Conflicting sets of hypotheses highlight either the role of ice sheets or atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) in causing the increase in duration and severity of ice age cycles ∼1 Mya during the Mid-Pleistocene Transition (MPT). We document early MPT CO2 cycles that were smaller than during recent ice age cycles. Using model simulations, we attribute this to post-MPT increase in glacial-stage dustiness and its effect on Southern Ocean productivity.