The evolution of Earth’s climate on geological timescales is largely driven by variations in the magnitude of total solar irradiance (TSI) and changes in the greenhouse gas content of the atmosphere. Here we show that the slow ∼50 Wm−2 increase in TSI over the last ∼420 million years (an increase of ∼9 Wm−2 of radiative forcing) was almost completely negated by a long-term decline in atmospheric CO2. This was likely due to the silicate weathering-negative feedback and the expansion of land plants that together ensured Earth’s long-term habitability.

It is thought, that the Northern Hemisphere experienced only ephemeral glaciations from the Late Eocene to the Early Pliocene epochs (about 38 to 4 million years ago), and that the onset of extensive glaciations did not occur until about 3 million years ago. Several hypotheses have been proposed to explain this increase in Northern Hemisphere glaciation during the Late Pliocene.