Money may not buy much comfort 10 years from now. In fact, depending on where you live, and how, cash may not buy much comfort even five years down the road, at least not by today's standards. Or at least that's what some believe following more frequent reports on what is happening to the globe's resources and climate.
A January report in The Washington Post warned residents in the nation's steamy capital that rolling electrical blackouts will plague the city just two years from now. As if greater caution were needed, it's clear that few of the preventative measures city energy engineers plan to implement will be online by 2010, The Post reported.
Jammed garage doors, still air conditioners and dark stoplights are not things we're prepared to deal with inside the Beltway, where tempers rise considerably if we're forced to linger in a bank line or if our designer coffee isn't on the bar, piping hot and made to order in 90 seconds flat. Of course, those doubtful about how blackouts work can just ask Californians, since energy outages began sweeping that state last year.
Is it possible that people are realizing that oil, water, forests and even soil are finite-and that our uses of them are having crippling effects? As with all potential risks-the rise and fall of financial markets, the risk of overinvesting in real estate or the risks of undersaving and overspending-good planners could help us avoid some or most of the discomfort, right? Or at least they should be able to, shouldn't they?
Less than 15 miles away from the White House, Richard Vodra is pondering the same question from his office in McLean, Va.
"Global climate change and energy and resource shortages are not theoretical problems," the 22-year veteran of financial planning says in his hallmark, guy-next-door tone. "If it's a hot summer here in 2010, we will get to choose whether we want to turn up the thermostat on the air conditioning or walk down from the 20th floor of our office buildings."
OK, so there are a few things you should know about Vodra before you write him off as the global warming Chicken Little of the advisor industry. He manages $100 million for 40 clients, who have, on average, $2 million invested with him. He is a founding member of the Nazrudin Project (albeit a quiet one), who last year led a fair number of advisors through measured discussions about how they could help investors grapple with climate change and peak oil. The Nazrudin Project is a group of about 125 financial advisors who believe that life and money can and should intersect in a meaningful way. Vodra, 59, spoke at several conferences in 2007, including the Financial Planning Association's retreat in Galveston, Texas, and at Nazrudin's own annual meeting.
While Vodra is an earnest, down-to-earth guy, what is becoming abundantly clear is that he is very capable of communicating highly abstract concepts effectively. It's a good thing, because he may be the only advisor in the country talking about climate control, about peak oil and, if you're a believer, about profound, relatively near-term resource shortages. His environmental concerns grew out of his "growing sense that the physical economy, and not just the financial economy, matters and that there are limits to our resources, contrary to what we have been taught to think."
Vodra will lead the FPA's "under-the-trees," planner-driven session at the group's retreat this year in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in May, and he says he'll be interested to see how responsive advisors will be, if at all, to the notion of the earth's finite resources and how to help investors plan for those decisions.
After all, while many investment advisors bill themselves as problem solvers, like most people, they don't like problems that are nearly impossible to plan for. You can plan for death with a will, estate documents and even step-by-step funeral arrangements. But how, really, do you plan for mass shortages of water? And yet, looming on the radar are disturbances such as the potential for extreme gasoline and oil rationing, instability in the transportation and agriculture sectors, economic, political and international volatility, not to mention dwindling water supplies. There might even be a scenario no one could have predicted. Or, as Vodra often asks clients who are planning to move or retire: "Given these particular set of circumstances, how far do you want to be from public transportation or the grocery store or your work?"