What is the Ecological Footprint of Disneyland?


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This is reprinted posting, but a few friends have ben asking me about traveling to Disneyland in light of the swine flu happenings. In any event, these discussions have reminded me of my own ponderings when my family visited the magic kingdom last year. Specifically, the above was a question that continually haunted my consciousness. Disneyland was remarkably pristine in that cookie cutter, artificial, yet aesthetically pleasing way, but it must be a major sink in terms of waste, energy consumption, carbon emissions, etc.

Or is it? Maybe in terms of footprint, by applying its incredible density (>15 million visitors each year!), it comes out not looking so bad?

It should be noted that Disney appears to be viewing environmental issues in a relatively serious manner, with a number of programs in place. Here are a few factoids I can provide that would support this notion.

- Trains now run on 100 percent biodiesel, including the EP Ripley, the same train Disney himself rode on the theme park's opening day. Disneyland says it buys 150,000 gallons of biodiesel each year, and prices are currently competitive with regular diesel. Seemingly nothing gets thrown away around here, just greened up. (link)

- After years of research and testing, Walt Disney Imagineering has perfected a new innovation in fireworks launch technology, marking the pyrotechnic industry's first major breakthrough in decades. The new technology uses compressed air to lift fireworks, virtually eliminating the need for smoke-producing black powder and other materials at launch, significantly reducing ground-level smoke and noise while continuing to provide a highly entertaining show. (link)

- Disney is planning to release a comprehensive environmental report this coming summer, which will include (among other things), checking in on carbon emissions, etc. (link

This all sounds good, but can we maybe take collected stats from a variety of places to get at an approximate ecological footprint value?

Anyway, let's have a go - so here in lies a "back of the envelope, not at all authoritative" guess at what that footprint might be.

Let's assume we need the following:

1. Attendance values at the park to gleam a sense of Disneyland's population. In other words, if we assume Disneyland to be a city, what is its comparible population?

2. What is a normal individual ecological footprint of somebody living in the US, or California, or maybe even in Orange County.

3. A sense of the relative scale of consumption. On a per person basis, how much does a person on Disneyland consume, say in comparison to normal life. This way, we can maybe project an adjusted eco-footprint based on factoring this differing level of consumption.

- - -

So let's start with the first note. Disneyland "population." This one is relatively easy, since rough attendance stats, as well as area measurements are all over the net (you can start at wiki for instance).

Anyway, the surface area of Disneyland (not Disneyworld, or the California adventure park) is about 85 acres, , or 344,000 square metres. From a comparative point of view, this is about the same as 64 football fields (or if you live in Vancouver about 50% bigger than Granville Island), and looks a little like the below.

As well, yearly attendance of Disneyland Park has been estimated at the 15 million mark (link), which means you're looking at an average daily attendance of about 40,000. I'm not sure how many people work there, although this place says there are at least 500 employers just on the night shift, and this place says there are over 60,000 cast members at a place like DisneyWorld (Note that according to area, Disneyworld is about 200 times larger, although attendance - at least to the Magic Kingdom - is only a little higher). In any event, I think it's pretty safe to say that a conservative estimate of the "population" of Disneyland sits at about the 40,000 mark.

- - -

O.K. now, an average eco-footprint. This one is a little harder to pick, because depending on your point of view, you may have differing opinions on what would be an appropriate value (national average, state average, county average, etc). For the sake of ease, I'm going to use a value that seems to have been calculated based on fairly rigorous data, and presented at an "official looking" outlet. (i.e. we're not using online calculators, or generalized statements, but documents from say a government).

Here, there is actually a decent report that calculates data for residents within Marin County (as in more Northern California, where heating needs are presumably much lower). It suggests that about 27 global acres is needed per person within this county, but it also brings up a value for a national footprint of 24 global acres per person. (top hit at this search within Marin's government site). Let's use the footprint of 24 acres per person value.

Interestingly, this already suggests that the land area at Disneyland is only good for sustaining between 3 and 4 individuals.

- - -

Next up are a few pertinent factoids that give the sense of the volume of consumption that goes on at Disneyland. Here most stats concern Disneyworld, but we can use them to get sense of relative energy consumption practices at the park. For the sake of brevity and ease of query, I'll use energy consumption values.

