Landscapes of Man: Ecological and Cultural Change before ­Hurricane Katrina

In: Cultural Dynamics of Climate Change and the Environment in Northern America

Abstract

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.