AP Environmental Science : Small-Scale Energy Usage

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for AP Environmental Science

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Small Scale Energy Usage

Why might driving an electric car prove equally damaging to the environment as driving a car that runs on gasoline. 

Possible Answers:

Electric cars are often built in third world countries, where factories and firms are not subject to environmental protection or accountability laws. 

Electric cars still contribute to traffic congestion and idling vehicles are a large contributor to greenhouse gas emmissions. 

If the electricity comes from a polluting source (e.g. coal), then the electric car still contributes to pollution and greenhouse gas emmissions indirectly. 

The lithium batteries in electric cars contain toxic chemicals that are difficult to store. 

Electric cars are actually not completely electric. They still contain an internal combustion engine and switch to running on gasoline after the electric battery has died or the car reaches a certain speed. 

Correct answer:

If the electricity comes from a polluting source (e.g. coal), then the electric car still contributes to pollution and greenhouse gas emmissions indirectly. 

Explanation:

Electric cars with a gas engine are classified as Hybrids, not All-Electric Vehicles. The other answers address the environmental impact of manufacturing and parts, and while these impacts are substantial, their ongoing impact is miniscule when compared to the footprint from regular driving. The majority electricity in America is generated by the burning of fossil fuels, which means driving an electric car regularly still has a carbon footprint and a significant one at that. 

Example Question #2 : Small Scale Energy Usage

Which of the following scenarios most accurately depicts the tragedy of the commons?

Possible Answers:

Using national forests for wood production and harvesting.

Collective farming of wine grapes in communities in California.

Depletion of fishing stocks in the North Atlantic.

Allocation of all nuclear wastes to one site in Nevada.

Agreements among ranchers to jointly manage common grazing land.

Correct answer:

Depletion of fishing stocks in the North Atlantic.

Explanation:

The tragedy of commons is a term used today to describe a situation wherein individuals acting independently and rationally according to their own self-interest behave contrary to the best interests of the greater population by depleting a common resource. In opposition, the examples of ranchers managing common ground and collective farming of grapes are examples of individuals working together in a common interest. Additionally, allocating nuclear waste to one area is rather an example of sacrificing a small area for the greater population, and using national forests for wood production and harvesting is simply disobeying the everyone's interests by depleting resources and breaking the law. However, the depletion of fishing stocks is a perfect example of the tragedy of the commons: It is the ravaging of a greater population's shared natural resource in favor of individual and commercial interest. 

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