The more we know about the catastrophic implications of climate change, the more fossil fuels are burnt in the world. How did we get caught up in this mess? This thesis returns to a crucial moment in the emergence of the fossil economy: the rise of steam-power. With the adoption of the steam-engine, fossil energy was first coupled to a process of self-sustaining growth, the new prime mover using coal to impel machines for commodity production. It happened in Britain; the cotton industry led the way. Before steam, up to the second quarter of the nineteenth century, British cotton manufacturers used water as their source of mechanical energy – so why did they shift from the one to the other? By examining the causes of the original transition from water to steam, we might come closer to an understanding of the mechanisms igniting – and perhaps still fuelling – the process now known as ‘business-as-usual’.