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Published on April 11, 2011 | by nauman     Photography by

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“Please don’t take my sunshine away”

Experts disagree on the harmful effects of the sun's rays. Courtesy Any-Photo

ELENA MAYSTRUCK

With students counting the weeks until summer vacation, sunscreen is soon to become a hot commodity for beach season. Hundreds of studies have been done on the effects of sunlight.

While some of these studies are positive, many more of them are negative, and they present statistics on topics such as growing rates of skin disease and cancer associated with over-tanning. Connecting themes can be found in blogs, featuring fragmented and diverse opinions concerning the Sun and its possible connection to global warming.

James Edgar is the secretary of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and assistant editor of the Observers Handbook used by universities nation-wide.

“There’s a saying that ‘a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing'” he says referring to the wide circulation of blogs promoting misconceptions about the Sun and its role in global warming.

“Well, these people do, in fact, have little knowledge.”

Such blogs can be found on the Discover Magazine website and are full of opinions on the nature of the sun and its effect on global warming. The commentary ranges from views on recent astronomical studies (with no sources listed) to skepticism about all information on the subject of global warming. Other blogs like Sciseek feature pages of explanations on why sun is to blame for climate change.

“The truth is that it is becoming clearer with each passing day that global climate change is a function of the sun and not a function of an increase in man-made CO2 emissions.” This is one of the un-referenced statements made by a Sciseek blogger.

According to Edgar, the sun has little to do with global warming or the increased rates of skin disease resulting from harmful UVB rays. It is true that our star is growing in size by burning up its gases but “it grows about the width of your fingernail every few million years …the sun’s expansion as it burns up its gases has no bearing on Earth’s weather,” says Edgar. He explains that it will take another seven billion years of growth for the sun to make a significant impact on earth’s climate.

Edgar explains that UVB rays are caused by chlorofluorocarbons, volatile forms of methane found in aerosol cans and vehicle emissions. They play a key role in ozone depletion and the resulting holes in the ozone layer allow more harmful rays through to the earth’s surface.

Edgar says the sun has many benefits and Ozone layer depletion is not permanent. The Ozone is constantly being produced on earth and floats back up into the atmosphere. The rates of ozone depletion have slowed over recent years, he notes, due to the regulations on harmful chemical emissions. It will still take about 100 years for the ozone layer to recover if current rates of depletion can be further decreased.

“I remember being a kid and lying in the sun for hours without getting burned,” Edgar recalls. “You just can’t do that anymore.”

Dr. Shawna Clark specializes in naturopathic medicine in Peterborough, Ontario focusing on individualized, natural healing methods. Clark says that UVB rays can cause skin damage and premature aging of the skin. She is keen, however, to promote the sun’s benefits, as well. “You can only get vitamin D from the sun. Deficiencies in vitamin D have been linked to auto-immune diseases…like multiple sclerosis.” says Clark.

According to Clark, many people find that exposure to the sun can also help irritating skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. It also controls our sleep cycle. Darkness helps to produce melatonin, “a neurotransmitter that regulates sleep” Clark explains. The appearance of natural light in the morning helps stop the production of melatonin making people less tired after a night’s sleep.

“Everyone is so afraid of skin cancer that they constantly wear sunscreen even if it’s to go to the store. A lot of makeup even has sunscreen now, which presents a problem for women” says Clark. While sunscreen is essential for long outings in the sun, especially for children who burn easily, we still need a little exposure to sunlight. Clark recommends 15-20 minutes of sunlight on the hands and face.

Edgar and Clark are experts in two fields that are most relevant when discussing concerns about the sun. Clark believes that the spread of negative information about the sun, while allowing us to protect ourselves, can make us forget its positive use.

Edgar’s testimony in turn dissipates misinformation about earth’s closest star, showing that it is always good to maintain a degree of skepticism when surfing the Web.


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