Tectonic-climatic models of late Cenozoic global cooling emphasize the importance of middle latitude uplifts (e.g., Tibetan Plateau and the American west) but ignore widespread tectonic events on the margins of the North Atlantic Ocean. Pleistocene glaciations, after 2.5 Ma, are characterized by circum–North Atlantic continental ice sheets that formed by the coalescence of perennial snow fields on extensive plateau surfaces in eastern Canada, northwest Britain, and Scandinavia. Plateaus record Cenozoic uplift of peneplains in response to semisynchronous magmatic underplating and thermal buoyancy of rifted continental margins. High-standing plateaus are very sensitive to small reductions in summer temperature. As late Cenozoic climate cooling proceeded, driven by uplift in regions external to the North Atlantic region, elevated plateaus became sites for extensive snow fields and ultimately ice sheets. Circum-Atlantic uplift took place in the key latitudinal belt that is most sensitive to orbitally forced changes in solar irradiation; this, together with albedo effects from large snow fields, could have amplified the relatively weak Milankovitch signal.