Usha Lee McFarling is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, who has covered a wide variety of science news, including astrophysics, seismology, neuroscience, medicine, and climate change. She is currently a regular contributor of opinion pieces to the Los Angeles Times and senior editor and writer at the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens. Before moderating a Zócalo/Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County panel titled “Are Americans Turning Against Science?” at the Natural History Museum in Exposition Park, McFarling spoke in the green room about her gardening skills, why her children inspire her, and covering climate change.
What do you enjoy most about working at the Huntington?
It is so beautiful. I feel like I’m driving into paradise every day. And it is full of smart people. So, you know, you get to attend these lectures, or just talk to scholars who are working there and writing articles. I just feel like I get smarter every day.
What’s the best book you’ve read in the past year?
There There by Tommy Orange. By far, the best book in ten years.
What story are you most proud to have reported?
I did a series called “Vanishing Ice.” It was more than ten years ago. I feel like I was really on the front edge of covering climate change, long before other news media were covering it. We really looked at the impact that melting ice would have on people. Stories [published] now are reinforcing things we wrote about in the L.A. Times so long ago.
When’s the last time you swam in the Pacific Ocean?
Two weeks ago. My son is learning is to surf so we spend a lot of time there.
If you could be any animal, which would you want to be?
I’m super tired, so I think a sloth. But, actually, I think I’d probably want to be an octopus. I love the ocean, and I think they’re such intelligent creatures.
What was the last thing that inspired you?
It may sound corny, but I think it’s my children. They’re growing so fast, and they’re so funny and smart. You know, when I worry about the future, one thing that mitigates it is knowing these young people are going to change the world.
What’s your hidden talent?
I’m an amazing gardener. We grow most of our vegetables at home.
What keeps you up at night?
I’m worried about our planet. I’m worried that we may have reached tipping points with the climate and the oceans that are not reversible.
If you didn’t live in Los Angeles, where would you be?
Woods Hole, Massachusetts.
What’s your biggest pet peeve?
People not using their blinkers. I just don’t get it. It’s not very hard, people! They just make life better.