Disneyworld (whose acreage is much bigger than Disneyland, but attendance is roughly similar at ~17 million visitors per year*) seems to use as much as 6,500,000,000,000 BTUs per year. (link - this was calculated based on the statement that a 3% reduction saved 194,000 million BTUs per year). *This assumes that the attendance value which is for the Magic Kingdom represents more or less the same folks who would also visit other areas of Disneyworld.

Using stats like these, we can surmise that an average individual's energy consumption in the US was about 39 million BTUs per year in 1997. This means that (taking Disneyworld figures into account), Disneyworld energy use is comparable to a residential city with a population of approximately 170,000. If we assume that the daily population of a place like Disneyworld is closer to 50,000, this means that from a conservative estimate, consumption at places like Disney theme parks is over three times more than normal day to day consumption. Note that this isn't that surprising given what folks do at the park - how normal is going on several roller coasters a day, etc?).

- - -

Taking all of the above together (and siding on the conservative), we can surmise that the average eco-footprint for life in Disneyland is about:

3 fold consumption x 24 global acres per person = 72 global acres per person

This number is actually just shy of the actual area of Disneyland (at 85 acres), so it makes a tidy factoid that possibly the eco-footprint of a single individual at Disneyland is just about good for the entire area of Disneyland. Also, note that the globally available footprint value rings in at just under 5 acres per person, so a person attending Disneyland may be going 12 fold his or her fair earthshare.

As well, if the average population of Disneyland is 40,000, that would mean that the eco-footprint for Disneyland as a whole is:

40,000 persons x 72 global acres/person = 2,880,000 acres.

That's about a 34,000 fold difference from actual land space.

Here is what 2,880,000 acres looks like. It's about 100km by 100km - a space about a fifth of the tiny red dot highlights Disneyland

Maybe a more interesting way to look at this, is to suggest that (using this back of the envelope calculation) given that the Earth only has about 28 billion acres available, technically, the planet would only be able to sustain 9600 Disneylands!

Of course, there are many caveats to this calculation (Can one effectively bridge so many different types of data sources? Is energy consumption a good enough indicator on its own? Since the "population" leaves at night, what does that do to the values? Since the "population" comes from elsewhere, what would happen if you factor in resources saved by not being at the normal place of residence? Isn't the Disneyworld data flawed because it's an entirely different space to Disneyland, etc), but it's certainly an interesting thing to think about.

And... with that in mind, what do you think?


More like this

"And... with that in mind, what do you think?"

If the Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don't eat the tourists....

"...from the rubble arose independent city-states, which were referred to as 'the Kingdoms'. There seem to have been around 10.000 of them, and they were constantly at war over scarce resources and pride of place - every single one of them vying to be acknowledged as the one, true 'Magical Kingdom'. Their champions donned cumbersome suits of Styrofoam armor with grotesque animal features and fought and died with the name of their god - 'Walt the Creator'- on their lips..." from a history textbook dated 2309

(I think it would be cool, like a psychedelic version of Greek Antiquity.)

By Phillip IV (not verified) on 05 May 2009 #permalink

As someone who very recently returned from a trip to DisneyWorld in sunny Orlando, FL, I have to say that I had a lot of fun, and saw a lot of cool things, all of which was ruined by two things:

1) How much freakin' electricity and fireworks another "crappy for the environment" stuff there was (just looking at the ocean of cars in the parking lots was depressing).

2) How I was participating in useless consumerism and consumption. I mean, when every ride exits to a store, it really hammers you by the end of the week just how much crap there is that they want you to buy... We resisted, but it was hard on my kids, and so many other parents had that "we don't care, just shut up" look on their face ... no fun ... :-(

Man, consciences suck!

You forgot to factor in the energy that the visitors are not using at home.

By speedwell (not verified) on 06 May 2009 #permalink

OK, you didn't exactly forget, I see on re-reading that you did mention it.

By speedwell (not verified) on 06 May 2009 #permalink

My daughter (then 10) recently visited DisneyWorld with her mom.

When she returned she told me, her favorite thing there was a couple of birds (real ones) that she saw. She told me that everything else was just fake and boring.