Environmentalists often complain about the terminology used by the media to describe things related to climate change. Their biggest gripe might be the term “natural disaster,” which gives the impression of a terrible event that is outside of human control.

In truth, they say, human influence on the environment has exacerbated problems that contribute to hurricanes, floods, drought and forest fires. To them these events are not “natural” at all, unless you subscribe to the belief that humans, being biological entities, are impossible to remove from the calculus of nature; which means such events are disasters because that is their effect on civilization. Nature’s ways are never anything other than natural.

So it was significant that the media described the deadly mudslide that struck the city of Atami in Shizuoka Prefecture on July 3 as being “human-caused,” which isn’t to say that all media agreed on which humans caused it and to what extent they were to blame. Tokyo Shimbun’s account on July 11 neatly summarized the disaster: Some 56,000 cubic meters of mud and debris carved a natural gully between two hills, destroying dozens of homes on its way to the sea.