History Book – Two oil spills and Classic Coke


NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, April 20th. We’re glad to have you along with us today. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: the WORLD History Book.

PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: Today the stories of two oil spills, the birth of the modern environmental movement, and how the word “classic” became synonymous with Coca-Cola. Here’s Paul Butler.

In 1969, an underwater oil well sprung a leak off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, spilling more than 3 million gallons of crude oil over two months. 

Response to the accident gave rise to the modern environmental movement. It also inspired Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson and anti-war activist Denis Hayes to start Earth Dayfirst commemorated on April 22nd, 1970. Audio here from a CBS television Earth Day special with Walter Cronkite: 

WALTER CRONKITE: Good evening. A unique day in America is ending as a day set aside for national outpouring of mankind seeking its own survival. 

Millions of school kids, college students, and community members gather across the country to celebrate Earth Day. But many of the speakers are far from optimistic. Here’s biologist Barry Commoner: 

BARRY COMMONER: The heavens wreak, the waters below are foul. Children die in infancy. And we and the world which is our home, live on the brink of nuclear annihilation. 

Over the last 50 years, the environmental message has often remained negative. Air pollution in the 70’s, endangered species in the 80’s, deforestation in the 90’s, and global warming followed by climate change the last 20 years. 

Calvin Beisner is a Christian environmentalist and takes a more positive view. He calls Christians to care for the earth—to fulfill the God-given mandate to steward and keep the garden God has given—but he resists the temptation to give in to the pessimism of the modern environmental movement. 

CALVIN BEISNER: God has said that all of the various cycles on which life depends are going to be sustained by his providential care from now until God ends heaven and Earth themselves in the last judgment. Now that too, I think, is contrary to fears that man-made climate change could bring an end to the various different climate cycles on which we depend and on which other forms of life depend for our thriving.

WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD: “I think to myself, what a wonderful world.”

Next, a soft-drink company takes a risk and changes its century-old formula. 

After conducting thousands of blind taste tests, Coca-Cola discovers more than 50 percent of consumers prefer the taste of their biggest rival: Pepsi

On April 23rd, 1985, Coca-Cola unveils New Coke. 

COKE COMMERCIAL: There’s never been a better Coke! Introducing the greatest taste discovery in a hundred years…

While the updated cola formula has some initial positive press, it soon becomes clear that loyal customers don’t like it. Don Keough, president and chief operating officer of Coca-Cola Company: 

DON KEOUGH: Let me read you a few letters. Here’s one that starts “Dear Chief Dodo. What ignoramus decided to change the formula of Coke?” 

Pepsi makes light of the controversy in a summer ad:

PEPSI COMMERCIAL: They changed my Coke. Something wrong with it? I don’t know, but they sure changed it. They could have asked. They could’a. I stuck with them through three wars and a couple dust storms, but this is too much…

Within three months, Coca-Cola brings back the old formula and markets the drink as “Classic Coke.” 

DON KEOUGH: …what we didn’t know is how many thousands of you would phone and write, asking us to bring back the classic taste of original Coca-Cola. Well, we read, and we listened, and you know the rest. 

Classic Coke sales soar. New Coke sales are good as well, but never great, and Coca-Cola eventually stops making the product altogether in 2002. Though the beverage giant re-released New Coke last year as part of an ad campaign promoting a popular Netflix series set in 1985.  

AUDIO: [COKE THEME MUSIC]

And finally, 10 years ago today, April 20th, 2010.

NEWSCAST: The U.S. Coastguard is searching for 11 missing workers… 

The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explodes in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers. The fire rages for two days before the rig finally sinks. Due to the extreme depth of the well head on the ocean floor, British Petroleum, Halliburton, and Transocean struggle to cap the underwater geyser. 

NEWSCAST: Breaking news tonight. They can’t stop that oil spill into the gulf of Mexico… 

Eventually the oil on the surface spreads over 38-hundred square miles of the gulf of Mexico—an area roughly the size of South Korea. 

NEWSCAST: Officials are now calling this a spill of national significance…

The U.S. federal government estimates nearly 5 million barrels of oil spill into the gulf before BP successfully stops the flow—106 days after the explosion. 

In the 10 years since the accident, clean-up efforts, fines, and reparations have cost British Petroleum more than $65 billion

Up and down the coast, evidence of the spill still occasionally washes ashore as ball sized tar-babies, but tourism has returned, and wildlife refuges and fisheries are making a slow but strong comeback.

That’s this week’s WORLD History Book, I’m Paul Butler.


(Photo/AP) New Coke

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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