Explosive eruptions from subaerial arc volcanoes can have significant environmental impact because of the discharge of ash and volatiles directly into the atmosphere and oceans. The link between climate cooling and voluminous volcanic eruptions has remained speculative due to a lack of supporting evidence. A compilation of 2814 K-Ar and 40Ar/39Ar age determinations from four circum-Pacific arcs indicates that periods of high volcanic output (i.e., flare-ups) have been episodic and, in some cases, synchronous. Peak periods and subsequent lulls in arc magmatism over the past 50 m.y. have occurred coeval with major fluctuations in global climate, including the Eocene-Oligocene transition, one of the most prominent global climate reorganizations in the Cenozoic. Hundreds of intermediate to silicic eruptions occurred during an extremely vigorous period of circum-Pacific volcanism beginning in the late Eocene, which likely led to the production of sulfur aerosols in the stratosphere and fertilization of surface waters of the Pacific Ocean. We provide a mechanism that may have been partly responsible for the climatic preconditioning that must have preceded and ultimately promoted Antarctic ice sheet growth ~34 m.y. ago.