The Obama administration announced yesterday that it was giving conditional approval for Royal Dutch Shell to drill in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea, Mother Jones reported.

According to MJ:

Shell’s plan involves drilling for oil in a patch of ocean called the Burger Prospect. The drilling is slated to take place this summer when sea ice is at its lowest. In anticipation of this decision, two massive oil drilling ships owned by Shell are en route to a temporary dock in Seattle; from there, they are scheduled to press on to the Arctic.

This approval for Shell to engage in dangerous offshore drilling severely undercuts President Obama’s image as a strong defender of the environment.

“It’s a total mystery why the Obama administration and [Interior] Secretary [Sally] Jewell are continuing down this path that is enormously risky, contradicts climate science, and is completely unnecessary to meet our energy goals,” said Franz Matzner, the Natural Resources Defense Council’s associate director of government affairs.

In a piece for the New York Times, environmental activist and founder of Bill McKinnen condemned Obama’s decision, saying that it “shows why we may never win the fight against climate change.”

“Even in this most extreme circumstance, no one seems able to stand up to the power of the fossil fuel industry. No one ever says no,” wrote McKibben.

He continued,

A quarter century ago, scientists warned that if we kept burning fossil fuel at current rates we’d melt the Arctic. The fossil fuel industry (and most everyone else in power) ignored those warnings, and what do you know: The Arctic is melting, to the extent that people now are planning to race yachts through the Northwest Passage, which until very recently required an icebreaker to navigate.

Now, having watched the Arctic melt, does Shell take that experience and conclude that it’s in fact time to invest heavily in solar panels and wind turbines? No. Instead, it applies to be first in line to drill for yet more oil in the Chukchi Sea, between Alaska and Siberia. Wash, rinse, repeat. Talk about salting wounds and adding insult to injury: It’s as if the tobacco companies were applying for permission to put cigarette machines in cancer wards.

And the White House gave Shell the license. In his first term, President Obama mostly ignored climate change, and he ran for re-election barely mentioning the subject until Hurricane Sandy made it unavoidable in the closing days of the campaign.

McKibben compared Obama to the climate-change denying Republican. Obama’s denial isn’t the kind where he simply pretends “the science isn’t real.”

“This is climate denial of the status quo sort, where people accept the science, and indeed make long speeches about the immorality of passing on a ruined world to our children,” he concluded. “They just deny the meaning of the science, which is that we must keep carbon in the ground.”

Obama’s administration actions yesterday might actually be more damaging than the GOP-style denial. It’s one thing to not take action on something you don’t think exists. It’s quite another to fully admit that there is a problem and then take action that will directly lead to it getting worse.