Earth Man Working Toward 140,000 Love Songs for the Planet

By Mollie Putzig

Earth Man, Stele Ely

Earth Man, Stele Ely in Boulder’s central park on Saturday, Oct. 4.

Boulder’s Earth Man is on a mission to write 140,000 environmental love songs.

If you’ve been in Boulder in the last 14 years, you have probably noticed Stele Ely. He’s the caped man with a blue and green “X” and “O” glittering on his cheeks. He’s quick to offer a hug, blow a kiss, or give you an EarthE handshake. His pin-covered cap features a five-inch globe and a bike bell that he rings when he has an idea. “VOX” is painted across the hat’s upturned brim, which he’ll happily tell you stands for voices of the earth.

He’s less happy to say that the 140,000 songs represent the number of species he expects to die out this year. Scientists are divided on the actual numbers. The World Wildlife Fund reports that estimates range from 200 to 100,000 species go extinct every year.

Progress toward Ely’s goal is difficult to measure. His songs are usually written off the cuff and rarely written down. Inspired by people around him, he wrote four in the afternoon I spent with him.

Ely started the website XOEarth as a call to creative types to get the word out about environmental issues through 140,000 poems, stories and songs. XOEarth branched off his idea to create a logo for environmentalists.

The XO logo represents a person, X, and the planet, O, to show that people give a kiss and a hug to the planet everyday. “I would love to give some street cred to team Earth,” Ely said. “A lot of people who love the planet are walking around incognito.” He asks Earth lovers to draw the logo on their skin, clothes or belongings, so they can stand out.

Ely, 60, began serving the environment in his hometown of Grand Junction, Colorado at 15 by making bean burgers. He was concerned about the effects of red meat consumption and the treatment of livestock.

“Ever since then I’ve tried all kinds of ways to help the planet and most of them have totally failed, but a few of them have succeeded a little bit,” Ely said.

In his life, Ely has served in the Army as a field medic, volunteered for Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, and worked in Aspen as a ski instructor and massage therapist. Now he makes his living performing in the streets.

Ely says his life goal is to save the planet for one second. He used to aspire to save the world for 500,000 extra years, but that stopped seeming practical.

“So many wonderful things happen in one additional second,” he said. “If you add the life of all living creatures together end to end, it’s like saving a million lifetimes.”

He hopes that living simply and meagerly and inspiring others to do the same can make this change. “I’ve lived in a 22-foot trailer for 21 years working on environmental projects and ideas, so we could have a better planet,” Ely said.

Every day Ely wakes up later than he means to and gets to work checking emails for his many websites, including xoearth.org, greentopia.org, and bodymindworks.net. He also checks the accuracy of Wikipedia articles by reading scientific papers for hours on end.

He wishes he had more time to edit and catalog songs, but things come up. “There’s a squirrel to feed or I have to go give apples to the prairie dogs and the day gets away from me,” Ely said.

One of those things is the Boulder County farmer’s market, where he goes every Saturday to play his ukulele, sing songs and spread environmental awareness.

Bonnie Sundance, executive director of the nonprofit Our Sacred Earth, said Ely inspires her. “He’s been doing this for years,” she said. “I have pictures of him doing this in 2007.”

Stele having lunch in Boulder's central park with Bonnie Sundance (left) and Harry Albert (center) after the farmer's market Saturday, Oct. 4. Sundance and Albert run the nonprofit Our Sacred Earth.

Stele Ely (right) having lunch in Boulder’s central park with Bonnie Sundance (left) and Harry Albert (center) after the farmer’s market Saturday, Oct. 4. Sundance and Albert run the nonprofit Our Sacred Earth.

One of Ely’s common messages is to avoid waste by taking and reusing plastic and paper products from recycling bins. He says he’s happy to risk getting sick to save the planet.

“In the recycle bins there are so many empty bottles and stuff like that, you just take one of those bottles out, rinse it out and then you pour your drink in there,” he said to two Naropa University students, Sarah and Grace, who greeted him at the market while wielding paper coffee cups.

The girls swore they had caved to the single-use paper cups in a moment of weakness.

“Imagine if we got maybe 75 percent of the people not taking single serving containers, what do you think the other 25 would do?” Ely asked the girls.

“They would follow the masses,” Grace smiled.

“I’m gonna go home and make some beautiful art out of this,” Sarah said. “I’m gonna up-cycle it.”

Ely recommends that people use a website of his to calculate how much natural habitat is destroyed by products they consume. A virgin paper cup, that contains no recycled content, is responsible for an area the size of a notebook, Ely said.

Ely is not alone in his desire to keep “waste” from being wasted.

“One time Stele gave me two blocks of cheese with labels on them that showed their value at 140 dollars for the two of them,” said Harry Albert, board member for Our Sacred Earth. “He found them in a dumpster behind a store.”

On Pearl Street Ely unpacks a large green rucksack to set up his performance. A ball of blue and green rope, stacks of wild animal cards, a yogurt cup, two handmade signs, and a small globe, which he mounts on a makeshift pole.

He wraps one of the signs around the yogurt cup and sets the mounted globe in it. This will serve as the tip jar. Next he carefully places the rope in a large circle leaving it open at the front. The opening is a new development, which he hopes will make people feel comfortable stepping into the circle, which represents the planet. Finally, he places the animal cards all around the circle. He asks people to pick their favorite animal and then sings them a song or tells them their magic word.

The songs are written as he plays. The magic words, he says, are told to him by the person’s future animal self. He was disappointed that tonight he didn’t embody any of the animals when he traveled to the future to hear from them.

Ely calls out to people as they pass. “Give each other a hug and say ‘thanks for all the nice things you do for the planet today.’” Sometimes he suggests a little kiss or a high five, in place of the hug, depending on the people.

Ely teaches a group of college-age students to do a victory dance for the planet on Pearl Street Saturday, Oct. 4.

Ely teaches a group of college-age students to do a victory dance for the planet on Pearl Street Saturday, Oct. 4.

He stopped one group of college age students and got them all to do a victory dance for the planet.

In the first two hours he made $8.

Some people give him sideways glances, others walk past without acknowledging him, but mostly people smile.

I can’t believe that people don’t ostracize me more,” Ely said.

Listen to Earth Man explain his songwriting.

Audio Transcript

Stele Ely: Sing silly songs, and just start out with simple songs. Just wait.

(Singing and playing the ukulele)

Thanks for what you do for the planet today.

Thanks for what you do for the planet today.

Thanks for what you do for the planet today.

Thanks for what you do for the planet today.

So I just start out with simple songs like that, but then I just make it a little bit more complicated as I learned while I was standing out there.

Thanks for what you do for the planet today.

Thanks for eating organic food and traveling an ecoway.

Thanks for eating vegan sometimes this week.

Thanks for living close to where you work, it’ll help you and me. Yeah.

Thanks for what you do for the planet today.

Man on the Street: You’re very good at that.

Ely: Hey thanks bro. Peace and love to ya.

Ely: We’re writing one hundred forty thousand love songs for the planet. We haven’t written a hundred forty thousand yet. The goal is to get songs that call on people to do nice things for the planet, a hundred and forty thousand. The number of species we’ll lose this year, but it’s also by chance the number of endangered species. I wanna save some of ’em, or maybe all of ’em.

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One response to “Earth Man Working Toward 140,000 Love Songs for the Planet

  1. Aloha Lovers of the Earth, Non-musicians and musicians are invited to post their eco song ideas and completed songs on XOEarth.org. Those who do will get a chance to win $400 and an XOEarth cape.

    Liked by 1 person

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