These in-their-own-words pieces are told to Patricia Lane and co-edited with input from the interviewee for the purpose of brevity.

Nathan Collett helps make sensible government climate policy.

As a policy analyst in the Privy Council Office, this 23-year-old works with a team of social and behavioural scientists to inform Canada’s decision-making so it resonates with the people.

Nathan Collett asking the clerk and secretary to the cabinet a question at a Privy Council Office town hall. Photo by Sarah Wall

Tell us about your work.

How do we increase the use of heat pumps and electric vehicles? Both are supported by science and government incentives, but how do we design and implement our efforts so they will actually be reached and adopted by people across Canada? These are examples of the questions we try to answer through the Program of Applied Research on Climate Action at Impact Canada.

We begin by seeking to understand and explore the obstacles. For example, are these products available, affordable and accessible? Are Canadians aware of them? What kind of hassles, barriers or misperceptions might be preventing Canadians from following through on their intentions?

With electric vehicles, for example, our team has identified that Canadians have misplaced concerns about their range and charging capacity and that many may also not yet recognize potential cost savings over the vehicle’s life due to low maintenance needs and fuel savings.

A lot of our work is focused on helping people understand the facts and help them make changes that can seem overwhelming or confusing.

Nathan Collett helps make sensible government climate policy. As a policy analyst in the Privy Council Office, this 23-year-old works with a team of social and behavioural scientists to inform Canada’s decision-making so it resonates with the people.

We rigorously evaluate our work using the gold standard of randomized, controlled trials to see if our theories prove out before they become implemented policy.

The team behind the Program of Applied Research on Climate Action. Photo by Laurie Bennett

How did you get into this work?

My degree in cognitive science from McGill introduced me to some of the big ideas behind this work. While I was there, I spent quite a bit of time figuring out how to connect the public with complex ideas at places like The Decision Lab and The McGill Journal of Human Behaviour, a student journal I created.

I spent last summer with the Public Health Agency of Canada to understand the public’s various reactions and responses to COVID-19 policies. Using what we know about how people actually behave to improve how governments deliver services is fascinating to me.

What makes it hard?

Government is a big institution. Making change can feel daunting, no matter how strong the evidence is in its favour.

What gives you hope?

We have no choice but to solve the climate crisis and when we do, the co-benefits will be enormous. I try to think about how life can be so much better as a starting point, rather than as an afterthought when working on climate change feels futile.

History shows us that it is a common human experience to feel that things don't move for a long time and then they move very fast. I think we are embarking on a very exciting time to be alive.

The government is fully engaged in the climate crisis. Solving it will require new ideas, more collaboration and an increase in public trust. I hope my work will help.

Nathan Collett and Sofia Deleniv at the Impact Canada annual retreat. Photo by Saskia Jarvis

Tell us about your background.

I grew up with climate change. It has obviously never been more vivid than it is now, with drastic forest fires and heat waves, but our winters have been getting shorter and our summers have been getting hotter in B.C. for a long time.

A couple programs in particular deserve a lot of credit for where I am now, including TREK — a year-long outdoor education program that connected climate action to a really strong sense of community at a formative time in my life.

My parents taught me that a positive obligation to repair the world (tikkun olam) is not a choice, it is a duty. Also, big changes are not always as difficult to make as they sometimes seem. This attitude, together with having close friends who are brilliant and totally dedicated to addressing these issues, has brought me to focus on climate action in the way that I have.

Nathan Collett at the Impact Canada office. Photo by Laurie Bennett

Do you have any advice for other young people?

Big institutions are made up of people, most of whom are just figuring their way through each day.

Step up and take real responsibility when you can because there is far less separating you from the people in power than you think, and it will take your creativity and dedication to fix big problems.

What would you like to say to older readers?

We often hear about the mental health impacts of climate change on young people. But in the time I have spent travelling around B.C. and speaking with people about climate change, I have noticed profound anxieties and fear amongst all ages. What older folks feel rarely gets talked about.

It is true that a lot of people are hurting and more is to come. But we will get through this and the future will be wonderful in ways we cannot even yet imagine. It can help to talk about it and to be curious about what the young people around you see for their futures.

Keep reading

This is so inspiring and hopeful. Thank you for what your are doing Nathan! It's inspiring to know that the federal government has an organization such as this one working on the Climate Change issue. Perhaps the field of behavioural science can help to address some roadblocks to change with Canadians.

This old geezer feels we are subjected to specious arguments, deceit and lies by politicians of all stripes. He does not understand, for example, why the Prime Minister tells us we need a new pipeline to export more oil in order to fight global warming. If he believes it he is stupid; if he does not believe it he is lying.

When it comes to climate change and the Liberal government, Trudeau talks out of both sides of his mouth. I think Juice Media hit the nail on the head.

I have said this before, Trudeau talks-the-talk on climate change, but his government's actions speak louder than words. But to be fair, Trudeau at least has taken some action, whereas Pierre Poilievre would take things back to the stone age, much like Doug Ford slowly dismantling anything green or climate related.